Ways in Which You Can Fund Your Startup

When you are starting a business, you really have your work cut out for you in terms of getting everything planned and organized. One of the many things that you will need to look into before you can get your venture up and running is how you will fund your startup. The best thing you can do for yourself is to fund as much as you can out of pocket.

The costs.

Some startups require little to no capital to be on their way to success, but others may require money upfront so that they can get the ball rolling. Some startups are especially expensive if they are going to involve manufacturing or software that must be built.

If you need funding for your startup business, there are a number of different options that are available. By choosing the right one for your needs, you can ensure that you get the most affordable type of financing and that the borrowing is suited to your needs and that of your business. Remember, as a startup, it is important for your business to save as much money as possible so finding affordable financing is essential.

Some of the finance options that you can choose.

It is important for you to consider your needs and look at factors such as your credit score and repayment abilities before you decide on the type of finance that you will apply for. This makes it easier for you to make an informed decision. Some of the finance options that you can choose include:

  • Personal loan:
    Choosing a personal loan or signature loan is a good choice, as you do not have to risk any assets because the loan is not a secured one.  All that is required is approval and your signature to get the loan, so as long as you meet the eligibility requirements you should have no problems. You should make sure you compare the different loans available, as the interest rates and repayment terms can vary from one lender to another. This will then have an impact on the amount you repay each month and the amount of interest you pay overall.
  • Credit card:
    Some people decide to use a credit card to fund their startup business. This is fine if you have a high enough limit and can get a low or 0 percent card that you can repay within the interest-free period. If not, you may find that the interest rate is crippling and that you end up paying a fortune for your borrowing over time. If you do opt for a credit card, check the interest rates and whether there are any annual fees. If you plan to repay the balance in full within the interest-free period it is well worth looking at one of the rewards based cards on the market.
  • Secured loan:
    If you are a homeowner, another option you have is to get a loan that is secured against your property. However, you need to bear in mind that if you fail to keep up with the repayments of the loan you could be risking the roof over your head. Therefore, this type of loan should be given very careful thought before you make a decision.

These are some of the key finance options that you can choose from if you need to raise capital for your startup business.

Learn and prepare.

Whatever type of financing you determine is best for you — get some advice from someone that knows the territory better than you do. Speak with someone who has nothing to gain from their advice. 

Spend time reading business articles and books on this subject so that you don’t go into this part of a business unprepared. 

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17 Strategies to Make a Better First Impression When Networking

Have you ever been to a networking event? If you’re a professional with more than a few years of experience, and you haven’t, you’re missing out on a critical opportunity. Professional networking is one of the best ways to improve yourself and build your network of contacts, but if you aren’t prepared to make a good impression during your course, you might not be seeing your true potential.

The “How” of Networking.

Making a good impression involves two stages: first, you need to make a strong first impression (since you only get one, and it tends to stick). Second, you need to ensure that your impression sticks and is reinforced in the future.

So how can you make that happen?

Why Networking Is So Valuable

First, let’s explore why networking is so valuable in the first place:

  • Contacts. The first and most obvious benefit is the potential to expand your professional network. Every new contact you make has a chance of being a future partner, coworker, lead, employee, or client, so it’s worth building up your rolodex.
  • Exposure. Networking also gives you the potential for personal brand exposure; when you make your presence known at several public events, and you attend networking events regularly, you’ll start building a reputation for yourself. With enough reiteration, and a wide enough network of contacts, you could become a low-key local celebrity.
  • Knowledge and experience. Meeting new people gives you the chance to learn something new, whether it’s a new skill or simply a new perspective on the professional world. The more people you meet, the more knowledgeable and experienced you’ll become.

Making a Good First Impression

Evidence suggests we start to form a first impression about a person we’re meeting within a tenth of a second of meeting them; that’s not a lot of time to get your act together. How you interact with someone in those crucial first few minutes could dictate how they think of you in the future, and guide the rest of their interaction with you, so it pays to make that first impression as positive as possible:

  1. Dress for the occasion. One of the easiest things you can do is to dress for the occasion. If you’re attending a loosely casual event, dress in business casual attire. If you’re attending something more formal, wear some of your best clothes. Make sure you have custom-fitted clothing in your arsenal, and wear something unique enough that you stand out in the crowd—but appropriate enough that you don’t look out of place. That’s a hard balance to strike, even for the fashionably savvy, but it’s important if you want to make the right impression from the beginning.
  2. Groom yourself. This should go without saying, but you also need to reasonably groom yourself. Spend some time making your hair look good, and get a haircut earlier in the day if you get the chance. If you have facial hair, make sure it’s trimmed. Make sure you’re clean, and try to smell nice for the occasion.
  3. Be on time. Most networking events are informal opportunities to socialize with other people, so punctuality isn’t the highest priority, but for any event with a schedule, make sure you time your entrance appropriately. If you arrive at the event too early, when nobody’s around, you might have a hard time settling into the event. If you arrive after festivities have started, people might see you differently, or worse, brand you as “the one who showed up late” before they even have a chance to meet you.
  4. Control your body language. Your body language makes a bigger impression than you might realize. Holding yourself with good posture, with your back straight and your shoulders back, for example, can make you appear more confident. Opening your arms and legs can make you appear like a more open, trustworthy person.
  5. Vary your tone and inflection. While speaking, make sure to vary your tone and inflection. The words you say are important (as you’ll see further down this list), but you also need to control how you deliver those words. Speaking in a monotone voice, or speaking without natural accents and variances, makes you seem uninteresting and less colorful; it may also make your words less impactful.
  6. Give a good handshake. When you started this article, you probably imagined reading about the power of a good handshake, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t include it on this list. The psychology of a handshake has surprising depth to it (and you can find out more about it here), but suffice it to say, the “classic” two-pump, firm handshake is one of the best ways to cement your reputation with someone new. Master it before attending a networking event.
  7. Make eye contact. Another classic on this list is mastering the art of eye contact. Making eye contact with someone makes it easier to connect with them, and shows that you’re paying attention to what they’re saying. The only caveat here is that you should avoid making prolonged eye contact, as it can make people feel uncomfortable and make it seem less “natural.”
  8. Choose your words carefully. Recent evidence shows that people respond to trustworthiness more than confidence in first impressions; that’s to say, it’s more important to present yourself as a trustworthy person than it is to project confidence. Don’t try to dominate the conversation or use big words unnaturally; just be polite, be yourself, and let the conversation flow.
  9. Abandon your distractions. Nothing can wreck an otherwise good first impression like burying yourself in your phone or getting distracted by something else in the room. When you meet someone, your focus needs to be on them for the duration of your interaction; otherwise, you risk losing that contact altogether.

