Fuhu is growing by leaps and bounds, but it hasn’t changed Jim Mitchell and his commitment to serve his core customers

Jim Mitchell had already put together quite an impressive resume when he decided to partner with Robb Fujioka to create Fuhu Inc.

He spent nearly 20 years with Accenture, helping the management consulting firm create an e-commerce practice that would bring Internet-based solutions to leading companies from across the U.S.

Mitchell holds six patents on e-commerce frameworks for doing business via the Internet and he has worked with some of the biggest brand names in the world of technology.
It’s fair to say, however, that none of those names are hotter in 2014 than Fuhu. The company, which was inspired by an heirloom tomato, is now changing the way kids use technology to learn with the first Android tablet specifically designed for children.

Fuhu was named the No. 1 fastest-growing private company in America by Inc. for the second consecutive year. Its three-year growth rate this year was calculated to be a staggering 158,956 percent, dwarfing last year’s figure of 42,148 percent.

Revenue has jumped from $123 million in 2010 to $195.6 million in 2013.

As an entrepreneur, Mitchell is obviously pleased with the success and is working hard to keep it going. But this isn’t a company that was built for the purpose of breaking records with its impressive financial performance.

“We have a company focused on kids and family,” says Mitchell, Fuhu’s CEO. “So the most important thing for us is making sure the kids have something to be engaged with, have fun with and learn with, and for parents to feel comfortable with it. As parents, we know what that means to us. So we take that same care and quality and we project that on to our tablets and on to our products and through the culture of the entire company.”

Find your inspiration

One of the first things likely to catch your eye when you visit Fuhu’s website is the image of a digitized tomato. In this case, it’s an heirloom tomato. There’s a big difference, Mitchell says.

“A regular tomato is made for a short shelf life,” Mitchell says. “It’s made to look red and perfect and be something that people just want to grab and go. An heirloom tomato is made from seeds that are passed from generation to generation. You really focus on the taste and the quality. That’s how we feel about our products. We’re creating products for kids.”

Heirloom tomatoes, says Mitchell, require daily care and nurturing in order to reach their full potential. And as Mitchell and Fujioka looked at the way computer technology was evolving, they felt an opportunity was being missed to educate children and put them in a better position to reach their full potential.

“When we started, there were iPads and there were toys,” Mitchell says. “You kind of think of a toy as a regular tomato with a short shelf life that looks kind of flashy, but does not have a lot of substance. The substance of an iPad is huge, but it’s not appropriate for kids. If you drop it, it could break or they could go all over the Internet.

“So our focus is on creating great, amazing experiences that kids will cherish and parents will trust and love and do that on a tablet that we make. It’s the first tablet made especially for kids and we think it has a lot of the same themes as the heirloom tomato.”

Fuhu was founded in 2008 and when nabi, the name of the company’s Android tablet designed just for kids, was released in late 2011, it generated an overwhelming response.

The entire pre-order stock sold out less than three weeks after becoming available on Toysrus.com. It became the No. 1 seller across both the electronics and entertainment category and the learning category.

It was touted as “a game console, a movie theater, a university, a library and an art studio” that would grow with its young users.

“Kids that use our product range from ages 3 to 11,” Mitchell says. “Both Robb and I are parents. So we know what our kids want. We also know what we want to make sure we can provide them and our focus really comes down to three things: Learn, play, grow. We want children to learn with the device. It’s not just a game station.”

Being thoughtful parents makes it relatively easy for Mitchell and Fujioka to find their motivation. But Mitchell points out that the passion they feel for their customers is just as important in other industries.

“If you are going to be a leader, you have to be passionate about your business, regardless of what it is,” Mitchell says. “It’s easier for me to be passionate about our business because I have a family and I have kids. But I spent a lot of years in consulting, so I’ve seen a lot of different companies.

“The ones that are most successful have leaders who are really passionate about whatever it is they do. It could be a car you are creating. That passion comes through not only in the product, but when customers call your company for support or questions. It comes through in how you respond to your customers.”