Wow. This year was a rollercoaster. We’ve now been in business for 2 years. As CEO of Need/Want, part of my job is to constantly take a birds eye view of our business. It helps me steer the ship. Let's take a look back at where we went this year.
We started the year in our tiny office in downtown St. Louis. It was just me, Jon, Jason, and David. We brought David in as design co-founder in Nov/Dec 2014, but with the holidays, January felt like the real start for him.
Since our business is consumer products, the Christmas holiday is the biggest time of year for us. Entering January was like coming off a high. We hit the ground running full of optimism for the year ahead.
Since Need/Want operates multiple product businesses all under 1 umbrella, I’ve broken things up by business. Here’s what happened in each.
January was spent securing a new office. Our old space was pretty tiny. It was time to graduate into our own digs. We secured a 2,100 sqft space in downtown St. Louis. We now have an entire 2nd floor all to ourselves.
We grew from 3 to 7 employees. This was both scary and exciting. In addition to David, we brought on Meaghan (Executive Assistant), Ginny (Support), and most recently Robby (Programmer).
In the 2nd half of the year we more than doubled our annual revenue.
Near the end of the year, we had 3 record sales months in a row. We surpassed the elusive $100,000 monthly revenue benchmark.
We also set a new daily revenue record for a single brand. The Peel iPhone 6S launch brought $15,200 in a single day. We then broke that record again on Black Friday with $18,600 in Peel sales. Our previous single day revenue record was just over $10,000 when Emoji Masks went viral in 2014.
A community we run called #Launch… was launched. It makes no revenue (we have no plans to monetize it). Instead, it serves as a place for like minded designers, programmers, entrepreneurs, an makers to hang out together online and talk shop. 5,000 people joined the wait list after we launched it on Product Hunt. There’s so many smart people in there. Read the backstory here.
In March and April we headed to San Francisco to raised a small amount of funding from some top tier angel investors. Before this small amount of money, we had been 100% bootstrapped.
Our podcast Hatching continued. It’s our semi-regular podcast about the inner workings of Need/Want. If you like this post and want more like it, Hatching is a raw 30–45 minute conversation between the founders of Need/Want about what’s happening inside the company.
Peel’s website was redesigned in March. It’s actually hilarious for me to remember that for the first quarter of 2015, Peel was on a generic Shopify theme. The photography was awful as well. With David leading design, we launch an all new site, with great photography.
Overall, Peel’s revenue grew nearly 6x compared to the previous year.
Leading up to September, we redesigned Peel’s flagship super thin cases for the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. We made a bunch of design and structural improvements. New and improved packaging was launched as well. The iPhone 6S launch completely blew us away. The reception was amazing.
The new packaging included a hand signed card from Jon, David, Jason, and I. We each signed thousands upon thousands of them.
We created our first accessory, the Peel Juice Bag — a grab bag of 3 iPhone chargers. It was positioned as a way to get a charge anywhere in your home. Set up the chargers around your house and grab some power with the extra long cables (5ft instead of Apple’s 3ft). They were a hit. We then improved upon their design and got MFi Certified by Apple.
Peel Glass was created and launched. It’s the perfect compliment to our beloved Peel iPhone cases. Peel Glass is special because of its curved edge-to-edge design. Unlike most screen protectors, the glass doesn’t stop when the surface edge begins to curve. Peel Glass actually contours to the iPhone’s edges. It sold out in 2 days.
In our first year in business, we did zero paid advertising. This year for Peel we began dabbling with advertising. Overall Facebook ads were a huge success and Twitter ads were a total bust. We got access to Instagram ads at the end of the year as well. As of right now, they’re currently performing better than Facebook Ads.
We’re doubling down on Instagram, and got serious about high quality photography. In addition to paid advertising, doing “retargeting ads” has had a major affect on Peel’s growth.
Email marketing was a game changer for us. Our highest sales days for Peel were when we sent blasts to Peel’s email list (23,000+ subscribers at years end). Historically our sales spikes always came from big press articles. Now we’re our own biggest referrer. Launching a new product to 20,000+ people that already know and like your product is much easier than starting from scratch.
Implementing “exit intent” campaigns was the driving force in our email growth. There are many tools available, but we use Picreel. This stuff works.
Just before Black Friday, we visited the Peel’s case and cable factories. It was pretty amazing seeing everything in person for the first time.
Aside from a few tweaks and 1 project, we left Mod on autopilot this year. We just had too many other things going on.
