Always be pivoting

They say as a start-up entrepreneur that you will always be pivoting. I can totally relate. I have five product lines ideas in progress right now in different stages of development.

At this point, I’m not really sure which one is going to make it successfully through the market testing, and so I’m trying to get through the processes as quickly as possible. The challenge with developing products rather than services is the time it takes to make it.

I have two product lines where I’m still waiting on samples, and I have another where I’m waiting for a potential business partner to say yes. I’m not the most patient person anyway. So, all of this waiting is pretty much torture for me.

At the same time, I have to concentrate on both short-term and long-term income. I can’t survive passed this financial year without personal income, and so I’m in a hurry more than ever to covert one of my ideas into cash.

Last night, I was going through some of my old journals going back to high school. Even then, I struggled with too much structure and lack of control in normal jobs. I had written down business ideas since university. It’s time to make something happen on my own.

Right now I’m dedicating to the philosophy of “always be pivoting” until I find that one door (or two) that finally opens.

Time to pivot

Our crowdfunding campaign ended yesterday for our Stray No More pet barrier, and unfortunately it didn’t go the way I had hoped. It would be easy to quit right now, but when your mission is strong enough you don’t. Instead, it’s time to pivot.

Time to Pivot

3 Important Questions before Crowdfunding

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the best practices in crowdfunding. With so many platforms out there, it’s hard sometimes to decide which one is best for your campaign, as well as, what can you do to put yourself in the best position for success. From that research, I’ve decided that these are 3 important questions to ask before crowdfunding.

Questions for Crowdfunding

1. Is your service, product or program best funded through a crowdfunding marketing campaign?

As I’ve shared before in this blog, I’m personally gone this route because I was concerned that if I brought in private investors for the initial cost of production (over $200k), that I’d have to give up too much equity at this point. This puts my company’s social purpose at risk as the more equity I lose, the less likely I can control how we make the products (i.e. recycled plastic in Australia which costs more to do).

Furthermore, from the three products that I have designed, I chose to Product #3 – my Escape No More product for the campaign. This product creates a temporary barrier to prevent a pet from escaping through a door or passageway.

Even though it’s most expensive product for me to manufacturer, I specifically picked this product for this campaign because I thought that it was the easiest one to explain with the most potential uses for a pet owner.

For me, the crowdfunding platform is a way to pre-sell and market-test my product idea before investing anymore into it. If it succeeds, I could also be building great marketing momentum for the next order, as well as investor interest.

2. Do you have enough financial backers willing to support the campaign to at least start it properly?

I’ve probably browsed hundreds of unsuccessful campaigns in my research that didn’t even have $100 in pledges when they ended. Some of them had obviously spent a lot of money in creating the videos and product/service ideas though. How could they fail if they had a great product prototype and video?

Well, nobody will support a product they haven’t heard about. Furthermore, it makes you wonder if the product actually solved their problem or fulfill a need?

Too many times I’ve spoken with inventors, idea people or techies that don’t want to do the work to sell the product. They only want to make it. Therefore, I suspect that these particular campaigns with few or no backers are either bad ideas or the products were made by those that expected the platform to do the working of selling for them. In reality, the platform is only a tool.

3. Which crowdfunding platform best meets your needs?

This has been the most time consuming question for me. I know that I have the right kind of product, and I believe that I have a lot of people that are interested in backing it – at least I have a really large network that say they are interested at this point.

However, picking the right platform required a lot more research. If I think about a crowdfunding site as only a tool, then the bigger, more popular sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have the best set of tools as far as I can tell.

This includes the way you initially set up the campaign with embedded videos, pictures and links. Furthermore, they tend to have more ways to communicate with your donors. I especially like the extra set of tools that Indiegogo has to place add-ons during the checkout process, as well as a referral system that might be useful mid-way through my campaign.

One of the areas that I think is quite important is the way that it shows currency and shipping costs – especially if you plan to open the campaign to more than just your home country. A lot of people are turned-off of buying something that doesn’t easily translate into their local currency on the homepage, and even more will back away during the check-out process if the shipping cost comes as a surprise.

I’ve also found at least one site where there wasn’t a way to add shipping easily to the check-out process. The owner of that campaign will have to contact each backer individually afterwards if it’s successful. Seems too painful to me especially when it’s built into other platforms.

While I’m still a month away from launching my own campaign, I still think these early insights and 3 questions before crowdfunding are worth sharing now.

