Email Marketing

How We Used Email Marketing to Crowdfund Our Next Product

Over the last two weeks, we used a pre-sale and strategic discounts to “crowdfund” Tortuga Backpacks’ latest product: a packable daypack.

We chose to run a pre-sale, rather than do a Kickstarter, because

  1. Our email list is large enough (low 5-figures) to fund a minimum order with our supplier.
  2. We can shorten the process from one month (typical Kickstarter length) to less than two weeks.
  3. Running the pre-sale through our store means more of the money goes toward inventory, not fees. We also have all of the buyers’ information, including their email addresses, stored in Shopify.

Since we don’t do many sales, we only offered a pre-order discount code to past customers, email subscribers, and social media followers. No sale price was shown on our site. Our audience got a nice perk ($15 discount) for ordering during the pre-sale, and we still kept our brand image and pricing consistent for random site visitors. The discount was key to driving pre-sales during this period as you will see in the data.

Using Email to Drive Pre-Sales

Daypack pre-sales by day

Daypack Pre-Sales by Day

Much like with Kickstarter, our sales were concentrated at the beginning and the end of the campaign. The discount codes were only valid from March 2-13.

Seventy-six percent of sales were on the launch day, the next to last day, or the last day of the campaign. We sent emails on two of those three days.

Sales on the day of the reminder email were 89% as high as on the launch day.

Emails = sales.

Sources of Pre-Sales

We used unique discount codes for newsletter subscribers, daypack wait list subscribers, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our podcast.

Seventy-five percent of orders used a discount code sent by email to newsletter or wait list subscribers.

Facebook (4% of orders) and the podcast (2% of orders) were the next most popular sources.

Email also accounted for 81% of total sales by dollar amount.

What Didn’t Work

To help generate interest in the pre-sale, our supplier made a sample order of twenty daypacks to send out to evangelists, partners, and friends as a “beta test.”

People loved the bags, wrote postitive reviews, and were generous in helping to promote the pre-sale. However, the beta test was not necessary to the success of the pre-sale. Sales generated internally, via our email list, would have easily covered the minimum order quantity (MOQ). Plus, without the sample order, we could have started the pre-sale sooner and, consequently, had the daypacks in stock sooner.

The beta test was useful for strengthening relationships with our partners, introducing people to the daypack earlier, and for having reviews live when the pre-sale launched. The social proof offered by the latter was important to converting as many people as possible.

TL;DR Lessons for Next Time

  • Get early samples into the hands of beta testers, don’t wait for a sample order
  • Seed real, honest reviews before the pre-sale
  • Tease the benefits of being on the email list (discounts) and push for more subscribers before the pre-sale
  • Limit pre-sale discounts to customers, subscribers, and followers
  • Keep the pre-sale period short to maintain exclusivity
Customer Service

Watch Your (Customer Service) Tone

Yesterday, I came across a list of 17 Cities to Live Cheaply. The list was published by Flightfox, a site that connects travelers with flight hackers for booking complicated itineraries and for using points to book flights. I’m a fan and customer of Flightfox.

Flightfox’s list looked suspiciously similar to NomadList. I pointed this out to NomadList’s creator on Twitter.

Levels found it “flattering” and “motivating.” He considered it market validation. Our Twitter exchange is here. That should have been the end of the exchange.

Then, Things Got Interesting

Flightfox then chimed in, even though they weren’t @mentioned in the conversation. The now-deleted tweet:

@levelsio @FredPerrotta thanks for inventing remote working for us all 😉 We’d be so lost without you both.

— Flightfox (@flightfox) October 14, 2014

Saracastic and unnecessary. I replied with my thoughts.

After the tweet exchange and Levels’ blog post, others chimed in bashing Flightfox. I didn’t intend for that to happen, but Twitter mobs form easily.

To Flightfox’s credit, they later apologized.

How to Do Customer Service

The point of writing this post is to highlight the customer service lesson that Flightfox unwittingly taught us.

Sarcasm does not work online. Maybe with your friends. Definitely not with strangers or your customers.

My tweets to levelsio was sarcastic but was a joke between two friends, sent from my personal account, and didn’t include the party in question (Flightfox).

Sarcasm reads as pathetic and petty online. Neither are adjectives you want associated with your brand.

The correct tone to take is one of humility or contrition, even when you know that you’re right. Let the customer win.

Concede the battle to win the war.

Have a sense of humor. Laugh at yourself. The internet is much more fun that way.

The apology was nice but didn’t undo the original comment. The best apology is the one that you didn’t give because you didn’t screw up in the first place.

Digital Nomads

Selling Shovels to Digital Nomads

During a gold rush, you’re better off selling shovels than panning for gold. Finding gold is lucrative but unlikely.

Selling to a steady stream of customers is where the money is.

Every miner is looking for the jackpot. He’s going to be rich… once he has the right pickaxe and the right jeans.

This story played out during the gold rush. It’s happening now in Silicon Valley.

Most entrepreneurs angling to build the next Facebook or Twitter fail. Meanwhile, successful businesses are being built by catering to the growing number of startups, programmers, and entrepreneurs who are eager to spend their VC money on tools and software to (hopefully) strike gold.

Heroku and GitHub come to mind. YC startups are often each others’ first customers.

The Next Gold Rush

The location-independent, digital nomad movement is getting more momentum and press. As a result, more products are being built for this audience.

Many of the people going nomadic are entrepreneurs and programmers themselves. They’re building the tools they need then selling them to their friends.

The first wave of community-specific tools are all about finding places and people. NomadList and Teleport will help you find the best cities in which to live and work. The Nomad Project and the Dynamite Circle will help you connect with other digital nomads online or in person.

Informally, I was recently invited to two different working retreats with other entrepreneurs. Without traditional offices, these ad hoc coworking arrangements will become more common. Jeremy and I did something similar in Mexico. This is another opportunity begging for a tool to organize the events.

As more people become entrepreneurs and digital nomads, we’ll see increasingly sophisticated location independent businesses. Distributed companies like Buffer are already accomplishing a version of this.

We’ll soon see nomads moving from dropshipping and online marketing to building more physical product companies (like Tortuga) and more tech companies.

Nomads are already building plugins and web apps. Other companies have built teams in Southeast Asia. As these trends come together, we’ll see larger-scale businesses with more complex products. Jon Myers’ Legion promises to be a “traditional” tech startup built entirely in Vietnam.

The future is bright. Let’s build it.

If you’re building something for digital nomads, Tweet at me. I’ll make a list so that we can support each other’s companies.