The one big project we launched for Mod was our small batch custom notebook program. Companies can now get their logo debossed on the covers in small batch quantities (10+ units). We also officially began advertising the a similar service for large custom corporate orders. This was something we have been offering for a while, but never actually advertised publicly.
Smart Bedding has been in limbo since we started Need/Want due to a terrible manufacturer and a stack of other reasons. Luckily this year we got a plan together to re-launch it, and start fresh. It will re-launch in January 2016 with a companion blog post telling the entire backstory. The story is brutal. The whole situation caused me more than 1 panic attack — something I’ve never experienced before. Luckily there’s going to be a happy ending to the story. All effort this year on Smart Bedding was to make all of that happen.
We decided on linen material instead of cotton for the next version of Smart Bedding. From there we looked for and secured a new manufacturer we love.
We took out a loan for the new Smart Bedding manufacturing. More than half of the new production run is to fulfill some long standing pre-orders. The new linen is so nice, it actually is double the cost to manufacture. In order to thank our pre-order customers for their patience, the new stuff costs us more to produce than what they backed for. It’s our way of making the situation right, and to show our thanks to the Kickstarter backers for sticking by.
We finally started production on the new Smart Bedding design.
Jon, David, and I went to China to oversee all manufacturing and visit the factories. This was to make sure everything went smoothly this time around. The entire production run of stock is done and currently on it’s way to our warehouse.
For the majority of November and December, we’ve been preparing a new website for Smart Bedding’s launch. We even did our first professional photoshoot for it. We flew in a photographer from LA, rented a studio, and hired 4 models. The shoot lasted 2 days. The photos turned out great.
Look out for Smart Bedding’s big launch in just a couple weeks. Signup to the waitlist here.
Emoji Masks were launched as a side project in 2014. They went viral and blew us away. It became a real business in our portfolio that year.
For Halloween this year, we redesign the lineup and added 15 new masks. The first year we only had 5.
With the new masks ready for Halloween, we gave emojimasks.com a proper redesign. The old site was a generic Shopify theme.
We staged a party to take new photos for the website. We got drunk.
The re-launch at Halloween wasn’t nearly as big as 2014’s, but we expected that. It would have been impossible to replicate the viral success of the first year. It still provided some really nice revenue for us.
We’ve always been intrigued by content websites that are businesses. Jon has been tinkering with different ideas for ages. He pitched David and I an idea that ultimately was molded into Minimums. We launched the Minimums publication to highlight the most interesting possessions of the world’s most interesting people.
Jon was able to get us the perfect domain. We bought minimums.com for $2,250.
Near the end of the year, we got side tracked with holiday stuff so new posts slowed. This year we’re going to be doubling down and doing a new feature every Wednesday, starting in February.
We used Minimums as a free advertising medium for our products (see the homepage sponsor ad on Minimums)
We have some amazing features lined up for 2016. Look for TJ Miller from HBO’s Silicon Valley on Minimums soon.
At the end of 2014, we purchased Jarvis. It was a text message based virtual assistant that could order you food, call your cable company, find your mom a gift, and much more. In 2015 our plan was to polish the backend, rebrand it, then re-launch it.
The name Jarvis was liable to get us sued by Marvel if we got big, so we came up with the name Second instead. The idea behind the name was “your second in command” or “your #2”. It’s your helpful buddy. We bought the domain mysecond.com for $500.
The new branding we created was great. The backend and website was super slick.
Ultimately though, progress slowed as we didn’t have in-house engineering talent at the time. We did a gut check and realized Second would be better off if we spun it out and found a dedicated founder and CEO to run it. We emailed the Need/Want blog community (you guys reading this blog post) and so many great founder types reached out. Ultimately we worked out a deal with an amazing technical founder to take the reigns. We retain some ownership and hold a board seat.
More on Second’s launch in 2016 ( and the deal surrounding it).
What Didn’t Go Well
- One of our factories blatantly ripped us off. We caught them in the act. Ultimately though, it didn’t really affect us.
- A separate factory owes us over $40,000 after failing to deliver the remainder of a shipment. They’ve stopped responding to us entirely. I don’t think we’ll ever see that money again.
- Personally, I stressed a ton around how to get Smart Bedding up and running again. How would we make things right with our pre-order customers that have been waiting ages? I think I had my first (and hopefully last) panic attacks. It was so bad at one point, my doctor informed me that if I didn’t get my blood pressure down, I would need to go on high blood pressure medication. I was 25 at the time. I’m fine now, luckily.
