Tag Archives: business lesson

How to get 1000’s of paying customers

How do you attract 1000’s of paying customers? By having an amazing product: something that solves a problem, and makes life easier.

Building an amazing product is about being focused. Avoid multi-tasking. Sweat every single detail: your writing, your design, your terms of service – it all matters. Make sure it’s perfect. The entire team has to be focused on producing a great product.

Despite what some people tell you, you do have to work hard. It doesn’t mean you have to work 15 hour days. It does mean that when you do sit down to work, you need to put your head down and work. Get the fuck off of Twitter! If you’re getting distracted every 5 minutes, you won’t get any work done. You really have to tune everything out, and just work. And you have to do that every single day.

It’s not going from 0 to 1000 customers: instead it’s going from 0 to 2. And then 2 to 4. It’s slow. It’s steady. You need to patience. If you have something of value, people will pay money for it. Create something valuable, and people will pay you for it!

– Chris Nagele at his SuperConf talk, 2012

Business lesson: less research, launch small

An inside look at my skate shop

Note: this is the second post in my series on business lessons I learned while running a small retail business shortly after graduating university.  Click here to go to the first post.

Here was another big mistake I made: I did too much planning, and only launched one “big” idea.

When I did my research, everything looked “fine” on paper.  My area had more than enough target market; they had the money and the demand for the goods.  I interviewed potential customers, all of whom were excited about the idea of a local skateboard and snowboard shop.  I built my cash-flow based on other shops in similar markets.

But none of that planning ended up working, because all of the facts, business theory, and analysis went out the window as soon as I started selling real products.

What I should have done: preliminary research, followed by launching multiple “small” ideas to test the market.

Instead of planning for over a year, and then launching a big store, I should have planned for a month and launched multiple test-runs.  I could have tried selling skateboards out of my truck at the skatepark.  I could have rented a temporary space in the mall over Christmas.  I could have tried home delivery.

All of this could have been accomplished with less time, less money, and less planning. Moving from the theoretical to actually trying to sell the product, would have given me the data I couldn’t accomplish doing other types of research: will this work?  Is it worth doing?

Until you produce and sell something real, you can’t really forecast what the response will be. Start small: build it and sell it as quickly as you can.

PS: If you’re ever in Vernon, BC, check out my buddy Bryce’s shop: Okanagan Skate Co.

Business lesson: Go where the people are

[In business] you shouldn’t swim upstream. Don’t try to change people’s behavior. Go to where your customers are. – Ramit

Like Ramit, I learned this lesson the hard way. Growing up in a small town, I always wished there was a small, local shop I could visit to buy clothing, skateboards, and snowboard equipment.

The Real DealAfter graduating from university, I decided to make it happen. Together with two partners, we launched The Real Deal: a local skateboard shop in a small town. Our mantra was: “You don’t need to go to the city to shop, you can shop local!”

And our shop was awesome. We really cared about our customers. We had a well designed store interior. We stocked the best brands.

Here’s the problem: our customers, skateboarders, were already used to driving to the city. They would make a day of it on Saturday or Sunday. With a whole day of shopping, they could visit multiple shops, with a bigger selection than we could ever have. Our customers weren’t shopping local.

Once we discovered this, we tried to change their behavior. We launched “shop local” campaigns, we developed relationships, and we offered competitive pricing. We also sponsored local athletes, put on shows, and even launched our own magazine. But none of that mattered, because local consumers liked going into the big city for shopping.

Don’t ever lose track of the idea that a business needs to make money. In retail, that means lots and lots of traffic. If there’s no traffic at your proposed location, in doesn’t matter how awesome your shop is or how good your idea is, it’s not going to fly. This applies to other businesses as well: you can’t change the way an entire market operates.

Don’t go into business because of a particular ideal (ie. “shopping local is better”).  Instead, identify a group of people who need a particular product or service… and then go where they are.  Once you’re there, you need to test out your business.  I will discuss that in my next post.

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