I am not the entrepreneur you imagine. I have already had a 20-ish-year career and was once described as the antithesis of entrepreneurial: “corporate”.
That means I am not blindly flinging myself into a world of risk, I’m using a different type of playbook, one that has served me well on my journey so far. I’m building a brand with my partner Ava, to solve a problem that needs solving, and I’m using the tools I’ve developed over my career, along with the grit and determination that I know it is going to take to build a brand.
One of those tools is a 90-day plan to both prepare for, and then learn from, something new. In this case, my new brand Ultra Violette’s first three months of life from a customer’s point of view.
Day one to seven: Pre-launch
Ultra Violette is a cross between skincare and sunscreen (we call it skinscreen). It is not like your traditional sunscreen brands, so we didn’t plan a traditional launch. We also didn’t have enough stock, or a fully tested website, and with the clock ticking toward summer, the ideal time of year to launch, we decided to move in a small and calculated way with a pre-launch to build some hype around the brand.
With a full-scale launch planned for late-January, we were lucky enough to have secured some good press in a Sunday paper glossy, so created a small number of sample packs to get the word out and test operations on a smaller scale. We had somewhat prepared a Shopify website so with some cobbled-together content, 100 items of stock, and a post on Instagram, we turned on our site to “see how this goes”.
The lessons were about to begin as sales started trickling in, firstly slowly, and then due to the morning’s press, much faster. The ratio of friends and family sales to randoms was very high (about 60%) but the portion of sales to totally new people still blew our minds. This was our first validation our business had a life beyond the people we had been talking to for the last two years. It was exhilarating! Then, it was instantly stressful.
We hadn’t set up a warehouse, and we weren’t expecting the 100 units to sell out in a few hours, so we had orders to fulfil and the small issue of a photoshoot interstate the next day. Unexpectedly, the business was also picked up by a major beauty influencer who posted “an iconic Australian beauty brand has just been born”. Packing mayhem began! We did manage (with the help of many family members) to get all orders sent out within a reasonable timeframe, and we had a mountain of good learnings.
- We most definitely needed a capable warehouse to fulfil all future orders.
- PR and influencer engagement was going to be everything in the early days.
- Our Shopify website seemed to provide a good customer experience, we just needed better content.
- Maybe we could sell this to people we didn’t know!
Day seven to 38: Refining
We both chipped away at our to-do list while frantically managing mass-production. We had worked really hard to ensure our formulas not only felt beautiful to wear, but contained the latest active and natural ingredients, with no typical SPF nasties. Plus, we had developed enough products in the past to know that things “always take longer and cost more than you think”. So, after setting a January 25 launch date, an international zinc shortage occurred, which was, of course, a key ingredient in one of our products. Ahhhh. This is where that grit everyone talks about comes into play.
Meanwhile, we buffed and polished our website with our freshly created content, started building our social media following, cracking both the 1,000 and 2,000 follower marks, and worked on a way to share the news of launch with the 500-strong database we created from our pre-launch.
Then we got nervous. Was this actually going to work? Were people actually going to like our product? Would anyone actually care about skinscreen?
Day 39 to 60: Launch
It was 4pm on Thursday, 24 January. We had announced we were launching on January 25 and the website was as ready as it was ever going to be. Our stock was mostly (bloody zinc!) sitting in our warehouse and we decided to give those loyal waiting-list members a jump on our launch plans. It was the kind of decision that would have taken layers of decision-making, networking, and cases for and against to decide in my previous life. Instead, here we were sitting across from each other at Ava’s kitchen table on our laptops. We loaded the stock into our shop, sent the waiting list an email and held our breath.
Two minutes later we had our first sale.
Three minutes later we had our second, and third.
Ten minutes later we hit 15 sales.
That night my family took a sweepstake as to how many orders would be made before midnight. The highest was an outrageous 100. We beat that number by 32! The friend-to-random ratio? Much lower. We were off and racing. It felt fantastic.
Over that first month, we tried and tested new things. Turns out free offers work well to generate sales, but influencer love works even better, and thankfully, we had loads of love.
We also settled into new roles. Ava was magic at social media, customer service and community management. I found a home in sorting out the back office, setting up Xero and ironing out bugs with our warehouse. And together, we planned for the future of our little brand. This early validation meant we had some time to think beyond the all-consuming launch, and in true entrepreneurial style, we met at a cafe and thrashed out the key goals for our business for the year ahead. The formatting of our plans was really average, and the layers of accountability were zero, but the responsibility was high and the focus on quality was just right.
Day 60 to 90: Now what?
There is a strange personal feeling you get when you release a brand into the world. People feel compelled to comment on their love (or otherwise) of everything about it. You need to learn not to take things personally, and not to get too flattered — it is a tricky balance you need to adjust to. You would never receive such explicit feedback about yourself or your children, but a product is different of course.
Part of our plan for the brand prior to launch was to stick to our own direct-to-consumer distribution. However, we were fully aware of the challenge this created in terms of access and awareness, so we were open to other channels that could tell the brand story in a fun way, back it with some beauty creds, and ultimately, help more women (and some men) future-proof their face each morning.
Fortunately, several potential channels for Ultra Violette materialised, so our decision to remain agile on distribution gave us an ability to assess the benefits of each opportunity and respond to the needs of the brand. As this was a big shift in thinking, we were careful to seek out advice from some people that really knew their stuff in the beauty industry and ask as many questions as possible until we had the answers we needed. Then, in activewear after a walk around the Tan, (laptops, coffee, no PowerPoint slides), we decided to go for it. We signed the contract on day 88 of our brand’s little life.
I guess the first 90-day principles would call this an ‘early win’ and an example of ‘learning as you go’. I think it is actually better described as keeping light on your feet, not being afraid to ask for help, and treating this new role as I would any other role … just a hell of a lot more fun! Bring on the next 90 days!