Books I’m planning to read over summer

In the last few months I haven’t had much time to read however now that it’s the end of the year, I’ll have some time to catch up on some books I’ve had on my Kindle, Nexus and iPad.

A few  books from some of my favourite authors (Gladwell, Lewis, Fried) have been published recently so I plan to try and get through as many of them as possible over the holiday break. Here’s what’s waiting to be read on my Kindle app:

What books are on your reading list?

Learning the difference between graphite and steel

Having started two businesses in the last 6 years, I’ve noticed a pattern that has taken place in the formative year or two of both companies. In both cases the businesses I went into were in industries relatively foreign to me. My first company, Lind Golf, was a golf equipment manufacturing business while my second company, ShopReply, is an eCommerce platform targeted at media and retail.

When I started Lind Golf I had never played golf before (I still don’t play golf). I found replica putters on Alibaba which cost $250 in store and bought 50 of them for $11 each then listed them on eBay. I saw a gap in the market and went for it. I bought rolls of cardboard from a packaging company, cornered off a section of my parents garage, and started listing the putters for sale on eBay. I ended up selling 50 putters in two weeks, reinvested the profits and ordered 100 more shortly after. That is how I got going. For two years I repeated this process. Every night I’d stay up until midnight packaging clubs and the next day I’d deliver them to the post office in my car. My father would help package clubs at night and would eventually  become our club builder until the business could afford to employ someone full time.

The putters were selling well so I decided to expand our range as I figured golfers need more than just a putter to get around the course. I liked the idea of selling drivers – the large 460cc clubs that made that ‘ping’ sound when hit in the sweet spot, so I ordered some titanium drivers from China and put them onto eBay and they started to move. Soon enough it was time to expand the range again. The next logical step was to order Iron sets. I only began to sell iron sets about 8 months into the business as putters and drivers were doing well. I requested pricing from my agent in Taiwan and she emailed me some images and costs. There were two options:

  1. Iron sets with graphite shafts
  2. Irons sets with steel shafts

The sets in graphite were 2-3x more expensive than the iron sets in steel. Since I was not a golfer, my immediate reaction was that since graphite sets are more expensive than steel, they must perform better. Furthemore everyone uses graphite shafts in their woods these days, so I immediately thought graphite was better than steel. Makes sense right? So I ordered 50 sets and put them online… and then I waited… and waited. Two months later we still had 41 graphite iron sets in stock so I thought something was not right. I decided to go to a golf store and look around. For every set of graphite clubs there were about 30 sets of iron clubs on display. I asked the shop attendant why there were so few sets fitted with graphite shafts available and he responded by advising me that the only golfers who use graphite shafts in their irons are ladies and senior golfers!

I took this advice on board and ordered 50 sets of irons in steel. I put them up online and ended up selling 20 sets in the first week. In start-up lingo this is called ‘product-market fit’ however in plain english it means learning what your customers want and giving it to them so they give you money in return.

When I started ShopReply I knew I was entering an industry I did not know that much about – media. Media is a compliated beast. It looks simple enough when you watch TV or read the paper however behind the scenes there are layers of decisions makers, egos, relationships and processes to understand and contend with. When I started I thought it was simple enough to partner with a TV network and they would broadcast something on TV. I thought that the outdoor media companies that sold ad space, had relationships with brands who bought their space. It turns out I had a lot to learn, like the difference between graphite and steel, media is not that simple. There are brands, marketing agencies, media planners, media buyers, TV producers, executive producers, editorial teams, advertising teams, production companies, digital strategists, eCommerce directors, social media managers, stylists and many more roles and responsibilities that come together make up the media landscape that we sell our product into.

It helps to have the right advisors around you who can try to teach you these differences and nuances however the reality is that for the first year (or more) it can be a painful and unproductive process as you begin the journey of understanding what your value proposition is, who your customer is and how to position your products so that customers pay for your product or services. What I’ve come to realise is that this learning curve is part of the process and part of the fun of starting companies. It’s often the naivety of not knowing all this which causes you to take the leap in the first place!