This week, I’m going to step away from talking furniture and talk a little bit about my first month of running a business. One of the things I set out to do when I started Messen was to build an organization where I can espouse my values, creativity and ideas as freely as I please. In particular, it’s been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of writing for its own sake, and authoring the blogs for Messen involves a unique intersection of literature, business, research, creativity and self-expression, the combination of which creates a domain to write in that I thoroughly enjoy.
A tough start.
As I wrote about in Messen’s inaugural blog post, I’ve always looked up to entrepreneurs, and endeavoring to be one over the course of the last month has only deepened that respect. February was a challenging month here at Messen. I spent nearly two years and much of my free time conceptualizing and learning how to bring to life what I perceived – and continue perceive – to be a novel approach to furniture manufacturing and design, one that I believe is worth sharing with the world. Despite my best efforts, however, I failed to meet Messen’s goals for this month.
There were lots of things, notwithstanding, that went well. This blog has been read more often than I expected, and I am grateful for every reader. Moreover, I’ve learned an incredible amount about business, about furniture, about overcoming adversity and most importantly about grit. Maybe more than anything else, a month of working every day on Messen all the while failing to achieve what I thought were reasonable goals has given me an incredible opportunity for self-reflection. These are my three takeaways:
- One multiplied by zero is still 0, so when it comes to growth and trying to figure out how hard it’s going to be to get from 0 to 1, you shouldn’t make your estimations in the dark. Before starting Messen, I never asked a single entrepreneur how long it took them to sell their first product on a ‘hard’ launch. I should have, and I probably would have learned just how far the bridge from 0 to 1 is. An inspiring example I look to is how, despite already being a successful entrepreneur, Walt Disney faced significant difficulty in bringing his vision for Disneyland to life – the concept was overlooked many times before it became the incredible success that families around the world enjoy today. One month of challenges is hardly a blink of the eye in the timelines of many great businesses and entrepreneurs.
- It’s incredibly difficult to take the ideas in your head and clearly communicate them to the rest of the world such that they are interpreted in the way you meant them to be. This month I learned that I need to spend a lot more time learning to be a better communicator.
- I’ve known it about myself before, but now more than ever I need to become better at switching from one task to another quickly. I’ve always prided myself on having many interests, but I’ve never realized how many hats one wears when running a business. When you’re learning for yourself, you generally have the luxury of taking your time. At Messen, however, I’ve found you don’t have this luxury and often as soon as you’ve learned one thing it’s time to quickly move on to another. That transition time is something I’ve struggled with, and switching from being highly focused at one task to being highly focused at another completely different task is something I’m hoping to work on this month.
The original concept for Disneyland was not initially well received. Image credit.
With the modern online business comes a plethora of data. Such a vast amount, in fact, that it’s overwhelming, and trying to make changes on the basis of this data is challenging. The data can also be deceiving – even large samples can be misleading if you aren’t carefully combing over every piece of information to make sure that you’ve isolated for the right variables at the right point in time. Despite this, I’ve tried to make changes on the basis of the information that I could discern.
The first change I made was that last week I decided to remove taxes from being included in prices. As a consumer, I’ve always been incredibly annoyed by the fact that taxes are not included in the price of goods because this tactic exploits our bounded rationality – humans really aren’t that great with numbers. More than once I’ve gone to buy something only to feel a sense of buyer’s remorse when I learned what the total was with tax. The few times I’ve had the pleasure of paying for items without having to use arithmetic to estimate the final price, such as in much of Europe, I’ve always enjoyed it and have wanted to include it in the pricing model for Messen. Notwithstanding, multiple people close to me who tested my website never realized that I was including taxes in my pricing. If my prospective customers are mistaken about the pricing of my products, then it is my fault for misleading them. As I get better and learn to communicate information to my prospective customers more effectively, I hope to revert this policy. But for now, tax is no longer included in the price of Messen’s furniture. Local shipping, however, is still included.
The second difficult change I made was to reduce Messen’s prices. When making this choice, I was evaluating a couple different perspectives. On the one hand, I had multiple people tell me that Messen offered compelling price-points that were arguably even too low – that it would be better to raise them or risk coming across as too “cheap”. On the other hand, however, many of my peers (particularly the ones closer to my age) feel that Messen furniture is expensive, or out of their price range. This is not surprising, given that most of them are just graduating from school or university and have barely begun their careers. When deciding which of these two perspectives to adopt, I resorted to what my vision for Messen was from the outset, which was to provide reasonably priced furniture that is highly customizable and which supports local economies because it’s made from locally sourced high quality materials and manufacturing.
Thus, I cut Messen’s prices by about 35%. In doing this, I believe I’ve come significantly closer to the price-point that I would like Messen to be at. Although there is still a way to go in terms of long-term vision for the company and the prices I would like to offer Messen furniture at, these can only become realized with economies of scale. I am proud to offer incredible value to my customers, and I hope to grow Messen and share this value with others. In particular, I’m also excited to introduce three new solid colors sometime this week or next that are made of the same high-quality Canadian materials, but which are more cost-effective, allowing customers to get Messen style and customizability at an even lower price.
The last change is yet to be implemented, but I look forward to adopting it in the coming months, and that is to build Messen’s social proof. Although 3D renderings and advanced design processes can go a long way to providing customers with a close-to-lifelike experience before buying their furniture, this can only go so far. Moving forward, my goal is to put Messen furniture into the hands of as many people as possible so I can learn more about what they like, what they don’t like, and what they think of Messen furniture. This information will be invaluable moving forward – more valuable than simply driving more visitors to messenfurniture.com. Hopefully, too, I will be able to gather real experiences and images of Messen furniture in real homes to share with more people.
The Good Stuff
There were a lot of challenges with launching. But there were also some great things that came about during February. The most important one was that Messen fulfilled its first order, currently on route to London, Ontario. This order was kindly place in December by a generous family member, long before Messen was really ready to launch, and I am thankful for that because it helped me sort out a lot of issues so that I can make sure ‘real’ customers get their product without hassle. Fortunately, the customer isn’t too upset by the significant lead time – one which we guarantee won’t happen to our new customers.
Most importantly, I was impressed by the quality, beauty and strength of the piece. It was a Falcon Table, which in an inherently difficult design to create and one that required some creativity to provide sufficient strength. The end result far exceeded my expectations, and I’m incredibly happy with the result, an experience that further validated something I always knew: I would be proud to put a piece of Messen furniture in anyone’s home.
The Falcon Table is every bit as beautiful in person as it is in this photo.
The other great part of the first month of Messen was the incredible amount I’ve learned, and the amount of support of received on the way. My friends, family, colleagues, professors, and members of the business community in Kelowna have been nothing but supportive of me and my endeavors, and I’ve learned many things that I never thought I would need to before starting a business: how to market and advertise, how to create digital media, how to code a website and more. None of these are skills I thought I would get to develop, and while they are far from where I would like them to be, I’m excited to have a base which I hope will serve me long into the future.
Failure to meet your expectations is not necessarily a failure whole-cloth. I believe in Messen’s mission, and I’m looking forward to what March has to bring for Messen’s prospects!