Thursday, December 31, 2009
Our recent nomination as a finalist in The Crunchies Awards for 'Best Bootstrapped Startup' got us thinking about how we've funded ourselves to date and we thought we'd share that with you, and some of our thoughts for the future.
Mike and I, often with the help of Jodie, have dabbled in various startups over the years while working for other companies. It got us thinking a few years ago that we might want to try it out full time, so we figured we'd do our best to save some money in case we wanted to leave our jobs and try a startup full time. And if we decided not to do that, hey, savings not exactly a bad thing to have done!
So when it came to quitting our jobs we each put in about $25k to the business, and we each have enough in reserve to live a reasonable Sydney lifestyle for 2 years without needing to draw a salary.
One of the great things about Shoes of Prey as a business is that it hasn't required a lot of capital. The big capital requirements for traditional retailers are store setup costs and capital required to buy stock, neither of which we require. So our initial investment of $50k, and the equivalent of 1 person working full time for 12 months has got us to where we are now, breaking even without paying Mike, Jodie or I a salary.
That said, we've got some interesting choices moving forward, some of which may require capital.
1. We can grow via the organic path. We focus on online retail, do some offline retail events and only invest in further offline activities from our profits.
2. In addition to online retail, we can invest more heavily in offline retail opportunities whether that be through instore displays owned by others, such as our experiment with The Grand Social, or even opening our own stores. Either of these could require a capital investment beyond our means as founders, so we're going to start having conversations and learning more about the venture capital industry in case we choose to go down this path.
Clearly there are significant pros and cons to taking on investors. We'd love to have the capital to grow quickly, and there are some great opportunities to do that in the offline space. And having experienced investors involved in our business would mean we'd learn a lot and get some great advice. However at the same time we like the level of control we have over the direction of the business at the moment - we're able to experiment and learn the best way forward without the time pressure of an investor who wants to exit at some point in the future. And going down the path of taking on investors would be a time consuming process.
If you've had any experience with angel investors or the venture capital industry we'd love to hear your thoughts on how you think we should proceed.
And if you're so inclined, you can vote for us in the Crunchies Awards here once a day until January 6. :)
Monday, December 28, 2009
It was with this thought in mind that I walked past a new butcher on Crown St. in Surry Hills - Sam the Butcher. Here's the display in their window:
While I'm not vegetarian, I'm not a fan of killing animals either (I'd like us to offer vegan shoes in the near future), but I think this is a brilliant retail display.
1. It grabs your attention - every time I walk past this display people are standing in front of it. Some people love it, some people hate it - but everyone stops to look.
2. It's buzz worthy - the fact that it's a controversial and different means people are going to talk about it and will very quickly know, and remember, that there is a new butcher in town.
3. It exudes quality - Sam the Butcher is a high end organic meat shop. The clean, polished stainless steal helps show this is a quality butcher.
The other reason I like this display is that in contrast to countries like China, in Australia we've become desensitised to where our meat comes from. This display makes it pretty darn obvious and is a good reminder that when we choose to eat meat, it comes from an animal rather than a plastic packet.
Have you seen any inspiring retail displays lately?
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Thanks so much to everyone who nominated us for a Crunchie award a few weeks back. We're a finalist in the 'Best Bootstrapped Startup' category! It's a real honour just to be a finalist, TechCrunch is one of our most read news sites there are some amazing companies and products up for awards.
While it's an honour to be nominated, we'd love to win! If you think Shoes of Prey is deserving you can help us win by voting for us each day.
Here's what to do:
1) Please bookmark this URL -- maybe even make it your homepage while the competition is running: http://crunchies2009.techcrunch.com/vote/?NjozNA==
2) Every day until January 6 2010 select Shoes of Prey and click 'Vote'. You can even share your vote with your friends on Facebook or Twitter. :)
3) Come back each and every day until January 6, and vote again. (Every person can vote once per day.)
Thanks again for your support! :)
Monday, December 21, 2009
In order to take our bespoke shoe startup to the next level we know we'll need to start building a community around it. Over the last week we've been giving this a lot of thought. However we'd love to brainstorm some more ideas on our blog with you!
The purpose of building our community is to:
- Make our site more "sticky" so people want to come back again, and hopefully bring their friends.
- Give potential customers more confidence to purchase designs they have created.
It's also important that we build the community in a way that is consistent with our brand. In other words, we don't want create something that is insulting to the intelligence of our customers or relies too heavily on gimmicks.
To kick off the brainstorming we reviewed some popular websites to see how they've managed to build their communities. Here are some of the sites we reviewed:
|TypeTees -- a sub-brand of Threadless -- makes funny t-shirts from slogans submitted and voted on by the community. The great thing is that you receive almost immediate feedback after you post a slogan.|
|Etsy sells arts and crafts made by independent artists and designers from around the world. They have many community tools on their site such as forums, chat rooms, voting communities, and smaller support groups called "teams" that support particular geographies or crafting mediums.|
|Foursquare is a location-based game played on mobile phones. Users "check-in" to places they frequent, such as cafes, nightclubs and restaurants. If they are the person that checks-in to a particular location the most, they are crowned the "mayor" of that location. They are also awarded points for their check-ins and, over time, their aggregated activity will unlock various badges as they achieve certain milestones.|
|Yelp relies on the community to provide all of the content for their website. To keep people motivated they keep track of a wide variety of statistics, such as the number of "funny", "useful" or "cool" reviews a person has submitted, the number of "first" reviews each user has submitted, and the number of "compliments" a user has received. Really active users are selected annually to join the "Elite Squad" - which gets them a special badge on their profile page and invites to exclusive events.|
After looking at these sites, and some others, we've got a number of ideas about how we should design our community features. However, we'd love to know what you think! Do you have any favorite websites with great community tools? What would you recommend we do to help build our community?
Friday, December 18, 2009
As we mentioned in a recent post, if you have an entrepreneurial idea, it's highly likely that whatever influenced you to have the idea has influenced 1000 other people to have the same idea at the same time. So this begs the question, should you keep your idea under wraps, hidden from others? Or should you talk to people about it and seek their advice?
