Sunday, May 31, 2009

A warning we received yesterday...

Since launching the blog, we've had numerous people emailing us with advice and ideas. A lot of the emails are very encouraging, but a good percentage are along the lines of "you are crazy, these aren't great ideas, why are you leaving your perfectly good jobs?!"

Last night we received a great email from a potential handbag supplier. We met her in Guangzhou at the wholesale market and had a private meeting with her in her store. (I say "private" only because most of the sellers keep their stores and merchandise behind curtains to prevent the other factories from stealing their designs.)

She was insistent to get our email address, and clearly she wanted it to warn us off going into the handbag business. Now even the merchants are warning us off! It's actually a sad tale of how hard it is for some of the Chinese factories right now.

dear mike:

i hope you don't mind  i call you like this. do you 
remember me? when you came to my shop i told you that 
i never see the buyer so handsome as you also your 

have you go back your country? or still in guangzhou? 
in fact i send the email to you. just by my curiosity. 
because of the financial crisis .many people hope can 
stop doing this business. all the factory can not bear 
the test of this business. for example: long time no 
have order. even if have order but the price is 
terrible. they don't know accept this order or cancel.

at the some time for the buyer .they are afraid to take 
the big order. and afraid some desight they order but 
can not sale in their country. always keep so many 
stock. however they were already begining. that is why 
they can not stop doing this business. they know if 
stopping they will lose more money. so they must stick 
to that. one year come to china for two time or three 
time. it is not easy for some buyer.

sorry! i just want to tell you that now it is too late 
to do this business. as i know you and your friend have 
a stable job. so i think no need to try this hard work. 
anyway it is just my personal advise. if you want to 
try. i hope i can give you some help.

ok. i hope you are happy and enjoy the time in china or 
in your country everyday. and i hope we can keep in 
touch. take care!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Eating in China & Hong Kong

We've had a pretty exciting culinary tour of HK and China on this trip, eating everything from organic western food at the Life Cafe in Hong Kong to all sorts of Chinese food: chicken feet, eel, massive oysters, abalone, stomach (not sure which animal that came from) and lots and lots of duck.

Last night we ate at a fancy Chinese restaurant in Ghuangzhou (who's name is only written in Chinese so I don't know what it was called). The restaurant overlooks a park and lake as you can see in the photo below. What's even more amazing about this photo is that next to the park is a double story freeway. See those lights in the sky about 2/3 of the way up the photo? That's the second level of the freeway. China = Wow.

Mike cooking up some eel

Mmmm chicken. (Note the foot on the right and head at the top of the plate).

The rest of our feast.

The World's Biggest Handbag and Shoe Centres

Yesterday Mike and I went back to Ghuangzhou in China to visit two massive wholesale centres, one for handbags and one for shoes. These places are enormous and full of 100's of small stores displaying products they have available for wholesale customers. It was another massive day. We left our hotel at 9am and got back at 12:30am, but it was worth it!

We visited the handbag centre first. If Shoes of Prey goes well, we'd like to offer our customers handbags to go with their shoes.

Our shoe supplier then took us to the shoe centre to take a look. The Ghuangzhou region manufactures about 3 billion pairs of shoes a year, and wholesale centres like this on is where a lot of the trade associated with this shoe making occurs. The centre sells everything from ready made shoes to all the parts you need to make shoes.

Some of the amazing leathers available to be made into shoes.

A sample of the 1000's of different buckles and shoe decorations available for sale.

I don't think I realised zips came in big long rolls like this!

They even sell shoe making tools.

Every type of bead imaginable, available in massive bags.

Cotton in stacks of different colours.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Women's Shoe Entrepreneur's Wife

A women's shoe entrepreneur needs to test out shoes. Yes, sometimes he does that himself and his ass of a business partner video blogs about it, but sometimes it is best done by his wife.

Yesterday I ordered 11 pairs of shoes in Jodie's size, to go with the 4 or 5 pairs we ordered for her on our last trip. Lucky lucky Jodie. Though she did develop the Shoes of Prey brand (with the help of our friend Lisa), is our fashion advisor and is applying her advertising skills to help design the website, so perhaps 15 pairs of shoes is in fact slave labour. Anyway, we plan to photograph these shoes and use the images on the Shoes of Prey website. Here's a few that have been made and drawings of what is being custom made:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm a little worried about Michael....

