The story from the founder ……
“Just over nine months ago, armed with a few beta users and a short wait list, we launched Teespring to the world. The concept was simple: Kickstarter for custom t-shirts. Instead of dropping thousands of dollars to get your tees screen printed and trying to figure out how to get them to your buyers, all you had to do was come to Teespring, design your tee, set a goal (the higher the goal, the cheaper the price per tee), and launch the campaign.
Buyers could come to your campaign and pre-order your tee, and once you reached your goal we’d handle the production and fulfilment and send you a check for the profit.
We had big dreams of Techcrunch articles and explosive growth. We’d poured ourselves into this, people were sure to be blown away and it wouldn’t be long before they’d be sharing it with their friends. It was only a matter of time.
The reality was far less exciting. No one was interested in covering our launch, only a small percentage of the waiting list opened their invite email, and traffic was the same as it had been the day before. It was time to face the truth: There would be no overnight success for us, we’d have to grind it out.”
Teespring now has multi-million dollar revenues and although success has come quite quickly, it has not been without hard work and the normal “entrepreneurial roller-coaster”. What are the lessons to be learned:
On a positive note:
- They really understood the problem they were solving – as it was a problem they faced.It is always critical to have a clear idea of the need your venture is fulfilling (in fact it may be THE most critical aspect); but it is often best if you have first-hand experience of the problem. If you do not – it is always a good idea to go and get that experience.
- They got a product up and operational in a short time. They proved it worked and then developed from there. This is also classical start-up thinking -do not try and develop a solution with all the bells and whistles at first cut – you will only have to redo it all later when you have more user experience to guide you.
- Although they had a good start, they recognised the need for help and signed up to an accelerator (Y Combinator) as they recognised they were missing skills and networks. This is a great lesson for entrepreneurs in general who have a tendency to try and do everything themselves. It may be possible, but it will slow you down.
On a more challenging note:
- Although the product was good and met a real need – it still had to be actively sold. The founders did an excellent job at speaking to a wide range of prospective buyers to understand what was required to make it something that was easier to buy. They finally realised it was the in-web design tool that was the critical issue (and the most difficult to develop)
- It was a long haul. They pushed and hustled and generated leads but nothing seemed to allow the site to get its own momentum, until suddenly there was a magic moment when it started getting easier. Campaigns began to commence organically and new users arrived who had not been cajoled to join. The owners put it down to a critical mass of effort that eventually started paying off.
So – in summary, what are the lessons:
- Really understand the problem or need – and keep increasing your knowledge of it.
- Get a product out there quickly and then refine based on user needs
- Recognise where and when you need help- and go and ask for it
- Push hard and keep persevering – even when things look dark, you may be inces from the tipping point.
Mashauri has been designed as a web-based accelerator and training resource that is focussed on assisting entrepreneurs moving along the start-up path. Although the effort is going to be yours, we can support you in reaching the stars through our tool-set, process and real live mentors. Have a look around the site for more information.