Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. September’s topic is how to market your startup without a full-time marketing department.
It’s been said that it takes money to make money, however, this begs the question: How do you make money if you don’t have any?
There are several books and articles written on the subject of customer validation, grassroots marketing, lean startup principles and harnessing a business model that will propel your company to success. I’ll try my best not to regurgitate those things here, but I will tell you how we got Men’s Style Lab off the ground.
First, what is Men’s Style Lab? Thanks for asking! Men’s Style Lab is a concierge clothing and styling service for guys. Basically, we put clothes in a box and ship it to guys all over the country who hate to shop.
The power of one
I started my company with one customer. Once I knew what I wanted to do, I asked one of my best friends who hated shopping if he would give me some basic information about his sizes and desired style and let me send him a box of clothes based on his personal preferences. Good news—he loved it!
From there, I asked if he would post a few pictures of his experience on Facebook and recommend Men’s Style Lab to his social network. When he did this, I suddenly had guys I had never met before signing up to receive their own personalized outfit selections. Although they were mutual friends, they were also now customers I could test my service with.
Provide the best experience you can & ask for feedback
I would ask each customer who signed up for feedback on our service. How could we make the experience better? What did they like? What was confusing? How could we make getting clothes easier? Was this something they would do again? Would they recommend this to their friends? If not, why? If so, when?
I would look for common areas of feedback and adjust the experience along the way. In some instances, this meant doing more of the things that had a positive impact, and in others, it meant taking steps to make improvements to the experience. In my opinion, if you’re not delivering an experience that is worth telling other people about, then you’re not building a business, you’re building a hobby.
Establish a process & build your brand
I learned right away that delivering a consistent experience that others wanted to talk about would be key to growing my company. This meant establishing specific processes that could be duplicated with each customer. As I identified the common practices that had a positive impact on our customers, I made sure to implement those things into every customer’s experience. In other words, I was establishing a brand.
For Men’s Style Lab, this meant making sure that all of the price tags were in the same place on each item of clothing, either around the second button hole down from the collar on a shirt or around the belt loop above the right hand pocket on a pair of pants. This meant that each item was folded with precision and care and laid in the box in a way that would make it easy to know how to coordinate recommended outfit combinations. This meant tying a simple navy ribbon with just the right amount of length and just the right size bow around the nicely packaged outfits inside the box. This meant hand writing a card to each and every customer and sealing the envelope with a wax seal.
It was these specific processes that had a significant impact on the customer experience, especially with things that exceeded their expectations. Nearly every customer made a comment afterwards about getting a handwritten note with a wax seal. This became a natural focal point and was something they were excited to add to the story they told their friends when sharing the experience they had with Men’s Style Lab.
Because my company is based online there is a natural convenience that allows us to reach millions of customers all over the country, but this can be said of any online company. I learned early on that establishing processes and consistently delivering on high-touch elements of our customer experience would help personalize our brand, encourage first-time customers to become repeat customers and get them to tell their friends.
Identify your value proposition & tell the masses
Once I knew I had a customer experience I could deliver on with both consistency and excellence, it was time to tell the masses.
I had a mentor who encouraged me to take out a small ad on Facebook because it would provide me with metrics and data on customers who clicked the ad and placed orders for our service. So I did just that and took out an ad for $10 per day for 10 days.
Up to this point I was sending about five boxes each month to customers who more or less signed up for my service because we had a mutual friend. After taking out the 10-day Facebook ad, I had more than 1,400 customers I had nothing in common with who had signed up for Men’s Style Lab from all over the country.
In hindsight, I believe that part of getting this right was the work that was done at the very beginning to understand who my customer was and identifying our value proposition as a company. By taking the time to identify what he liked and what he didn’t like, I was able to target a specific message to a specific audience and when it was time to tell them about our service they flocked from all parts of the country to sign up for it.
I realize some people believe Facebook ads are a waste of time and money, but I’ve found it to be a worthwhile customer acquisition strategy. Today we have more than 50,000 Facebook fans and our audience continues to be more and more engaged.
I remember reaching my first 100 likes, which was a feat in itself, and today I still post at least once per day and do my best to be prompt in responding to customer comments and questions. It might not be the best solution for every startup, but for Men’s Style Lab there’s no doubt that Facebook has helped establish our brand with the masses and has in many ways put our company on the map.
So how do you market your company if you don’t have any money? Start with one person. Get them to tell their friends. Provide the best experience you can. Ask for feedback. Establish a process that delivers on excellence. Identify your value proposition. Then tell the masses. Get them to tell their friends. Keep providing the best experience you can. Ask for more feedback. Then repeat.