After picking my 8 year old up from school today I noticed he hadn’t eaten his lunch and on asking why, he said to me – “Harry* and I were too busy selling tattoos”. After my initial panic that he may have in fact been instilling lifelong ink markings into his school mates, he went on to explain that he and Harry had been drawing “tattoos” on paper and then had special glue to attach them to their customers.
What he went on to share blew my mind, because in their very simple way – he had gone through so many startup lessons that I am pretty sure he now knows more about starting a business than many entrepreneurs learn in their business lifetime.
I’ll share those lessons as he shared his story with me now in a brief summary of the discussion we had in the car on the way home.
Product Market Fit:
Me: What made you think to create tattoos and sell them at lunch?
Mr8: Well we made some of our own in craft time and a few other kids liked the look of them and asked for some so we made a few more and decided to sell them.
Me: How did you decide what to draw on the tattoos?
Mr8: Well we did some we liked, then we showed a few people and they asked for some designs and we did the easy ones.
Not only did they base the business on creating something they enjoyed doing themselves, but they had a proof of concept and “customers” who were interested (and willing to buy) before they went to the effort of creating all their “stock”. They also took it a step further and market researched what to make the designs of, and decided only to do the easy ones first (MVP).
Mr8: I asked one of the teachers what she wanted and she asked for a flower – but we already had one of those.
Me: Why did you ask the teacher?
Mr8: Because we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t get into trouble.
Strategic relationships are not always about selling your product. Sometimes the best relationship can be for legal, compliance or juridical purposes to ensure you are not doing anything that may “get you into trouble” or even just simply covering your butt!
Me: How much did you sell them for?
Mr8: We started with them at $2 but realised no one had that much money on them. We asked a few how much they had and then we decided to make them 5 cents each.
This one is an important lesson for most startups who are guessing their starting price point.
Measure your success, and then adapt quickly to your customers response.
Market research is very important at this point.
Me: How many did you sell?
Mr8: Well, we gave our first one away free…
Me: Who did you give it to for free?
Mr8: One of the older kids.
Me: Why did you give it to him for free?
Mr8: So he could tell the older kids in the other playground about it.
This one impressed me the most. The boys realised that they couldn’t sell to the other playground where the years 3-6 kids hung out as they are only in year 2 and couldn’t get into that area. So to solve this issue they decided to give away their product for free to one of the older kids to get access to this market. Brilliant!
Sometimes physical and regulatory barriers make selling into potential markets a challenge, this is a really simple example of how you can bridge some of these barriers easily and at a very small cost.
Me: Ok, so how many did you sell in the end?
Mr8: Only 4
Me: Oh that’s disappointing! Why so few?
Mr8: Well, we gave the first one away free, sold four and then it rained – and the rain ruined our drawings.
Me: Oh no!! What a shame!
Mr8: Yeah we got fired from our jobs of selling tattoos and we don’t even have a boss!
Me: Are you going to try again tomorrow?
Mr8: Nope. We’ll do something else… I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?
Not to be deterred by nature literally raining on his parade, Mr8 has shelved the tattoo business for today, and I think learned some invaluable lessons as a result of the whole thing. It failed today and he and his partner realised it just wasn’t the right time for this idea so they quickly shut it down and moved on. Personally, I had hoped he would share some new revolutionary way to water proof the paper and return to business tomorrow, but maybe that’s something he will come up with another day 🙂
*not his real name
This blog post was first published on Project Tripod in 2014.