When we started Sleeping Duck, we had a tiny amount of bootstrapped capital that we had raised from running some online retail businesses.
When it came to solving that great first question that any startup faces – what problem are you solving? – we were on strong ground. People need a good night’s sleep and hate being pressure sold and ripped off in traditional bricks and mortar retailers.
Our product was revolutionary in the sense it was delivered to your door free of charge, was returnable if you didn’t like it after sleeping on it for 60 nights (now 100 nights), and provided customisable sleeping zones to meet the requirements of the customer.
The trick was to be able to share to story as widely as possible and grow organically rather than spending all the revenue on marketing and advertising.
What worked for us is transferable to any business in the technology or online space regardless of whether you’re a consumer-focused retailer, provided the product or service you’re selling can back up the claims that you make about it.
Focus on one thing and do it well
This was, and still is, our mantra – the best night’s sleep, guaranteed. We just make and sell the one best mattress. It doesn’t matter if you’re creating accounting software, logistics solution, or running a subscription business, make sure the fundamentals of that business are the best they can be and this creates a follow-on effect of happy customers, which makes for excellent and valuable testimonials.
Make sure your website is awesome
It should go without saying, but if you are an e-commerce site and you have an ugly website with crappy UX and a clunky check out, you’re going to struggle. Make it simple for the customer to transact and recommend you to others. It’s that simple.
Use your early marketing budget judiciously
Although the nature of Google Adwords and Social advertising is changing all the time, they are necessary for online businesses to succeed. Trial and error plays a big part in this, but you know your business niche better than anyone, so it doesn’t take too long to tweak the best options to drive traffic to your business, regardless of a meagre budget.
This was very much a direct approach by us to people we thought spoke most directly to our target audiences and then working with them on either a paid or contra basis to comment about our products.
In our case we identified that new mums were among the most interested in how to get the best night’s sleep possible – targeting that demographic proved extremely successful for us. But this is equally true for a niche technology product as there is always a media target, blogger or website that covers what you do.
Make them come back
It’s great to win that customer over and make a sale, but how do you get them to buy again and, as importantly, refer them to other potential customers? For us it come down to providing a resource for how to get the best night’s sleep and updates on studies on the effects of sleep, and the types of sleep, on individual health.
Customers could subscribe to this news, or simply visit it on the site. We also offered first time customers discounts on their first purchase. It will be different things for different businesses, but whatever works to get people coming back is crucial.
Target the bigger audiences
As we’ve grown, we’ve had the opportunity to tell the story on a bigger stage.
We were recently approached by Channel 7’s House Rules to be one of the program’s product suppliers, which allows us to reach hundreds of thousands of people in prime time free to air television. Although the placements are small, the ability to leverage them has been vast. Always look to the biggest relevant audiences for your products and go after them as hard as your time and budget will allow.
It’s not an exhaustive list (for example, we’d also suggest getting some professional PR help when you can afford it), but they are some of things we’ve done to grow from a small garage business to operations across Australia and the UK, and new countries due to launch later this year.
By Winston Wijeyeratne, founder of Sleeping Duck.