Boy is Michael really embracing womens shoes! Today we visited a number of shoe retailers in Hong Kong, and Michael jumped at the opportunity to measure the feet of a friend of ours (thanks Allison!). He was also very enthusiastic to try on some of the merchandise too. He claims this was for "research purposes", but I'm a little suspicious at how confident he was in some of the heels. Take a look at the video:

[In Michael's defense: He's been learning sizing in quite a bit of detail these last few days. One of the potential suppliers said the best way to understand fit is to try them on yourself. But I'll let you be the judge as to whether he is taking things too far!]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Michaels and the Shoe Factory

Yesterday Mike and I met with a representative from the shoe supplier we're going to use for Shoes of Prey, and together we took a 3.5 hour train ride out to Ghuangzhou to visit the supplier's shoe factory.

The shoe factory was an amazing place! It's a small factory by Chinese standards (around 40 people work there) and we were both surprised by how much of the work is done by hand and their focus on quality. Jodie, my mum and sisters own quite a few pairs of shoes made in this factory and aside from looking fantastic they have all served them admirably and that's not surprising after seeing the attention to detail that goes into making the shoes (it takes 6 years to train to be a shoe maker, and even then that won't get you across everything) and how many parts of the process are triple checked and repeated if they aren't done right.

We also ate yum cha and dinner with the shoe suppliers trying everything from dumplings and pork buns to some very tasty chicken feet!

Here are some pics of the shoe making in action:

Creating the leather straps for a pair of strappy sandals.

Cutting the leather. These must have been opera house style shoes! ;)

Shoe soles waiting to be turned into beautiful shoes. You can also see the shoe lasts in the bottom right of the photo. These are like model feet which are used to get the size of the shoe just right.

Adding some white stitching to these black leather shoes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Shoes Shoes Shoes

Wow, today was a day of full womens shoe immersion.

We visited the supplier we're going to work with (their shoes are fantastic!) and took 452 photos of 226 different shoe styles and variations. Mike's going to trace the shoes from these photos so he can then build the design software on the website.

Our plan is for the design process to be fun and to look and feel like the customer is drawing the shoes. So we won't use photographs in the design software, Mike is going to trace the 452 photos, then cut the traced images into their components so customers can mix, match and modify the parts to create their own drawing of their dream shoe. The one place we'll use photographs is to show the texture and colour of the different leathers customers can choose from. We've taken 2 photos of each shoe because we'll show the user their shoe from 2 different angles.

If the concept works and people buy our shoes, down the track we'd like to build 3D models of all the shoes, but that's going to be a lot harder so we'll start simple and take it from there.

What do you think about that plan for the design software?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mailing list about ladies shoes

Yesterday we created an opt-in mailing list for the Shoes of Prey website. Instead of building it ourselves, as I would usually do, we selected Campaign Monitor as our provider.

Some of the benefits of using a third-party provider are:

  • No wasted development time - no need to reinvent the wheel creating databases, processing email and so on.
  • Reputation - third party providers spend a lot of time ensuring their network isn't blacklisted which greatly improves the chance of delivery. If you're using a shared hosting provider there's a good chance another tenant may be sending spam. This means your emails might end up in the spam folder too.
  • Analytics - lots of pretty graphs and charts so you can understand how your emails were received.

We took MailChimp for a spin briefly, however Campaign Monitor won us over with their simple interface and straightforward pricing plan. They simply charge $5 per campaign + 1c per email sent. That's easy to understand, and quite affordable.

However, if you are certain you'll be sending at least one email per month, then MailChimp can be cheaper (depending on the volume).

We doubt we'll be sending an email every month though, so Campaign Monitor won the day. (It's nice that they're an Australian company too!)

If you have an interest in ladies shoes, please join the mailing list, and we'll let you know when the site launches.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Promotional video

Today I have to write the script for a promotional video for Clickversity. I'm going to have to try really hard not to make it turn out like this...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Clickversity Sneak Peek

Here is a sneak peek of our upcoming product, Clickversity.

Clickversity isn't live yet -- but should be in a week or two.

The course is designed for beginners want to understand how to make relatively sophisticated websites, but don't know where to start. It will cover introductory HTML, CSS, Python, AppEngine, Javascript and Hacking. Total learning time will be around 30 hours.

