Originally posted May 2nd, 2017 on the Tiny Cables Medium publication.
As I type this post, there are 1,800 Tiny Cables on their way to the United States. Tiny Cables has been quite the journey, one that demanded we learn a lot and navigate far outside of our respective comfort zones. And while I knew I would build a robot with Tommy at some point in our lives, I never knew it would be BendyBot.
This has been a lot of fun.
And we’re just getting started. We’ve got a launch to plan.
Once the cables arrive, there are a few major items to knock out. We need to:
- Photograph the cables for product listings
- Inspect cables, do testing
- Build and test our website and fulfillment process
Each of these items will be posts of their own in the coming two weeks.
This all builds toward a month-long soft-launch period, followed by a big launch. This post will unpack our goals, expectations, and plan for the roll-out.
The Launch Before the Launch
We’ve got a few goals: we need to ensure our website and fulfillment work the way we want and we need to get cables in the hands of real people to collect customer feedback. Most importantly, we want to build our reputation and make sure we don’t destroy the brand before we get started.
Ensure the Website and Fulfillment Work
This is the most straight-forward of our tasks, as we just have to configure the website software and make sure the warehouse does its job.
The website itself is already in acceptable shape. I originally balked at the Shopify learning-curve, but after a few hours of tinkering, the page is serviceable. In the next week, we’ll iterate and create the simple, straight-forward experience we want.
Our Shopify installation will leverage two Shopify Apps to facilitate communication with our warehouse: Exportable and UpTracker. Exportable grabs the latest orders from our shop, formats them into a CSV file, and then uploads them to an FTP at the warehouse. This means we don’t even have to pull the order files ourselves — a nice win.
UpTracker facilitates communication on the other side: it pulls the latest fulfillment status (including tracking number) and updates our Shopify backend. This also sends an e-mail to our customers that lets them know their order has shipped.
Each of these Shopify extensions is $5/month.
Finally, there is the actual fulfillment piece. I’ve been working with our warehouse to coordinate the shipping packaging, which we’ll have resolution on shortly. We’ve also made sure to ask our supplier to ship each cable type in separate boxes so that our warehouse doesn’t have to sort through the product when it arrives. We’re doing everything that we can to make this an easy process for the folks at our warehouse.
Once the cables arrive in Texas and our site is up and running, I’ll do a real run-through of the entire operation: I’ll go to the website, purchase a cable with my credit card, and have the warehouse ship it as if I’m a customer. If it all works the way we hope, it’s then time to:
Get Cables in the Hands of Real People, Collect Feedback
Our first attempt to sell will be to those who subscribed to our e-mail newsletter at TinyCables.com. Building an e-mail list before the product launch is one of the reasons we decided to blog this journey — we thought that if we built an engaged audience, we could have an easier time getting off the ground. This has worked: our list is small — in the low three-digits — but highly engaged. After 9 newsletters sent, we’re averaging a 63% open rate and a 32% click-through rate. MailChimp says the average e-commerce industry open-rate is 10.1%, so we’re pretty happy with those numbers.
In addition to this first sales attempt, we are going to give some tiny cables away to two groups:
- Members of the media. I searched popular search terms for our product including “short cables,” “short USB,” “6-inch lightning cable,” and more. This gave me a list of blogs and media sources that have a high authority-ranking on the subject, a list of sites I want Tiny Cables to be featured on. I e-mailed editors at all of these sites and asked if I could send units for review. We’ve received some replies and we’re building that list.
Along the way, I stumbled on a juicy list of 3,000+ tech media members that appears to be legit. I chose not to lean on that list, but boy was that tempting. Sending to that list would not be representative of who we are as a company (and I’m scared of sending to a Spamtrap e-mail address). Plus, MailChimp will suspend an account for that sort of thing.
- Engineering teams at companies that have helped us along the way. We want to say thank you to the companies that enabled us to launch Tiny Cables, including (but not limited to) Medium, Twitter, Shopify, PayPal, MakeStickers.com, Slack, and GradeProof. What better way than with a pile of Tiny Cables?
We’re focusing on engineering teams at these companies because we think that engineers will be some of our top customers. Engineers often have devices plugged into their laptops on their desks, so they’re familiar with the clutter problem that comes with a long cable. This is also a group interested in the performance of the equipment they’re using — something we’re focusing on. These teams could be community influencers for us.
Figuring out who to send the cables to at each of these companies has been a straight-forward exercise, except for one company that had multiple offices around the world. In that case, I needed to get stalker-ish: identify the engineering lead, find his/her Twitter account, and scroll through a few dozen tweets so I could figure out where they live. Sometimes entrepreneurship demands a little detective work.
We also bought some stickers from our friends at MakeStickers.com:
We’ll share these with the early adopters. Hopefully this grabs some attention, and since it was 4,000 stickers for $312.55, it was an easy gamble to make. (Quick (unsolicited) plug: MakeStickers.com does great work, is fast, and they stand by the quality of their work. I couldn’t possibly have better things to say about them.)
Build our Reputation, Don’t Destroy the Brand
One way that we’ll continue building our audience and building our brand is guest blogging. We’ve reached out to publications that are a good fit for our audience and offered a few angles on our story.
Simply, we’re learning more than we expected — more than just about launching a physical product — and there are many lessons to share about the benefits of blogging this whole thing. Those are stories and lessons we’ll push out on other publications.
In more general terms, the most important thing we can do during the soft launch is not screw up. We’ll be extra diligent about customer support, and keep an extra-close eye on the pieces of our process that we assume will be automated to make sure that they are indeed automated.
The actual launch is largely going to be driven by the results of our soft launch. We’ll have sold some units so we’ll have some cash on hand and we’ll certainly look to do the standard things, like Facebook ads.
But by now, you know that we’re not just going to do the boring stuff. We’re exploring all avenues for eyeballs: conference sponsorships, inclusion in give-away bags, and handing samples out outside of various businesses.
We even called a Major League Baseball team.
They answered. More on that soon.