By: Sarah Scarpa
It has been an amazing 8 months with the Rebrella group in Designing a Business. I have learned many lessons about effective ways to start and run a business and things to do differently in the future. This reflective essay gives insight into our accomplishments, struggles and overall journey while developing our product, Rebrella.
Make it go viral!
Our first project in this course was to attempt to make a video go viral in order to spread awareness of Worldwide Breast Cancer. Myself along with two other students created videos eating as many lemons as possible in 1 minute, sharing a breast cancer fact and challenging others to accept the challenge and create a chain reaction. Although we did have some response, it was generally from people that we already knew. In order to have better results we could have told a story and played more on emotions rather than a humorous topic, such as eating lemons. Also, tweeting to influential individuals could also help the challenge go viral. For example if those individuals retweet the challenge, million of their followers then become an audience and are exposed to the challenge (Maas, 2005).
Brainstorming and inventing our product
In the beginning stages of starting a business doing brainstorming activities is a great way to promote creativity. We learned early on that coming up with product ideas is no easy task. Almost everything we would think of, already existed. One method we utilized was one we learned in class with the lemon breast cancer challenge as previously mentioned. In order to come up with our viral idea, we had 5 minutes to each write down as many ideas as possible and then go through the ideas in a positive environment, where no one was allowed to object. We mirrored this method when brainstorming our product idea and came up with so many off the wall ideas, which was really interesting. In the end we decided to invent Rebrella, a poncho for your handbag. It was a fashionable option to protecting your belongings. It was a stressful process deciding our final product and a model that could have helped us open our minds further and promote creativity could be the FFOE model. The FFOE model is generally utilised in schools. It is supposed to help those working in groups innovate together and be open-minded. The four principles are Fluency, Flexibility, Originality and Elaboration. This model ties in the original model we used to promote creativity and helps to organise the process and effectively share and manage opinions (Shively, 2011).
Storytelling and preparing for the first Dragon’s Den
After having a storytelling workshop in class, it was time to create a 5 minute story to effectively show to the Dragons what our product was, how it worked and why we were the best ones to produce and sell the product, Rebrella. In the storytelling workshop we developed skills to give our product a persona. This persona had all of the characteristics of our target audience. Once we developed the persona of Rebrella, which was a woman aged between 16-35 to give a brief picture, it was fun creating a story line for how she first discovered Rebrella and why it was the answer to fixing her problem. Solving a problem is key in innovation and product development. If your product solves a problem it is bound have demand, which is then determined by market research testing different segments (Auersperg et al., 2012). The other piece to our first Dragon’s Den was working on our presentation skills. We had all been nervous to present especially to an experienced panel that would be very critical. Presentation skills are critical in how you present your story and facts. Being comfortable and confident is a necessary skill to have not only for presentations but also in everyday meetings, and certainly with potential investors (Harper, 2004).
Dragon’s Den Learnings
After our first Dragon’s Den we were given a ton of feedback. We only had a hand-made prototype to show at the first Den and therefore the quality was not the best. The Dragon’s said we needed to be more convincing in how we told our story and why we were the ones to do the job. We were also advised to make changes in our price as we were not making money, selling Rebrella for only £3. In order to turn a profit we needed to be selling Rebrella for £6 minimum. We originally moved the price up to £5 and then £6 and successfully sold a reasonable amount at each price point, proving that the price increase was not a huge deal for consumers and they would still buy the product. A way to increase the profit margin in addition to testing the market and increasing the price, is to look at manufacturing cost options and see if there are cheaper materials, manufacturers and processes that could help improve the profit margin. A mixture of increasing price and modifying material costs and processes is a great way to increase overall profit (Wu, 2012).
Mapping out a business plan
Having a plan when starting a business is crucial. There are so many aspects to cover from marketing, product development, sales, management and many more areas. The key learning from this year I’ve taken away was whether your developing the product or creating the business plan, the customer’s need should always be met. Customer needs and wants should be central to any business decision. By first determining your target market, then distinguishing their needs, you keep the customer at the heart of your business. As we learned this year, it is very easy to get off track and get caught up in your personal thoughts or opinions when it comes to your product but at the end of the day it is important to forget those opinions and focus on facts and data of the target customer. Determining your target market can be tedious. Some key factors to analyse are: dividing customer groups by geography, demographics and interests. In today’s economy it is crucial to properly identify target markets before starting a new business. It is also crucial to continue to monitor market trends and customer buying behaviour throughout the course of your business (Glick, 2009).
