Working from home has created a unique opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs. Suddenly you’re getting more time back in your day by skipping a commute, and lack of office distractions can lead to higher productivity and less working hours.
With this new found time, you can launch the business you have always dreamt about.
Launching a software business is straight forward enough. You can code your product on your computer, or outsource it to remote developers. But what if you want to launch a physical product? How can you do that from the confines of your home?
Look no further than newly launched Oklahoma Smokes, which was conceived, planned, and launched while both founders stayed at home. Here are their lessons you can apply to your next business idea.
1. Ideate by studying the market and customer reviews
With any idea, you have to understand where there might be a gap in the market which you can capitalize on. Perhaps consumer needs are changing, or a new legislation creates brand new opportunities.
For Ashwinn Krishnaswamy and his longtime friend, they realized that the legalization of hemp and CBD represented new opportunities. The space though, within a couple years, had become crowded with many players pushing a variety of CBD products.
As they studied CBD and hemp products on the market, they noticed most associated themselves with THC and Cannabis. Additionally, on the reviews for hemp based cigarettes, they noticed while people would comment on the therapeutic aspects of the product, many would talk about how it was a great alternative to cigarettes.
That’s when the lightbulb went off.. What if they repurposed hemp based cigarettes to a different demographic looking to quit smoking? By disassociating the product from marijuana, it could have a broader reach.
2. Find a co-founder who you can work effectively with you remotely
The two of them evaluated if they had complementary skill sets to launch a direct to consumer alternative cigarette brand.
Ashwinn, who was a partner at Forge, a popular NYC-based development shop that had helped numerous consumer brands, had extensive knowledge on how to launch direct to consumer brands. His partner happened to have investment experience in the cannabis space, and was well networked to help find suppliers and packagers.
They had complementary skill sets to successfully launch a brand in the space, a history of trust and friendship, and they identified the opportunity by working together online. The pair decided to sink their teeth in further.
3. Conduct customer development through online forums
To get further insight, the duo looked toward online forums. They set up posts on Craigslist for free packs of nicotine and tobacco free cigarettes in exchange for taking a survey. Overnight they received 150 responses.
They went to Reddit quit smoking threads to understand why it’s difficult to quit smoking. They learned more about their customers, asked questions to understand their core desires and needs.
On Instagram they followed hashtags like “nicotine free,” “tobacco free,” and “quit smoking,” and direct messaged individuals asking about interest in hemp based cigarettes. They also reached out to people who commented on tobacco alternative brands on Instagram.
Through their research, they saw a sweet spot to launch Oklahoma Smokes, a tobacco and nicotine free cigarette alternative that’s made of all natural hemp without additives or chemicals. They could provide a healthier alternative to smokers who have wanted to quit, but still needed to satisfy their oral fixation. .
4. Lean test your product idea with Facebook and landing pages
With their brand in place, they launched Facebook ads promoting their concept. They used Facebook’s ad library, which allows you to see how other companies advertise on Facebook, to study how other successful direct to consumer products positioned themselves.
While they didn’t have a product, they drove prospective customers to a landing page where they could get an alert when the product was launched.
Not only did this give them real data on what it might cost to acquire customers, it validated their product and product positioning.
5. Make lemonade out of lemons with logistics
With regular FaceTime meetings, and by using Slack and Trello, the team was able to stay organized. But how do you create a physical product without meeting your supplier?
They reached out to their network to find and interview vendors. They keyed on ones who would allow them to create a small batch of product, so they manage their expenses as they prove out their concept.
Because they couldn’t visit factories, they had samples and packaging designs sent to them. They sampled and sampled, all from their homes, until they found what matched their vision for a high quality product.
6. Build relationships and launch
Through their customer development on Craigslist, Instagram, and Reddit, the team had also created a list of customers who would buy their product. These individuals both expressed interest and participated in the development of Oklahoma Smokes.
At launch, they had over 300 prospective customers to market and make special offers to. They found that the many people who they connected with over Instagram converted into paying customers. The direct messaging with them was conversational, like texting friends, which built stronger relationships, and allowed them to develop a stronger connection over time. .
On the other hand, prospects from Craigslist didn’t convert as strongly. The team attributes this to email based communication being more transactional, and because they couldn’t make a connection to their brand journey like Instagram users could.
For every customer, they wrote handwritten notes and sent matches. They’ve seen their customers post pictures of this to Instagram, driving up the follower count and leading to more sales.
If there is a will, there is a way
The team at Oklahoma Smokes was able to successfully launch and sell a product during a pandemic, confined to their home, while also maintaining their day jobs. If you set your mind to it, you can do it too.