Making a Lasting Impression

A good first impression is critical to your success, but you also need to make sure your impression lasts. You can extend the duration and endurance of your impression with these tactics:

  1. Have a promotional product. If you want to make a lasting impression, you should give your new contacts something lasting to remember you by. For most professionals, that means handing out business cards, but if you want to take it to the next level, hand out promotional products. Inexpensive promotional products like lanyards, pens, and keychains, are relatively practical, and can help people remember you. Find out more about lanyards and other promo products before you make the investment.
  2. Come to the event prepared. It also helps if you come to the event prepared. You should have some knowledge of how the event came to be and why most people are attending, so you have something to talk about. If there are any requirements or suggestions for guests, you should be familiar with those too.
  3. Be yourself. The old adage to “be yourself” applies here. You may be tempted to put on a more “professional” or more likable persona, but you’ll probably end up coming across as insincere or fake. It’s much better to be yourself, albeit a version of yourself that’s appropriate for a general audience. People will be far more likely to remember you.
  4. Tell a personal anecdote. If you can, try to work a personal anecdote into your interaction. Tell a story about one of your past experiences, or about your current job. If it’s unique, and possibly amusing, people will have an easier time remembering you.
  5. Develop a connection. Try to forge a personal connection with the people you meet. You can do that by finding something you share in common, going through an experience together, or providing them with help in some way. This connection doesn’t have to be big or powerful; anything can serve as a tether to make you more memorable.
  6. Make people laugh. People will remember you if you make them laugh. You shouldn’t go out of your way to become a comedian, but knowing a good joke or two is bound to help you in these situations. People love to laugh and will associate you with positive feelings if you can make them do it.
  7. Use people’s names. Once you learn someone’s name, try repeating it a few times in the span of your conversation. It makes people feel closer to you, and has the added bonus of helping you remember their name in the future.
  8. Follow up. One of the most important ways to cement your impression with a new contact is to follow up with them a few days after the event. You don’t have to say or do much; simply reaching out and telling them it was nice to meet them is often enough to make your memory endure. While you’re at it, try to set up a coffee meeting or lunch in the near future.

These strategies may seem like a lot to remember, but once you’ve practiced them at a handful of networking events, they’ll become second nature to you. Networking is like any other professional skill; the more you practice it, the better you’ll become, and the more comfortable and confident you’ll feel doing it. Accordingly, you should attend as many networking events as you can, especially early in your career, and make your presence known.

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On Bitcoin: A Concise Explanation

Upon spending some hours researching on Google Scholar and other relevant resources, this is the most simplistic overview about Bitcoin you’ll ever read. Period.

The sole purpose of this article is to share knowledge among readers who are enthusiastic about cryptocurrency and fintech.

  1. Assume Bitcoin to be a limited resource similar to a gold mine, but think digital. Its very much visible and individuals who potentially want to reap of the profits, want to gain ownership of it while the prices are low. Upon ownership, the person has the ability to spend, invest or transfer it at will. But hold on a second! You need to carry it in something, right?
  2. So, eager individuals like you and I need digital wallets to carry a multitude of currencies. These may include other coveted cryptocurrencies as well, such as Ethereum, Ripple and Lightcoin which are relatively cheaper alternatives to Bitcoin. There are separate wallets to hold each cryptocurrency.
  3. Additionally, you can exchange bitcoins with other people who own bitcoins as well, sort of like Pokemon cards (throwback to the 90s and 00s, huh?). Only caveat is that there are no duplicate cards to share; hence, using financial jargon, double spending is not allowed when it comes to crypocurrency. Ideally, the owner cannot spend the same bitcoin anywhere else after a transaction is confirmed, regardless of the amount being transferred. This is necessary to stop any possibility of online fraud.
  4. Coming back: Wallets are locked by a “private” key which is only in your possession. The key is long line of jumbled up characters , which mainly goes like this: “cB45a213Ds…” The Wallet signs transactions through this key in order to verify it. This is so that no hacker or third party illegally acquires ownership of bitcoins through the network.
  5. Remember the gold mine from point one? There are a number of individuals now who have installed insanely powerful supercomputers that run sophisticated softwares to mine bitcoins. The software solves intricate mathematical problems for the sole purpose to either verify pending bitcoin transactions or discover hidden ones in the digital space. The incentive is, the puzzle solvers receive bitcoins in return for a correct solution.
  6. Once the transaction is verified, the bitcoin block is added into a “public registry” called the blockchain. The Blockchain is an ever growing book that contains all transactions that have ever taken place since the Bitcoin first arrived at the financial scene in 2009.

In Satoshi Nakamoto’s comprehensive white paper, he describes this novel concept, this new and disruptive idea of Bitcoin in the following abstract:

“A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.”

As you read this and having gone through step-by-step explanation of Bitcoin prior to the statement above, you can almost visualize the long term target cryptocurrency is aiming for. Basically to remove the middle-man in exchanges, which are banks and financial institutions in this regard.

Technology enthusiasts can find the complete technical guide about Bitcoin in this link here.

About Bitcoin Platforms

Next, let us proceed towards the methods to exchange and accept bitcoins. People have multiple options to be a part of this fast growing network. Navigating across and reading up user comments on’s “Bitcoin” subreddit, I picked out some of the authentic sources targeting various platforms.

  1. Web Platforms: Coinbase, and Greenaddress are among the safest platforms providing the most convenient user-experience for their customers and investors. (Personally I’m going to use Coinbase when I shift to the states).
  2. iPhone Users: Blockchain is popular among iPhone users with the highest rating otherwise people use Coinbase which is mentioned above. Breadwallet is also an option but has faced rate inconsistency issues in the past.
  3. Android Users: Several options available for Android phones namely: Mycellium, Electrum and Airbitz among others.
  4. Hardware: People looking for a hardware wallet can go for Trezor or LedgerWallet. It is reviewed as secure and supports all major cryptocurrencies.
  5. Desktop Softwares: Electrum, Bitcoin Core

The diagram below gives provides a visually informative way of using bitcoins, generally showcasing how a transaction occurs which I have explained earlier.

