Marissa Cristina Grootes never intended to start a business. However, what began as a pet project creating planners for herself and her close friends, has grown into STIL— a female-run and founded company that aims to design organizational products that inspire women to feel, work, and find their best selves
Marissa approaches STIL as she approaches life: Jump in with both feet and don’t overthink things. She is allergic to perfectionism, opting instead for an “always be iterating” mindset. It’s this philosophy of constant iteration and improvement that is key to STIL’s growth.
Fueled by her passion for design, keen intuition, and 2 Kickstarter campaigns, Marissa is now Founder, CEO, and Principal Designer of STIL and isn’t looking back. This is her story.
Tell us about the moment you decided to start your own business.
It all started back in the winter of 2013. I was working as a designer at the time. I’ve always been really passionate about design. So, on the side, I also took night and weekend classes for communication design—art direction, branding, web design, UX design—all that good stuff.
Needless to say, I had a very busy schedule and was on the hunt for a planner that would help me organize my life.
I wanted a planner that represented me, as an adult. Like an elevated and sophisticated version of the ones we used to use in school.
I searched high and low, but I found all the options very uninspiring. They either didn’t have the organizational aspects I needed or were covered in stripes and flowers. So I took my design knowledge and, with a little bit of research, created my own!
It was a sleek, super simple, clean, black and white planner. I made a few extra to use as Secret Santa gifts, cuz why the hell not! I gave one to all my girlfriends and they were all so pumped about it and thought it was such a great gift.
One thing led to another and people started talking. And then I found myself making planners for other people. And then more people. As it snowballed, I realized I had stumbled upon something pretty special. So I eventually quit my day job to begin STIL.
That takes a lot of guts. What gave you the courage to take such a leap of faith?
Well, my family thought I’d lost my mind. And it was a bit discouraging at first but I knew I was on to something big.
I had some savings and decided to put all of it into a first run of planners. I found a manufacturer and ordered one thousand units.
I got an Instagram account and website up and running, and started sending bloggers the planner in hopes they would talk about it. This was back before influencer marketing, when the blogging world wasn’t so saturated and you could still do stuff like that.
I strategically sent out 10 planners a month to 10 different people that I thought represented the type of people who would use it. And I was delighted to learn that a lot of them were very willing to help out. That’s how I initially built my customer base.
That was in September of 2015 and, by November, I got into Indigo after pitching them multiple times. They purchased the planner and sold out in two weeks. That first winter, I sold out right before Christmas.
In that moment, I wanted to cry, puke, and call my mom all at the same time [laughs]. That initial success gave me the confidence to keep forging ahead.
What’s your approach to growth?
Since day one, my number one priority is to work alongside my customers. I have customers who have been with me since 2015 and are like my best friends (even though I haven’t met some of them in person yet!)
I talk to them all the time and we message back and forth. They share insights that help me serve them better and create better products. They are involved in everything that I do because they’re the ones who are going to be using it at the end of the day.
What sources of funding have you used to grow your business?
After I sold out of my first planner, I knew I needed to diversify beyond just one product people buy in the fall. I started to focus on travel items since that seemed to be an area of opportunity, based on the conversations I had with my customers.
I ran my first Kickstarter campaign in 2016 to fund the manufacturing of a new product—this great convertible travel wallet. I hit my fundraising goal in twelve hours.
I ran another Kickstarter campaign in 2018 and managed to double the amount we raised from the first campaign. This has opened the door to innovate with even more products. So we’ve really been able to expand beyond our core paper products.
And, of course, I have recently received Clearbanc funding as well! I first learned about Clearbanc from a Clearbanc employee, Margot Paterson. She supported my first Kickstarter and we’ve become good friends. After learning about Clearbanc, it seemed like an obvious choice.
I did apply for a line of credit, but I’m going to hold off on that since I don’t know if I necessarily need it anymore.
I’m trying to be very mindful of how I raise money moving forward. Certain forms of funding, V.C., are very expensive, so it has to really be worth it.
How are you using your Clearbanc capital to grow in ways you couldn’t otherwise?
The timing couldn’t have been better to get my Clearbanc advance. I just started working with a really amazing marketing agency that has a pretty hefty retainer.
Clearbanc funding will allow me to continue working with the agency, which is key to my growth. The ads and experiments the agency runs will help acquire more customers and get more eyeballs on the brand in general.
I’m also using my Clearbanc capital for manufacturing and shipping.
What’s next for STIL Classics?
Right now it’s just me and one other girl and we are working our a**es off. And I struggle to pay myself a decent salary. Looking ahead, I want to find more boss babes to join the team and get to the point where I can properly pay myself without compromising the business’s cash flow.
Beyond that, we are doing to collabs in 2020 with some pretty cool companies which will include some new products including tech accessories. So, exciting stuff coming—stay tuned!
Any closing thoughts?
My entrepreneurial journey has been a whirlwind and completely unexpected. The number one thing that got me to where I am today is always listening to my gut.
Everyone is going to share their opinions, whether you like it or not. But I think listening to yourself and listening to your own intuition over everyone else’s is really key.
There’s no such thing as luck. Luck isn’t really a thing. It all comes down to how bad you want it and how much you’re willing to do to get it. It has nothing to do with luck.
Clearbanc offers flexible, founder-friendly funding to support e-commerce founders like Marissa throughout their entrepreneurial journeys. Could you be our next success story?