22 May Into the Future of Commerce – Los Angeles
As part of our ongoing Thought Leadership Series, we’ve discussed upcoming trends with the CMO of Birchbox, CMO of HauteLook, and the Founder of Forerunner Ventures, who supported many wonderful brands including, Bonobos, Dollar Shave Club, Glossier, Outdoor Voices and more.
Just last month, we were in San Francisco with the Head of Retention of Rothy’s, a popular shoe company. We returned to our home, Los Angeles, where we brought together friends in the community and a great list of speakers:
-Ashley Merrill, CEO & Founder of Lunya, a luxury women’s sleepwear brand
-Cat Chen, Founder & CEO of Skylar, an all natural perfume brand
-Kerry Bennett, Head of Marketing of Upfront Ventures, a venture capitalist firm
We learned a few key lessons from these experienced brand builders about marketing, and starting companies:
How to start a brand from the ground-up and quickly
The key is to go as far as you can with your own self funding, and not worrying about knowing how to do everything initially. Our panelists started their companies with no experience, but eventually hired people with the right experience and skills their company needed.
It took Ashley 2-years before she had an actual product she could sell, which she created without having any prior experience in her industry.
Cat got off the ground within 7-9 months and wanted to “fail fast.” Cat shared she bootstrapped her business for as long as she could, and then raised outside capital to help her scale. This decision forced her to stay lean and focused, and she “highly recommend doing the same if you can.”
Things don’t go as planned at first, but don’t get discouraged
Traffic was very low for both Lunya and Skylar when they first launched their online stores.
Ashley said she had roughly 35-visits to Lunya’s site on the first day, which she figured to be friends and family visiting the site for support. Lunya didn’t get consistent traffic until a couple of months later, but in the beginning word-of-mouth marketing was the key to their success. “Our customers love how soft our products are, and how that makes them feel empowered. That’s the mission of our brand–we want to empower women to do great things!” said Ashley.
Skylar faced a difficult obstacle selling online: How do you sell a scent online when the actual smell is the deciding purchase factor? Cat was one of the earliest employees at The Honest Company, so she was familiar with how to build a direct-to-consumer business. Thinking creatively, she came up with the “Scent Club” idea where fans can try on limited edition fragrances as well as Skylar’s regular collection of scents. Cat also focused her efforts on communicating her vision and sharing her story of not wanting to expose herself to chemicals while she had her first child a few years ago. Fans eventually caught on, and her validation arrived when Sephora reached out wanting to carry Skylar’s products.
The power of social media
Initially, most of their product testing and feedback was conducted by friends and family. Cat was self-taught in social media with no prior experience, but was able to make it work for her. She decided to dig into their own product reviews, and reached out to people on social media for feedback. That led Skylar to improve products based on their customer feedback, and help them create products based on customer demand.
With experience on your side
Kerry believes it’s important for experienced team members to make themselves more available to the company, and show that you’re “working for them.”
“It is not easy to work with founders. If you join a brand or a startup to make a few quick bucks, think again. You want to join a founder or a brand for its mission and the opportunities that you can learn from, otherwise, you will be very unhappy,” said Kerry.
Kerry to stresses that you must have genuine interest and really care about your product for long term success–it will make you perform much better.
A few quick pointers
- Advice on being a great founder: You have to create a business where you really understand who your customers are and what they really want.
- Customer acquisition is difficult and there’s no one right way to do it. Never keep all your eggs in one basket. You’ll have to test constantly to see what channels work best for you.
- How do you toughen up your team and get them well seasoned? Enter a crowded space with low amount of resources. That can really shape an individual and make them successful.
- Support, help, and educate your community. Don’t always focus on events based on selling. For example, Ashley hosts and sponsors events she’s interested like F**k Cancer every year.
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