Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Wow! What a year it's been. As the booze chills in the fridge and we count down the hours to the New Year fireworks, I was reflecting on my personal highlights for Sneaking Duck this year:

  • We celebrated our first birthday
  • We hired and worked with* awesome people: Natalie, Chung, Madeleine, Parris, Jessica & Joel will be with us in 2013. Laura, Helen, Lora, Suami & Christella worked on a casual or temporary basis in 2012
  • We were flattered to win awards - BRW Retailer awards, ORIAs and a ClearMark award
  • We've growing rapidly, every quarter
  • We continued to improve our customer service with Try At Home frames
  • We improved our product with numerous lauches - my favourites were Vintage and of course Sunglasses

And next year promises even more - with new and exciting frames, an ever improving customer offering and more. I literally can't wait.

Many of you have helped us with what we have achieved, and for this we are enormously appreciative. From advice to referring friends to technical assistance. Thank you all so much.

We'd like to wish you all the very best for 2013,
Mark, Michael, Mike and Jodie.

PS If you haven't used up your health fund optical allowance, there is still time! You can buy on our site up to midnight tonight.

* Some of the team are shared with Shoes of Prey

Dan Joyce - MayDate

A successful entrepreneurial friend of mine, Dan Joyce recently came in to the Shoes of Prey office to speak to our team over lunch about his entrepreneurial journey.

Dan co-founded RedRoom DVD and 12 months ago sold it to Blockbuster and Video Ezy. He's recently launched a new startup, MayDate.

We forgot to start recording Dan's presentation immediately, but you can catch most of it here:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Safely scaling your startup

Mike, Jodie and I are often asked how we persuaded ourselves that it would be ok to quit our jobs to start Shoes of Prey and how we managed to self fund the business without over stretching our resources.

The methodology we followed was essentially that of The Lean Startup:

1. We ran a number of tests (here’s our blog post from June 2009 calling for beta testers!) prior to launching to understand how customers wanted to design their own shoes. We then used this information when building the first version of our shoe designer.

2. We launched in October 2009 with a ‘minimum viable product’. It worked well enough for our customers to use, but wasn’t fully built out and the branding was very different to what’s on our site today. This minimum viable product let us launch, speak to customers, then we used this feedback to improve the site dramatically over the following months.

Not only did the lean startup methodology help us to launch quickly, it also reduced the risks for us personally. If Shoes of Prey wasn’t going to work, by launching quickly we were going to find out early that the concept didn’t work and we would have been able to switch to a different idea, or potentially even go back to the jobs we’d just left.

Getting the word out about our business with no marketing budget was a challenge. Part of what attracted us to the design your own shoes concept was that our product was unique, exciting and very different to how other companies sold shoes, it’s a purple cow. This meant the we received a lot of viral and word of mouth marketing, our product was popular on social networks and fashion and business press picked up the concept and wrote about us from very early on. With all this great coverage we didn’t need to spend much on paid marketing.

We also got creative with our marketing. When we noticed that some young YouTube vloggers in the US were getting a lot of traction we reached out to one of them and had them do a video on Shoes of Prey. Traffic to our site exploded, and with some tweaks and press releases about this we were able to permanently triple our sales at that point in time. We were able to do all this with an incredibly low budget.

Until June when we raised a Series A round of funding, we were always very careful to run the business at break even and not overextend ourselves. We only hired new team members when we could afford them, we kept our marketing budgets lean and we saved money wherever we could. This meant we didn’t grow as quickly as we might have otherwise, but keeping a close eye on our budgets was important during this stage of our growth, and the disciplines we learnt were good ones that we continue to apply post funding.

We also thought through how we should scale the different aspects of our business. We have 3 key pillars to our business that we need to scale at roughly the same pace:

1. Customer acquisition
2. Our shoe design technology
3. Operations - including manufacturing and customer support

At times we would get excited about one particular area and it was tempting to overinvest, however our business is limited by whichever of these 3 pillars is the least advanced. There’s no point acquiring lots of customers if our shoe design technology is no good. Lots of customers and great shoe design technology is useless without enough manufacturing or customer support capacity. So we’ve always tried to scale these 3 pillars to our business at roughly the same pace.

Scaling a startup successfully is a challenge. Adopting a lean startup approach, launching with a purple cow product, scaling the 3 pillars of our business at the same rate and a willingness to try some new, creative marketing ideas has helped us to scale Shoes of Prey successfully to date.

This article was first published to StartupSmart.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Click Frenzy - how we made it work

Michael wrote about Click Frenzy a little while ago and it generated some good discussion, reflecting the differing opinions and strong passions of people. It is therefore with a little trepidation that I've chosen to share a little more about how we made it work for Sneaking Duck.

We chose to participate after a discussion with Grant and are delighted that we did. As Michael noted, we had our record traffic day, and we had our record sales revenue that week - both significant achievements for a 1 year old company. We were fortunate not to have any technical glitches.

However, due to the issues faced by the Click Frenzy site we did need to react quickly to ensure that we made the best of the event - especially important given the very short time scales.

We had discussed internally contingencies and made sure our infrastructure was ready. But we hadn't planned for the situation where the Click Frenzy site was not available. This presented us with a significant immediate issue - we had a landing page telling people how to access the deal, however the only way to get to it was form a site that was overloaded! This meant we had lots of visitors to our site, none of whom knew what was our deal or how to claim it.

We therefore immediately let people know via our social media channels the information about our deal and the landing page. We also rushed together a banner for our homepage providing people the information and link. To be able to rush through technical changes to our website is a a huge advantage in times like these - having the expertise in-house meant we had things up and running in just a few minutes. These actions meant that customers who knew we were participating and who had come direct to our site were able to see how our offer worked.

Despite all this, we noticed that a few people had purchased without using our Click Frenzy discount. Given our desire to always try to do the best by the customer we decided to refund them the difference to what they would have purchased at had they know about the deal.

Perhaps we could have got more out of the event if the technical issues hadn't happened. However we are very happy with the result and it has taught me a good lesson about planning for every contingency, and being ready with a back up!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Friends and Family Sale

We're holding a Friends and Family sale at our Surry Hills office this week! Details below.

Email marketing - what system to use?

At Sneaking Duck, we currently use Campaign Monitor for email marketing. So far, they have been great: Easy to use, reliable, reasonable cost, good feature set, great reporting. However, over the past couple of weeks we've been looking at how we could be more sophisticated and I'm not sure that Campaign Monitor has the features we need.

At the moment, we send 2 types of emails:

  1. When people join our list, we send a series of mails introducing our company
  2. When we have something interesting to share, we send updates
None of these mails are personalised, beyond using names wherever possible.

I would like to become more tailored. I'd like to send a different intro series depending on what actions the person has taken on our site. For example, if someone has put frames into the shopping cart, then I'd like to explain how we can call their optometrist and get their prescription. However, if they have a prescription but no frames in their account, then instead I'd like to let them know about our try at home service.

Additionally, I'd like for all emails to be personalised based on the exact frames they have looked at, and their prescription info.

It is easy to get all the information into Campaign Monitor, however the auto-email functionality doesn't allow us to do what we want without lots of manual work. I have asked their excellent customer service who advised they have put my vote on features to help.

I am very reluctant to move away from a company that has been excellent. However, I do need a system that does what I need.

Does anyone have suggestions on good alternative systems, of nifty ways of using Campaign Monitor?