Our pilot Tēvolution run is over. As of two weeks ago, we sold out, officially. We produced 4000 bottles in mid-December, and set out to bring them to life. Between LA and DC we sold in eight or so stores, representing different areas of each city, different types of venues, and different consumers. We learned A TON. As we head into our first production run (where we’ll produce 80,000 bottles, OMG!), here are some of the lessons we’re taking to heart:
1. Distribution is hard
During the pilot, Gerard and I acted as sales and distribution all in one (oh, and marketing, accounting, legal, bus dev, and janitor). We hit the pavement, knocked on doors, gave free samples, and, when a store agreed to take us, set out to deliver case after case, week after week. At first, it was a blast. Walking into stores, seeing the product on the shelf, it’s a rush. But up about 6 or 7 stores, it got to be very intense, hard to keep up with orders, and difficult to run the business with all the driving and delivering. Lesson Learned: We MUST partner with distributors to be successful.
2. Faster stores = faster sales
This should be obvious, but seeing it in real life made all the difference. Quick serve delis, places where customers file in one after another, buy a sandwich and a drink, and file out, sell more bottles of tea than coffee shops and grocery stores, where people either sit for long periods of time or have many, many other options. Lesson Learned: Sell to all places, but for early wins, get into the stores where people buy their lunch.
3. People don’t trust companies
We’re an incredibly honest company with a genuine social mission. We tried to make that clear on the bottle. That said, asking consumers to text a company they don’t know turned out to be asking a lot. People are inherently distrustful of companies, and don’t want to provide too much information to them. I watched consumers drink a bottle, read the back, and NOT submit their codes, and when I asked them why, this was always the response. Lesson Learned: Display trustworthiness at every turn, and get out into the community to meet the people drinking our teas, putting a face to the company. Engage consumers directly and help them over the hump.
4. Store owners make great networkers
I have built solid relationships with each of the store owners who carry our teas. Each one has been tremendously supportive of what we’re doing, and each one has done what they could to help further our business. In most cases, they’ve introduced us to their favored distributors, which has given us in-roads to the distribution network that is so critical for our expansion. Lesson Learned: Even as we partner with distributors and expand our presence, continue to meet and engage store owners on a personal level.
5. People like what we’re doing
We haven’t met that many people yet, but the ones we do are incredibly supportive and like what we’re doing. Whether it’s been friends, colleagues, or members of the community, the feedback we receive, and offers to help, abound. Lesson Learned: As we grow, it’s always about people. Continue to meet people, stay genuine about our goals and our mission, and build trusting relationships.
6. 4000 bottles isn’t that much
We think we’re awesome! We have the best product, the best mission, the best technology, and the best design. We are ready to rock! And now, check it out – we sold out of 4000 bottles! Aren’t we the best? Don’t you want to invest in us, loan us money, sell our product? Isn’t it obvious? Well, no, not quite yet. Our pilot is over and we learned a lot, but we haven’t proven ourselves just yet. We need to do more. Lesson Learned: Attack the next phase as we did the last – with a hungry need to build sales, community, and supporters. When we sell 80,000 bottles, then we’ll know we’re on to something.
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