Issue# 008: Building The Brand, Sharing Everything

Hey everyone!

Been a while since the last issue but I have a good reason. I’ve launched a bootstrapped brand!

It’s a personal care brand called Commons and our first product is a daily skin cleanser. I’ve long seen an opportunity to create something in this space.

Why?

Because personal care is whack. Value-less pricing, “greenwashing” BS, and hyper-sexual marketing contort a common need among all human beings…high quality, just-the-essentials products for our personal care.

As a mission-driven brand, we think everyone should have access. All purchases help us donate our products to non-profits that provide hygiene facilities to people in need.

If you’re in the US, I’d love for you join our pre-launch. We’ll donate $1 to Feed America or Charity Water – your choice 🙂

 

OK, enough of the plugs…

Commons has been a work-in-progress for over a year. Countless product sampling rounds, design drafts, and feedback sessions. And we’re still not done with that stuff.

Slow, steady growth unlocked through customer connection is key. But if you’re a bootstrapped founder with limited funds, a small (or solo) team, and a day job, you need a process.

I’m going to share what we’re using for Commons, step-by-step, with some other goodies along the way.

To start, here’s what you’ll find in this post:

  • A short mental framework for bootstrapping your brand: The “hustle porn” out there says to grind endlessly and ship constantly. That’s fine for businesses that play the venture capital game. Our alternative is slower and smaller, but a lot saner.
  • A simple plan for initial traction: A few weeks ago, we did a hard reset on our initial marketing plans. We were on an unsustainable path that would likely end up failing without teaching us anything. Learn how we turned that around. Link to a template included.

 

The Bootstrapped Brand Mental Framework

When we start something from scratch, we immediately become our own worst enemies. We compare our day 8 to other peoples’ year 8. We get distracted by shiny objects. Instead of employing planning, resilience, and rationale, we become reactionary.

This simple framework for thinking presents an alternative. It’ll help you stay grounded by understanding where you are in the process and why. And it will help you understand what your next step should be regardless of how things are going.

 

Here are the key elements:

1. Adopt a “know nothing” mindset. Much of what we think we know is really our own assumptions and opinions. And that’s fine, you need those. Things get dangerous when our biases blind us. You need to prevent those blinders. People often call this a “testing” mindset, but I like “know nothing” mindset a lot more. Before you test anything, you must first be objectively open to the results. Otherwise, you’ll unwittingly slant tests to confirm your biases.

So treat everything as a test…your brand creative and voice, your marketing messages, your product. Nothing stops you from changing any of these thing as you go because you’re not a big brand yet.

2. Embrace the embryonic stage. So many bootstrapped entrepreneurs think of their earliest stages as ugly or shameful. So they accelerate their way out of it, usually by throwing money at it. Either their own, an investor’s, or a bank’s. But this framework requires you to see your nascent stage as an advantage. You have no investors to please, no social media clique to impress. Here’s a novel idea…focus on the customer! Even if you only get one or a few.

Once you accept that building a brand is a patience investment, this early stage becomes one step in the journey of many. And it is a priceless opportunity to understand how your products and messaging land in the market. Your mission is to end this first stage, no matter how long it takes, by being able to say:

  • I/we understand our ideal customer
  • My/our product and brand is irresistible to them 
  • I/we understand exactly what marketing investments to make

3. Today problems are your 80%, future problems are your 20%. Plan for the future but be careful how much brain space you give future problems vs the ones you have right now. You don’t need to figure out how you’re going to scale to $3MM annually…you need to see if a few people, or a few hundred people, will buy what you’re selling the way you’re selling it.

Stay hyper-focused on building the business within this initial stage. Get obsessed with product feedback. Concentrate on cracking the questions of now. It will make you sit down and do the work instead of whisking off into future market dominance la-la land.

 

A Simple Plan for Initial Traction

Everybody wants to hit it out of the park in their first month. We all want millions in revenue, tons of articles about us, and loads of social media buzz. And that happens for some, which is great. But it’s usually the byproduct of hundreds if not thousands of hours of work.

Those stories can make it sound like you need to capture lightning in a bottle to be successful.

For Commons, we’re using an approach taken directly from the book Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, by Justin Mares (highly recommended read).

Here are the key principles:

  • Your brand must find successful distribution to survive and thrive
  • People spread themselves too thin by trying to be everywhere – find and master (1) marketing channel first
  • Use quick, cheap tests to find the right channel for you

This approach ensures you conserve money and time while finding the marketing channel with the highest return.

Once you’ve got traction with customers, you’ll be able to reach out to them and solidify the connection your product, brand, and marketing has with them.

We built a Notion table you can use to create your own traction plan. Get it here.

Here’s how you use it:

  • Make your own copy (you can always make a free Notion account if needed)
  • Score each channel across success probability, cost, how long it would take to test, and anticipated ROI. Use your gut but be honest…if you hate writing, blogging may have high potential ROI but low success probability because you won’t do it.
  • Then, filter and sort to see which 3 channels are predicted to give you the best mix of those factors.

Those 3 should be your first tests. Track the results in the last column. If things don’t work out, go back to the sheet and reevaluate your assumptions.

That’s it for now. I’m looking to sharing more from our journey next time. As always, reach out with any questions, thoughts or comments.!

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