                                          Figure 1: A pictorial overview of how bitcoin transactions work.


Cryptocurrency, is already making a mark in the digital age. We are living digital and we are making use of services that were otherwise unavailable 15–20 years ago, not restricted to cryptocurrency. The stage for advancements in fintech is set and we’ll surely see more APIs, web apps and services make an appearance that make cryptocurrency relatively more convenient and easy to use.

I am stoked of what 2018 will bring to us in the technology space. The real question is, are you?

Spread and share knowledge. If this article piqued your interest you may contact me.

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How to Choose the Right Personal Loan for Your Startup

Choosing a personal loan for your startup can be difficult, especially as various personal loans have pros and cons. However, the following tips should be able to help you receive some form of clarity:

How much money do you really need?

Without a doubt, this should be the first thing you consider when sifting between loans. There are lenders who are only willing to work with you based on the amount of capital you need. For example, some traditional lenders will not issue a small business loan if all you need is $5000. You will need to make a detailed report of what you’ll be spending money on before you can determine this, so make sure that you’ve got your facts straight.

How quickly do you need to access these funds?

There are loans which are structured as installment loans, such as the loan you got for your mortgage or car. Basically this means that as soon as you get a loan approval, you’ll get the finds in a lump sum through financing. You’ll have to pay the loan back in installments.

Paying back a loan is tough and that may include things like interest rate charges and other fees as well. However, you’ll have the entire amount that has been approved at your disposal.

Other loans make use of lines of credit and this means that you’re not given a predetermined amount. However, you get to choose how much you want to borrow, even though there’s a limit. The line of credit is replenished once you begin paying back.

What do you need the loan for?

One of the major factors that will determine the decision of lenders will be what your startup plans to use the loan for. For instance, startups majorly use a business line of credit in order to purchase equipment, make their payroll, or embark on a major marketing campaign.

If you seek cash from a VC or an angel investor, they will be more inclined to work with businesses that they are familiar with.

By determining what you need the money for, you’ll be able to find lenders that will be more inclined to work specifically for your industry or purpose.

How long have you been in business?

As a startup, you’ve still got stages of business existence. If your startup is in its very early stages, securing a loan from traditional lenders like banks might be difficult due to the fact that they require positive credit history, a business plan, collateral, cash flow projections, etc. This means that certain loans might not be accessible to you and even if they are, you might not like the loan conditions.

Do you have any collateral?

 Even though you’re a startup, do you have ay for of property or inventory that you can put up against the loan as collateral? If you don’t, there are certain loans that you won’t even qualify for. Instead, you might have to branch out and look at certain alternative funding and loaning options.

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A Startups Guide to Holiday Gifts for Yourself and Others

We love the holidays. Getting together with family and friends and being able to renew acquaintances that we’ve lost track of, is an important part of the holidays. The busy startup or founder wearing so many hats in their businesses may put family and friends gifts as the first tasks to accomplish on the to-do list, but sometimes these names and gifts end up the last items to be crossed off the checklist. 

Whether it’s the office party, employees, customers or clients we may wish our gift to be the coveted holiday offering — and that’s even when we’re bringing a White Elephant. 

We went around the office at Startup Grind to get some suggestions about what people were hoping to get from their loved ones (or buying for themselves) during the holidays. Here are some ideas our friends and employees came up with.

10 gift ideas for 2017.

1. A smart home device — 

We don’t discriminate against Siri, Alexa or other AI assistants, as long as something can make our life a little bit easier — and well — smarter. You can start small, Amazon Echo Dot is less than $50 or Google Home Mini is only $30.

If you feel like spending a little extra there is Skybell that is a wifi video doorbell that is pretty cool. You can see who comes up to your door even if they don’t ring. Or you can catch your doorbell-ditchers in the neighborhood. Or upgrade your device so you can be at work and see the UPS (or whomever) and answer them “live” as if you are there.

2. An e-book reading device — 

It has been recommended many times that productive people and successful leaders read a lot and it’s true — they do. Pick up one of the e-book reading device (such as Kindle Oasis) will fill your brain and being with knowledge, help to save trees and it may save your back from a heavy load of book weight. We recommend Adam Grant’s Give and Take

A little higher priced is the Cinemood. It runs TV, audiobooks, and even movies all through your Bluetooth or WiFi. It connects to the company so you can use all their content from a variety of companies like YouTube, Netflix, etc. You could even host an outside family and friends event. 

3. An audiobook or podcast subscription — 

Too busy to read? Audiobooks are probably for you. Ok fine, just not a book fan? Ask around and gift a playlist of great podcasts you’ve listened to or friends have listened to over the years (there are so many these days!) We recommend How I Built This, The Startup Grind Podcast (you knew we would!), TED Talks Daily, GIRLBOSS, and Serial (though everyone’s been through this right?)

4. A fun game — 

Are you looking for a way to connect with friends and family outside of Facebook and social media? A game night is a simple way to host a fun night-in with your favorite people. Start with simple board games – Codenames and One Night Ultimate Werewolf are a couple of easy games to get started. Watch Ya Mouth if you’re really comfortable with your group and in need a seriously good laugh.

5. A gift of Cryptocurrency — 

You must have heard all about the digital currency hype, but can it really be gifted? Yes, it can. With Coinbase, and many other sites, you can purchase and send Bitcoin simply with an email address. You may not be able to currently afford Bitcoin with it’s gigantic leap in price — but there are other offerings that are fun too. The different cryptocurrency’s value is still being assessed by the industry, but this is a quick way to get your friends involved (whether they want to be or not). 

And who wouldn’t be impressed with the more affordable piece of gold or silver? Those coins are in the colors of the season. Gold and Silver coins or bars are really fun to give — no one expects this.

6. A fitness pass — 

Try giving your friends a workout pass this year — and maybe a fitness pass for yourself, as well, to keep you both accountable. The gift of good health — what more could be better? Especially post holiday, if you have been indulging. Check out ClassPass, where they can find loads of fitness classes around every fitness level and choice. Or try FitBit, with plenty of options for everyone in the family.

7. A conference ticket — 

Of course we couldn’t resist putting this in here! We will all be there and we want you with us. Please come and please come up and introduce yourselves. This is certainly the most affordable tech conference out there right now.