Raising funds via video

In a new business, there are lots of little things to prepare for big milestones. Fundraising is usually one of the more dreaded tasks for a start-up. However, it can also be one of the most creative if you’re raising funds via video.

I have two funding opportunities due in the next month. One is a grant that requires a 60 second video pitch to get past the first round. The other one is for a crowdfunding opportunity.

For the 60 second video, I’ve really struggled to write a script that covers the most important points in that short time period. That’s basically about 175 words with my speaking pace – hardly 2-3 short paragraphs.

However, when I started to storyboard the scenes, I realised that I could actually reduce my script by adding subtitles to the video with that info. What can I say in pictures so that words are unnecessary? By writing it this way, I managed to get the spoken narrative down to just 120 words which allows more time for cut-away scenes.

I just have to make sure I capture compelling video. This is not an easy task unless you know what you’re doing. And I don’t – at least not from a technical point of view. I reckon that I could easily spend 2 days or more on capturing the video and editing alone for the 60 seconds of content.

This is going to be even more critical to do well with the crowdfunding campaign. There, I have to make an entertaining movie to capture my audience’s attention and dollars. To do the video professionally might require it’s own fundraising effort! Luckily, I think I’ll have some sponsors to help with that one.

It’s the 60 second video that will have to be done completely on my own due to budget. I’ve never made a real movie before, but I have written short scripts for a cartoon series. The cinematography is going to have to be amazing to tell the story well which makes this a bigger challenge for me since I have very little experience here.

Still, it actually sounds like fun. I’ve been playing with the two storyboards in my head. I don’t have a lot of time left to get this sorted, but if I have to do fundraising, I might as well make it as fun and creative as possible.

After all, I can’t control whether or not the funding is successful. However, I can give the audience the best show possible within my abilities and budget.

DILO 23/7/19

Most days are not that glamorous or interesting in a start-up. However, even those days come with lessons learned.

For example, I learned this week that the guys that have been customising my website without any issues are completely clueless when in comes to security and search engine optimisation (SEO). In fact, they’ve stuffed something up, and now I’m spending way too much time trying to fix it with them.

I’ve also learned that when you sign up for a new company bank account, they do not come online right away. So, don’t promise payments to a manufacturer on the same day.

While I procrastinated on this for a while, I’ve learned that making my career change public opened a whole new set of great contacts into my network. Furthermore, I’ve said “YES” to connecting with anyone another friend has recommended. I’m sure that was a good decision too.

Finally, today I learned that it’s worth my time to create good content for both my websites and my own personal brand. A Medium article I published was recommended by their editors, and I’ve been invited to submit more articles to two of their publications as a result.

Yes, a Day in the Life of this start-up is all about doing small things daily and learning quickly from any lessons. I’m certain this will all be worth it one day.

Why entrepreneurs work on weekends

It’s Sunday apparently. I only know because I get less emails on Sunday. Otherwise, Sundays often feel the same as any other day of the week to me. I’m sure that I’m not alone. In fact, I bet that most start-up entrepreneurs work on weekends.

The definition of a start-up is a newly established business. Cash flow is almost always tight when you start a business and especially if you want a paycheck from it anytime soon. However, if investors are involved, there’s also an expectation of fast and exponential growth.

Both of these motivators (a paycheck and investors’ expectations) make very much aware of time, and how I use it right now. And so, I work on weekends.

But I don’t do it begrudgingly.

Working weekends
Photo by Kaboom Pics

I still managed to go to a dinner party last night, as well as fit in a workout both days. I considered a morning hike yesterday with some friends, but decided to skip it because I’m still getting over an injury and frankly – it was really cold!

To be honest, without something like that to keep me occupied, I’ll be thinking about the business the whole time anyway. It’s not necessarily just my task list, but also the big goals that keep my brain occupied.

So many interesting things are happening in the plastic recycling and waste management space right now that I can barely keep up with the news.

Today in fact, I spent hours putting together a response to the ACT Government’s discussion paper regarding the phasing out of single-use plastics. You can read it here.

Initially, I wasn’t going to respond. However, after the urging of a contact and more thought, I realised that I do have something unique to add to the debate. In a weird way, it’s exciting to know that my own business can be apart of the solution even though this is why the social enterprise exists in the first place.

So, as I write this late on Sunday night, I’m energised and still thinking. If this is my start-up life, I’m pretty happy with it.

