Here are the first seven steps I took before starting my most successful company. You should do them, too.
The club was dimly lit and hot as hell. Inside, we were packed in like sardines. I couldn’t have scratched my nose if I’d tried. I would’ve preferred a night at the bookstore—but not my friends.
One of them, a self-proclaimed fashion icon, wore a pair of gold grillz to the club. Talk about balls. I thought he looked crazy. Turns out the other club goers thought differently.
The whole night, people asked him questions. “Where did you get those?” “I need a set of those!” “Those are so sick! Wish they weren’t so expensive!” “I love those!” “I hate how I can’t find those for cheap!”
That’s when it hit me.
The night of December 6, 2013 is when I got the crazy idea to start my very own hip hop jewelry brand.
In the car on the way home, I began to do research. I had to make sure there was a real need first. I didn't want this to end up like so many other businesses I started in years past. -- as a flop. I was determined to test and verify my assumptions, distance myself from speculations and attack the idea with confidence knowing there was a real need.
These were the first seven steps I took:
- I did a Google search: Is there a fair amount of competition? Active advertisers?
- I scoured through eBay listings: Are similar products selling at various price points?
- I did a Amazon review search: What could I do different/better than competitors?
- I did searches on sites like Reddit: What communities are around this that I could market to?
- I did a Google Trends search: How has search trajectory been? Is interest increasing?
- I signed up for a trial on Alexa: What’s my target demographic? Is it niche enough?
- I did a Google Keyword Tool search: How is search volume? Are enough people looking?
Once I realized I was onto something, I started a free trial with Shopify, set up a clean, simple product page, took a random image of a similar-looking product off Google and wrote up (as Forbes would later call them “elaborate–if not always grammatically correct”) descriptions.
Next, I took the idea to market. I put up a post on a relevant Reddit thread to test the waters. I did over $100 in pre-orders. Using the pre-order revenue, I ordered product, shipped out the pre-orders and reinvested the rest into marketing and high-quality product shots.
Using what I found in my seven research steps, I made my photos and website appear cleaner and more professional than my competition. I also positioned my brand as the authority in my niche and priced my product three times higher than the others.
To keep spending down, I focused on the lowest-cost, highest-impact marketing strategy: publicity. Within three weeks, I had features on dozens of blogs in my niche. From December 6 to December 31, I did $5,000 in sales. From January 1 to January 31, that number quadrupled. My total out of pocket expense? Zilch.
My story is not unique, nor is it the prototypical risk-taking, against-the-odds entrepreneur fairytale. I prefer to have the odds in my favor. It may not make for the best story, but it makes for a better bank balance.
Contrary to popular belief, all you need to do is invest quality, uninterrupted time when you first start out. Depicting entrepreneurs as these vehement risk takers makes for great news (and believe me, I love to write those stories). But they’re not true. At least, not always.
There’s risk in everything. But entrepreneurship shouldn’t be a trip to the casino. You don’t need to quit your job to get started. You don’t have to drop out of college. You don’t have to dump your entire savings on red at the roulette table or take out a second mortgage on the house. Just test and validate (then validate more). Remove yourself as far as possible from speculation.
Every business starts as an idea. But it can’t just be any idea. It has to be the right idea. The right idea—contrary to popular belief—has nothing to do with your passions and everything to do with your market. If you're looking to get a more in-depth walk-though, I take you from A to Z in my newest ecommerce startup guide.
Photo credit: Shutterstock / crazystocker