If you're a regular reader of this blog you probably have a good idea of our thoughts on this. We've gained so much from talking to people about our business, particularly via this blog, both before our launch and since. Whether it was the 72 incredibly generous comments helping us to brainstorm a new name when it looked like we couldn't use Shoes of Prey, or the discussions we've had with people about the shoe sizing conundrum, being open about our business has been hugely valuable. Over the last few years we've had literally hundreds of ideas that, after talking to people about them, we've realised won't work. No doubt that's saved us a lot of effort and contributed to us starting Shoes of Prey rather than another business.
The obvious risk of discussing our idea is that potential competitors read our blog, learn from us and use our ideas. And particularly prior to our launch, the risk was that someone would take our idea and beat us to it. Obviously we don't discuss everything on this blog, but there's actually very little we don't discuss. We think our success will come down to how well we execute on the idea. If other people read this blog and enter the market, that's ok, it's up to us to offer a better product to our customers.
What are your thoughts? If you have a business you're thinking of starting do you discuss it with others or keep it quiet?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
As we've discussed previously, our Facebook Page is performing really well for us and I've been doing quite a bit of reading on social media marketing to learn how we can improve on our efforts.
I was recently introduced to Greg Ellis (Co-Founder) and Johan Kriegbaum (Online Marketing) of Cash Doctors and boy do they have a social media challenge on their hands! Encouraging people to talk to their friends about PayDay loans is no easy task. But I think they're making a fantastic go of it, and there are some great lessons for those of us using social media marketing.
I should mention, payday loans might make you think of dodgy, scammy lenders, but after reading through their site and meeting with Greg and Johan, I'm very impressed with their ethics and responsible approach to their lending practices - eg. Cash Doctors only lend money to people with a job and a clear ability to repay the loan.
So onto the good stuff, here's the lessons I've taken from Cash Doctors social media approach:
1. Develop a clear strategy around what will best get people talking about your product.
People aren't going to talk about how they just got a payday loan because they were running short of cash, but they will talk about ways to save money and great deals, so Cash Doctors have developed 'Catie Cash's Deals' to discuss great deals, like this post about saving money with your Christmas shopping. They've also established the 'Tight Arts Appreciation Society' to discuss innovative ways to save money.
2. If you make a mistake, be honest with your customers.
Check out this post from co-founder Greg titled 'How we blew our launch'. Who are you going to forgive and develop an affinity for, a company that gives a short, undetailed 'oops, sorry' response, or one who takes responsibility and explains the error in detail?
3. Show your personality.
Cash Doctors do this brilliantly. Check out the video on their Facebook Page that shows co-founder Sean's face being painted like a dog! Or this post showing whales migrating past their office (which had 10 comments on their Facebook Page). Cash Doctors also regularly change their profile pic to show a different employee from their company.
4. Engage with your customers - social media is a 2 way communication.
Cash Doctors do a great job of responding to fan comments on their Facebook Page and messages on Twitter. Follow up comments from fans is testament to this being viewed positively by their customers.
All of that said, it's clearly still early days for Cash Doctors and their social media strategy. And speaking to Greg and Johan, it's still unclear whether this is going to work for them. Despite what I view as a brilliant effort, they've only got 122 Facebook fans and 94 twitter followers, so clearly they aren't getting a good ROI just yet, but if it's possible to have an effective social media strategy in their space, I think they're going the right way about finding it, so hats off to Greg, Johan and Catie Hughes (their social media whiz) for giving it a go and good luck!
What do you think of their approach? Any ideas on what they could be doing differently?
Monday, December 14, 2009
It was over the Christmas break last year that we had the idea for Shoes of Prey, and at that time we hadn't come across too many customisable products. We'd read that customisation was a growing trend and it made sense to us that people would want to buy customised products - with the growth of manufacturing in China consumers can now buy just about anything at very cheap prices compared with just a few decades ago, so to be unique and different, consumers want to be able to customise products to suit themselves. Coupled with this demand are improvements in manufacturing that make customisation easier to do, and big improvements in software and web development which make it possible to build something like a custom shoe designer.
And we've been amazed at how many other entrepreneurs and businesses are onto the same concept! Not only can you customise your own shoes, you can mix your own muesli create your own rug or even design your own Lego set! And there are now websites dedicated to profiling companies that allow you to customise products, like Milk or Sugar who have a quickly growing list of over 100 different customisable products.
A big lesson we've taken from this is that if you have an entrepreneurial idea, it's highly likely that whatever influenced you to have the idea has influenced 1000 other people to have the same idea at the same time. So don't overplan and waste valuable time, or worry about protecting your idea, get out there and execute on the idea well and fast. To us it looks like success is more in the execution than coming up with a new idea no-one else has ever thought of - because someone else will have.
Friday, December 11, 2009
I was reflecting on our offline retail plans and the fact that our biggest website traffic and sales spikes have come from bring written about in offline media and I realised that our experience with Shoes of Prey is completely the opposite to the experience of most other retailers - we are discovering offline retailing and marketing for the first time, while traditional retailers are discovering the online world the first time.
When I was working at Google a big challenge for the Retail sales team was persuading retailers that their customers are spending time online, and that as a retailer, you need to have a strong online presence to engage with those customers. Retailers are starting to test the waters, some more than others, and those that are doing it properly are doing very well.
We on the other hand, are sold on the benefits of online retailing and marketing, and are now just discovering the wonderful world of offline retailing and marketing! And it makes sense that offline retailing and marketing works too. Despite the impressive growth of online, the bulk of media consumption time and retail dollars are spent offline. So we'll soon be embarking on a PR push that is focused on offline as well as online media, and we're talking to offline retailers about selling our shoes in their stores.
If, like us, your background, work experience and frame of reference is predominantly online, what can you do for your business or career that is offline?
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
My Gmail inbox and calendar are where I organise my life. I find that around half of the things I have to do come to me via email, so for the other half, I simply send an email to myself so those things are also captured in my inbox. I use Google Calendar for to dos that are time based, eg. I have to do something at a particular time or on a date in 2 weeks time.
As you might just be able to make out in the screenshot below, I use the 'Superstars' gmail labs features. Red stars are important/urgent to do's, blue stars are less important/not urgent to do's and yellow exclamation marks are things I'm waiting to hear back from someone else about - this reminds me to follow up if people haven't gotten back to me about something important. Anything that can be done in under 3 minutes I do immediately rather than emailing myself or starring it.