Some of the best entrepreneurs got where they are today by being fantastic networkers — and many came straight from Startup Grind. Multiply your network by gifting a friend, colleague, or employee — and this is one gift you owe to yourself — a ticket to Startup Grind’s February Conference

You’ll join 7,000 entrepreneurs, 250+ thought leaders, and a world of resources to help you grow your company — network — and find success for 2018.

8. An online streaming account — 

Still can’t find a “Stranger Thing” binge-watching buddy? Offer to purchase a year long subscription for your friends and you will get yourself a bunch of binge-watch-able buddies.

Be careful, this gift might come with a great price – endless time spent on Netflix and bags of popcorn. Ask the friends to bring something for all of you to share in the food department. Sometimes they don’t leave… And, yes — they get hungry.

9. A drone machine — 

A super cool gift. A friend gave me one last year then got himself one. This is what I’m giving to a couple of family members this year. Too cool to pass up. The family member I gave the drone to had an older GoPro we taped on his drone. Capture amazing videos during your travel — well the drones travels. 

Amazon had a Batman and Superman (less expensive) drone that I got for myself and a friend for this year. I’m picturing “drone wars” at the park and bashing into each other. Hope none of our sophisticated friends and clients sees us acting like kids — but I’m really excited.

You can get your hands on a drone machine at DJI Spark — it is the newest and the smallest drone and looks extra cool.

10. —

Okay, normally I wouldn’t have a website for a gift idea — but everyone at the office insisted — so don’t blame me. I’d never seen this site before, but serious fun just looking through it. On this site you will find the absolutely least expensive gifts, the doubtless most expensive gifts, the categorically worst offerings of gifts, truly laughable gifts (that you’ll laugh at — but wouldn’t dare actually give to anyone) and you’ll unquestionably find a lot of “stuff” in-between. 

Please Have A Happy Holidays!

From The Startup Grind Team

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How to Source Products from China Using Alibaba

Are You Prepared to Jump Into the World of eCommerce?

I’ll tell you right off the bat that I’m most certainly not an expert. I’ve only worked on a few projects, but I have successfully went through the process of sourcing physical products from Alibaba, so figured I would share.

Here are a couple things to keep in mind as we move forward:

-Can you sell?

What’s your plan for actually getting your product in, and then getting it out? After all, the whole point here is to generate sales and make a profit on our cheaply sourced products.

-Alibaba is great.

It’s a behemoth of an eCommerce store and it presents an opportunity, even for the small guy. But that doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent secure. Be wary of shady sellers and work on building trust with your supplier rather than taking a shot in the dark like I did.

-Expect this process to take longer than you expected.

Initially, I figured it would be a maybe a month or two before the product was in front of me. It ended up taking 4 months from initial contact to the finished product on my doorstep. As with all business in any sector anywhere in the world — a startup takes time. 

-Use a different email!

I can’t stress this enough. Unless you want your personal email to be destroyed like mine, create a separate Gmail account for Alibaba use. Otherwise, you’ll be unsubscribing from random supplier mailing lists for months — and maybe forever.

Background Research

This article is more of a guide on Alibaba and how to get products for cheap. But I’ll touch on this very quickly. Have you already asked yourself the following questions?

-What product do I want to sell?

-What range am I looking for in terms of price?

-Will people buy my product?

-Have I validated the idea?

-How will I get customers to my eCommerce store?

Hopefully, you can answer all those questions.

My suggestion would be to go out and chat with friends, family, and then strangers on forums, social media, and even via cold email. Test them. Ask them if they’re interested in your product ideas or not. Can you actually get sales? Try running a launch giveaway to entice people to give you their email.

Validate your idea and start growing an initial list of potential customers as soon as possible.

Okay, now we move on to the fun part…

Product Searching and Supplier Outreach

There are millions of products available on Alibaba. With these products, there are a lot of manufacturers and trading companies.

You have to watch out though. Because despite all the opportunities, there are a lot of sketchy dealers out there who wouldn’t mind taking your money and vanishing from the face of the internet.

As you may already know, Alibaba is a robust eCommerce marketplace with a wide array of product options available. Luckily (hopefully), you have a good idea of what you’re looking for before we jump into this.

Let’s say that you want to create an eCommerce store and sell wooden cases for all sorts of devices. You’ve decided that your first product will be a wooden iPhone case.

Time to do some sorting and find more relevant results.

There are filters based on a whole series of elements, including the location of the supplier, free samples offered or not, the certifications they have earned, minimum order quantity, and product prices.

Take advantage and narrow down your search using the sidebar and the top filter bar:

As you can see above, I’ve selected many of the supplier type checkboxes to make sure that I’m finding reputable dealers. Furthermore, I’m sorting by MOQ (minimum order quantity), free samples, and price.

Supplier Types and Verifications

Here are the definitions of the available suppliers and verifications on Alibaba:

Trade Assurance:

“Trade Assurance is a free service offered by that’s designed to help create trust between buyers and suppliers. Trade Assurance covers buyers with 100% payment protection from their selected Trade Assurance suppliers.”

Gold Supplier:

“Gold Supplier is a premium membership for suppliers on Members are provided with comprehensive ways to promote their products, maximizing product exposure and increasing return-on-investment.”

You shouldn’t trust a supplier based solely on their Gold Supplier status, as it is not necessarily an indication of their ethics or the quality of their products. For more, check out this article.

Assessed Supplier:

“Assessed Suppliers are China Gold Suppliers, Hong Kong Gold Suppliers and Taiwan Gold Suppliers who have been inspected onsite by a third-party inspection company. They offer all the information of our Factory Audits and more, including Assessment Reports, Verified Videos and Verified Main Products.”

A&V Check:

“A&V Checked suppliers are Gold Suppliers who have passed authentication and verification inspection by as well as a third-party verification company. All legal business licenses and contact persons are verified for those who have been A&V Checked.”

Onsite Check:

“Onsite Check is a verification process for China Gold Suppliers. The supplier’s company’s premises are checked by’s staff to ensure onsite operations exist there. The suppliers’ legal status and other related information are then confirmed by a third-party verification agency.”
Some clarification of the major differences in verification via Alibaba:

At this point, you should have a good idea of the type of supplier you’re looking to find and hopefully your searches have lead to products that are similar to what you were looking for.