If you like the idea, we'd be interested to know how much you'd be prepared to pay for something like this and, importantly, why. $0 is a completely fair answer!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Shoe Sizing Conundrum

Warning: A long post. If shoe sizing issues don't interest you don't read on.  :)

To custom make shoes, we need our customers to provide us accurate foot measurements. Telling us you're a size 8 doesn't work because different brands size shoes slightly differently. We also can't do what Zappos and other online shoe stores do - they suggest you order a couple of sizes and just ship back the ones that don't fit. We can't put our custom made shoes back on the warehouse shelf like a standard shoe retailer can.

To get sizing right, the suppliers we are speaking to require 3 measurements:

1. The length of the foot (at the longest point)

2. The width of the foot (at the widest point)

3. The circumference of the foot (around the widest point in 2 above)

In physical stores that custom make shoes this is generally done by having the customer stand on a sheet of paper, the store assistant traces around the foot then measures the length and width using a ruler. The assistant then uses a measuring tape to measure the circumference of the foot. Even when this is done, 5%-10% of shoes need adjustments made to get them right.

The problem with having people do this same process at home is that there is so much room for error, and 6mm in length is a full shoe size! Just using a small circumference pen versus a large circumference pen, let alone angling the pen in or out against the foot, could make the difference a whole shoe size which would equal a customer return.

Here's what we've come up with as options to measure shoe sizes:

1. Customers do as described above and we create a good YouTube video to explain how to measure your foot accurately. If you don't have a measuring tape we'd have one you could print then cut out.

Pros - fairly simple.

Cons - prone to error. An assistant in a shoe store does this a lot so they know all the tricks to getting it right. We can't teach people at home to do it this well in a short video.

2. We do a slight variation on 1 above. Instead of drawing around your foot then measuring the length and width, you put your foot on a piece of paper, in a corner, on a hard floor and you mark the longest and widest points of your foot then measure them.
Pros - simple and reasonably accurate.

Cons - we're not sure of the accuracy of this compared to 3, 4 and 5 below.

3. We create a printable PDF document with measurements on it. You put it in a corner on a hard floor, then place your foot in the corner and measure the length and width of the foot on the document using the lines marked on it. The PDF document would have a measuring tape to cut out to measure the circumference of your foot. We'd explain how to do all this on a YouTube video.
Pros - quite accurate from our testing.

Cons - You'd have to:

1. Print two sheets of paper and tape them together in the exact right place (20% of women have feet too big for a standard page);

2. Ensure your printer hasn't scaled down the image which would change all the measurements;

3. Accurately fold along the edges of the paper (different printers will start printing at different points on the page);

4. Print and cut out a tape measure;

5. Do the measuring.

That's a lot of slow, potentially frustrating steps.

4. When someone signs up on the site, we post them a document as in 3 above.
Pros - accurate and simple.

Cons - posting the letter would take a couple of days. We'd lose customers while they wait for the sizing document to arrive.

5. We create a database of brands and shoe sizes. You tell us you're a size 9 in Jimmy Choo's. We match that in our database and can make you an equivalent size. (Thanks to Isis for this suggestion)
Pros - simple for the customer.

Cons - 

1. Difficult to build this database;

2. For some brands you might be a 9 in one style (Eg. a platform) and a 9.5 in another style (Eg. a flat).

Sizing is tough. I think on our next trip to Hong Kong we're going to have to nut this out with the suppliers and test, test and re-test the different options.

Does anyone have any other thoughts on what we could do?
(Photo Credit)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Shoes of Prey - Uses for Returned Shoes

Jodie and I went to the restaurant Billy Kwong's recently. We ordered "The Banquet":

Kylie's Banquet ($95): In the kitchen, the Chinese chef consciously or unconsciously cooks according to the culinary laws of Yin and Yang – where harmony and balance between flavour, texture and ingredient is of the essence. My banquet offers you this experience.

Aside from the food being delicious this is a great way for the restaurant to minimise food waste. The chef selects what is served in the banquet, so if they have too many muscles in the fridge they can serve me the Stir-Fried Muscles with Black Bean and Chilli Sauce (which were amazing). I'm happy because the chef is cooking me food according to the culinary laws of Yin and Yang, and the business is that bit more successful through reduced waste.