I also use the 'Multiple Inboxes' labs feature so that my starred items, or my to do list appear on the right side of my inbox for easy reference.
I don't archive messages which I know is a little abnormal. If something is read and not starred it's the equivalent of being archived in my mind, but I like to keep it in my inbox in case I need to quickly scan and find an email that I hadn't needed to star earlier (though I love and often use Gmail search for this).
This approach came about after reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People a few years ago, then doing a Getting Things Done course at Google and speaking to another Googler, Will Blott who uses a system very similar to the one I now use.
While this approach works very well for me, everyone's different and I love hearing about other people's to do systems as I often pinch little things to make my own process more efficient. How do you manage your to dos?
Monday, December 7, 2009
As we discussed in an earlier post, we've been experimenting with offline retailing, and it's been working really well, more than half our sales have come about as a result of our offline efforts! That's amazing given that we've had about 20 times as many people visit our website as see our offline displays. For those of us used to measuring conversion in the online world, the conversion rate for visitors to our business that see one of our offline displays is 20 times higher than for visitors who see our website only. That's incredible, but it makes sense.
As an online retailer of custom made women's shoes we face 2 barriers to people purchasing from us:
1. People like to see and touch clothes and shoes before purchasing them, particularly high quality products like ours.
2. Customers are a little uncertain when they come across a new business concept like ours. Despite our best efforts to allay their fears, they aren't sure if the shoes are going to look like they hope they will.
When people get to see and touch our shoes, both of these barriers are overcome. They see that the shoes are very well made and that they look very similar to how they look in the designer.
After quite a bit of thought and discussion, we think it makes sense to combine some offline retailing with our online efforts, the two are very complimentary. As we see it there are two approaches we can take:
1. Our own stores.
2. Shoes of Prey displays in existing retail stores.
Given the capital requirements of option 1, we figure we should leave that possibility for now and start with option 2. Retailers displaying Shoes of Prey shoes wouldn't need to hold stock, and we think we could build a great display in 1m x 1m, so we're going to start talking to some retailers to see if they'd be interested in working with us.
As this stage we think the ideal stores for us are mid to high end women's clothing boutiques and wedding dress stores. If you know of any great boutique women's clothing or wedding stores who you think fit with our brand, please let us know!
In terms of the in store retail display, JC from The Grand Social, who have kindly hosted our latest offline efforts (see the pic above), made the good point that we should aim for a really innovative display which clearly tells the story that you can see and touch the shoes in the display, then design them online. A simple way to do this would be to include a touch screen version of our shoe designer in the display. However I'm sure there are much cooler things we could do. Any ideas?!
Thursday, December 3, 2009
On Tuesday 22michaels was listed as a 'Blog of Note' on blogger and we're getting a lot of new visitors, so we thought we'd take the opportunity to explain our business, Shoes of Prey, and our blog, 22michaels.
Shoes of Prey allows you to custom design your own women's shoes. You choose the heel, toe, colour, leather and embellishments. Our expert craftsmen then handmake your shoes and we ship them to your waiting feet.
Designing and ordering custom made women's shoes online is a relatively new concept and it's been exciting to get the business of the ground. And this blog, 22michaels, is where we talk through the process of starting Shoes of Prey and the challenges we face along the way.
To all our new visitors, thanks for stopping by. Please take a look at Shoes of Prey, we'd love to hear your thoughts on the business, and if you like our blog you can subscribe by email at the top of the page, bookmark us or add us to your RSS feed. :)
Mike, Jodie and Michael.
As we've progressed with Shoes of Prey we've come to realise that we're not using a lot of software on our computers and that instead most of what we do is done in 'the cloud'. Not only is this cheap, but it means we can easily share what we're doing with each other and jump on any device connected to the internet to work, whether that be our computer, someone else's computer or our iPhones. Here's what we do that's done in the cloud:
- We host our website with Google AppEngine.
- We use Google Apps for our email, calendar, documents and spreadsheets.
- From starting our business until just 2 weeks ago Mike, Jodie and I had never all been in the same city at the same time, and Mike and Jodie still haven't met Vanessa in person, so we use Google Talk within Gmail for chat and video conferencing.
- We use Blogger to host this blog and Tumblr to host the Shoes of Prey blog
- We recently discovered and now use Pixlr for a lot of our image editing.
- Twitter and Facebook are two of our key marketing tools. We also use Google AdWords and Facebook Advertising.
- As we've talked about previously, we use Saasu to do our accounting.
- We use Picasa to share our shoe related photos between Jodie, Mike and I.
- As we've mentioned previously, we use Campaign Monitor to manage our Shoes of Prey email subscription list.
- Mike stores our website code with Github so it's not lost if anything happens to his computer.
- We use Google Analytics to analyse usage of our website and will soon start using Website Optimizer to improve our website.
The only software we use that's not in the cloud is the operating system and web browsers on our computers, Skype for cheap international calls, particularly when we're overseas, and the web design software Mike uses - Adobe Flash, Dreamweaver and for some graphics editing, Fireworks.
Is there any other cloud based software that you use which would be useful for us?
Sunday, November 29, 2009
This week four of our friends (Jen, Pete B, Peter W and Jeff S) nominated us for a "Crunchie" award for best International Startup (outside the US). After thinking about it for a few days, it would actually be pretty awesome to win this...
The catch is, we need votes. Lots of votes.
If you think we're deserving, please help us win by voting for us each day.
Here's what we ask that you'd do:
1) Please bookmark this URL -- maybe even make it your homepage while the competition is running:
2) Every day until December 5 2009 (Dec 4 in the US) click "Nominate" next to "Shoes of Prey".
3) Come back each and every day until December 5, and click "Nominate" again. (Every person can vote once per day.)
Thanks for your support! :)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Our first orders have been going out to our customers over the last few weeks and we're very excited by the responses we've been getting. One of our first customers, Beverly, blogged last night about receiving her shoes. It's a great post with some excellent suggestions which we'll be following up on:
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Now that the business has launched we're finding that we're a lot busier and it's harder to find the time to blog when there are so many other things to work on. However rather than being less valuable, I think at this time the blog is even more valuable. In addition to keeping our friends up to date with what we're doing, and getting input on the many issues we no doubt have ahead of us, this blog is a great place for planning and reflection. I'm 2/3 of the way through an MBA at AGSM and a key theme throughout the program is what they call the 'Action Learning Cycle'. The Action Learning Cycle is quite simple. It says that for anything you do you go through a 4 stage cycle which you should continuously repeat if you want to keep improving what you're doing.
