Building a company from the ground up is like nothing you can imagine unless you have been there, on the ground, and in the trenches. We are learning as we are building every moment of every day. I’m charged with sales, marketing, and partnership development but I also help out with other functional areas such as product development, fundraising, and operations. You have to be able to do enough of everything, regardless of your role.
When the morning news show, Good Morning America agreed to tell our story to their global audience, we were beyond thrilled. We had reason to be optimistic that a possible boost to our sales could result but what if it didn’t? I couldn’t help but wonder – does anyone watch morning television?
I’ll spoil the ending first. Despite our preparations we were in fact, not prepared for the seismic and immediate shift from a daily run to an all out sprint. Shortly after our story aired on ABC last week, our little company was suddenly top-of-mind to a global audience including our dream target audience of wholesalers, retailers, parents, grandparents, teachers, learning specialists and more. In the first 90 minutes, sales topped 100K. Our customer base went from 600 to well over 6000 in hours, not days, not weeks.
Writing this post, I’ve only had two days of decompression for a company, which is still so young I jokingly say that the ink is still drying on our incorporation papers! We have now been catapulted into the spotlight among a mass consumer audience.
This is my attempt to memorialize an incredible moment in our company’s nascent history and I sincerely hope that by sharing the four key things that I learned I can help others.
- Customer service is everything. Be prepared. When emails started flooding my inbox at a rapid pace over the first 48 hours there was no staffing to handle the inquiries and zero guidelines in place for answering questions we hadn’t yet answered. What was our return policy? Why is shipping so expensive? Can I buy this in Australia? (They seem very energized by our product – the cute Kangaroo perhaps…). My background in retail and public relations gave me enough instinctive ability to literally craft responses on-the-fly and to create a customer manual that our entire team could work from. Everyone on our team from the founder to our interns became customer service reps overnight.
- Dry run all potential customer journeys. While we thought we had engineered a seamless and simple customer journey – we made one small decision that cost us trust and credibility. Hoping to catch site visitors before leaving (and not buying) we created a special exit-intent popup However, the pop up came up too quickly on the page – causing confusion. We immediately disabled it but by mid-morning it was too late – frustrated customers flooded my inbox. During this timeframe our site conversion was over 23% (compared to the industry 2-5% average).The rate dropped slightly over the next day to 19%. Could it have continued to grow with the exit-intent pop up? Maybe, but we’re pretty happy with a double digit conversion rate and zero customer complaints.
- Know your technical stack. Before this I think we really thought of ourselves as a consumer company that makes great products versus being an e-commerce company. Not completely understanding our Shopify platform and what it could do hurt us in those first critical hours. Also a lack of integrated customer service tools forced us to do some painful and tedious manual work to ensure that every customer was being responded to without duplication and as quickly as possible. It was a frustratingly slow process of flagging issues, taking an inordinate amount of time and people power we did not have.
- Understand how sales tax works. Because sales tax rates are set independently by city and the threshold for sales that your company has to meet varies, sales tax is highly variable – many customers during the first hours did not get any sales tax charged at all. We saw this happening and honestly panicked that our platform was not working properly. As a small company – our cash runway is short – this could have literally sunk our company if we were losing money on every single sale. If we had known all this in advance, we would have saved time and stress for a “problem” that was not in fact a problem at all. The marketer in me also wished I had known this and we could have done a more emphatic call to action – sales tax free for the first orders!
Knowing all the things you have to focus on while building a company is hard. The ability to set the right priorities and follow through despite the many obstacles you will face is everything in a super fast-paced, always changing business climate.
I hope that by sharing my experience, others can benefit. It has been a wild and incredibly gratifying ride. Super energized to keep building and to keep learning. There were many more milestone learnings and I am happy to share. Feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberly Strenk, Chief of Growth and Impact
About Clever Noodle. A woman-founded, women-led start-up company. We make games that are powerful tools for children, parents and educators to help learners of all abilities learn to read. We unleash the power behind evidence-based Science of Reading methodology into all of the games we develop. We know that leveraging the power of play using tabletop board games keeps learners delighted and engaged on their journey to becoming confident, fluent readers! As seen on Good Morning America, our first game, Kangaroo Cravings is available to purchase or to donate at clevernoodle.com and via wholesale at Faire.com.