Most likely, there will still be a lot of suppliers to pick from, especially if you are doing something as generic as a wooden iPhone case.

Even with filters, we’re looking at hundreds of results.

Now it’s time to do the manual part: Outreach.

Supplier Outreach

Now, before I get into the manual outreach, let me briefly discuss a quick way to do this without messaging 100 suppliers.

There is a feature called RFQ (Request for Quotation) available as you can see here:

This feature prompts you to provide information such as product type, price, quantity, payment terms, etc.

Then, your RFQ will be reviewed and, if approved, will give suppliers the opportunity to contact you.

You’ll have a list of supplier quotations that you can select from and reach out to for requesting samples, asking questions, negotiating, etc.

For a more in-depth explanation of the RFQ feature, you’ll find this Quora answer helpful.

Depending on what you’re looking for, you may get inundated with quotations. Due to this, it may be best to do manual outreach and specifically message suppliers that interest you.

Luckily, this is easy to do on Alibaba’s platform.

After searching for relevant products and finding possible suppliers, go to the product page and review the details. Here you can get more information on what the supplier offers, along with details like MOQ.

If you’re interested still, hit the “Contact Supplier” button.

This will open a new tab with a messaging interface. Here you can ask all sorts of questions.

This is easy enough. However, once you send out a whole lot of messages to suppliers, it could get a bit hectic.

Luckily, Alibaba is outfitted with some useful features that help you keep track of it all.

If you scroll over your account, you’ll see that you can access inquiries, contact requests, orders, and messages.

Here in the message center (pictured below), you can see that there is access to other segments that you’ll find helpful, especially as you move from questions and inquiries to samples and orders.

Sample Time

Quality is the big question.

One of the major reasons (maybe the only reason) that you’re sourcing products from China is that they’re cheap.

But cheapness often means that the products are low-quality.

Finding the perfect middle area between affordability and quality is most likely what you’re looking for.

It’s extremely difficult to determine the quality of a product without holding it in your hand. This is why samples are so important.

After finding several potential suppliers, it’s time to request samples.

There’s a filter to find suppliers that offer free samples, but I wouldn’t suggest relying on it.

A majority of suppliers will include a small fee for samples, so choose wisely.

Once you get the product in hand, then you’ll be able to decide if this is a company you want to go forward with.

Now you can jump back into the message center on Alibaba and start talking about terms.

Placing an Actual Order and Paying

Now it’s time to put your money on the line…in the safest way possible.

Before you actually make a payment, negotiate.

Talk out the terms of the deal and see if it’s possible to lower the cost of the order, or perhaps lower the MOQ if you don’t want to take on so much inventory.

When you do decide to go forward with a deal, there are a few ways you can place orders:

Trade Assurance:

This type of order ensures that you will be covered in the event of shipping or quality-related disputes with the supplier. Additional information, including payment types, are included below:

Secure Payment:

Similar to trade assurance, secure payment offers protection for buyers and sellers and actually holds fees until a transaction is successfully completed on both sides of a deal. It is used on Alibaba Wholesale.

Payment methods include Visa, MasterCard/Maestro, T/T (Bank Transfer), Western Union, QIWI, Web Money, Yandex, and TEF.

Secure Payments

Just to touch upon it quickly, there are actually 3 Alibaba platforms: Alibaba, AliExpress, and Alibaba Wholesale.

Basically, Alibaba is designed for the largest orders and therefore has the lowest prices, but high MOQ’s. AliExpress, in contrast, is designed for consumers and has the highest prices. It’s similar to a normal eCommerce experience. Alibaba Wholesale falls somewhere in the middle.

There is a great article by Shippo that describes their differences in detail and offers a product example to show off the range in pricing/MOQ among the platforms.

Start Selling!

At this point, hopefully you have a giant box of wooden iPhone cases on your doorstep.

Celebrate your very small success with a big cup of coffee, because the hard part has just begun.

Now it’s time to start building your brand and selling your wares.

Best of luck with your eCommerce efforts!

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Selling When You're A Reluctant Salesperson

Selling is my job. I’m very good at it and I really enjoy it.

But the idea of “selling” is uncomfortable and confronting to most people.

I remember being told that I was “a natural sales guy” in an annual review meeting. Sitting across from me was my manager. John was a capable, intelligent and sincere man with whom I enjoyed working.

When he delivered this feedback, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

A “sales guy?”

The annoying, used-car, snake-oil salesman, pushy stereotypes rushed into my mind.

I felt sick to my stomach, ashamed that somehow I had the potential to be a deceitful, all-hustle but no substance guy who could (and would) sell anything to anyone.

I have met men and women who fit this descriptive mold perfectly. They sell widgets with little concern for the relationship once the deal is done. Their primary incentive is financial and you can spot their insincerity a mile away.

What real sales should look like?

At the other end of the spectrum are people who are deeply invested in developing a business and making their customers more successful than ever.

They combine empathy, compassion and humor with data and logic to present compelling propositions. These people know that the energy required to close a deal is only half of what’s needed to make a partnership successful.

They are ready for the long haul and know that their strategic success is inextricably linked to that of their customers.

These people also appear resilient, determined and measured but just below the surface, like anyone who takes pride in their mission, they manage the burden of setbacks and fatigue through mentors and tactics that help them grow.

Their primary incentive is changing your world. And I was shown how good this can be by people at the top of their game at General Electric and Google and by entrepreneurs like Andrew Lowe, Jo Burston and Greg Nance.

This is how and what I think about selling.

Getting in the right headspace.

There are 12 truths to selling. They apply to consumer and business sales and are particularly relevant in complex selling (where two or more decision makers are involved) and where partnerships are the most efficient pathway to growth.

But above anything, these truths help people to get into and stay in the right headspace to enter the endurance sport that is selling.

It starts here.

Segmenting customers, crafting messages, pitching new business and placing ads on social media comes later.

The 12 Truths

1. Love what you sell. If you don’t, stop wasting your time (and that of the people to whom you’re selling).

It’s easy to tell when someone loves what they are trying to convince you to buy. They ooze authentic conviction because they know, through careful research, that their product or service will make a genuine and positive difference to the life of the buyer. This comes naturally to most founders.

But remember, if you don’t love what you sell, the buyer will see it from a mile away and there’s a good chance that your behaviors will reflect your incentive (no matter how well you try to hide it). If you’re in this boat and given the value of time, you need to ask yourself if it’s worthwhile.      