As in the above diagram, the 4 stages are:
At the moment we're spending a huge amount of time taking action. We're implementing many of the things we've been planning for most of the year and working to get the business up and running. Doing this leaves little time for reflection, planning and learning. And that's where this blog comes in. Knowing that we want to write 3 posts a week makes us sit down and think, 'what are 3 important things for us this week that we can write about?'. That's a great piece of reflection and planning in itself and writing the actual posts is even better. Take the recent post about our Facebook Page strategy. I'd done some basic research and planning before we implemented the page, but writing the post forced me to sit down and reflect in detail on how it had gone, learn from that then plan our next moves. And I now have a written record of that reflection, learning and planning that I can go back to as we take action in the next steps of building out the page. And the added bonus of doing this process via a blog is that I got some excellent thoughts and ideas from the anonymous poster who shared their thoughts in the post. It was a similar story with the post about interviewing for our first permanent hire.
Even though there's so much to do, and it would be very easy to neglect this blog I think there's huge value in continuing with it.
How do you take time out to reflect, learn and plan?
Friday, November 20, 2009
China is so incredibly different to Australia
I've been lucky enough to travel quite a bit and I've never spent time anywhere that is as different to Australia as China. Parts of the US, particularly California almost feel like home. The UK might as well be home given the number of Aussies in London. Mainland Europe, even with the different languages isn't so different to Australia. And the major Asian cities I've been to like Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur really aren't so different either. I've not yet been to South America and I've only spent a week in Africa so I can't really compare those.
As for China, or at least Guangzhou, it's entirely different. The differences that struck me include:
- The spoken and written language. In Europe you can look at a street sign and know roughly how to pronounce it, or you can listen to a conversation and pick up the occasional word because it's similar to an English word. Not in China.
- The food. Chinese people don't like to eat seafood unless they've seen it alive and so know it's fresh. Watching the fish that you're about to eat being pulled out of the fish tank and killed isn't something that would go down so well in Australia. It's interesting though, that's the reality of eating meat and we've become desensitised to that in Australia.
- Slurping your soup is the done thing. You spit bones out onto the table rather than remove them before putting the food in your mouth.
- The cutlery. Why did we decide to use knives and forks and the Chinese decide to use chopsticks?
- Censoring the internet. You can't access Facebook, Twitter, Blogger (including this blog), sites hosted by Google Appengine (including Shoes of Prey), sites or even Google search results that mention Tianemen Square or Falun Gong. Though perhaps it won't be long until we start on this path in Australia. Mike and I used ExpressVPN while we were here to get around the censoring.
- What is and isn't polite to say - a western female friend was asked if she was married, when she said no the Chinese supplier said, "You need to lower your standards, you have too much acne!"
- The toilets. They are a hole in the floor that you squat over. BYO toilet paper.
- Toddlers wear buttoned pants rather than nappies so they can go to the toilet in the street, or in a drain on the floor on the train!
- The pollution. I've seen a blue sky maybe twice in 5 weeks here. The rest of the time it's hazy, and it's not fog. We have to clean the apartment thoroughly every week because a thin film of black soot ends up covering everything. Fill a bucket up with water from the tap and it's brown. And that's the reality of being the world's factory. We can't get angry at China for being polluted when pretty much everything we buy in Australia is made there.
Don't get me wrong, I love it in China, the differences make it exciting and fun, I just didn't expect things to be so different. It's fascinating that human beings can develop such vastly different cultures and ways of living.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Tomorrow I fly home to Sydney after spending 5 weeks in Guangzhou China. That got me reflecting on my time here and this is Part 1 of my thoughts.
I arrived here 5 days after we launched Shoes of Prey and when I think through everything that's happened in that time it feels like 6 months rather than 5 weeks. In addition to being in another part of the world it feels like I've been in a time warp.
Here's some of what's happened:
- We've had some great press with the highlights being spots in Marie Claire, QWeekend Magazine and, judging by the traffic that followed, a popular Auckland morning radio show.
- We've had some amazing feedback and learnt a lot from our customers which will direct our work over the coming weeks.
- We've had days of strong sales and days of 0 sales.
- We've set things up to start working with a second supplier.
- We've spent 5 days at the Canton Fair and explored a whole range of new, potential products for future businesses.
- We've experimented with offline sales at the Bondi Markets and Sydney Fashion Weekend.
- We've hired Vanessa, our first full time employee.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Working at Google was a great, steady job. There were highs, there were lows, but at the end of the month there was a nice steady pay check.
Shoes of Prey is like a crazy roller coaster where you're strapped in by your feet and flung around a crazy non-sensical track at a hundred miles an hour. There's gut wrenching, plummeting lows and fantastic, ecstatically exciting highs. And they come within days of each other.
Last week we met with our supplier who told us their workshop has too many orders and our shoes are now going to take 5 weeks to make. This is on top of some of our first orders already bordering on being late. If we can't get our first orders to customers on time, what hope do we have of encouraging people to spread the word about our business? Queue plummeting low. Fortunately we'd kept in close contact with another potential supplier and over the weekend we sent our first orders to our second supplier. 2-3 weeks is their turnaround which is much better. But now we have a raft of issues to work through around matching leathers and designs across suppliers. We can see a hard but steady rise out of the low.
This weekend was Sydney Fashion Weekend. We invested $4,000 of our not exactly large cash reserves in the event and opening night on Thursday saw pretty dismal sales. Plummeting low number 2 for the week. We tweaked our sales approach, our messaging around pricing and got all our laptops working on the stand, and Friday night and Saturday saw fantastic sales. Plus we've learnt so much from speaking to our customers directly that we've got a good idea of where to focus our energies over the coming month. An ecstatic high only 24 hours later!
It certainly isn't boring running a startup.
Friday, November 13, 2009
As mentioned in a previous post we've been interviewing for our first permanent hire to be based in China. We're pleased to say that we've hired Vanessa Iron. Welcome to the team Vanessa!
