sandra oh lin and her daughter embracing

Mountain View-based Kiwi Crate is one of those Silicon Valley feel-good stories.

Two years ago, a young mom named Sandra Oh Lin was hunting for the kinds of arts and crafts projects she remembered doing with her own mother as a girl in Ohio. Hoping to defray the costs of hands-on fun for her two little ones, Lin started inviting friends and their kids over for “pot-luck play dates,” where Lin might put together packets of stuff for do-it-yourself puppets or yarn projects. “You should really sell this,” she remembers friends telling her.

And for a lot of people, the story might have ended there. But Lin – at the time, the general manager of eBay’s clothing and fashion marketplace who’d previously done a stint at Proctor & Gamble – knew enough about consumer products to do some research. What she found, she says, was a $30 billion-a-year arts and crafts industry that’s also highly fragmented. And as a Harvard MBA, veteran of two valley start-ups and spouse of a former venture capitalist, Lin had what it took to develop a business plan and scrape together seed capital.

The result was Kiwi Crate, sort of a Netflix for the playground set. Each month, subscribers receive a small box filled with simple science projects, art materials and lesson plans that teach kids about penguins, comets, dinosaurs or anything else a little brain might fancy. In a valley that skews heavily toward making software, it’s refreshing to find somebody making tangible “things.”

And it’s even more rewarding for Lin and hubby Kenneth that the product has taken off; Lin says she’s shipped more than 150,000 crates from her Mountain View warehouse (where the couple’s toddlers are involved in product testing). The startup has landed $7 million from such heavy hitters as Mayfield Fund, Felicis Ventures, First Round Capital and 500 Startups (whose impresario, Dave McClure, was a cubicle-mate of Lin’s at PayPal).

Now Kiwi Crate has taken the next big step in a startup’s life: M&A. Lin tells me the company just acquired the subscribers of Wonder Box, a similar product line launched a year ago by Education.com. “They decided to focus on their core products,” she said, while politely declining to disclose the purchase price or say how many new customers the deal brought in.

I’m typically reluctant to write much about M&A deals where the dollars aren’t disclosed – my efforts to coax more than “bigger than a bread box, smaller than the Empire State building” from people close to last week’s acquisition of GoodReads by Amazon got nowhere — and there’s no doubt the Wonder Box purchase was orders of magnitude smaller than the reported $150 million Amazon shelled out in that deal. (UPDATE: A spokeswoman for Redwood City-based Education.com hastens to note that Kiwi Crate didn’t acquire the Wonder Box brand, and that customers had the option of not becoming Kiwi Crate members. She said Lin’s company paid Education.com an unspecified premium for each customer who agreed to subscribe.) But I’m a sucker for an exclusive, and even more so for a heart-warming story. Lin will take the stage next month when McClure and 500 Startups put on their annual MamaBear conference, which focuses on opportunities in the “moms and kids” industry. I plan to be there, and to see where this company’s story goes.

Peter Delevett Peter Delevett (184 Posts)

Peter Delevett covers startups and venture capital for the San Jose Mercury News. He's been a journalist in Silicon Valley since the dot-com daze.