Founder and CEO of SAM Labs, Joachim Horn, helps families, students, and teachers alike acquire skills of the future by playing with his award-winning EdTech toys called SAM. Over a bowl of stone cold soba noodles during his lunch break from a design lab in Tokyo, Joachim decided it was time to set up SAM Labs after recently completing his Masters in Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London. People often ask him, 'how did you do it?'
Five stages. Two years. One idea.
The first step to starting a product business is getting the physical prototype. I know it might seem arbitrary for me to tell you that, but I avoid planning ahead for things I can't foresee until I have the product to plan ahead with. It's ultimately about cutting a grand vision down to its simplest form.
This phase is all about tight budgets, getting iterations out as quickly and cheaply as possible. I spent each day reiterating and bettering my idea, and it started to take shape. When I felt it was nearly ready to show the world, I managed to get a few of my friends to join my mission.
After thirteen months of all-nighters, myself and two friendployees churned out the first edition of SAM turning to Kickstarter to get the show on the road. Switching from product mindsets to marketeers, we set up our page: "SAM: The Ultimate Internet Connected Electronics Kit".
Setting up a Kickstarter takes wit, dedication and focus - most of which we didn't have. It isn't the same thing as setting up a Facebook page! We methodically decided the placement of photos, how to make things clickable, the execution of our pitch video, and how to set ourselves apart. We showed the previous prototypes, the process, the press, the stages and really got backers to feel a part of our journey. On October 24, 2014, SAM's campaign came to an end. Tripling our initial pitch and finishing with £125k, we braced ourselves for phase III: appealing to VCs for funding.
Securing investment proved yet another battle in life after Kickstarter, where venture capitalists seek trends, not data points, entrusting in suggestive growth and progress within the team. Building relationships takes time, trust, patience, and potentially bigger team than you and your friendployees. No matter how successful your product is, it's likely you'll need investment - if you go into retail, margins will be eaten up and you'll be expected to put your own money/funds behind marketing, get the money in early. Yet almost 9 months after the journey to find investment started, we closed a round of $4.5M in February 2016, led by Imperial Innovations.
After investment comes more scrutinised execution. Ever iterating on the budget and devising scalable strategies from design to supply chain, we were on our way to figuring out phase IV: retail.
Creating a retail ready product is another level in the game that might turn your Kickstarter knowledge on its head. Dive deep into the workings of your product to see what is a core requirement to bring your product from its current form to something with mass appeal for retail consumers. Iterate, test, iterate again, test again. This is what it takes to end with a product that stands out on a shelf amongst hundreds, sometimes thousands, of similar products, where the customer is faced with similar colours, various iterations of packaging, different points of sale and so on. Everyone in the team needs to think like a business development manager (even if no one is a BDM), calculating every decision from a marketing, product, customer behaviour, and user experience perspective.
Once you've nailed the retail ready plan, perfecting the execution and having grown a sustainable and reliable team, the last step is global expansion. Now that you're deep in the pitching pond, you'll need to sort out one or two retail partners in your target market sector. Next, try to expand into other retailers within your local market. Partnering with local retailers is helpful as there's more room to work with points of sale, visual merchandising, staff training, and mystery shoppers. Once a sales assistant knows how to sell your product, you're on your way to victory.
How did I do it? Five stages. Two years. One bowl of noodles.