5 Critical Startup Lessons
What I learned about moving to a foreign country and founding a bikini startup.
Lesson #1: Start Small and Grow Based on Customer Feedback
There are many things that could go wrong when starting a business. You can do all the planning to mitigate risks but, at the end of the day, you need to get started — which usually means going with the flow.
I was venturing into e-commerce so obviously needed an online platform to host my transactions. However, building a website to sell my goods was not a fast and easy process if I wanted to get everything just right. So instead, at the beginning, I was selling the bikinis through a locally major online fashion e-commerce site. It showed me which styles were selling well, and gave me my first taste of starting a real life business.
Lesson #2: Connect With People
The first steps of my business venture really laid down the groundwork. The bikinis were selling but the most valuable outcome was the interaction with customers. I learnt about customer behaviour: what they liked, what put them off and what I could do to improve my product offering.
The whole idea behind why I started this business was not to encourage women to be ‘sexier’, but to love and be proud of their bodies: i.e. to feel sexier. This was something I picked up during my time in Brazil. The Brazilian women carried themselves with confidence and loved showing off their gorgeous curves that we in Asia would perhaps scoff at. They believed that they were beautiful. I learned that when someone has such a belief about themselves, everyone around them believes it too. Because of the message behind the brand, my initiatives were very well accepted by my audiences in Malaysia and I was featured in mainstream media with no issues.
You need to be sensitive to the context that you are operating in, understand the issues of those that will influence your business and work with them. Find a message that they can connect with and have this reflected in your brand and content.
Lesson #3: Be Flexible
Given my aspirations of becoming a bikini tycoon, I was hit hard by a reality check. Despite the toil of growing my business, I noticed a trend. At that time, I was offering both beach and fitness wear and I noticed that sales of my fitness wear was doing much, much, better. Regardless of how passionate I was about the bikinis, my venture was about my customers. If more people wanted to purchase my fitness wear, then that was what I needed to focus on. So eighteen months after my launch, I put my initial business plan aside and sales grew exponentially.
You may need to take out that business plan you drew up at the beginning of your venture and give it a thorough edit. If you want more growth, you need to capitalise on where you find it. After all, this is a journey and it will almost certainly be one that will take a few unexpected turns.