Project #Startup10: Lessons learned with Blommekes.be
Note: this is a post from a blog post series about starting up 10 businesses in a year.
#1: https://Blommekes.Be - koopt een blommeke voor u vrouw en het zal wa beter gaan
The biggest problem in getting started with startups, is finding your inspiration, and deriving a business plan; in this post I will describe how blommekes.be was conceived, and also mistakes, lessons learned during the process.
We brainstormed for for about 3 nights straight to find a good idea. The brainstorming process was pretty straightforward: we shared a powerpoint file in google docs, and started adding ideas at random (one per page) while babbling over Skype together. We found our inspiration by surfing the net, (i.e. news sites etc), thinking about where we could find new markets and/or opportunities.
After these 3 nights, we decided to pick an idea and go for it. The odd thing was that we conceived the idea of blommekes.be during that night; the minute we imagined it, we assumed that this would be a perfect match for our first startup: blommekes.be.
Unique selling points
We checked most of the online webshops for flowers, and while there is a stiff competition there, we decided to approach the market from a different point of view. As a man, I have no idea what the current trends are, and I hate having to check in/register and configure umptheen options before getting my final order. We decided to drive blommekes.be by making it utterly simple to order something and target it at people who were just there to order flowers and get it done.
As we were targetting men only, we decided to approach it with a funny, tongue-in-cheeck, "us against the women"- kind of style.
So it began
Having read through all startup material, we decided to dive in head first, and applying the lean startup mantra "measuring is knowing", so we both launched a tweet and a facebook post after we set up an initial page where one could order some flowers; once you clicked on the order button, you got to a page where you got the reply: "You can not order at this time, please come back later."
This was picked up by a huge number of enthousiasts, and got retweeted multiple times. so we assumed we were on to something here... (f.e. in the first hour after our 2 tweets and facebook posts we had 100 visitors and some retweets), so we decided we were probably on to something good here.
We made our first mistakes here
- Visitors are not buyers; just because you are able to attract visitors does not mean you can get them to buy antyhing... Only about 10% clicked on the order button, and none of them on the pay button
- As I had a history in sales, I somehow presumed we could use the slightly adjusted 1 to 18 ratio for conversion, so I assumed about 1 in 400 visitors would place an order (i.e. 1 in 20²); as we did not manage to get this conversion ratio, I presume we are lacking some things on our site, but more on that later...
- We failed to collect data from those first time users; for example an email or something similar might have been a good idea.
- Apparently once people had seen the site, they were not really keen to get back to it, because they knew what it was all about.
What was next
We needed to get the following things working:
- Find a flower shop willing to collaborate on this project
- Make sure we are able to arrange the transportation for the flowers (both the delivery and the packaging)
- Get the payment up and running
- Have some online marketing
- Try doing some offline marketing as well
After googling a bit for this, it turned out that this "temporary problem" was over 4 months old, and still was not fixed, so they basically fubarred me by not informing me.
So I decided to cut my losses, invest a steep startup cost in a well known payment provider, pay their monthly fee and also accept a high transaction cost from VISA, after all, we lost a lot of time on this...
When you have some momentum going; do not lose it. Do not go for the cheapest possible solution, but opt for established (but maybe more costly) options. In the end, choosing for cheap usually ends up in costing you more money after all. Never loose momentum, as this will cost you potential customers.
The online marketing was completely Pieter's accomplishment, and I actually considered it to be quite good. However, it did not go viral, even though we wanted it to. Even though te reactions of the people were utterly positive, people did not share the link.
Consider your target audience; people who tend to make things go viral, need something extraordinary they never saw before. While a lot of the people we targetted considered this something they never saw before, it never occured to them that they could actually share it in order to help us. Going viral is hard, and I presume it requires some real expertise and a lot of effort before you are able to create something like that on demand, a.k.a. "Hello Captain Obvious".
We also decided to give offline marketing a shot, so Pieter ordered a thousand business cards, which we put about everywhere we managed to put them (i.e. restaurants, pubs, family spread them, ...). The white on orange text underneath is unreadable due to the crappy webcam, but the text in white says "Geven & Nemen", which is Dutch for "Give & Take", which is intentionally somewhat interpretable in different ways...
Here is another lesson
While it might be worthwile for some, spreading business cards everywhere was apparently not really worthwile for our specific kind of branche. I assume online services need online marketing, and breaching that boundary probably ends up costing you more then you gain.
So we finally had everything in place
One could order and pay flowers, we could transport them; our test shipment had proven to be excellent (i.e. tested in the most extreme possible way), So we were ready to go...
Unfortunately, nothing happened...
Absolutely nothing ? Well no, we got an order here and there, but nothing spectacular, so for now, the financial result of this whole experience is not exactly what we hoped it to be ** COUGH ** understatement ** COUGH **.
Is this the end of blommekes.be? No, certainly not... We will try to adjust and improve our process in every way we can, even though this might be in small, gradual and incremental steps. We have made the initial effort, and as this was the first true startup, it was one hell of a ride...
As we are progressing with the other startups, we are learning valuable lessons, which we reapply to the previous startups as well.
Some things are obvious once they tell them to you, but can be missed quite easy, f.e. not showing the customer how they will be able to pay for their orders might actually hold them back completely.
Another obvious one is you need to have recurring customers. While a lot of the people I talked to seemed to know the site "Blommekes.be", and considered it a great idea; most of them never really bothered to visit it again once they had seen it. We tried fixing it by adding a jokes section yesterday, but I am assuming I should probably give the possibility for the visitors to subscribe for an email, so here is my question to you: would you subscribe to a weekly email that shows you the new flower arrangement and possibly some new jokes that have been added, or not?
While this whole thing has not exaclty been "a ride in the park", we did make some actual progress, and got our first lessons in lean startups. As initially stated, we never assumed we would get it right the first time, the whole spirit of the "Project #Startup10", is learning how to do a startup, so even though we have not been able to turn this into anything profitable (yet), we are making progress...
Whether or not blommekes.be will be a keeper, that is something only time will tell.
The reason I am sharing this, is because I am willing to learn from both my experiences and yours, so if you do have any tips, pointers, or even a simple "me too", please mention this in the comments, as this is one of the things that motivate me to write these kind of posts...