Go & Behold is an e-commerce website for the modern man that started without any connections, very few money and soon reached $15,000 in revenue within a few months.
The following quote is directly taken from Reddit:
We owe this sub (and Reddit in general) a lot. It’s here we found resources that helped our launch and connected with key partners. I thought I’d share the following in hopes that it adds something to the community.
Little of the following is going to be new to experienced online entrepreneurs. But for those new to the game, especially in niche eComm, there are helpful tips and tools.
Some sections have more valuable than others, I think. For instance, I suggest paying more attention to the section on cold emailing for press as opposed to the section on building the site. I wanted to include as much as possible in case folks are interested, though.
Here’s the breakdown: * How we formulated our offering and brand * How we built our site * Our plan for inventory and operations * Getting pre-launch subscriptions * How we cold-emailed our way to great press * Where we are now and where we’re going
We approached our site Go and Behold as an experiment at first. Vinicius Vacanti kept a blog for a while and had a great post about not launching a company, but launching an experiment and this helped us keep a productive mindset.
How we formulated our offering and our brand
We’re 3 friends from the NYC area and we’re all from the marketing and design world. We were kicking around ideas, trying to figure out what kind of project to start because we just had the itch. So we jumped in the way our backgrounds trained us to – with research.
We wanted to be in men’s style, but we also knew the fierceness of competition in the space. We thought hard about what we wanted to create, how it would be different than what was already out there, and honestly, to what it might be similar.
We decided to create an online retailer that features under-the-radar brands, artists, and independent makers of things. We focused on keeping it attainable, so while prices could be high for some items, the emphasis on value for money would be constant.
We really liked what Huckberry was doing, and we were particularly inspired by Matt Carroll’s writing on Quora about the company (read everything Matt has written – it’s gold). Huckberry’s focused on cultivating a tribe of like-minded people around a lifestyle brand, and that spoke to us.
Differentiation was key from the start. While we loved Huckberry’s approach, occupying a different niche would be crucial for us. Huckberry really nails the outdoors-y brand, and they position the company specifically to speak to the urban adventurer.
We wanted our brand to be a sleek one, focused on the urban as opposed to the adventurer, and ultimately have fashion-driven DNA.
Brand planning tools:
Mood board: Mood boards are great for shaping your brand because they force you to think in abstract terms. And brands are, by nature, abstractions. They consist of values, aspirations, cultural and anthropological themes, etc.. You have to come up with images, fonts, magazine clippings, anything that you think encapsulates the vibe that you want your customers to feel when they come in contact with you in a mood board.
We used Pinterest, but you could just as easily go with posterboard, tape, and printouts or magazine clippings. We created a new private Pinterest board and started pinning images that would help define our brand. Everything from pictures of people to architecture to typography and more. When one of us would post something that didn’t sit well with the others, we’d talk about why and hash out our disagreements.
Our mood board ended up featuring pictures of Marlon Brando in The Wild One, the Rolling Stones in their younger days hanging out in Laurel Canyon, old Norton motorcycles, classic punk bands, art deco architecture, and industrial decor, amongst other things. It gave us a really clear vision of what this brand was going to be.
Brand animation brief: Animation as in giving life-like characteristics to something. You don’t need an actual template, it’s easy to do on your own. If your brand were a person, what would they be like? What’s their name? Where do they live, how much do they make and what do they do for a living? What’s life like – family, single, in a relationship? What do they drive, and what music do they like? What blogs and magazines do they read and where do they hang out? If you have partners, these questions should guide you to discussions that help you refine key aspects of your brand.
Brand archetypes: Brand constructs are social in nature. They resonate with us because they tap into some shared human experience on an atmospheric level. Take a look at this Slideshare and you’ll see what I mean. As you develop your brand, you should notice it lining up with one of these archetypes – they’re proven constants in human storytelling.
Formulating our offering
We had a good feel for brand, but we had to figure out what specifically we’d sell, and to whom we’d provide what value. We loved the value proposition of niche taste and discovery. I think we each have a pretty good eye for style and get a lot of “where’d you get that?” type questions.
