Howdy there! Welcome to our first business update. I'm Brad, the managing principal of Mavericks.
We're now embarking on our second year since launching Mavericks, and from the beginning, it's been a wild ride. Some things went just as planned while others just plain kicked us in the nuts. We try to learn from both types of experiences and execute a little better everyday, one day at at time.
This post is a brief recap of 5 key lessons we learned from our first year in business.
By opening ourselves up to you, we hope to hear from more of you on how we’re doing and where we can improve. Secondly, we hope that our story and lessons learned will inspire you to conquer a goal you are seeking, whether in your personal or professional life.
Ok, on to the lessons-
No plan survives contact with reality
This is my favorite quote from The Martian. If you like sci-fi or survival shows (Bear Grylls, Dual Survival, etc) then I highly recommend this book! The movie was solid but only contains about 10% of what the book offers.
It's amazing what things can go wrong that you hadn't anticipated. In preparing to launch Mavericks, we researched every aspect of the business and iterated many times on products, supply chain, logistics, PR outreach...you name it. We thought we had every base covered solid.
Indeed, we took off well, and it seemed like making men's faces great again was going to make all of us billionaires. After all, we're supposed to be pretty smart, right?
Turns out we definitely aren't that smart
We've got orders! Now what
Who woulda thought placing lotions in boxes, putting labels on them then have a delivery guy picking them up daily would be so hard? Turns out fulfillment is a universal top 3 pain of every ecommerce startup, and we weren't immune from it.
We had issues with mis-applied shipping labels and inaccurate postage in our early going. On one particularly bad occasion, for several days we mistakenly shipped out orders using Priority Mail Express boxes but with Priority Mail postage. This resulted in Postal Service asking customers to come to post office and pay for the postage difference in order to pick up package. That wasn't pretty.
We were also aggressive about accepting international orders. It was exciting to see people from around the globe open up their wallet for our products. That excitement soon turned into stress as we quickly found that international orders had a much higher problem rate (customs, etc). So we completely suspended international shipping earlier this year, despite having customers in 22 different countries. We hope to serve these customers again soon.
We ended up moving the fulfillment facility to Northern California within driving distance from San Francisco. This allowed us to frequently visit the facility and meet with the folks actually handling the orders, which made the fulfillment process an order of magnitude smoother.
Sure phone calls and emails work just fine when things are smooth, but nothing beats a face to face meeting when things go wrong to make sure things don't get miscommunicated in the heat of the moment. A tip: if you're visiting a factory or a warehouse always show up to these meetings with pizza or donuts or both to keep the mood light. These folks have a tough job, so show empathy and be respectful for what they do. Let them know you appreciate them and that you're both on the same side. Nothing sets a positive tone for a meeting like food offering.
More moving parts, more problems
Many of you will remember the old bottles we used to use for FACE KIT.
The canister type we had chosen is called "airless pump" bottles. These are basically loaded syringes that do an especially good job keeping content from outside air contact and extend product shelf life, which is nice to have but not functionally critical.
Many industry veterans told us not to use these pump bottles due to reliability issues. We asked ourselves WWSJD? (What would Steve Jobs do?), and we decided to go for it (Pre-iPod Jobs would have done something like this). We searched the globe for the highest-quality airless pump manufacturer and managed to get them to supply us even though our initial order volume was much smaller than their standard minimum. We felt good.
Unfortunately, the industry veterans were right. Defects were initially rare then escalated suddenly, and we were having all kinds of issues with these bottles. Some leaked in transit. Some didn't dispense. Some just cracked open when dropped.
At one stretch we were seeing about 10% defect rate in our FACE KITS (roughly 3% bottle failure rate at 3 bottles per kit (1-0.03)^3 = 0.9), which was unacceptably high by any standard. Long story short, we no longer use airless pump bottles. We learned not to get so enamored by flashy technology so as to make unnecessarily risky decisions.
Trust your data
The first generation REBUILD was a retinol-based serum. Retinol is by far the most heralded ingredient in all of skincare, and there is a ton of clinical research to back that up.
However, the consumer review data we collected (we scraped and analyzed skincare product reviews from various websites as a part of our product research) showed retinol-based formulas don't get good reviews due to allergic reaction.
We decided to launch a retinol formulation anyway. We knew it had proven efficacy and we also believed that its unique look and feel would motivate men to try it.
In hindsight, it was a wrong decision.
As our research predicted, the first-generation REBUILD turned out to be disliked by many of our customers for two reasons. One - the potency of retinol caused problems for sensitive skin, and Two - many customers found the smell and texture unpleasant.
Retinyl palmitate, which is a cousin of retinol and in the same Vitamin A family, has higher customer satisfaction because it's more gentle. So for the new REBUILD formula, we switched to retinyl palmitate. The new REBUILD also feels and smells much better, so it's easier to stick to using every night.
How to smash days when you don't feel like it
It's easy to feel bummed out when something you worked so hard and showed so much promise hit bumps on the road. Frustration can mount when problems don't get fixed quickly.
It took us almost a year (only 9 months longer than initially scheduled) to find a new packaging maker and design, manufacture and receive new packaging to replace the problematic bottles. And this experience taught us a clear lesson: that whole "fail fast" mantra praised by startups might work for electrons but not for atoms.
Yeah, if your product is a free phone app then users are more forgiving of errors, and you can also push out fixes anytime. Making changes to hardware or consumer goods is very costly, so you better nail it as close to perfection as you can the first time you release to the public. Measure twice, cut once is right.
After having done this startup thing for a bit and talking to a lot of entrepreneurs, one thing is clear: that no matter how smooth things look from outside there is a near-death emergency almost monthly for every young business.
Initially when we were having problems, things sometimes turned into heated exchanges with our supply chain partners - the packaging makers and fulfillment warehouse.
Blaming others might take the worry off your mind for a short term. Then you quickly realize that blaming does nothing for you when you have a small business to run. The only thing that matters is that problems get fixed otherwise you won't have a business at all.
Once we decided to just own every mistake and focus solely on getting things fixed, we became a better partner for our vendors, problems got fixed faster, customers were made happier more quickly, and we slept better at night.
So here's the most important lesson we've learned so far. When something goes wrong, just say "it's my fault."
When you accept a disappointing outcome as your own doing, then you realize that engineering the desired outcome is also in your control. Your mind shifts into problem solving mode, and all that anger energy gets channeled into something productive rather than destructive. Focus on what you can affect rather than putting the control in other people's hands because that's what you're implicitly doing when you blame others.
OK - that wraps up our first update. Big thanks to all our customers who showed tremendous patience through the problems! You guys have been awesome.
Feel free to comment below or email me directly at email@example.com
-The best is yet to come