With a hundred other things to do, it’s easy for entrepreneurs to forget the importance of carrying out intense research before starting a new business. We spoke to Aidan Gribbin of Brightside Bike Lights – creators of rechargeable and powerful bike lights that provide cyclists will all-round visibility – and found out how initial struggles led to him changing his approach to research and social media.
Starting up. Crikey. The thought of doing it again sparks feelings of intrepidness, tenacity and excitement. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat – but slightly differently this time.
Make no mistake: being part of a startup can be a minefield. True grit and determination will be needed by the bucketload, but having a source of information and experience to look to is invaluable. I found real confidence in being able to tap into the knowledge of my Virgin business mentor, who was pretty frank at times and didn’t want me wasting time and money. Looking back, the lessons I learned now seem fairly basic but I would have struggled without the initial help.
My first lesson was understanding social media. No, REALLY understanding it. Well, here’s the thing: social media is very much... social! The general rule of thumb is 80/20: 80% social and 20% media. If you see the same kind of content over and over again, then ultimately you will switch off. Mix it up a little. Throw in a picture, a video or something not strictly business-related every now and then. Generating followers is key and they won’t subscribe if you are all about business.
My understanding of social media was similar to that of many beginners.
I had spent countless hours browsing Facebook and Instagram and thought I understood it. I didn’t. After throwing money at some Facebook ads that didn’t produce great results, I started looking at my website’s stats and checking when and what was being viewed.
The results started to improve when I began tailoring posts towards particular demographics, as well as thinking about exactly when they would be published. For example, I posted on Sunday nights with relevant hashtags and interesting content. Looking at the stats, I could then see what worked and when it was likely to do so.
The best results that I received, however, came about from receiving good reviews in the right places. Joe Bloggs with 19 followers may give you a like, but a reviewer with 22,000 followers will really drive some relevant traffic.
While learning about social media was certainly an eye opener, the biggest lesson that I learnt was the importance of research. I thought I understood the bike light industry because, well, I had a bike light. It turns out that it wasn’t quite as simple as that. For example, it has a season that starts six months before the lights hit the shelves or the Internet. Things like this were a bit of a reality check.
After the first season had passed and I’d somewhat arrogantly thought my lights would sell like hot cakes, I realised that I needed to really immerse myself in the industry. I had my timing all wrong and that was key. I believed in my products, but needed to get them in front of the right people. So I started going to trade shows and meeting buyers and retailers. I went to lots of bike shops and found out as much as I could about the what, when and how of the bike light world. I went to London and talked to commuters and even joined a local cycling group to get more feedback.
Similar tactics could no doubt be used for lots of businesses. Finding out how the industry you are about to enter really works will make such a difference to so many of the decisions you make, whether they are related to prototyping, marketing, pricing or any number of other factors. Get some of these right and you could find yourself a lot further down the road than many of your more established competitors.
I could fill this blog with a list of research items that you could use to get off the ground, but the only way to really learn is to immerse yourself in your new industry. That way, you will understand its foibles and strengths. It will also probably lead to you wasting less money on poor decisions, ill-advised marketing and misused time. I didn’t really have a budget for Brightside, but it didn’t take long to realise when money had been spent in the wrong place or when something was too costly.
Like me, you may be starting out all by yourself. I still work alone but have a close team around me as I’ve always had. It consists of my best mates and family! I often ask their opinion about an idea and always listen to the answer as, ultimately, these could be the type of people who will be buying your new products.
It is very easy to plough on in a blinkered manner, determined to get your idea to market without really knowing if it will be liked. If they are good friends, they will give genuine feedback instead of paying you lip service. Plus, they won’t steal your idea!
Once you have everything in place and the big launch is planned, you can look forward to the real work beginning. When you start to see that people are interested in your product or service and are prepared to pay for it with their hard-earned cash, however, remember to keep in mind what a massive achievement it has been to get this far. The occasional critique may mean a rethink on a certain aspect of the business, but these are the things that make the difference between success or possible failure. My own packaging has changed massively in the last two years, as have some features of the lights. These changes were made as a result of a friend/customer’s comments.
As one of my best friends and key confidants would say: “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Just getting the idea onto a piece of paper in the kitchen one night is a lot further than most people get. Being in a place to receive your first order means you have made it further than most people dream of!
I’m three years in and am still trying new things, learning and making mistakes, but now I have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. It’s hard and often lonely work: everyone else gets paid before me and I still get told that I’m nuts. But people are buying my lights. I have a world map on my office wall with pins all over it that show where my lights have been shipped to. It’s things like this that make it all worth it.
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