Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hiring for a startup



Photo Credit

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:
  • We're a startup so this person will have a big impact on our business,
  • We live in Sydney and the person we're hiring will be our only person on the ground in Guangzhou,
  • We're hiring someone in a foreign city where English is spoken well by only a small percentage of the population.

    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:
  • Alice and I have interviewed 5 people so far, and have 2 more interviews today.
  • I'm going to pick the best 2 or 3 people and have Mike and Jodie interview them via video. It's not quite 13 interviews but that was overkill and we only have 4 people working in the business at the moment!
  • We do a short written English test at the end of the interview just to check we're going to be able to communicate ok via email.

    2. Develop a good set of criteria for what you're looking for in a person.
    Our criteria:
  • A good cultural fit. We want someone who is outgoing and friendly and has a startup/get things done attitude.
  • Outstanding organisational skills. The role will constantly be changing and we'll have lots of different tasks to do that change each week.
  • Excellent English skills.

    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

    Canton Fair Part 2

    Following up on my previous post, I spent yesterday at Session 2 of the Canton Fair and there were a bunch of interesting products:

    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

    Canton Fair Part 1


    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

    What's our "Get your free Email at Hotmail" line?


    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!

    Guest post on the Amplify blog

    When I worked at Google one of the search engine marketing agencies I worked closely with was Amplify and I've kept in contact with them.

    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

    Shoes of Prey To Do

    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:

    Jodie

    • 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.

    Mike

    • 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.

    Michael

    • 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

    Join Shoes of Prey on Facebook and Twitter


    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!

    These two networks are also where a lot of potential customers for Shoes of Prey spend time, so we've created a Twitter profile and Facebook Page for Shoes of Prey.

    If you use Twitter or Facebook come follow or become a fan of Shoes of Prey!

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    Frank Feedback Required - What Will Encourage You to Purchase?


    "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.

    Solution:
    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?

    A Trademark Happy Ending

    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

    Shoes of Prey is live!


    Great news, this morning we resolved our trademark issues (I'll post the full details about that and the winner of our naming competition shortly) and www.ShoesofPrey.com is now live!

    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.

    Awesome Marketing


    Image Credit:

    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…..
    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.

    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:

    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.

    Thoughts?

    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

    Vegan Women's Shoes


    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

    Feedback on Shoes!

    While we continue to brainstorm a name (thanks to your ideas we're getting close!) we've been photographing shoes that we've had made in our beta tests. We wanted to get your feedback on which ones should feature on the front page of the website when we launch!


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    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 :(