On the Money

How a former eBay employee is inspiring kids to become tomorrow's problem solvers

Key Points
  • Busy working mom Sandra Oh Lin wanted to give her young children exposure to hands-on activities to get them away from “screen time.”
  • Her reason: to exercise their creativity, learn how materials interact, understand spatial relations and "see themselves as creative problem solvers."
  • in 2011 Lin launched KiwiCo, an e-commerce company that provides unique hands-on science and art projects for ages 0 to 16-plus.
Crates to create

Sandra Oh Lin was a busy working mom trying to find fun projects for her children — and to get them away from “screen time.”

“I had two kids, age 3 and 5. I wanted to give exposure to hands-on activities. Let them exercise creativity.” Lin told CNBC’s On The Money in an interview that finding projects for children to do was harder than she thought it would be.

“It was actually difficult to find materials and inspiration. And so as I started to do that, I thought, Gosh, I’m going to amortize my time and effort."

During playdates her kids and their friends worked on the arts and crafts she invented, and they were well received by kids and parents alike.

“A friend said, ‘You should start a business around this.’ So that’s how we kind of got started.”

Hero Images | Getty Images

In 2011 Lin founded KiwiCo, creating, packaging and selling activities designed for kids. “Inside every box,” she explained, “you get all the components to make a project or a set of projects.”

“One of the driving factors was actually trying to get kids to get “hands on” and to really exercise their creativity, learning how materials interact, understanding spatial relations and hopefully just really seeing themselves as creative problem solvers.”

After the flagship Kiwi boxes for 5- to 8-year-olds, in 2014 she added age-appropriate projects for both younger and older kids.

“Koala Crate is for preschoolers. It’s three different projects, since they have a really small attention span. It’s all centered on a theme, like reptiles or rainbows. Tinker Crate is for ages 9 to 16-plus. It’s mainly one major project that they’re working on, since they can work on something that’s more involved.”

Before becoming CEO of KiwiCo, Lin had management roles at Procter & Gamble, PayPal and eBay. Prior to that, she earned a degree in chemical engineering as well as a Harvard MBA.

We have a really talented team of product designers ... who are able to take kind of the ethos of what we’re trying to do: trying to build creative problem solvers and critical thinkers and apply that to great product design.
Sandra Oh Lin
founder and CEO of KiwiCo

But she doesn’t come up with all the crate ideas herself anymore.

“We have a really talented team of product designers. They range from educators to engineers, to a former rocket scientist. They are really just great designers who are able to take kind of the ethos of what we’re trying to do: trying to build creative problem solvers and critical thinkers and apply that to great product design.”

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KiwiCo crates are only available online, delivered to your door.

“We’re an e-commerce company. We ship these directly to the kids,” Lin told CNBC.

“They get the box in the mail with the shipping label with their name on it. So it’s special. This is a fresh, hopefully delightful experience for the kids.”

On the Money airs on CNBC Saturday at 5:30 a.m. ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.