2. You either move people closer to happiness or away from fear.

These are the reasons people buy things. Your product or service has to do one of these two things really, really well. If it doesn’t for one person, then they’re not in your target market. If it doesn’t for a large group of people, you may not have a business. Don’t underestimate how binary or how true this rule is.

3. There’s always a run-rate business and a strategic business.

Selling a product or service repeatedly to individual customers is how most businesses get runs on the board and gain early traction. This momentum helps create opportunities to pursue larger distribution through strategic partners. With the right timing and luck, a virtuous cycle will be created where large partners drive higher sales to individual customers.

This never ever happens quickly and that’s why companies of all sizes need to operate a run-rate business (selling to individual customers) and a strategic business in parallel. This is a tricky juggling act but a necessary one in order to achieve scale.

4. Sales involve the whole team.

The buck might stop with one person for sales results but every single person in a company has a role to play in selling. This is as true for the CTO and engineers, who enable features that help to close deals, to those charged with customer service who shape and influence buyer’s perceptions at the front line.

Every team member should be able to answer ‘how do you support sales?’ in the same way each team member should know how they contribute to product development.

Every team member should feel a genuine sense of contribution when a deal closes. The absence of this is a lead indicator of a disconnected culture.

5. Successful selling is backed by three types of marketing messages.

This point isn’t about the mix of marketing channels you use to wrestle for a decision maker’s attention. It’s about how the messages you create co-exist and perform over time to reinforce your brand in the mind of the decision maker.  The first two types of marketing message are scalable, the last one is far from it but just as important.

The first type of message is subliminal and involves the subtle appearance of messages designed to draw curiosity. You might not receive a direct sale from them but they will reinforce your brand. Text ads on LinkedIn or branded weather reports on screens in elevators are good examples of subliminal messaging.

When you receive a direct marketing message, the second type, it comes to you through an environment that you’re very familiar with and it grabs your attention for at least three to five seconds. You find these messages in places like the television screens, in subways or in your Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn feed as sponsored content, to name a few. They’re not specific to you but for some reason, they are presented at the right time and make you stop and take notice.

Intimate marketing usually involves an event where the seller grants exclusive access to a product or the people behind the product. These high-touch, invitation-only occasions are reserved for a small group of decision-makers on the buy-side who want first-hand experience with key people who can discuss an issue they need solved or an opportunity they wish to pursue.

Intimate marketing can also involve repeatedly visiting and supporting prospective clients to demonstrate commitment and empathy. Never underestimate the value of a personal touch in a commercial relationship.

The combination of subliminal, direct and intimate marketing messages is potent.

6. 90 percent of deals are lost due to poor follow-up.

Anyone can send out an introductory email or make the first sales call. It takes discipline and a well thought-through sales process to stay focused, nurture prospective customers and close deals. Invest in technology that will keep you on track. I really like ProsperWorks for customer relationship management (particularly if you use Gmail for company email).

7. Promoters and detractors live at every level of your customers. Work with both.

This is a business to business (B2B) sales truth. As you forge new partnerships with large organizations it becomes clear that there are people who are willing to advocate on your behalf (i.e. promoters) and those who are active in creating roadblocks.

The best salespeople fight to establish the motives of all the actors in a customer’s organization who will influence their companies success. This is a continuous exercise is sensing and responding and it requires working and understanding the perspectives and incentives of promoters and detractors. And that’s why I look forward to one person in a prospective customer organization saying “No thanks!”

As I wrote in The Pyramids Aren’t As Tall As You Think, “no” only means no today and as far as I’m concerned — this is just the beginning of a strategic conversation.

8. Funnels, numbers and lead indicators are your lifeblood.

Revenue makes a lot of problems go away in business. And although sales results often speak for themselves, I’m always surprised at how many people talk about the steps that lead to a sale (their funnel) and the indicators they use to determine how sales efforts are trending. In most cases, they talk a good game but their funnel, sales numbers and indicators are all in their head or buried in their email.

That isn’t sales, that’s chaos.

Sales funnels are made up of the practical steps required to take someone from being unaware to being an advocate for your brand. And each of these steps is accompanied by a percentage likelihood that a deal will be done given the stage.

For example, the chance of a deal getting done when someone first expresses interest in your product might be 10%. They’ve still got a ways to go as they consider the pros and cons of doing business with you. By contrast, there might be an 80% chance of a deal being done when contracts are exchanged.

Take the expected first-year revenue of a customer and multiply it by the stage at which the customer is in the funnel and you’ll have the potential value that prospective customer will add to your business.

And there’s a sweet spot for how many steps there are in sales funnels. It varies by business. My general rule is that a practical funnel is a productive one.

When it comes to knowing my numbers, I focus on five measures as part of managing sales funnel health. 

These next five are for sales funnel help and health, then I’ll bring you back to the sales 12 sales truths. 

#1 – Amount of leads generated.

This is obvious. The real question connected to this measure is ‘where are your leads coming from?’

#2 – Quality of leads generated.

It’s always been about quality over quantity. I look at the overlap in characteristics between customers and those of prospective customers who are moving through the sales funnel quicker than other leads. The insights from this analysis usually result in a change to how we generate leads and how we nurture existing leads.

#3 – Leads to close ratio.

This ratio is telling you how many actual sales come from leads. Here’s the calculation: (Amount of Sales Leads over a certain period of time / Amount of Closed Sales over the same time) x 100.

#4 – Average sales cycle length.

This measure is telling you how long it’s taking to win new business. I’ve seen the largest improvements in sales come from examining and optimizing the factors that contribute to sales cycle length. Here’s the calculation: (Number of days from first contact + Customer conversion for all deals) / Number of deals.

#5 – Customer referral growth.

This is the number of referrals that come from existing customers. The first four measures focus on ‘getting customers’. This one is about ‘growing customers’. In particular, it’s about how you’re adding value once the deal is done and how that translates to word-of-mouth referrals. Think carefully about how you can incentivize  customers to do your bidding. Believe it or not, it begins with asking customers what it would take to earn their referral.

Although these metrics are important, I don’t consider them lead indicators.

The lead indicator I focus on are the ones that will give me the most insight into whether sales strategies are working, is the number (and outcomes) of sales calls, emails and meetings. You can learn a ton by focusing on this because not only does it give an indication of your organization’s sales momentum, it goes a long way to answering one important question; are people willing to buy what you’re selling.

