START-UP 101 FOR BABY BOOMERS
AS WELL AS CO- RUNNING CONSULTING BUSINESS TBC PARTNERS, MARISA FONG IS ALSO IN THE THROES OF LAUNCHING HER ONLINE SKIN CARE START- UP. SHE SHARES SOME OF HER LESSONS SO FAR.
As well as co-running a consulting business, Marisa Fong is also launching her online skin care start-up. She shares some of her lessons.
A s a person born on the crossroads between the Baby Boom er sand Gen X, I thought I’d share the key lessons I’ve learned through launching an online-only, business-to-consumer (B2C) enterprise. I’ve come from a very traditional, business-to-business (B2B) professional services background and this whole experience has been a bit like drinking from a firehose!
One thing that has particularly struck me is realising just how much the game has changed.
I knew a bit about e-commerce and online business but had no idea of how steep the learning curve would be.
It makes a lot of sense as to why millennials are successfully creating and scaling these types of businesses – they’ve grown up online. For us more traditional types, we may be on Facebook and Instagram but we aren’t accustomed to doing business there.
Here’s a round-up of the most significant lessons that I’ve learned so far – and I expect there will be many more to come.
UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL MEDIA
There’s a lot more to it than there seems – it’s a real mix of art and science! Large businesses can afford to engage an agency to do all the hard work, but it’s usually at a fairly substantial cost and, naturally, the agency won’t share its techniques – instead black boxing what they do.
For a small company or start-up it’s not always possible to invest a huge amount to outsource all of the digital and e-commerce setup. So the freelance/contractor model is a great alternative for my needs and my budget and it also allows me to learn as much as I can from those I work with. I’ve attended some seminars in order to better understand what measures to look for and to learn what the jargon means. Between these seminars and working with open and understanding contractors, I know what to measure, and consequently can see what success looks like.
One difficulty is identifying good talent. In a reasonably new field – and a constantly evolving one at that – with no easily recognised qualifications to judge a contractor by,
it’s hard to know which one will deliver. Getting referrals and testimonials has been key, but it has still meant a bit of trial and error to find the person that has the social media talent but also understands the brand and sector.
GETTING TO GRIPS WITH E-COMMERCE
Exclusively selling online, including internationally, comes with its own challenges. It’s a hard task to understand the pros and cons of the myriad e-commerce tools – and harder again to discover which ones integrate well with others.
Things to think about include: • Inventory management systems, CRMs and payment platforms. • Consideration for conversion after driving traffic to
your website. • International shipping costs and logistics. • Managing different sales tax for different geographies.
Again, you could outsource all of this but it’s an expensive exercise and won’t allow you the same insight into the process as taking a more hands-on approach will. Find other businesses that can give you feedback as to what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. Collaboration with others has helped me tremendously – as has using well-briefed contractors!
CONSIDER YOUR INVESTMENT
Going DIY in a new world of sales and marketing tools means you need to know where to spend your money to get the best bang for your buck. It also means you’ll need a pot of cash in order to launch a minimum viable product.
So far, I’ve spent cash on a range of areas, including: • Video marketing. • Content creation (that looks good but isn’t too slick). • Packaging design (critical, as it’s the consumer’s first
impression of you). • Product development.
CREATING A PRODUCT TAKES LONGER THAN YOU THINK!
Despite having a pretty good idea of what formulation I wanted and providing the key ingredient from the outset, the time to get a finished product has been longer than expected.
There’s been much tweaking of formulations, finding ingredients and sourcing packaging. Although suppliers have been responsive, I am at the mercy of long lead times, and distance does matter when local suppliers don’t hold large stock volumes.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD DESIGN
When you’re selling to a consumer, design is paramount. It goes across everything; think website, branding, logo and packaging as well as making it work across social and traditional media.
You take a big leap of faith when deciding on your branding, especially given you may not yet know if you’re pitching it at the right customer segment. I’ve held focus groups, but a lot of it has been guesswork.
Basically, I’m well and truly approaching this new venture using the ‘Lean Start-up’ methodology!
Meanwhile, as I launch the enterprise and discover the online world of business, my TBC partner Galia has successfully completed her PhD. This once again reinforces the importance of continuous learning, allowing us to stay relevant in a world that’s changing at an ever-increasing pace.
“When you’re selling to a consumer, design is paramount. It goes across everything; think website, branding, logo and packaging as well as making it work across social and traditional media.”