Simon Slade learned a lot about startup marketing as he grew his company from a small, part time auction selling business into an international brand with over 50,000 paid subscribers in less than three years. Slade is a New Zealand-born entrepreneur and a founder of SaleHoo – an international wholesale product sourcing directory that caters to online auction sellers.
Slade began his entrepreneurial adventure in 2003 when he began supplementing his income by selling goods in online auctions. As he got more successful, his hobby quickly turned into a 30-to-40 hour weekly marathon on top of his day job. Because he invested a lot of time in finding and developing relationships with reliable suppliers, and other sellers started seeking his advice on who to buy from. Slade began to compile all his notes and information into a list that would eventually evolve into SaleHoo.com.
Slade partnered with online business veteran Mark Ling, hired a part-time software developer, and then spent 5 months developing his list of quality suppliers into a user-friendly online directory. After recieving postive feedback from friends on the new interface, Slade decided to launch it in August 2005. He was especially eager to be the first product on the market, because of the “law of leadership” – where the first product that comes to the market becomes the dominant one — and even can become a verb, in cases like “Coca Cola” or “Xerox.”
Within eight months, the site had grown to 10,000 members. As the business scaled quickly, there was the question of how much the users should be allowed to influence the site. Slade acted on the best suggestions: the site soon opened a member’s forum and allowed several senior members and eBay powersellers to anwser questions and implement many of the user suggestions. “Listening to all the member feedback paid off,” says Slade, “and it allowed a more fluid process of development.”
- Launch Soon, if Possible: Launching soon is better than launching too late, because there is an incredible advantage at being the first to the market – if you capitalize it. This doesn’t mean to launch something that is incomplete – but rather, to focus on getting the working product done as quickly as possible.
- Monetize Quickly: A big problem with many startups is that they focus too much on development and then rely too much on VCs and other investors for support. If you can make your product profitable sooner, rather than later, then a lot of the strain of funding and development can be reduced.
- Listen to Users, and Trust Them: You users are, by far, the most important people in the whole “big picture” of the startup. Since they actually use your product, they have some of the most valid ideas about how to improve it. “Be flexible, but don’t be flaky,’ says Simon, “Trying to meet every single request is impossible, and it will leave you stumbling without direction”
- Thoroughly Understand Your Industry: Having a rock-solid knowledge of your industry is essential. If you’re going to develop blog software, you better know the blogosphere inside and out. If you’re doing fashion, you better know every designer and all the trends. If you haven’t done enough research and you don’t know your niche inside and out from a practical standpoint – it might be wise to look into another line of business.
- Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin: You can’t be everything for everyone, so don’t even try. As new ideas came pouring in, we acted on them on a time scale that was realistic – and we used member feedback to gauge which features and changes were most important.