I believe product customization is the future of online retail and my business partner, Mike Szymczak, and I have put our money where our mouth is.
In the last few years we have transitioned our Costa Mesa, Calif.-based portable audio product startup OrigAudio into one that offers a variety of products consumers can design to suit their taste and style.
Before going down the customization route, we mass produced speakers that changed the way people listened to music through innovative techniques, like turning any hollow object into a speaker. While our company was successful -- our Rock-It line landed us a spot on Time Magazine's 50 Best Inventions of the 2009 -- we also learned that people get bored with stagnant offerings.
Consumers want products that are unique and our team was constantly on the lookout for something that would fulfill that demand. We found the golden egg in customization.
Initially creating personalized items posed a substantial risk, as very few companies offered custom products and there wasn’t an established mold for operations. We were kind of on our own, and in the beginning it was a logistical nightmare.
We encountered challenges in developing and implementing a system for printing and shipping on-demand custom orders that were both cost and time effective. Plus, we were having a difficult time ensuring each customer had a positive experience, a must when dealing with made-to-order products.
After months of researching hundreds of customized printing techniques, trial-and-error and extreme determination, we were able to develop The Doodle, the world’s first fully customizable speaker. Our project attracted national media coverage and became a big success, which led us to developing a line of eight customizable products.
Our biggest success is our Designear custom headphones, which landed us our first high-end account, Nordstrom. By having a major retailer on board, we not only were able to open new channels for distribution, such as implementing our virtual inventory system for online retailers, but also increase our revenue in doing so.
If you are thinking of developing a new product or looking to pivot your company, here are a few tips I learned:
Don't be afraid to take baby steps.
Transitioning your company is difficult and comes with an insane amount of hard work. Take it one step at a time and be patient. The hardest part is deciding which direction to take, but when you do, you have got to be 100 percent committed.
Data collection is a must.
The only way to know if you on the right track is to gather data. If you are entering into a new market and little to no data or research exists, find ways to create your own. Trial product launches, media pitches and utilizing your network of connections for data mining are a great way to learn more about what people want.
You don't have to reinvent the wheel.
Yes, some startups try to be the first but that doesn't have to be the case. For our product and customer experience, we just found a cooler way to do it. For example, for our website, we studied popular ecommerce sites and figured out what worked and what didn’t.
While some people considered our pivot strategy crazy, to us, it seemed riskier not taking any risk. If you are looking to transition your business strategy, try to follow the above guidelines. And then just take the leap, because why be like everyone else when you can be different?
To follow the ups-and-downs of running a startup, check out The Grind.
If you had to pivot your company, what tips can you offer? Let us know in the comments below.