It has been 18 months since we founded AptEner and a little over 3 months since we released BluSnap (our 1st product) into the market and now is probably as good a time as any to share our learning. So, here goes.
1. If someone were to ask me the top three must-haves for surviving in the start-up world (and particularly so, for a HW start-up), I would say patience, patience and patience. It seems counter-intuitive to talk about patience when you are a start-up burning cash at a fast clip but it is important to recognize that real-world adoption of most technologies is generally slow. Mobile technology’s ubiquitous nature and the myriad applications that have mushroomed on account of this has distorted our understanding, and led us to believe that if adoption isn’t instantly viral, we have a failure on our hands. What I have learned is that in most cases (and particularly in hardware products) distribution networks and end customers tend to take their time to accept a new technology. Understanding and validating product effectiveness is a slow process, and we would be well advised to recognize that it takes months before one can reap the benefits of word-of-mouth marketing and well-entrenched sales channels.
2. Patience in waiting for market-results to unfold should necessarily be coupled with urgency in internal development and keeping one’s ear firmly on the ground. To give a control-system analogy, think of market acceptance of our product as a global loop with a large time-constant that is out of our control and multiple local loops with a time-constant that is determined primarily by our urgency. Depending on the global loop to tell us what we need to do to succeed is not going to work. The faster we make the local loops by acting quickly on what we hear from our customers/market, the more opportunities we give ourselves to effectively intercept the market-channels at the right juncture.
3. Early customers are worth many, many times the revenue they bring us. They are risk-takers and we should reward them – the reward can range from listening to their feedback and closely involving them in subsequent stages of product development to having a no-questions-asked-if-you-want-a-replacement-product type of policy. A simple process of following up with them regularly to hear about their product experience and staying honest with them on the product’s capabilities and limitations can go a long way in building a customer-focused brand. We have been very fortunate to have a number of enthusiasts as our early customers – they have given us a lot of valuable feedback with many of them doubling up as champions for BluSnap. If we demonstrate trust to our customers by being honest about our product, it is likely that they will reciprocate that trust by helping us on our journey.
4. There are a number of inexpensive ways to market one’s product today. We were able to find a number of enthusiastic vloggers/influencers with good reach in our target audience that were happy to review the product and aid us in our journey. Having detailed reviews from multiple unbiased influencers is a good recipe for early sales and initiates a chain reaction that culminates with attention from recognized media houses. It is definitely possible to get a lot of media attention for your first product with very little marketing expenditure. Keep in mind that most media houses are desperate for interesting content – doing the legwork with influencers will allow you to be in the right place at the right time.