Building a Minimum Viable Laptop Sticker Business

by @edent | # # | 2 comments | Read ~226 times.

I made a laptop sticker. Enough people told me how much they liked it, that I decided to sell them. Here’s the story of how I (didn’t) become a millionaire.

Prototype

Normally, I’d upload a design to something like RedBubble, and sell the stickers that way. But I couldn’t find any sticker companies which sold lenticulars. So, I had to do the ordering, processing, and posting myself. Lots of admin. Joy.

I asked a company to make me a one-off, non-sticker prototype, to see if the concept worked. It did, but exposed a few problems.

  • Finding a UK local company was hard. Most of the lenticular printers were in China. The ones in the UK would only take orders for hundreds or thousands of pieces. That was too much of a risk for me.
  • The initial design was good, but led to a lot of bleeding through of the black. This would be exacerbated by having a sticker backing rather than card. So I redesigned it to be green on black.

The bulk price came to £500 + £10 postage for 200 stickers. That’s a chunk of change to invest in a product which people might not want to buy. So, before placing the order, I validated the idea.

Viral Marketing

It all starts with a Tweet.

I thought it would pick up traction. I’d previously spoken privately to several people and they loved the idea of lenticular laptop stickers. But people will say any old nonsense on the Internet.

So I Tweeted it out and deliberately didn’t include a link to buy them. I didn’t want people to think it was an advert. I also didn’t have any infrastructure to take orders!

I waited for people to say “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY” – then I messaged them and offered to take their money.

Turns out, that’s a pretty good strategy!

Bulk Pricing

How do you price something like this? Most people get laptop stickers for free as conference schwag. Regular colour stickers cost less than a quid each. These were costing me £2.50 each. Posting them in the UK would cost 76p per order.

I wanted to ensure that I covered my costs – and I didn’t want to take dozens of orders for a single sticker each. If this were a real business, I’d also need to think about tax, handling returns, etc. I already had a bunch of envelopes and 30 first-class stamps, so I pretended they didn’t cost me any money. I also valued my time and my wife’s time at £0.

I settled on a classic, and lazy, early-bird pricing structure which included UK postage and gave increasing discounts at bulk.

  • Buy 1 for £5
  • Buy 5 for £22
  • Buy 10 for £40
  • Buy 20 for £60

Take Pre-orders

Again, this is an MVP, so I didn’t bother with setting up a webshop or CRM. I used Google sheets. Name, Address, Number of Stickers, Have They Paid, Notes.

Nothing fancy, no new tools to learn, zero cost, and easy enough to do by hand.

Over the course of a few days, I took:

  • 11 orders for 1
  • 5 orders for 2
  • 10 orders for 5
  • 6 orders for 10
  • 1 order for 20

If I were into clickbait, I’d have titled this post “How my SaaS company attracted its first 33 paying customers.”

Hmmm… Stickers as a Service…!

Money is hard!

How do you take money? In the UK, most banks let you send instant payments for free. It’s like BitCoin, but it works.

Not everyone is in the UK, and not everyone uses online banking, so I also offered PayPal.

This was the cause of two mistakes. Firstly, I had to manually reconcile two different apps to see who had paid. Time consuming and annoying for me – but as people had asked for both PayPal and BACS, it was necessary.

The second mistake was epic. In my spreadsheet I also added a message saying “Please send £X to Sort Code 12-34-56 Account Number 12345678”

I dragged that cell down and, in the process, Google Sheets “helpfully” changed the account number to “12345679”, “12345680”, “12345681” ARGH!

Thankfully, the banking system is pretty robust and didn’t let people send money to an invalid account. So a few grovelling messages to my customers and all was well.

In total, I took about £650 in pre-orders. That included a couple of quid extra for postage to the USA and the Netherlands.

I waited until I’d actually received £500 before placing the bulk order.

Postage and Packaging

I used send.RoyalMail.com to buy postage for international shipping. It’s an amazing service, enter the address, pay with PayPal, and you get a printable label. It also handled the customs forms. There is an API for shipping, but it’s only suitable for businesses sending over 100 items per day.

For the rest, I couldn’t be bothered writing 30 address labels, I bought 200 labels for a fiver. They had a template. I couldn’t be bothered learning how to do a mail-merge, so I just copy and pasted them.

Then Liz and I spent an evening putting stickers in envelopes, sticking stamps, sticking labels, and cross-checking against the spreadsheet. Fun.

Running the numbers

I paid £510 for the stickers. £2.50 each, plus a tenner for postage.

I took £650 in pre-orders. That covered the sticker price, plus postage.

Costs

  • £510 stickers
  • £__5 labels
  • £_40 postage
  • £__5 prototype

Total: £560

So, assuming a value our time at zero, a rough profit of £90. Not exactly making bank, but not bad for a silly idea quickly executed.

Selling Out

I put the remaining ~50 stickers for sale on Twitter at a higher price.

Within about half-an-hour they sold out. Getting me about £180 before postage. If I fudge the numbers just right, I made a profit of £256. Nice!

If I had an MBA I’d say something profound about dynamic market pricing and demand moderation. But I don’t. Perhaps I should have sunk a grand into the idea and tried to shift 400? Maybe if the original idea had thousands of retweets I’d have made more. Or, more likely, someone faster would have ripped it off.

Frankly, I’d rather leave people wanting more, than have acres of unsold stock stuck in my shed.

Mistake we knew we were making

If I were to do this again, I’d probably set up something like a Google Form to gather addresses and quantities. Perhaps there is a small shopping platform I could have used?

I didn’t gather email addresses or phone numbers – just Twitter details. Perhaps a low-volume mailing list?

Lots of people asked for a <marquee> sticker! It looks like lenticulars can support up to 12 frames of animation. I wanted to validate the blink idea before I started on others. Again, I would probably need at least 100 stickers to be pre-ordered before I commit to bulk buying them.

The video from the original Tweet quickly found its way to Reddit and other online communities. I should have put a watermark on it so people could find their way back to me.

Finally, I didn’t approach this as a Silicon-Valley-Crush-It operation. I wanted to make something silly for myself and share it with my friends. Even if I could have sold thousands of these, I’m not sure I would have wanted to give up every night of my week.

I’ve proved that there is some demand for this sort of product. But, in my heart, I know that I’m not going to quit my job to sell stickers full time.


Coda – Out in the wild

I’ve worked on national and international product launches. But there’s no experience like seeing something you’ve personally designed making its way out into the world.

2 thoughts on “Building a Minimum Viable Laptop Sticker Business

  1. My name is Geoff SoftBank and I would like to offer you $10bn as long as we call the company WeStick


  2. Nate Silva says:

    It’s like BitCoin, but it works.

    😂

    Thanks for the writeup! It’s too rare that we see someone take a good small product idea and make it real. Not everything needs to be a Kickstarter or “scalable”.

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