When Alicia DiRago first relocated to Houston for her husband's job, she put her career as a chemical engineer on hold, opting to pursue her passion in DIY design during her first months in a new city.
DiRago started off small, by teaching craft classes at area bars and restaurants and blogging about her ventures, then traveling to lead DIY events at private events, conferences and trade shows.
But in October of 2011, exhausted from traveling, swimming in a sea of samples from the recently-popularized Birchbox and overwhelmed with inspiration from Pinterest, DiRago was struck with an idea: If subscribers got excited about samples of pet supplies, health foods and beauty products, just think of how they'd feel about a parcel filled with pretty trimmings and supplies to create a craft project with.
"We're not targeted at Girl Scouts or grandmas," DiRago says.
DiRago worked to make the idea a reality as quickly and cheaply as possible, creating a simple WordPress website and sending word-of-mouth buzz throughout the blogosphere. When Whimseybox officially launched in December 2011, she was as unsure about the market's reception to the crafty subscription service as her own ability to fill the orders.
The interest was overwhelming.
Whimseybox has sent out a box every month since, first operating out of DiRago's garage — she would entice friends to help fill orders at mimosa-fueled "packing parties" — and now at The Center on Dallas Street, utilizing the skills of adults with developmental disabilities.
DiRag works with different craft suppliers to build each box around a product or an idea. Each month, a Whimseybox is filled with all of the necessary provisions and instructions for a project (past concepts include a woven bracelet, a painted scarf and a studded clutch) or the option to freestyle-create.
A Business Plan
"We're not targeted at Girl Scouts or grandmas," DiRago tells CultureMap.
While she acknowledges that both age groups play an important role in the craft scene, Whimseybox approaches DIY from a more modern perspective, through the eyes of a 20-something to 40-something Pinterest-user with an itch to create.
"My personal mission is to get people making things," DiRago says. And since half of the fun is making something, and the other half is showing others the finished product, Whimseybox encourages subscribers to share images of their DIY projects and interact with one another in a community section of the site.
Whimseybox encourages subscribers to submit images of their DIY projects and interact with one another in a community section of the site.
Knowing that she needed some assistance if she wanted to continue to grow her business, DiRago submitted an application to the competitive Chicago-based Excelerate Labs program this spring — and, to her surprise, Whimseybox was accepted.
She and her first official employee, chief technology officer Patrick Navarro, spent the summer in Chicago, fostering relationships with startup mentors, learning the basics of business ownership, taking a crash course in finance and spending nearly a month streamlining a detailed, 10-minute presentation.
The pair gave that presentation to a room full of potential investors on Aug. 29. Now, back in Houston and armed with renewed energy and inspiration, DiRago is in the midst of fundraising, which will allow the small operation to fill out its team and focus on marketing to a wider audience.
DiRago tells CultureMap that, even in her chemical engineering days, she was most interested in the way things fit together. It seems that she's finally in the right field.