Vanessa studied English at University. She's worked for 3 different Chinese exporting companies, and the first one involving women's shoes. On her first day on the job she picked up one of our shoes and proceeded to give me a lesson in the different materials that had been used to make this shoe! This is exactly who we need on the team! Vanessa started with us last week and already she's proven she will be very valuable. I had planned to meet with a shipping company based in Shenzhen to discuss shipping prices. At the moment we're using Hong Kong Post and we can get better rates and shave a couple of days off the delivery time using someone else. Vanessa took a look at the website of the shipping company I was going to use and told me there were much better and cheaper companies in Guangzhou. She called a few and she was right. Shipping rates and service levels from the company she suggested in Guangzhou will be much better than with the company I had found.
Here's a brief outline of what will be involved in Vanessa's role:
1. Receiving a daily delivery of shoes from the shoe workshop:
- quality check the shoes completed that day;
- photograph the shoes completed that day;
- package and ship the shoes completed that day.
2. Upload the photographs and sizing information for the completed shoes into our database.
3. Track all our orders to ensure shoes will be delivered on time.
4. Organise our bookkeeping.
5. Liaise with our suppliers as we add more material and design options.
6. Translating for us on our trips to China.
7. Ad hoc tasks like:
- finding a new shipping company to reduce our shipping times and cost.
- if things go well, establish an office in Guangzhou. We've rented a small room to start things off.
- helping us research suppliers for new products we might want to explore.
If we want to retain Vanessa there are a range of things that are important. 2 key one's are:
1. Providing an opportunity for her to grow with the role.
If things go well for Shoes of Prey and any other businesses we might set up, we'll likely need to hire more people in China. We wouldn't necessarily need people with as much experience as Vanessa, so she could potentially manage additional people we hire here giving her a new challenge in her career.
2. Bonus structure.
We want Vanessa's interests to be aligned with the business so her bonus will be based on how many shoes we sell and the bonus will be significant. If we reach our 12 month goals for the business Vanessa will receive an additional 60% of her salary as a bonus, and the bonus is scaled so she's still rewarded if we do well but don't quite reach our goals, and she's rewarded more if we exceed them.
We're very excited and very pleased to have Vanessa join our team.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I've always wanted a reason to play with Google's Sketchup software - and yesterday I had the perfect excuse. We're currently planning our presence at the Sydney Fashion Weekend which starts this Thursday. Within 30 minutes I had downloaded Sketchup for free and mocked up this very basic scale model of our stand:
An image is fine, but animation is better:
As you can see, Sketchup is incredible useful for visualizing a physical space. With minimal training you can easily create realistic models which you can then use to iron out potential logistical or tactical problems; changing everything around in a matter of seconds. For instance, we know from our experience at the Bondi markets that our shoes are like magnets to fashion conscious women. Having them at the front of the stand makes more sense so we can get a few precious seconds to explain the concept and then draw their attention to the laptops.
That said, our finished stand is potentially going to look quite different (and certainly more polished). However it was a great way to explore the amount of space we have available to us. We'll definitely use it again when we need to plan out physical spaces.
Are there aspects of your business that could be better visualized in 3D?
Monday, November 9, 2009
As discussed previously, photographing the shoes we have made is important to our business. One of the biggest pieces of feedback we've had is that the shoe designer isn't realistic enough. It would be a significant investment to make the designer more realistic, and that's an investment we'll hold off making for a while, but one improvement we can make is to add photos into our shoe designer of 'shoes similar to the one you've designed'. Design a shoe in red patent leather and we'll show you a photo of a shoe made in red patent leather. Select the 4.5 inch heel with a platform and we'll show you a photo of a shoe made with a 4.5 inch heel with a platform.
To do this properly we need great photos of our shoes. So we've been investing in photography equipment and I've been teaching myself product photography. So far we've purchased:
Canon EOS 500D Camera
Canon 50mm Lens
Home made light box
2 x 70w 5500K lights
1 x 168w 5500K light
One of the great thing about the camera we bought is that you can tether it to your computer and see the shot your going to get on your computer screen before you actually take it (see the image at the top of this post).
Our biggest challenge with the product photography is getting the colours right. The leather colour in the shoe photographs needs to match the leather colour in real life, otherwise we're going to have disappointed customers. To give you an example of how much the colour can vary take a look at these two photos of a gold soft leather shoe:
This photo is with the white balance on the camera set properly. The shoe looks silver.
For this photo I adjusted the white balance and this is the actual colour of the leather. Trouble is now the background is an ugly orange. We could cut out the image of the shoe and photoshop the background white, or alternatively make the adjustments to the silver looking shoe to make it gold, but that's difficult to do properly and when we're photographing multiple pairs of shoes each day we want to be able to get the image right first time.
The photos above were done with our old lights and since then we've bought 5500 Kelvin (the same as sunlight) professional photography lights. Check this light out!
The new lights have improved the colour issues, but we're still having problems matching blues without using photoshop.
Any suggestions are most welcome!
Friday, November 6, 2009
No, the website hasn't gone down, we thought we'd try our hand at offline retailing! The most common piece of feedback we've received is that people would love to see and touch the shoes, so we thought we'd let people do that. A few months ago Jodie designed 40 pairs of shoes which give a good overview of the style and colour options available on the site. We had the shoes made in a range of sizes that will allow customers to try the shoes on to help us determine their size. We've also made up some leather books so we can show off samples of all our available leathers and we'll have some laptops available so customers can use the website and get designing. Here's where we'll be:
This Sunday we'll have a stall at the Bondi Markets in Sydney. The Bondi Markets are a predominantly fashion market and a number of now famous designers including Sass & Bide got their start there. Jodie and I will be manning the 3m x 3m stand (Michael is still in China).
Fashion Weekend Sydney
From Thursday 12 November to Sunday 15 November we'll have a stand at Fashion Weekend in Sydney. At the last Fashion Weekend in May over 13,000 fashion loving women came to Fashion Weekend to watch live fashion shows and shop at over 100 designer stands. We'll have a 5m x 2m stand right near the Cafe which should be a great location to show off our shoes. Thanks to Elaine for first suggesting Fashion Weekend to us and thanks to Rafe and Amelia for using their contacts to help us get a last minute spot. Rafe and Amelia will be joining Jodie, Mike and Hazel to help out on the stand over the weekend.