9. Selling “vaporware” is OK (but be ready to get called out).

I’m a big believer in selling an idea with a prototype before committing to build out an entire product ecosystem. I’ve benefited from investing a small amount of time and money to find there isn’t a product/market fit. I’ve also had the “holy shit” moment when I’ve been called out by a prospective customer who wanted my yet-to-be-built product that day.

Any way you cut it, it’s better to sell first and build second. Saves time, money, and exhaustion.

10. Learn to like product development — selling is all about experimentation.

There is no “set it and forget it” when it comes to developing a product. It’s about countless experiments. The same is true for sales. The truth of the matter is that you start losing the moment you create a campaign and sit back and wait for results without quickly moving onto the next experiment.   

11. Relationships matter — but time matters more.

I have two cardinal rules when it comes to sales and business development:

1) Always arrive with value in hand and

2) Never waste a prospective or current customer’s time.

How many times have you rolled your eyes when you see a call coming through from a salesperson.

Take pride in not being that person.

As far as rule one is concerned, set up a quarterly event in your diary to reach out to them but make absolutely certain you have value to bring to these relationships.

And by the way, this doesn’t mean asking them for a coffee. It means adding real value, the type of value that makes their professional or personal life better. It can be as simple as reaching out to wish them Happy Birthday, to sharing a piece of important research that you know they will value to offering to make an introduction based on a conversation you’ve had.

Hopefully, the second rule is self-explanatory.

12. The buyers’ decision-making process matters 100X more than your sales process.

I’ve left the best to last. Do not be fooled into thinking that just because you control the speed and creative aspects of your companies sales and marketing that your job is done and it’s only a matter of time until the sales pour in.

That’s not how it works.

The more difficult (and largely uncontrollable) aspect of sales and business development is understanding the decision-making process of prospective customers.

If you wake up each day with a desire to find ways to map closer to their approaches to consideration and buying, you’re halfway there to being successful in sales.

Closing thought

Sales and business development is an endurance sport. It requires focus, resilience, integrity and a sense of humor. I have days when I shake my head at how difficult it feels to gain momentum with customers. The good news is that I’ve always found the answer in one of these 12 truths.

And like building a company as a founder, sales is a learning game. Using mentors and tools like this to help you evolve is essential.

If you learned something new, love to hear from you.

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Tips for Launching a Startup in a Non-Tech Industry

These days, startups are everywhere. Research from Challenger, Gray, and Christmas shows for the fourth quarter of 2016, the percentage of people starting their own businesses is the highest it’s been in four years.

7.4 percent of job seekers in the United States started their own businesses, up from 4.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015. For the full calendar year, 6.1% started their own businesses, the highest we’ve seen since 2009 when 8.6 percent were starting their own businesses.

The Common Thread

The common thread for most of them is their basis in technology. And while these startups are doing well, there’s something to be said for the ones quietly launching outside of the tech space.

In the United States alone, there are 28.8 million small businesses, as reported by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees, these account for 99.7 percent of all businesses in the America.

Business and Economic Growth

These businesses play a major role in economic growth, as data shows in the first three quarters of 2014, small businesses added 14 million new jobs to the economy — 39 percent of which came from very small businesses — those having fewer than 50 employees.

But, when you consider that roughly 2/3 of businesses survive two years, half will survive five years, and only 1/3 will hit the 10-year mark. The longer a company stays in business, the longer it is likely to remain in business. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the business survival rate across industries is pretty consistent.

How can you break past the tech barrier to launch a successful startup in another industry, setting yourself up to make it beyond that first couple of years? It all comes down to building traction.

Invest Your Time

Yes, it’s true you’ll need to invest money, but it’s more important in the beginning to invest your time – by doing things that don’t scale immediately. Make the time to network with others and market yourself before you market your product.

  • Reach out to people who are using competing products or services. Talking to them will help you learn more about their pain points and what they like about the competition, so you can learn about ways you can improve your own product or service.

  • Offer influencers in your niche free access to your product or service, if you believe they would promote it to their followers.

  • Reach out to blogs, newspapers, and other press outlets so you can inform their readers about yourself and your product.

Work on a Pre-Launch List

Build an email list of people you can connect with before you launch your product or service. Tell them about what you have to offer and how it can benefit them. Mention the features, of course, but focus more on the benefits of what those features offer.

Speak to their pain points, and show them, rather than tell them, when possible, how your product or service will make their lives better.

Use that prelaunch list to start pre-selling. Offer anyone who preorders a special deal – like a discount or a reward for referrals. You have an endless array of options to choose from.

Develop Partnerships

As part of your networking efforts, work to find other companies or d businesses that are willing to build integrations with your products. If you can’t find anyone to integrate with, consider finding businesses whose products or services complement yours.

For instance, if you create dog treats, you could talk with dog toy companies, pet stores, and even veterinary offices.

Andrew Brown, President of WP Diamonds, says: “Strategic partnerships are key to growing your business. Whether you decide to work with a digital marketing agency, an app developer or simply outsource your web development efforts, it is important to invest time in finding a partner that can add value to your company.”

Handle Your Funding/Cash Flow Issues

Funding is a major issue for many businesses – but particularly startups and small businesses. One study shows 82 percent of businesses do so because of cash flow issues. It’s not just the amount of money that comes into the business, but the timing that the money comes into the business, too.

If your invoices aren’t paid until after your loan payments are due, you’re going to run into issues. This is an even bigger issue for seasonal businesses that don’t have money coming in during their offseason. Make sure you’re on top of budgeting and analyzing your cash flow statements.

You can do this with online tools like Quickbooks, so you don’t have to spend a lot of money hiring a bookkeeper or an accountant until your business scales accordingly. Bootstrapping your business is possible, but can be stressful.

Planning Your Next Moves

Once you’ve developed the momentum with visibility among potential customers, work toward connecting with a technical partner to handle that side of your business.

You’ll need help with your website, creating a mobile app (if there’s a necessity for it in your niche) and possibly even making sure you’re hiring the right employees for your startup.

