Insider #13: Lights! Camera!… Cheese?!?!

Hope the Holiday Season is treating everyone as well as it’s treating us. We’re gonna start sending the Insider out on a quarterly basis (every 2-3 months) from here on out. Not that we don’t have anymore lessons to share…it’s just that some of the lessons keep repeating themselves.

Lessons Learned

When you’ve received a ton of positive feedback regarding your product, it ’s hard to accept that anybody out there might actually show some negativity towards your “baby”. Case in point: The same day that Reuters included MouseDriver in their Holiday Gift write-up (which is picked up by thousands of smaller publications worldwide), the LA Times included MouseDriver as one of its “Turkeys to Avoid” (referring to MD as a chunky, clunky mouse). And we thought MD could do no wrong! The lesson to learn here…you have absolutely no control over what the media is going to say about you, your company or your product. You can try and spin it anyway you can, but when the ink hits the paper, the last word is up to whoever’s doing the writing. The other lesson to learn here…Any PR is good PR. After all, we did make it into the LA Times.

It looks like we’re going to get some of the business PR that we’ve been hoping for. The fact checker from Inc. Magazine contacted us a couple of weeks ago to make sure all of the article information was correct (and even followed-up with a number of Insider subscribers). We’re not too sure what the article is going to be about, but assume that a portion of it is focused on The MouseDriver Insider (i.e. why we write it, why people are (hopefully, still) reading it, etc.). In fact, the photographer from Inc. Magazine came to our office on Friday and spent the entire day trying to make us look a lot better than we actually do. Taking photos is hard work. You have to stand around and pose while the photographer gets the lighting right, makes sure he has the right angles, assesses the type of shot he wants, etc. and then you get to be as still as possible while he cranks out about 100 shots of every picture. It was actually a pretty cool (and very exhaustive) learning experience…and Kyle even got a new nickname out of the whole deal!

As a single product manufacturer who sells a novelty gift item, we REALLY like this time of year. Around mid-October we began to see a huge spike in everything…sales, phone calls, customer service inquiries, PR, website sessions. This spike lasted around 6 weeks and has just recently tapered off. We haven’t run the final numbers yet, but we’d be willing to guess that around 40% of our sales occurred during the October/November timeframe. Now, the sales are good and we’re not complaining, but as our accounts receivables (AR) increases, other small issues begin to surface: I.E. How and when do we collect our money? Although we’ve been in business for over a year now and have a recognizable product, we still have NO LEVERAGE with the major retailers and probably never will. The larger stores can choose to pay us whenever they want and we can’t do a thing about it….we’ve tried calling on a weekly basis, but that doesn’t seem to do anything but annoy the accounts payable people…who now simply screen our calls as our number comes across the caller id screen. It’s basically a waiting game and you have to plan accordingly.

OK, so our strategy is pretty much going as planned and we’re ready to move into the larger stores and mass merchandisers. However, we’re having some problems actually getting MouseDriver in front of the buyers of these stores. It sounds really easy…just mail the buyer your product and company information, show them that you’ve got good sales and tons of PR and wait for them to come knocking on your door. Yeah right! Talk about being naïve. There’s definitely a relationship factor and a “who you know” thing going on with regards to introducing new products to the big merchandisers. We’re working frantically right now to make sure our product gets into these stores, but it ain’t easy. Once again, we find ourselves randomly calling up contacts that have been passed along in hopes of finding the right connection. It seems as if we’ve been going at this for a year now with limited success. Bottom line: in order to make MouseDriver a “financial” success, we’ll have to find some sort of mass merchandiser distribution in 2001 who can move a boatload (literally) of novelty computer mice!

What We’ve Done

  • Initiated a direct mail campaign to independent gift stores in the US that resulted in a 50% ROI.
  • Provided cursory consulting services to several start-ups in the Bay Area looking to “bring their product to market”. (We actually know something now!)
  • Guest lectured at Cornell and hung out with Tony Bennett and The Money Honey from CNBC at Wharton/UPENN fundraiser in Philly. We donated 800 Wharton logo’d mice for this event.
  • Began planning for the 2001 selling season…includes looking at mass merchandisers, contacting sales reps, forecasting inventory, and most importantly, figuring out cash flow constraints.

Priority Goals

  • Get MouseDriver in front of the buyers at the big stores. This has been much easier said than done…in fact, it’s been a real pain-in-the-ass.
  • Develop a complex algorithm to help us forecast 2001 sales. Yeah right! We need some sort of forecast though and we’ve got a little bit more information this time around.
  • Begin identifying the lead times required by magazines and publications for Father’s Day PR.
  • Write a MouseDriver Case Study.

Mood Meter

Absolutely ecstatic that we’re no longer carrying any company related debt on our personal credit cards!


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