This got me thinking about waste at Shoes of Prey. We've decided the Shoes of Prey customer experience is so important that we're going to have a no questions asked returns policy. For most online retailers that means wearing the return shipping cost then putting the shoes back on the warehouse shelf. Our shoes will be designed and made to order so we can't do the same and will need to find another use for the shoes.

Here's a few ideas so far:

  • Have a 'Shoes Needing a New Home' section on the Shoes of Prey site.
  • Sell them as one off shoes outside the Shoes of Prey brand through another channel such as eBay or a market stall.
  • Set up a Shoes of Prey branded pop up store (thanks for the idea Ben) or market stall, complete with computers to design your own shoes and use the returned shoes as samples in those stores.

How else could we make use of our returned shoes?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Beta testers needed

We're looking for a handful of beta testers to help test Clickversity. So, if you're looking to start learning how to write dynamic websites (HTML, CSS, Python, Javascript) and are good at giving frank feedback, please email me: micknapp --at-- (g)mail. Thanks!

Update: Thanks for the huge response. We've filled up all of the beta positions now. We'll have more coming soon! Email me if you want to be notified when that is.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Resigning from Google

What a tough decision. Today I've resigned from Google to join Mike and try my hand as an entrepreneur. Here's what went through my mind coming to the decision:

The Pros:

The Cons:

  • I love my job at Google.
  • I love the people I work with at Google.
  • The economy isn't in a great state. It will be harder to sell stuff and if we fail, unless the economy turns in the next year or two I might struggle to find a job I like as much as the one I'm leaving.
  • Will people buy our shoes? Will people buy our training courses? A start up is a lot more risky than working for someone else.
  • I love food, particularly the food at Google. I am going to have to learn to cook. :)

In the end, the pros outweigh the cons and I'm going to join Mike and give it a crack. :) I'm staying until the end of the quarter, Friday July 3 will be my last day at Google.

What do you think? Good move? Bad move?

Elevator Pitch - Clickversity

Clickversity is an online training course for learning how to write web software.

Pitched at technical support staff, designers, product managers and hobbyists; the course will cover HTML, CSS, programming theory, databases, JavaScript, and other topics at the beginner level. More advanced courses will be offered down the track.

The public website has been drafted, and a complex admin area is now ready. All that remains is to actually write the course! This should take 3 - 4 weeks of work.

Is this something that would interest you as a consumer? If so, how much do you think you'd be willing to pay?

Tips for Negotiating in Hong Kong and China

In March Jodie and I went for a holiday in Bali and tagged on 5 days in Hong Kong to meet with potential suppliers for Shoes of Prey. I did some reading on negotiating in China and Hong Kong and we went prepared to:

Contrary to what we read, the suppliers we met with weren't in suits, didn't use two hands for business cards and some didn't even have their own business cards! However, we did get a very open reception with everyone we met with, people took us seriously and were more than happy to meet with us. Our efforts were worth it.

When we got home we followed up and sent Australian themed gifts to the two suppliers who were so generous with their time and who we're hoping to work with.

Has anyone else negotiated in China? What were your experiences like?

Elevator Pitch - Shoes of Prey

Design your own women's fashion shoes. Come to our site and design your dream shoe (when we've built that part!) We'll hand make it and deliver it to your door, all for around AUD$250.

Here's some pics of shoes from some of the suppliers we've been speaking to:

Would you buy a product like this?

Update: Visit the Shoes of Prey website to sign up to our mailing list.

First Post - Welcome to

Welcome to our blog! Mike and I have both left Google to pursue our dream of launching our own startup. We plan to keep a diary of our adventures, successes, failures and everything we learn on this blog. We hope to post a couple of times each week.

We're planning to write the blog with the following people in mind:

  • You're a friend of ours and interested in reading about what we're up to.
  • You're running your own startup or interested in running your own startup
  • You're interested in marketing, particularly in the online space.

If you're one of these people feel free to check back regularly or subscribe.*

If you're not one of these people, our blog isn't necessarily written with you in mind but of course you're more than welcome to subscribe anyway. :)

* While at Google, Mike worked as a Software Engineer on Google Reader which we both use and highly recommend.