DILO 19-7-19

I spoke to the plastics manufacturer designer who will be working on my first product prototype. He noted some issues with the original drawings, and especially about the weight of the product.

If you have been following this blog, you’ll know that this has come up many times before with other manufacturers too. The good thing is that now that I have hired this manufacturer, I can say for hopefully the last time:

“I’m only concerned about the functionality and aesthetics of the product. Otherwise, I’m happy for you, as the expert, to recommend the best technical specs.”

The rest of the day, I looked mostly at search engine issues with my websites. The unfortunate thing about picking the name “The Refoundry” for the company is that there are others in the US using the same name. I didn’t think it would be an issue since we’re in Australia. However, it will continue to be invisible until I can get the search engines to see my site.

Rather than spending anymore time trying to fix this, I eventually put in a service order to the company that’s helped with my other website issues.

This is the challenge with being an entrepreneur, I end up wasting a lot of time trying to do things myself sometimes. However, when you have more time than money, it’s what you have to do.

Melbourne – meeting manufacturers for the first time

I got into my car at 5am this morning to drive to the airport when I realised that I left $60 of perishable groceries in the back seat from the night before. Ugh! The first sign that I’m trying to do too much. At least the car didn’t stink yet.

My flight to Melbourne was to meet with a manufacturer (cancelled another meeting with Mfg #4), as well as a publisher regarding a side-hustle.

There were so many learnings from the mfg meeting that I will summarise in a blog post after I meet with the final company on Thursday in Brisbane. For the moment, let’s just say that it’s pretty incredible to see their capabilities in person. The video below shows millions of dollars in machines. Imagine starting this business from scratch!

After a morning of meetings, I raced back to Canberra to attend a networking event tonight for an accelerator program. I always meet so many interesting people when I goes to these, and this night was no exception. I have the business cards of an engineer and a private equity company to follow-up on tomorrow.

Another Day in the Life of an Entrepreneur!

The scary part about being Employee #1

I’m used to running fairly large organisations. Since, I’m not an expert in anything, it actually works out pretty well for my generalist skill set. Instead, my job is usually to figure out everyone else’s strengths, and then to get the best out of them to meet our company’s or organisation’s goals.

So now that I am a staff of one, it’s pretty scary. There are no redundancies in skills. There’s no one else to get my work done if I take the day off. There’s no one holding me accountable for schedule or progress. And other than friends and family I confide in or the market research I do, there’s no one to even tell me that I’m heading in the wrong direction.

Currently, I’m the inventor, the website designer, the market researcher, the procurement officer, the social media strategist, the IT support desk, the brand manager, the manufacturer liaison, the bank, the logistics officer, the head communicator and the coffee runner amongst all other things.

It’s a pretty heavy burden being Employee #1 when I’m used to sharing the load.

Right now, I notice it most when I don’t have any contractors doing work in the background. It doesn’t matter if they are designing logos, preparing manufacturing quotes or fixing issues with my website. Whenever, I’m the only one working, I get nervous (and fewer emails).

Of course, it costs money to hire others to do work. Therefore, I only do this for activities where I clearly don’t have the skills to do it myself. So far, taking this approach still means that I’m usually waiting on others to complete something before I can either make a decision or progress the company forward. Yet, in a weird way, I feel better knowing that I can work on something else in the meantime.

So while I’ll continue to march forward mostly alone right now, I hope to have a team working with me next year. For I know that this business will be far better off if I’m spending my time as a manager than trying to do everything myself. I just need to start bringing in income before I can do that.

How to bring on investors?

The Constitution template that I used for my company has 20+ different kinds of shareholders identified – from ordinary to founder to nearly the entire alphabet. While I had a few companies in the past, I’ve never brought on investors to help fund the businesses before. So, this is all new to me when the capital required for my new business exceeds my savings.

It’s incredibly common to hear start-ups talking about bringing on investors whether in person or in books and interviews. We also talked about this at business school too, but I naively thought shares were issued in order of the time of when you received in investment i.e. A to Z. This doesn’t appear right.

Why is it that no one really gives you the step by step of how to bring on an investor for your business?

For instance, which of the 20 different shares do I try to “sell” first? Some have voting rights, some have dividend rights and some have both. Also, if I use convertible notes (loans that eventually change to shares), what kind of shares would they normally convert to, and what about employee share options? Which ones should they get?

If anyone knows of a good book, please let me know. Otherwise, I’ll share on this blog as I gather more info. I still have so much more to learn.