I bought a ticket to the roller coaster of life.
21.12.2015, 20:09, “D**** ********” <*****@gmail.com>:
I hope you realize that it is illegal to put things in people’s mailboxes. You can leave them on doorsteps, doorknobs, etc., but it it illegal to put things in people’s mailboxes unless you’ve actually mailed them (meaning postage). I haven’t reported you, but someone else may have. Welcome to America.
No one likes trash in their mailbox. Spam is trash. Ad is spam. Right?
Well, I use to think that way.
Starting a project is easy. And very fun.
A few months ago, I started a project with my wife and another friend. The idea was quite easy: a Pastry Kit so anybody can instantly become a Pastry Chef.
We immediately started working on different iterations. To really understand if we are doing something people would actually use and like, we decided to go and sell our first prototype after about a week.
We built a first landing page in less than few hours by tweaking Tumblr, spent $7 to get the domain, put some pics we’ve taken with an iPhone, created our first kit using packaging we found at Ikea and other stores.
The recipes are all traditional recipes my wife, who studied at LeNotre (Paris), knew by heart. We re-adapted everything so the final users would only do things that are easy enough to be done without any previous experience in cooking nor baking.
And we launched in less than a week.
We had no pressure but to move fast. We weren’t scared. We knew what we have done is just the bare minimum. Some people call it “minimum viable product”, we just call that our first prototype.
[Funny how many people read MVP as: “MINIMUM PRODUCT” and just forget about “viable”]
In the depth of our heart, we were expecting rejections. My friend was a bit concerned that if people hate the prototype, not only they won’t pay for it, they won’t even want to talk to us ever again. I wasn’t that concerned. Yes, some people may be over-negative or over-dramatic, but hey, let’s try and see.
And we sold one.
I remember everything about that day. It’s so vivid: my friend who sold our first kit sent me a picture on iMessage. He literally took cash on hand.
That was beautiful. That was so cool.
Then, we received many (encouraging) feedbacks. Improved the kit.
Sold a second one.
And another one.
Same story again, and again.
While building new prototype, we started to build some confidence. We started to feel like we got something right. We started to see more than hope.
It was so fun. So cool. We all had some degrees of experience in “start ups” and it’s like execution ABC. We play by the book: lean start up, hard thing about hard thing, tech start ups etc. yup, we read them all and we are doing exactly what’s needed!
And at this point, we also applied for Yc. Honestly, I personally didn’t think we’d be accepted but at least, I thought we’d be given a chance for the interview. My plan was to use this opportunity to pitch the product and make the judges (investors) our users.
Everything is awesome.
And it becomes hard. And every new day is way harder.
Until somebody really hated it.
[Maybe one day I’ll disclose (if this one gives me permission) his feedbacks. And I’ll probably talk about how we’ve done the iterations, what we tracked and learnt from every iteration and where we failed in our previous interviews.]
This user hated his experience so much he wrote, in a very long email, how he felt miserable.
This was such a big punch in our face. And just like boxing, a punch like that never comes alone.
Bam, Yc declined us. Not even taken for the interview. Not even good enough to be worth their time.
Of course I told my team it’s OK, it happens and we just need to take it and move on. We should not focus on what we can’t control and just make sure we do what’s in our control perfectly. Of course I talked about not overthink about what we failed because lessons from failures can be dangerous and we should keep learning from people who succeeded.
But truth is: it hurts like hell.
And now, worse: the fear of rejection, suddenly, exists.
But we didn’t know it yet.
Living on a roller coaster makes you feel the rush of life but the fear of dying persists.
We restarted everything. We spent hours and hours re-reading all the feedbacks. Re-watching all the videos from our users. Re-analyzing everything. We tested our products. Again. And again. From new angles. In new environment. We discovered many flaws. We made a lot of modifications. We became humble again.
And we decided to give our new prototype, for free, to every user who purchased any previous version before.
The reactions were incredible. First, we validated that we weren’t good enough. It was clear: now, everybody is telling us why they really liked this new experience.
People are nice in general. People usually don’t like confrontations. So people usually don’t tell what they hated in the first place. And when they tell it, they try to tell it nicely and it is easy to miss it, especially when you are so confident about your own work.
We iterated after every feedback. Now, we are better at seeking for the small nuances that tell us why it isn’t good enough. So we try to make it better. And better. But not making the product better: make our user’s experience better. Help them to be awesome.