We figured we’d leverage that and hunt down independent brands and people who make great things for guys, and build inventory there. Our criteria is that there has to be an aspect of special attention to production. No mass-made stuff, and some depth to the product and brand.
And there was something else we stumbled on. We want to help small brands and makers we believe in get in front of an audience, tell some of their story and sell their wares in a stylish digital boutique setting.
These decisions came from a combination observing the market and the age-old “build something you’d want yourself” entrepreneurship philosophy. We all kind of wanted something like Go and Behold to exist for years. So here we went ahead and built it.
But this is a crucial tool we used to organize our assumptions and start planning how we’d deliver what value to what market: https://canvanizer.com/new/lean-canvas
You don’t have to use that particular link – just search “lean canvas” or “business model canvas” and print out an example and start penciling in your answers. They’re a little different but the outcome is going to be similar. It just forces you to get out of your own head about how cool you think your idea is.
In the words of Paul Graham, make something people want.
The canvas will help you there.
How we built our site
Not going to spend a ton of time here because I feel like this is the lowest barrier of all. Fortunately, 2 out of the 3 of us has design and development skills. We’re a bit lucky in that regard.
Our path to a site build was the following: (1) Domain and hosting squared away, WordPress installed (2) WooCommerce installed (3) found a great theme on Themeforest to customize (4) designed branded creative assets like logos and the like, picked fonts and color schemes, etc. (5) set up payment gateways, analytics apps and typical plugins (6) started configuring the site options and loading in content
There’s no secret sauce to the plugins or anything. If you have the design and dev skills, WooCommerce is great because it’s free, but the spend comes in when you need to start buying plugins to facilitate everything you want to do. The most important plugins are the payment gateway and email marketing ones, IMO.
If you don’t have design and dev resources on your team, go with Shopify or Squarespace and stand up a site near-instantly. No need to turn this part into a hurdle if you don’t have to. Build it, start marketing.
You’ve probably heard it a million times and it’s true – collecting email addresses and creating email rapport with your audience from the start is necessary. And it’s relevant for every phase – pre-launch, newly-launched, fully operating. Here are the tools we used (and still use):
Mailchimp: We kicked around others but for our purposes, Mailchimp really is the best. We’re now a premium paying customer but used the free solution at the beginning. There’s a plugin you can get to include a email signup box at checkout – definitely do that.
SumoMe: We use the list builder popup and it’s been working really well. You can connect this to most email marketing services out there and test different value props, copy, and design.
The applications and themselves and their accompanying wordpress plugins are easy to find and set up.
Other than that, we put the usuals in place: Google Analytics, PayPal, Stripe for credit cards, Amazon Payments (which surprised us with how often it gets used). We use ShippingEasy for managing shipping labels and Freshdesk’s free plan for managing customer support.
Our plan for inventory and operations
Our problem with getting inventory was that we didn’t have the money for it. But keep in mind that if you’re approaching things like we did – as an experiment – then you shouldn’t spend a ton of money on inventory anyway. Revenue and traction outweigh profit at this stage.
Instead we found it better to find low or no-cost ways to test into products and product categories.
What we did: We started searching out small brands and makers whose work we loved. We went through every resource imaginable. Etsy, Storenvy, Instagram, forums, right here on Reddit, and our own collections of favorite sites. We compiled the list in Google Docs and just started reaching out, seeing if people would be interested in doing a consignment-type deal with us. We’re still a young company much of our inventory is still on consignment and drop-shipping. We merchandise and sell, pay the vendor who fulfills the order.
Through lots of emails and lots of conversations, we started finding deals that worked. In fact, we found our partners for watches right here on reddit, Nick (/u/crappysurfer). We’re still out there building inventory and partnerships, it just takes hustle. This is one of our main focuses right now, actually.
As we learn what products do well, we start finding ways to place larger orders and create cost efficiencies, taking stock and shipping ourselves like a standard eComm business would.
The way we select, manage, and fulfill products is a key part of what we’re building – I’ll get into that more in a subsequent post if people are interested.
Getting pre-launch subscriptions
We first built was a signup landing page, using WordPress and Mailchimp. We did what most pre-launch sites do – collect email addresses so we have an audience to which we could announce our launch.