If all goes well we're hoping to continue with a semi-regular stand at the Bondi Markets and we might also explore opportunities to do a pop-up store.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Facebook is a fantastic tool for staying connected with friends, and it's proving to be a fantastic tool for us to connect with our Shoes of Prey customers. Since our launch nearly 4 weeks ago Facebook is our top referring site having delivered 8.4% of our total visitors. The key to this has been our Shoes of Prey Facebook Page. I thought I'd share what we've been doing with the page and would love your comments:
We want to use our Facebook Page to have a conversation with our customers. Many of our customers use Facebook so it's a convenient place for them to talk to us. The benefits of conversing with our customers are fairly obvious but the main ones are:
- getting feedback on our product and website
- being able to discuss and get feedback on new product ideas
- developing our brand through discussions around women's fashion
- involving our customers in our business so they want to tell their friends about it.
2. Content and Posting Frequency
We're still experimenting with the types of content we post to the page and how frequently we post. We started by averaging a post a day, but engagement quickly dropped off so we thought perhaps that was too much. So now we're aiming for 2 posts a week. For now we've broken down the types of posts into:
- Discussing fashion trends - we'll link to some of Jodie's fashion related Shoes of Prey blog posts.
- Recent shoe designs - we'll link to interesting designs that customers have created.
- Recently made shoes - we'll link to some of the shoes that have been made using the site.
- Shoes of Prey in the press - these posts have had the best response so far, probably because a lot of the pages members are friends of ours! We think mentioning these is important as it helps to build our credibility.
- Product improvement discussions - these posts will be used to get feedback from customers about ideas we have to improve the site.
A Facebook Page is only useful if it has members. Here's how we've gone about getting to 900 members in our first month:
- We launched the page 2 days after launching the Shoes of Prey website and our first recruitment drive involved me inviting all of my Facebook friends, including my male friends to join our page! I was worried that was being a bit spammy but my friends have been a huge support to us sharing their ideas on this blog and in person, and being beta testers while we were getting things up and running so I figured they might be interested to join our Facebook Page. The advantage of having a reasonable number of people join the page early is that when people like or comment on a post on your page, that action goes into their news feed and appears on their wall so their friends are exposed to your page.
- We've placed a link to our Facebook Page on the Shoes of Prey homepage. Driving people away from our website isn't necessarily something we always want to do, but for our business we think long term relationships with our customers is important. So far our average sale has come a week after the customer first created an account with us, so building trust with our customers and reminding them to come back to our site is important to us. Those things are that much easier to achieve if someone becomes a member of our Facebook Page.
Engaging with our customers via Facebook is only new to us. We'd love to hear your thoughts on our strategy in the comments.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Our first employee, Alice, has been amazing. Unfortunately she's from Shanghai (Mike met her when he was working in Google's Shanghai office) and in a month she heads home. So we're hiring a new employee in Guangzhou!
Hiring is a difficult process and something we want to get right, particularly when:
Google was a great training ground for hiring, they do it very thoroughly. I had 13 interviews before being hired (I went for 2 different roles) and I enjoyed being involved in hiring great new people for our team in Sydney. Some of the things I learnt there which I'm applying now:
1. Don't rush hiring, be thorough.
It's an obvious thing to say but harder to actually do when you have a to do list that's a million items long, but I keep reminding myself that it will cost a hell of a lot more time if we hire the wrong person. To this end:
2. Develop a good set of criteria for what you're looking for in a person.
3. Take good, thorough notes and review the person as soon as the interview finishes
Again, easier said than done when you're busy, but Alice and I chat about each person as soon as the interview is over and review them against our criteria above. It's easy to get straight back into your work after an interview, but when interviewing a lot of different people if you don't review them and take good notes you'll forget. I also want to keep track of my areas of concern for each person so if we ask them back for another interview, I can ask Mike and Jodie to focus on certain areas.
Any thoughts on what else we should be looking for? A few people have asked about what we have Alice do over here so I'll do up a post detailing the job description soon.
Monday, October 26, 2009
1. Art for your home
Paintings on canvas stretched over a wooden frame like these cost around US$10-$30 depending on the size and style, and shipping these items to Australia wouldn't be too bad as they are light and a lot would fit in a container. There were also some cool paintings that had nice looking real clocks designed into the painting and built into the frame. I think they could retail for around $50-$150.
I can't think of an exciting word of mouth angle to market these, and mass produced paintings doesn't feel super inspiring but I'm sure there's a market for them and some searches on Google don't show up too many retailers selling them online. Would you buy a painting like this online if you knew the quality was good?
2. Manmade leather boxes
The boxes in this image are jewellery boxes and the image doesn't do them justice, but you can get all sorts of boxes and cases with a similar look and feel - tissue box covers, magazine racks, wine racks, key holders etc. Prices range from US$3 up to US$34 for the most complicated jewellery box in the photo above.
I know very little about the homewares market, and I don't have a good marketing angle for an online store that would sell these products, but I like the look of them and I'd guess the margins are good.
3. "The Boss"
You're the boss. You tell people what to do. You need a great chair.
Introducing "The Boss". Exuding power and confidence just like you, The Boss is an insanely comfortable and stylish chair. Your hard working forearms will rest on polished wooden arms while your masculine body relaxes on high quality cushioned leather supported by a steel reinforced frame. After delivering the latest set of important orders your overachieving brain/head can lean back on a softly cushioned pillow encased in quality cow hide.
You make the decisions so The Boss comes in a choice of 3 luxurious colours, black, brown and white and comes with a "no questions asked because you're the boss" 24 month warranty.
The retail website would be very simple - one chair available in 3 colours. This would be a lot of fun to market but my main reservation is that the market for men buying their own chairs isn't large. Most people's office chair is provided by their employer and few employers would dish out the $600-$800 or so we'd need to charge for this chair (which costs US$185 plus another 50% or so in shipping to Australia - each chair weighs 38kg and about 70 fit in a 20" container).
Any thoughts on the above?
