Insider #1: Reality Bites

This edition begins with some general “lessons learned” over the past three months and then briefly covers our progress to date and our priority goals. Future editions will not be this long…we just felt like we had a lot to share this time around.

Lessons Learned

“When your product or service is to existing products or services what toilet paper is to crumbled leaves, it’s time to ship. S – h – i – p, ship” (Guy Kawasaki) If you think that you have a great product or service, it’s best to get it out to customers and let them determine the success of the product rather than attempting to develop the perfect product/service. We spent over three months trying to perfect the initial MouseDriver design. Regardless of how good each design sample looked, we always managed to find something wrong with the size, weight, color, etc. Finally, around mid-July, we realized that any more design changes would result in missing part of the ’99 Holiday sales season. So, we decided to manufacture a product that we knew needed a number of improvements. The result: the response to MouseDriver has been very positive and we’ve received a ton of feedback on how to better improve the product…much better feedback that what the two of us working together could provide.

Don’t be paranoid about sharing your idea with others. Early on, we were afraid to even mention the MouseDriver name to distributors and suppliers, much less what the product actually looked like. We were convinced that someone was going to steal the idea, become an entrepreneur, find a manufacturer overseas, raise the money to design the product and find a distribution network before we even had a chance to get off the ground. Needless to say, we couldn’t have been more na├»ve. Once we started sharing the idea with people in the promotional products industry, we found ourselves learning more and more about how to bring MouseDriver to market. In fact, for a few weeks, our strategy was changing on a daily basis. Following our conversations with suppliers and distributors, we’d reserve a conference room (corner table) at Starbuck’s and hash out another distribution strategy. Our advice: share your idea with as many people as possible. You’ll learn a lot more. Caveat: this advice may not apply in hyper-competitive industries such as e-commerce.

Take your initial time estimates on when you think things will start to happen and multiply by at least 4. Unless you’ve had a similar entrepreneurial experience in the past, chances are, you will miss every date and milestone that you have set for the company. Fortunately, in many situations, you are not the one to blame for screwing things up. As a start-up (with no major funding or strategic partners), you will find that larger companies do not share the same sense of urgency as you do. You will also find that, despite how great your idea is and how strong your background may be, you have NO LEVERAGE. You will want to move at 200 mph, but because you are in a constant state of waiting, you’re forced to move at around 50 mph. This period is extremely frustrating and leads to periods of boredom and second-guessing (second-guessing is based on the amount of time available to research the progress of all the Internet opportunities you passed up in order to sell novelty computer mice). One suggestion: keep plugging away and laughing at the situation. At some point in time, everything comes together at once and the speedometer quickly hits 500 mph…and then you become frustrated for other reasons.

If you have a family (i.e. spouse/kids), make sure that they fully understand the ramifications of you’re new situation. We are working constantly and because we are working out of our apartment, we feel compelled to work every hour of the day. We definitely manage to get out a couple of nights a week, but most nights are spent working until 1AM. Neither one of us can fathom doing this gig with 1) a wife or 2) with kids. In fact, we don’t see how someone could pull this off without putting some sort of strain on the family relationship. Our utmost respect and admiration goes out to those entrepreneurs who are starting their own companies with a significant other and family in tow. Our advice (like either one of us is qualified to give relationship advice): make sure that you’re family understands that you may be MIA (missing in action) for a certain period of time and make sure that the family is extremely supportive of what you are about to get yourself into.

What We’ve Done

  • Sent out MouseDriver samples to contacts/distributors/customers and gathered feedback on how the product might fare in the promotional products and the consumer retail industries.
  • Finally committed to a large inventory investment. In an effort to keep our equity “in-house,” we both borrowed money against our personal assets to make this investment.
  • Started to personally sell MouseDriver’s to the corporate market (mainly financial services firms) and began establishing an independent sales representative network for the ’99 Holiday Season.
  • Learned a ton about the promotional products industry by meeting with a number of distributors, suppliers and corporate marketing managers.
Priority Goals

  • Find a company advisor. Preferably someone who has significant consumer product and retail experience.
  • Develop a strategic relationship with the right distribution network. The ultimate goal is to partner with a supplier(s) who can manage the intricacies of fulfillment and allow us to focus on marketing/PR.
  • Identify when to start the design of an upgraded MouseDriver product that will be sold in the retail market.
  • Identify when to make the next inventory investment.

Mood Meter: Tempered Excitement


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