Next week will be Tindie’s two year anniversary. What started as a hobby has changed the lives of tens of thousands. It is the reason I was invited to the White House today.
Me with a 3D printed bust of President Obama & Pres. Obama addressing the Makers
Getting the invitation as an Honored Maker to the first White House Maker Faire has been a huge whirl wind the last few days. It made me reflect on the journey Team Tindie has been on, and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. I’ve been sharing these with many young companies the last few weeks, so this was an excuse to put them in writing and hopefully help even more that are just getting going.
In the Beginning
Stay Lean – your runway depends upon it.
When going after a new market, do not prematurely scale or prematurely optimize your team. As they say ‘Cash is king,’ and until you reach breakout velocity, watch your burn like a hawk. We’ve had several competitors come and go (yes in only 2 years!) because they burned through all of their cash. I’ve been the lowest paid employee since day 1, and that isn’t because I have a nest egg. I’m betting on the long term success of the business.
Focus on doing one thing well.
As a new company, you’re always thinking of ways to grow quicker – I believe the hip term is “growth hacks.” Growth hacks don’t work. A growth hack is anything that you think will cleverly convince people to use your service – when they wouldn’t naturally. The truth is they can spiral into huge mistakes that distract you from your core purpose.
The best example I can give was adding crowd funding to Tindie. We started as a marketplace and thought if we added this functionality, we’d pull a few projects from Kickstarter or Indiegogo that would help seed the marketplace. We’d get projects that were super early and they’d stay after crowd funding to grow in our marketplace. That did happen a couple of times, but at the detriment of the greater community. When people would describe Tindie it would be Etsy meets Kickstarter – a marketplace with crowd funding. To say it confused people was an understatement. When I was fundraising, I pitched over 50 investors. It confused over 40 of them; they never invested. Focus on one job, and do it really well.
Where will you get your first 1000 customers?
Theres a point where you need to get going – ‘your first 1k customers.’ How will you will get them? We had a very simple process through Reddit.
- Reserve your username by signing up
- We’re stocking the shelves (to get products listed)
- Open up once you think you have a sufficient about of both
I believe we opened when a few hundred had signed up and had 20 products on the site.
Launch too soon because you are wrong
You’ll never have a perfect product market fit when you launch or launch new features. Launch too soon because you’re customers will teach you things you didn’t think about. You can guess what people will like, guess what features you should build, but in the end of the day, your customers will decide for you. You don’t have to have all of the decisions on day 1 – just enough to get through day 2. Fix the most important features which extend your runway.
As You Grow
Don’t worry about Day to Day. Focus on doing a good job to the best of your abilities.
If you focus on your numbers day to day, you’ll go crazy. So stop.
Focus on improving, getting better, fixing the things which will change your numbers and making those to the best of your abilities. If you do that well, your numbers will reflect those changes.
Hire someone who can do it better and cheaper.
Your time is worth something (regardless of how lean you are running). There reaches a point where your time is better spent focusing on what you do well, and find someone else who can you pass off your weaknesses.
The best example of this I have is our design. I’m not a designer and don’t try to be. It took us almost a year and half before we found a designer for what we need. Best decision ever. It has freed my time to focus on other tasks while pushing off our design challenges to someone more knowledgeable that can do what we need quicker and ultimately cheaper. Why cheaper? The cost of my time to produce comparable work would be multiples greater than what we pay our designer. I see that as a huge win.
You are never open enough.
Late last year we started a conversation with our sellers in our forums about upping our fees (from 5% to 9%). While this dialogue went on for over 2 months, when we flipped the switch on the new fee, many sellers didn’t know there had been this discussion in our forums, and were totally blindsided. We had tried to be open and transparent, but in the end weren’t open enough. We reverted the change a few days later and made our fee 0% for the month of January to apologize. As anyone who has tried to change their business model can tell you, it was a very stressful time and definitely the least pleasant period in Tindie’s history.
Don’t listen to the press.
Some writers are great and will try to accurately present a story. Some will listen to a company’s marketing department and write whatever they tell them. Without getting into specifics – just know every press piece written about you or your competition will not win the war. Most likely the article won’t drive any traffic (there are TONS of twitter bots). When an article does drive traffic, it only causes a blip on your traffic for a day or two and then back to normal. Therefore ignore it and don’t look to the press for adulation or validity.
Investors read the press.
I got into a discussion about this with a friend that writes for TechCrunch. Yes, the press won’t make or break your company – however the people who read them can. On more than one occasion, I’ve had top tier investors set up meetings after reading a Tindie feature on a tech blog. That can make or break a company. I wish the press would take their job more seriously because they don’t realize that is really their audience.
You don’t have any competition. Seriously.
People will ask, “Who is your competition?” Sure you’ll have an answer, but the truth is your fighting yourself to create the best possible product you can. It’s a question of whether you succeed or not. Can you rise to your potential?
Your competitors have different customers than you and will make changes which aren’t applicable directly to you or your customers. One change you make won’t work for them and vice versa. So stop worrying about them. Their problems are different than yours. You need to make the best decisions for your community.
See you next year!
We’re only 2 years old so I think we are still squarely in the early growth phase. It will be exciting to see where we end up at the end of next year. We’ll make sure to share the tips we learn then too.
Founder of Tindie
PS one more photo from the White House Maker Faire of Arduboy & Will.i.am!