Saturday, October 24, 2009
I'm spending 5 weeks in Guangzhou working on Shoes of Prey and it so happens that the Canton Fair is running while I'm here. The Canton Fair is the largest trade fair in the world. Over 3 sessions, each lasting 5 days, 55,000 vendors/factories showcase just about any product you can imagine from toothpaste, to shoes, homewares, fridges, cars and heavy machinery. If you can think of a product it's most likely here, and the vendors want to sell it in bulk to you. The picture above shows about 30 of the 20,000 vendors who were set up at the fair for session 1 - the place is huge.
We're focused on Shoes of Prey for the moment and it's off to a great start, but ideally we want to hedge our bets and try another online retail business, so the Canton Fair is a great place to get ideas. 2 products struck me at session 1 as having potential:
1. Wine Cabinets/Fridges
There were about 20 vendors who were selling wine cabinets at the fair. Everything from a single bottle cooler up to a 200 bottle monster fridge. I've always wondered why wine cabinets are so expensive compared with fridges, and I'm still not entirely sure why, but it seems retailers are making pretty good margins from them. A 155 bottle cabinet can be bought for US$410, and similar fridges seem to retail online for around AUD$2500. Obviously shipping from China would be a fairly massive expense and would add roughly 50% to the cost price, then you have warehousing and all your costs in Australia, but I'd guess there would still be a pretty solid margin here.
Marketing would be a challenge. Retailing wine fridges doesn't have the word of mouth appeal of custom made women's shoes. Doing a couple of searches for 'wine cabinets' and 'wine fridges' on Google shows there are a lot of online retailers already in the space and I can't think of any interesting way to differentiate from them. Still, it's an interesting one.
2. Bathroom Fittings
I've not renovated or built a house so I'd want to do a whole lot more research on this. But from my limited knowledge, taps, mixers and shower fittings etc. are all very expensive. There were a ton of these products at the Canton Fair, and they were all very cheap. Around US$10 for a nice looking set of chrome taps. And not much more for a nice looking shower fitting and taps.
My limited understanding of the market is that it's dominated by a few small players - Reece and Caroma. Their websites are very interesting, they make no mention of price, they just encourage you to design your dream bathroom.
One thing I'm not clear on is the buying process for these products. I'm guessing the builder has a lot of influence on what you buy and that people don't necessarily look to the web to buy these products. And if Reece and Caroma have the builders all tied up this market might be difficult to crack.
I'd love to hear you thoughts on these two products/markets. I'm headed to Session 2 of the fair tomorrow so I'll post about what I find there.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Mike and I were reading this great story over on TechCrunch about how it was that little message on the bottom of Hotmail emails, "Get your free Email at Hotmail", that helped kick off the massive spread of Hotmail back in 1996. The key reasons that message worked were:
1. Simply by using the product everyone became a salesperson.
2. The implied endorsement that came with the message made it very powerful. The receiver of the email could see that a) their friend is a user, b) the product works, c) it's free.
After adding that message Hotmail grew exponentially. From the blog post: "We would notice the first user from a university town or from India, and then the number of subscribers from that region would rapidly proliferate."
I'm not a huge fan of that message because adding it without the ability for users to remove it is spammy so I'd like to do it a little differently. The spammy feel to the message is what the Hotmail founders were worried about too, but it was very effective.
Reading this got Mike and I thinking, what's our "Get your free Email at Hotmail line"?
The email that we sent out to our friends and Shoes of Prey email newsletter subscribers last week worked extremely well. Offering a $50 credit to anyone who had the email forwarded to them saw Shoes of Prey receive over 10,000 visits from an email that we only sent to a couple of hundred people. And sales were great in our first week as a result. We saw emails that had been forwarded on 4 or 5 times. (Thanks to Dom for the awesome suggestion to do this!). However now that the credit offer has expired the email isn't being forwarded on anymore.
How else can we achieve a "Get your free Email at Hotmail" message? We'd love your thoughts!
I've written a guest post on the Amplify blog detailing some of what we've learnt over the last 9 months. For regular readers of 22michaels it will be a bit of a rehash, but if you're interested you can check the post out here.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Well, it's been an incredibly busy 5 days since launch and from everyone's amazing feedback it looks like it's going to be an incredibly busy few months ahead. We've had so many great suggestions for the site and Mike, Jodie and I each have massive to do lists. Here's some of the main things we'll each be working on over the coming months:
- Continue to work full time at The Campaign Palace.
- Design a range of flats to add to the site.
- Write for the new Shoes of Prey fashion blog!
- Finishing our media pack of photos and information for PR.
- Continue to work on the brand identity and ensuring the Shoes of Prey experience is both awesome and consistent with the brand.
- Add pointy toes to the designer.
- Create a 2min video showing how to use and view all the options in the designer.
- Allow multiple photos of each shoe.
- Create a gallery of 'recent designs' that updates in real time as new designs are created.
- Show 'shoes similar to your design' photos in the designer.
- Develop an email newsletter template/theme
- Add strappy options to the designer for summer.
- Build time based marketing features into the site. Design a shoe then we'll email your boyfriend a month before your birthday so he can order your shoe.
- Gift cards.
- Facebook application to share your designs.
- Add more social features to the site to make it easy for people to discuss designs with each other.
- Explore PR opportunities.
- Set up a Google AdWords campaign.
- Review the settings (goals, filters etc.) of our Google Analytics account.
- Improve our product photography so we can take great photos of all the shoes we make.
- Improve our leather photography.
- Research and write care instructions for your shoes.
- Organise a photoshoot in the shoe workshop so we can show visitors to the website how the shoes are made.
- Hire a permanent contractor in Guangzhou.
- Finalise our order to delivery process.
- Finalise our packaging and setting up a process for handwritten thank you notes and a photo of your shoes to be included when we deliver your shoes.
Back to it!
Monday, October 12, 2009
Mike, Jodie and I love using Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch with our friends and interact with new people. I'm finding them particularly good to keep in touch with people and stay social now that I'm working from home by myself all day!
If you use Twitter or Facebook come follow or become a fan of Shoes of Prey!
Friday, October 9, 2009
"Analysing" Image Credit:
Well, it's been an amazing 24 hours - so much positive feedback, lots of tweeting, over 1800 unique visitors, more than 100 customer accounts created and 100s and 100s of beautiful shoes designed. However we want your frank feedback, even if it stings. We want to make Shoes of Prey awesome, and we can't do that without your help. What do you think we can do to encourage this interest to convert into sales?