The Kingston Hill Business school trade show in January was the first time Rebrella was available to the public for sale. We learned a ton that day about presentation of our stand and product, and how to effectively network with potential customers and business connections. We sold 4 Rebrellas at our first trade show and 12 at the final show. I remember the first Rebrella we sold, we were so excited. It was such a great feeling to know someone was interested in buying our product, although only a few purchases did not fully and accurately show the opinion of our target market. At the first trade show we ran out of business cards quickly, a mistake we never made again! It was embarrassing to have nothing to hand to those we were networking with. Networking is key to business development. Studies show that, those who greatly focus on networking and making new connections tend to have much more success. Little things that can improve networking ability is always having a business card on hand, continuously collect email addresses and other contact information from new contacts and connect with new acquaintances on Linkedin and other forms of social media (Bensaou et al., 2013).
Branding and packaging
Although we didn’t have any artists in our group, we decided to give it a go and create our own packaging. It was important for us to have our logo on the packaging which was simply Rebrella written in a fun yet serious font. We designed a 3-step diagram that showed how Rebrella works and how to properly put it on your handbag. Our contact details included our website, email and social media accounts. We focused on branding Rebrella through online channels, sharing photos of customers using Rebrella and descriptions of how it could be used. Two important principles of branding are consistency and creativity. For example, you could tell a story with your packaging. A specific example from this year was in the branding lecture when we talked about a brand of crisps at Tesco which had a main recognisable character in different settings related to the flavour (Perrey and Spillecke, 2012).
We had a ton of fun creating our video advertisement. From the beginning stage of storytelling to filming and editing, it was a wonderful group bonding experience. For our ad we wanted to show different scenarios where Rebrella would come in handy. We showed a scenario where a thief was trying to steal from the handbag, one where the bag fell in the dirt and one where it was raining. Although we showed our logo at the end of the advert, we originally did not have any website information or purchase information listed in the end of the video. Through feedback we made these changes and shared the link on many different social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our website. This was after posting the video on YouTube, which was a social outlet on its own. A study showed that video advertisement can up to double website traffic and sales so it is important to have correct contact information very visible at the end of the video, both in the video itself and beneath the video above the comments section in YouTube for best results (Saito and Muraryama, 2010).
We did not pay for any type of marketing throughout the year. Our budget went all towards materials and design of our product. We utilised online channels to sell our product such as Etsy and eBay as well as our own website. Through consistently sharing links, pictures and information on social media channels we were able to increase our following and therefore had a continuously larger audience to learn more about our product. We finished the year selling just shy of 40 Rebrellas. Had we continued to develop our marketing outlets and designate a budget for paid online advertising such as Google AdWords or simply Facebook advertising, we may have made more online sales. The issue with eBay was by the time we mailed the product, even though we added a fee for shipping, eBay took its cut and PayPal also took its share, we barely made any profit whatsoever. Online marketing budgets especially for Facebook can be very budget-friendly and worthwhile investments to make. In the future we would define a marketing budget and not be afraid to spend the money to get ahead. A major issue with our group this year was not wanting and not having the proper funds to give Rebrella a true chance. We would focus on raising funds in the future if we were to continue Rebrella and then spend more money, to make more money (Shepter, 2008). We would still also focus on making the best of our free advertising though as well, such as finding bloggers to write about our product or interview with. For example, Gabriela Pitanga, a fashion YouTube blogger had approached us about our product and we had an interview with her. This was great free publicity for both of us and resulted in our first online sale afterwards.
Final Learnings and Future Goals
I have learned a lot about starting a business and the struggles that come along with it. Although I have touched on learnings throughout this paper, I think the most important thing learned this year was how to work in a group of people from all different backgrounds, cultures and interests and bond and create a product you all similarly proud of. Although we didn’t win any awards this year, we were very proud of our work and will take our learnings and apply them to future endeavors. As for my personal future goals, I do not plan on starting a business at this present time but I do plan to utilise and continue to develop my networking skills, teamwork skills and creativity skills into my marketing or business career. Although I do not plan on starting a business at the moment, it is something I would like to do a bit later in life after continuing to gain experience working for others and learning by practicing business. It was a great year and I highly recommend this course for anyone interested in gaining first-hand entrepreneurship, innovation and overall business functions experience.
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