While many startups can handle being a one-man or woman show for quite some time during the momentum building phase, to scale your efforts accordingly, you’ll eventually need to bring more people onto the team.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

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Why Startups Should Join the Chinese Food Tech Revolution

Joseph Zhou of Bits x Bites, China’s only food tech startup accelerator and venture capital firm, is inspiring China’s entrepreneurial community to bring new ideas to solve global food safety and nutrition issues. China has the world’s largest population and the country is the world’s largest food producer.

With increased investments in startups enabling entrepreneurs to scale and grow their companies, there is a revolution underway in the food tech industry. “Technology is really the most powerful enabler that we can use to disrupt the traditional Chinese food industry.”

Joseph shared his insights with the Tel Aviv Startup Grind community on how global startups can make a meaningful impact.

1. Identify the challenge.

China just surpassed the US as the country with the highest obese population, with many children among the afflicted. The Chinese government understands the problem and is beginning to support food safety and nutrition. There is room for the private sector to do its part as well to give the 1.3 billion people access to safe food.

2. Concentrate on areas that are ripe for disruption.

Find the areas where technology is able to successfully solve problems. China is the world’s number one pesticide consumer and the Chinese government is now setting a cap for pesticides. In addition, the Chinese government is seeking to decrease animal consumption. These areas are ripe for disruption.

3. Provide an innovative solution — with a succinct pitch.

For potential investment in startups, VCs look at a company’s people, product and market. The more innovative the solution the better. Potential startups should create a succinct one sentence pitch that grabs investor’s attention.

4. Become part of a global community.

The Chinese market is vast, and it is beneficial to partner with global startups. Companies that are interested in working in the Chinese market can gain from joining the local community and utilizing a local startup’s knowledge of the market.

Personal missions can also help drive change and make an impact. Joseph joined the food tech sector to fight for the future of good food so that his young son grows up with plenty of safe and nutritious food options.

He believes it is possible to have business goals that include both profit and purpose. The investment horizon in food is longer than other tech sectors. To that end, the Bits x Bites team takes a strategic long-term investment approach to help companies realize their full potential.

To hear more about achieving startup success in China watch the Startup Grind full interview here. 

Written by: Dalia Landes  |  Photos by: Liat Mandel

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4 Ways to Use Customer Insights to Build Better Products

What drives innovation in your company? Is it market trends? Leaders and creatives? Or do your customers dictate what direction you take?

It’s true sometimes that customers really don’t know what they want. Self-styled innovators love bandying around a quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

But like all great pieces of wisdom, there’s the danger of over-applying it. Often, the best thing a business can do is go directly to consumers and ask what they want.

Build Up With Customer Insights

LEGO’s famous building blocks are so popular because they allow users to be creative. You can either follow the instructions in your set, or you can take those same pieces and create something completely different.

Instead of dictating what customers should do with their product, LEGO embraced that user creativity and started LEGO Ideas.

The LEGO Ideas builders submit design concepts, and other LEGO fans can vote on which designs are the best. From there, the most popular ideas go to market, and LEGO enthusiasts around the world can purchase them.

The original designer gets rewarded with a percentage of the sales and the thrill of seeing her idea enjoyed by others. It’s a perfect example of user connection.

While LEGO Ideas uses customer insights brilliantly, many companies lean too heavily on Ford’s alleged edict — a CB Insights survey of 101 failed startups revealed that 42 percent faltered because they didn’t properly satisfy a market need.

Taking a more customer-centric approach to product development might have given some of those unsuccessful ideas a longer shelf life.

Slip Into Customers’ Shoes

Gathering and utilizing customer insights is critical for every business — even those that believe they have the next Model T. Here are four steps to follow:

1. Go to the source. 

Airbnb’s early days were fast and furiously successful. The co-founders rented out air mattresses in their San Francisco apartment and attracted tons of interest, which both surprised them and filled them with a great deal of confidence.

But it was a trip to Y Combinator — something Airbnb leadership initially balked at — that helped take them to the next level.

It was there that Y Combinator founder Paul Graham suggested that Airbnb’s co-founders go to New York and speak with their users. The impromptu focus group allowed the executives to help their New York customers write better descriptions, take better photos of their properties, and generally jazz up their listings. From there, the numbers took off.

Connecting with customers on any level is a direct path to more insightful product development, but clients can be helpful, too. For instance, as part of Yeti’s product design process, the company and its clients create an empathy map together. Working on the map together exposes the company to new ideas from the client’s side.

2. Start conversations early. 

There’s no bigger waste of time and money than developing something customers will hate. The best way to dodge that pothole is to ask customers what they want before you start building anything.

For example, look at the D.C. United soccer club. Sports fans are sensitive, especially to a sudden team rebrand that seems more corporate-driven than grassroots-based. So prior to its rebrand, D.C. United collected fan insights.

The organization started with online focus groups, which helped it identify fans’ concerns. From there, the front office conducted a survey that included the most important items pertaining to the rebrand. Then using that data to inform the changes being made to team merchandise and marketing. In the end, the new initiative kept old fans and attracted new ones to the team.

3. Listen actively. 

D.C. United’s successful rebrand is partially due to gathering early fan feedback. Because the feedback informed every subsequent step of the process, the focus groups were especially critical. 

Successful focus groups usually feature skilled moderators that ask good questions, react appropriately, and listen attentively and sincerely. During a focus group for a chocolate maker, the moderator listened and allowed the women in the group to express how they really felt about chocolate.

Attendees didn’t complain about price, packaging, or taste; they discussed how the guilt they felt about buying chocolate kept them from purchasing more. That’s an insight that only a tactful, skilled moderator could pull out. When it’s time for your company to organize a focus group, find someone to lead it that can inspire honest, constructive feedback from customers.

4. Apply and adapt. 

There’s no sense in sticking with something no one wants. If your customer insights are telling a different story than you tell yourself, it’s time to be humble and pivot.

When he started Avon, founder David McConnell wasn’t having much luck selling books door to door. However, his female customers seemed more interested in the complimentary perfume samples than the books themselves, so he pivoted and made his own perfume product and recruited women to sell them door to door instead of him.

Maybe McConnell would have been a bookseller instead, but the market doesn’t always align with our perceptions of it. People like browsing bookstores and taking their time before purchasing something. With perfume, the impression is immediate: Either you like the scent or you don’t. The latter is obviously much more conducive to traveling sales.

No matter what business you’re in, the customers always come first. There’s no point in developing an idea or product without a connection to the audience it serves. Keep your eyes and ears open to the people who matter most: your buyers.

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