- The Peel launch totally blew us away (this was good), but we completely misjudged how much stock to order (this was very, very bad). We were buried in customer support emails. This is when we decided to hire Ginny. We plan to run a much tighter ship operationally this year. For 2 solid weeks we only did support emails to dig ourselves out of the hole. This was a huge learning experience. We’ve always strived to offer great customer service, so having many customers angry with you is a tough thing. We did our best to make everyone happy in the end. We’re building systems so that mess never happens again.
Where We Went
- San Francisco for 2 weeks. Jon David and I got an Airbnb and did non-stop meetings for 14 days. It was a blast.
- Munich, Germany / Nürburgring / Barcelona, Spain for 10 days. I was paid to give a talk about the work we do at Need/Want. After, I rented a car and drove across Germany to the historic Nürburgring Nordschleife racetrack. Driving the ring in a race car was something I dreamed of doing since I was a kid. I acted like a child for 2 days straight.
- Montreal, Canada for a weekend. It was my good friend’s / one of our investor’s bachelor party. We jumped out of an airplane.
- Hong Kong / Shenzhen, China / Hainan Island for 16 days. Jon, David and I had quite the adventure. It was mainly to oversee our Smart Bedding manufacturing, but so much happened. We have a blog post in the works about this.
- Email marketing works really well still. Across almost all of our brands and websites, we added more incentives for visitors and customers to opt-in to our email lists. This was a huge“force multiplier” for our bottom line. In 2016, there is still nothing better than email marketing. Followers and likes on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, or Instagram are just not as effective as being able to email your customer directly.
- We re-learned the value of building your own audience. 2014 sales were mostly attributed to big press articles about us. In 2015, revenue mostly came from our own audiences. This is a much safer position to be in.
- Second was too much outside of our wheelhouse. At Need/Want we’re all for trying innovative ideas, no matter the industry. However, it was a bad fit for our team’s skill set. We invested a lot into Second, but that isn’t a good reason to hang onto something. It’s in much more capable hands now. I’m still very optimistic for that product. It will launch in 2016 under the new management.
- Polish what you have. Much of the year was spent polishing things in our portfolio—tons of little optimizations had a massive impact over time for Peel. It’s certainly not as exciting as launching a new project / company, but it’s very profitable. Double down on what’s working.
- Manufacturing is hard. Don’t be too trusting.
- Project “sprints” are great for getting stuff done. Every 60 days we’d sit down as a team and agree on all of the projects we should tackle. Then, we’d do our best to ONLY work on those projects and shelve anything else that comes up until the next sprint. They worked great, but we’d often lose momentum after 30 days. This year we’ll be trying 30 day sprints to match up with each month’s start and end. Less is more.
What To Expect From Us In 2016
- More regular content. We have the team in place now to do new Minimums posts every Wednesday. That should be in full swing by February.
- More blog posts (we were bad this year).
- Movies! I’m working on a video highlighting our entire China adventure. If it’s well received I’ll do more videos to help tell more stories. I’m teaching myself video editing as I go, so it’s a little slow.
- Marketing videos. We have a fun Peel video in the works. I hope to do more of these.
- More sharing and transparency. We all really miss being more active in sharing what’s happening inside Need/Want. Overall we all want to do more and share more this coming year.
Our Strategy Going Into 2016
- Double down on Instagram and content advertising for all brands.
- Go deeper with email marketing — there’s still more we could be doing.
- Better customer service. Support times have decreased immensely since we hired Ginny. Next up are better tools for customer’s to help themselves. We also just started setting aside a small budget each month for a “Blow Customer’s Minds Fund”. More on that in a future blog post.
- Polish every single customer “touch point”. There’s a lot that we can still make better.
- Dial in operations. We have so many moving pieces, we’re going to make it all a little less chaotic for ourselves with better tools.
- Change from a “product portfolio” mindset to a “brand portfolio” mindset. What I mean by this is our portfolio of companies have mostly been about 1 product each. I want us to build more for the audiences of each brand we own.
- Launch Smart Bedding in January! This is going to be our most polished product. The entire team is so proud of what we’ve created.
- Possibly launch a new company or two. I know, I’m contradicting what I said above, but we now have the man power now to do both polishing and launching.
- Possibly sell off one of our companies to focus on what’s ahead.
- Write & self publish a book about making physical products as a small team.
2015 was such a great year. Here’s to 2016!
If you found this interesting, let me know on Twitter or Instagram! I’m @marshal.