And the user who hated his first experience so much now loves it.
After weeks of tests, we finally decided that we are ready for another launch.
And here comes the fear of rejection. The fear that didn’t exist before.
Our objective isn’t crazy. Sell 4 kits from Dec. 20th to Jan 1st. Four.
[I’ll also write more about how we define our goals/objectives/milestones later]
Planning isn’t that hard. And it is very helpful because it is reassuring: you picture a perfect story in a perfect world.
The plan isn’t complicated: we assumed that our conversion for this new concept would be 1/20. We then looked on Yelp and defined what would be the best neighborhood to start.
[This is also something I’d like to share in another post: using Yelp/Instagram to estimate the “heat” of a region is quite easy and fun to do]
Then, we started thinking about the best approach: how to really make sure people understand what we do and appreciate the value? We decided to bake small tarts so people would be able to see and taste something awesome that “they can make themselves at home right now”.
We also designed and printed flyers so we can distribute with our samples. It has the website, the headline and the QR code so people can immediately check the website on their mobile.
We then looked at how many minutes we’d spend with each person if we were pitching our minimum story (elevator pitch or sales pitch). To close 4 users, we’d need to pitch 80 people. We’d probably need to spend about 10s pitching. But in addition to these 10s, we also have to take in account everything before like “hi, would you like to try one of our samples”, and after, like “please have a great day!”. Our estimation is 1.5min.
And then, add the lead time. From one person we meet and pitch to another.
Our final estimation is: we’d be able to close 4 deals after spending about 3H hustling.
So we baked the samples for almost an entire day.
And we went neighbor hunting.
Here comes the fear of rejection.
I have to admit we tried to find many excuses to delay the execution. Yes, I’ve actually sold stuff when I was a kid to my neighbors and I also had a small T-Shirt “business” as a teen. But now I’m an adult and curiously, things are harder. I have more ego? Probably.
But we committed ourselves to do it so we did it. My wife and I, both of us with a pastry box full of small tarts, went pitching people. One after one.
As I told before, people are usually very nice. And again, people don’t usually like confrontations. This is why it is actually harder to say no than yes. I know that, I knew that. I even told my wife that. But, hey, there’s still this fear of rejection.
Every time I knocked on a door. Every time I look at somebody. Every time I start speaking. There is this fear.
Of course a quick no is way better than a long maybe-but-eventually-no. It’s a number game: my ratio is 1/20, so let’s maximum my time to reach a volume that is high enough to complete my objective. What’s hard in that? Well, it’s hard.
And they were nice. Almost everybody listened. Almost everyone said a good word. Almost everyone liked the samples. Almost everyone wished us good luck. Almost everyone said it is interesting and they’ll take a look at our website or recommend us to their friends who likes to bake.
Suddenly, the world became dark again. We spent over 3H under the rain, visiting every home, talking to every person, giving them the samples we spent an entire day to bake.
The only email we received is the one that introduced this (long) article.
We left about 30 flyers, in addition to all the flyers we have given to people we met, because some of them weren’t at home. We thought it would be a good thing: we are offering an amazing way for you to win Christmas by helping you to bake something awesome by yourself!
Well. Not received that way.
For the person who sent this email and for many other people who have received our flyer: this is just junk. Spam. Ad.
When we received this email, I was looking at our Square account. No sales. Worse. We didn’t even see any bump in our Google Analytics.
We fear rejection because we are social animals. We fear that we’d be alone. And people start a project, a business, a company, because it’s a way to be with other people, to live something together and to make an impact on people.
And that night, I was alone.
The truth about sales is numbers are brutal: you can say, plan and do whatever you want but only your number defines your work. If you are an engineer, you spend time on building something, you have something. Even if it’s broken, it’s there, it’s concrete. If you are a designer, same thing, no matter what, you got something to show. If you are selling, if you don’t close a deal, you are nothing.
I felt miserable.
But I knew I didn’t have time for that. Clock is ticking. If you aren’t building nor selling, you are wasting your time. My objective is to sell. Go back and grind. Grind until something happens. Feel the rush of pure happiness like cocaine going through the veins. And then, be prepared to go down. Very fast.
Ride the roller coaster until you die, that’s the contract. I signed it the day I started this project.
And yes. I still think that many flyers I receive are junk and I still hate spam. The question is: how can I make my flyers considered differently? (hint: how my flyer can really help my target?)