I want to address really quickly what I think is a starting-up myth: Launch to friends and family first
I think you read that advice out there a lot. I’m not saying it’s never a good idea – sure, it’s a good idea if your friends and family are in your target market. Buf it they’re not, you risk falling on deaf ears, obtuse criticism that doesn’t apply, and torpedoed growth potential from square 1.
The internet is a big place, go get in front of people who could become your ideal customers. There’s a good chance it’s not your immediate circle, and that’s totally OK.
Sure, we have friends who dress well, but that doesn’t mean they’d necessarily be into Go and Behold. No point in hanging out decisions on a badly-skewed market test.
We drove our pre-launch signup traffic via Instagram. This post pretty much laid out everything we needed to know, so no need repeating it here.
We only did a handful of sponsored posts but it started out Instagram following, got us our first real traffic, and netted our first subscribers. Not a huge amount, maybe a little over 300, but enough to launch.
Could we have done more to drive pre-launch traffic? Absolutely. We were already sourcing products so we could have done giveaways on blogs, done guest posts, and just creating more social media content buzz.
Hindsight being 20/20, we probably should have done those things, but you can’t invest in the past…
How we cold-emailed our way to great press
Press is best traffic generator. If it’s on high-quality sites, it’s just awesome for so many reasons. It doesn’t cost money (but it costs a lot of time), it passes credibility both in terms of culture and in terms of SEO (someone deemed you worthy of coverage), it lives on through time as opposed to PPC, etc..
But it’s a hard nut to crack. You’re asking yourself “How can i get written about?!”.
Maybe we were lucky with the following story, but like Thomas Jefferson said:
“I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
The key for us was finding the passion angle.
Like I said earlier, it was on Reddit that we came across Nick Harris and his modded Seiko watches. We love Seikos and thought this would be an awesome product for us make available.
If you’re read the watches sub, you know there’s a group of people that’s all about Seikos, and beyond that, there’s a really cool subculture of modded Seikos. It has a passionate, die-hard following, and that’s key.
We found that Worn & Wound, a truly loved watch blog, had covered modded Seikos. We also found that Gear Patrol had covered them as well. Both sites ran content on affordable watches in general, too.
Nick came up with a great design for us, the Field Standard, and we bought one for promo purposes. We then reached out to both Worn & Wound and Gear Patrol.
Most blogs will have their contact info readily available, or at least a general tips email. That’s what we used because we didn’t have any kind of inside connection to either site.
I wish I had the actual emails I sent but I can’t find them right now. I do remember, though, that they were really brief, with a link to photos of the watch, asking if they’d be interested in reviewing the product.
That’s it. Short, sweet, simple, no pushy pitch. Publications want to write cool content for their audience. Use that, swim in their blood a bit, and ensure that there’s value in it for them, not just you.
Both sites got back to us and wanted to review the watch, So we sent it out and it made the rounds. In fact, Gear Patrol did a really cool feature on Nick with only a side mention of Go and Behold. Here they are:
/u/chrispscott also included us in his killer “Time On a Budget…” post on his blog cultural dispatch. He posted that article it to the watches sub and it garnered a nice bit of attention.
The results were amazing.
Our traffic boosted, hundreds of email subscribers joined, and we built up an audience that really cares about watches. They sell out every time they’re released and the category in general has become an area of focus from which we plan to grow.
Where we are now, and where we’re going
Like I mentioned earlier, we started Go and Behold as an experiment. The experiment ended up working out, and now we’re working through what our next steps will be.
Everybody wants to focus on growth. The hard part for us knowing exactly how to do that in the best way for our particular situation. We’re still bootstrapped, the business is creating self-sustaining revenue (to a point), and we need to apply that revenue in the most advantageous ways possible.
The KPIs we’re working with are around scale (traffic, subscribers, customers, partner brands and products) and monetizing the scale (subscriber and customer acquisition costs, email conversion rates, site traffic conversion, revenue). We also need to focus on growing our social presence.
Profit is not a focus right now. We’d rather build the subscriber and customer base and get our marketing, operations, and service infrastructures working the right way.
Tactically, we’re going to focus on press and content partnerships, social advertising, in finding more of the right vendors and brands to bring on board.