Monday, September 17, 2012

5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Starting My Own Business (Part 1 of 2)

A Walk on the Wild Side
In 2007, I designed a rummy-based card game called What’s Wild?!. I produced several thousand copies of the games and created a company to sell it. I did everything on my own— from testing different versions of the game, filing trademarks, outsourcing its production, generating PR, building a web presence, shooting a commercial, and selling to distributors, stores, and direct to customers. It was the biggest learning experience of my professional career — more so than any other job and any level of education I’ve had.

The past five years have had plenty of ups and downs and I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. My next post will be on things I now do really well because of this experience.
  1. Focus on what you do best. I’m a marketer, through and through. I’m not a lawyer or an accountant. When I decided to produce and sell What’s Wild?! all by myself, I significantly underestimated the time I would spend on things other than building a brand and selling my game. I spent hours reading about legal and accounting matters to keep the business running. I was faced with countless questions that took me away from doing what I do best. I should have gotten help on these tasks and spent more of my energy doing what I do best.

  2. Know your industry inside and out. I was very na├»ve early on and I thought I could just walk into a store, talk to its manager, and What’s Wild?! would be on the shelf that very day. I didn’t know how distribution worked. I should have done more research into the way every player in the industry makes money — from the wholesalers to the retailers (including online retailers like Amazon).

  3. At a certain point, you have to go all-in. I was working full-time while trying to sell What’s Wild?! and that was very difficult. I spent every night and weekend working on this for about three years. And yet, it wasn’t enough. I could’ve scheduled so many more meetings with retailers and distributors if I was working on What’s Wild?! full time. I made the choice to not go all-in, and I took my game as far as I was able, given my time constraints. To take it to the next level, though, I would have had to leave my day job and fully commit to my game and company.

  4. Have multiple exit strategies. When I launched my business, I figured I’d test the water with my first game, see how it went, and then make a decision on whether or not to produce additional game ideas I had. The exit strategy was to sell the game to another game company if I wanted to get out. And that’s exactly what I did — I sold our entire supply of games and the rights to reproduce it to one of the largest game manufacturers in Europe. But a few months later, the economy tanked and the company exercised its right to withdraw from the deal. That was my only exit strategy and I was left wondering what to do next. From the beginning, I should have planned multiple exit strategies.

  5. Enjoy the wins and learn to move quickly past the rejections. I’ve heard so many no’s while selling What’s Wild?! that I couldn’t even begin to count them. Over time, I developed thick skin and learned whose opinions really matter. I learned to move on quickly from rejection and keep pressing forward.

    For as many no’s I’ve heard, I’ve also had plenty of success — and I choose to remember those successes much more than the failures. I remember finding out from a distributor that our game was on the shelves at several zoo gift shops around the country, including the San Diego Zoo. And it was great fun to hear someone once tell me that his son liked the game so much he asked for his birthday party theme to center around my game. I also remember wearing a What’s Wild?! t-shirt while standing in a line at GenCon and a woman coming up to me, pointing at my shirt, and saying, “Have you played that game yet? My husband bought it for me a few days ago and I love it.”

Add This To Your To-Do List
Starting my own business has been one of the most challenging, rewarding, and humbling experiences of my life. If you have always wanted to start your business, I would absolutely recommend going for it. Hopefully some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way will help you focus your attention on what matters in your business and lead you to prosperity.

There’s Never a Lack of Ideas.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Even a Coffee Filter Can Benefit from Good Marketing

You might think that all coffee filters are the same. And, in fact, a quick look on a shelf in a supermarket or a search on Google will not reveal much differentiation between coffee filter brands. You might think there's no way to create a brand for a coffee filter for which people would pay a slightly higher price than an unbranded filter.

If you think that, you would be wrong.

I recently saw this list of 24 things you can do with a coffee filter besides make coffee. I learned a lot — coffee filters are great for cleaning windows because they are lint-free. Who knew? And I'll bet there are hundreds more uses for a coffee filter that I don't even know about.

A New Way of Thinking About Coffee Filters 
What if one brand of coffee filter crafted its brand around the idea that there are limitless ways to use a coffee filter and encouraged its customers to share new ways to use their filters? Put great content like that into the hands of a gifted marketer and the marketing strategy practically falls into place. Soon, the brand is selling more coffee filters at a slightly higher price and everyone at the company is feeling good.

Think it's impossible? Then check out Duck brand duct tape. Its brand is built on all fun ways you can use duct tape. The company even sponsors a contest in which high school students make their prom attire out of Duck Tape and submit their photos to win college scholarships.

Add This To Your To-Do List
Have you given up trying to engage customers with your brand because you think your product can't be differentiated from its competitors? Trust me: if a brand of duct tape can create a strategic brand advantage through great marketing, so can your brand. Use this post as inspiration to dust off your brand, put it in the hands of a capable marketer, and let its greatness shine.

There's Never a Lack of Ideas.