We have a couple of theories on what might be holding some of these interested people back.
Theory 1 - Uncertainty
While the feedback on the designer has been very positive, it's a drawing rather than a real image of your shoe. You can design something that looks great on paper, but will it look great in real life? Perhaps customers aren't sure so this holds some of them back from ordering.
1.1 We're super confident that the shoes are amazing in real life so we're changing our returns policy to offer a 100% satisfaction no questions asked gaurantee that you'll love your shoes, or we'll give you your money back.
1.2 Over the coming 2 weeks we're going to be adding a lot more photographs to the gallery to try to show even more examples of what the finished shoes look like.
1.3 Our beta testers are very happy with their shoes and we've asked if they would write testimonials of their designing experience and how they've found their shoes. We'll be putting these up shortly.
Theory 2 - It takes time to decide
There's a huge amount of choice in the designer. We'll soon be adding pointy toes and flats, but even now there are literally millions of possible shoes that can be designed. The site has only been live for 24 hours and women want to play around in the designer for a while before deciding what they want. In our beta tests we found it took people at least a few days and sometimes over a week to decide on their shoes.
If theory 2 is an issue we'll probably lose quite a few customers who might never be able to decide. I've not thought this through enough yet, but we'll want to think of ways to give our customers the confidence that the shoes they've designed look great and that they will be thrilled with the result when they have their design created.
What do you think?
As we wrote 2 weeks ago, just prior to our launch we hit a snag with our name. We launched a competition to come up with a new name and we had some excellent suggestions. But the more we tried to come up with a new name the more we realised that Shoes of Prey hits our brand insight and is perfect for our business.
So we started discussions with the NZ based fashion label Verge, who owned the trademark 'Prey', to see if they'd be willing to sell it. Neil and Ian from Verge were super friendly to deal with and in the end they agreed to sell us the trademark which we are very happy with and grateful for, so if you're female and into fashion check out their new Summer 09 range, there's some great stuff there to go with your new shoes!... ;)
Even though we are now officially and legally Shoes of Prey, we still wanted to reward the brainstormer of the best name from our Namestorming Competition.
Drum roll please... and the winner is:
Louise Knapp who suggested 'Sleeping Fox'
Sleeping is a play on Mike's surname, Knapp and we fell in love with the imagery associated with the name. While we hadn't wanted to use our own names for the business, the word Fox does have a slight predatory element to it and we thought, while it wasn't super perfect, it could still work for our brand insight. www.sleepingfox.com was already registered but we contacted the owner, Thomas Brown (also a very friendly kiwi!) and purchased the domain from him. We think it's a name we might want to use for a future business so we've also kicked off trademark registration with that name using IP Australia's Trademark Headstart which we will now always use and will recommend to everyone else registering trademarks.
It was a stressful couple of weeks there but a great learning experience and a happy ending! Thanks so much to everyone for your support and brilliant namestorming. When we wrote that post we never expected to have such a fantastic response and so many wonderful, diverse ideas. Virtual hugs to you all. :)
Thursday, October 8, 2009
We'd love your feedback on the site as we'll be doing lots of tweaking over the coming weeks (feel free to go nuts with the little feedback button on the site).
Thanks again to you all for helping us get us to this point, we're very excited.
I was reading this article about a great idea to use a simple switch in restaurant washrooms so customers can notify the manager if the washroom needs cleaning. I then noticed a brilliant marketing idea in the comments section from Ryan Johnson of Eichenlaub landscaping.
As a Landscape Contractor in Pittsburgh, PA we do most of our work in well to affluent city neighborhoods. We do all we can to minimize disturbance to neighbors but we sometimes can not avoid, parking in front of neighboring homes, making noise, creating dust, etc. In a recent campaign we send cards to neighbors saying basically “we are working next door, our goal is to minimize the amount of disturbance to you and the environment. If you have any questions or concerns please contact me at…..That's brilliant! I'm thinking through if we could do something similar. We won't do exactly this, but something we could do is notify neighbours of people we send shoes to:
This gives neighbors the opportunity to complain to us before bad mouthing our company to others. Also, we get a fair amount of new work from this, they appreciate the fact that we care enough about neighbors to send this card, and we must really care about our customers. Customers also appreciate the heads up to neighbors.
Hi. We just wanted to let you know that there's probably going to be a bit of noise on your street over the coming weeks. One of your neighbours has designed a pair of stunning handmade shoes which we've just delivered to them. You're likely to hear shouts of 'those shoes are stunning' and 'oh my god, where did you get those shoes?' We apologise in advance for any inconvenience. Our goal is to minimse the impact on you of our shoes, so if this is a serious issue for you please contact me on 1800-xxx-xxx and we'll contact our customer and ask that they only wear the shoes outside at certain times of the day.Perhaps rather than physical neighbours we could do a version for people to pass on to their Facebook friends.
Update: As per the discussion in the comments - our example note is half done in jest, we think doing it like that would be too spammy, but I love what Eichenlaub did and it would be fun to do a tongue in cheek version.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Commenting on Facebook about our earlier post about naming Shoes of Prey, Marion, Lara and Jess raised the issue of making vegan shoes rather than shoes made from animal leather. They hit on an issue that's also important to me, I prefer the idea of using man made materials in shoes where the quality is just as good and I'd put it on my to do list to research this after our launch.
Their comments had this back at the front of my mind while I was in China 2 weeks ago meeting with our supplier so I raised the issue with them. They said they don't currently stock the materials to make a completely vegan shoe but that it's possible to source the materials to do this.
Once we finalise a name and launch the business, assuming things go well I'll be exploring this option some more. I think it would be great to offer people the option to custom make a vegan shoe.
Thanks for the feedback Marion, Lara and Jess!
Friday, October 2, 2009
We'd love to hear which are your favourite shoes in the comments below. Feel free to either shout out your favourite shoes or score them all: Score 1 = Ugly shoe .... Score 5 = Love it, when can I buy a pair?!
Note 1: image quality will improve prior to the photos going up on the website. We're buying better lights to eliminate shadows on the shoes.
Note 2: you'll notice some shoes have 'Shoes of Prey' stamped in them. We'll be removing that stamp :(