2014/03/24 by lingdecklee
1. How did you get the idea for your startup?
It’s a familiar story! A few years ago, I was going to a lot of weddings and it occurred to me that the wedding registry experience was pretty awful. So I thought, why hasn’t someone come up with a better online experience yet? Of course, wedding registries are more common in the U.S. than in Asia, so it’s probably not something a lot of Asian consumers can relate to.
2. Who is your target market?
Originally I thought Thankful’s target market would be very much U.S.-based. And focused on design-minded, tech-savvy couples. However, since the site launched almost 12 months ago, the market has proven to exist in Australia, Canada, throughout Europe and South America, and even parts of Africa.
3. What need do you fulfill in the marketplace? What does your product offer that is not currently available in the marketplace?
The wedding registry market is very much owned and controlled by the mass market retailers and department stores. For instance in the U.S., there’s Macy’s, Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond which together own 70% of the US$19 billion market. But now that online shopping is so widespread, people should have the flexibility to add from smaller boutiques and other retailers. Thankful is trying to level the playing field and give consumers the type of service they want. Good design, customizable and personal features, with no retailer hard-sell.
4. What is your business model?
Thankful is a bootstrapped startup, so we couldn’t afford to launch without a revenue model in place. In fact, we launched with two! We charge every customer a US$30 fee after a free one-week trial. And we also receive affiliate commissions from every sale made through Amazon.com. The upside of charging customers is it makes you focus on customer service and improving the product.
5. How did you get clear on the specifics of your business?
I’ve worked at design agencies my entire career, so I understand that good design is crucial. But it can’t just look good, it has to work well. I knew the category was broken, but if I wanted to fix it, my product had to be special enough to capture an influential subset of the market. Most important of all, it had to win these people over.
So to get clarity about the business side of things meant testing with real customers and listening to their negative feedback. Luckily for me, my first customers were friends from the design industry who were generous enough to give me very honest feedback about what worked, and what didn’t.
6. Best piece of marketing advice you could give to people starting out?
Great question! Marketing is the toughest. If I could turn back the clock and give myself advice, I would say that in the very earliest days, marketing is about improving the product and making sure your paying customers are satisfied. Since they’re early adopters and taking a chance on you, their word of mouth can make or break your business. After that, you need to sit down and think about what really makes your business different from your competitors. Be honest. Your customers are smart. If you lie and they feel cheated, you’ll never earn their loyalty again.
1. Tell us a little about your background.
That’s easy — I’ve always been a copywriter. I’ve worked at design agencies my entire career. After graduating from college in Sydney, I worked in Taipei, then Chicago, then New York. I know how to write your slogan, name your company and figure out what your brand personality is. Copywriting used to be the boring instructions in the booklet that came with your packaging, but now that every startup has a website, copywriting is the message your startup puts out into the world. The entire Thankful concept started with the name and the tone of voice I knew the brand would have.
2. How did you become an entrepreneur?
To be honest, it was a really tough decision. I was happily working on Thankful as a side project while I was still at my full-time job. But then it became clear that if I didn’t devote more time to Thankful it might not have the best chance of success.
The startup officially launched in March 2013, and I worked at my full-time job for another 6 months before I reluctantly quit to focus on Thankful. It wasn’t an easy decision. But I knew I had to give it a shot.
3. What has been your greatest challenge since becoming an entrepreneur?
Managing myself. That means my time, my focus and my motivation.
4. What helps you keep going every single day?
Nothing is ever such a big deal that I want to give up. There are many worse things I could be doing. There’s not much in life to complain about.
5. What experience has been most useful to you in your entrepreneurship journey?
Talking to my customers, whether it’s by email or in person. I get to hear their feedback, their praise, their suggestions and their curiosity about how Thankful came to be. Those interactions have been the most meaningful to me by far.
6. What are you learning or want to learn in the near future?
On a totally practical level, I need to do Thankful’s taxes! But otherwise, I am thinking of ways to make Thankful a meaningful company that makes a difference in the world. That makes the time I put into it truly worthwhile.