TinyPrints.com founder Laura Ching on Entrepreneurship.
Laura’s insights were very inspiring, and I’ve synthesized some of the highlights that she shared here:
When she was in business school, she worried at the time as they seemed more brilliant and talented and she feared she didn’t have what it takes. She tried middle management at previous companies and didn’t feel like it was the right fit.
She wanted to find partners that she could spend her energy using her abilities, as opposed to being in a bigger company, and worrying about how to present well and how to pitch oneself. They lived out of their apartment, and at first, getting one order a week was a big win. The early wins give you the confidence to keep going.
No idea is perfect. You don’t need a crazy idea to start a business. Tinyprints wanted to sell stationary online, not the sexiest idea, you’d think.
What matters most is the:
- Cohesiveness of the team and its ability to execute. Her team believed in execution and prided themselves about becoming experts. They felt that they could out-hustle the competition.
- Set modest goals to create a sustainable business. For the first three years, they focused on bootstrapping reach. You need a focus. Small wins are amazing. If you try to do too much, you can get insecure. They started first with birth announcements, and tried to be the best at that. They focused on the stationary vertical. Focus on one thing. Don’t perfect it.
- Test an idea. It doesn’t have to be 100% right. Get feedback, optimize, go again. Be careful with how you spend your money. Search engine optimization was cheaper when they started.
- Organic marketing was very important. They tried to figure out how to get customers organically. And then how to get customers to be natural evangelists and to talk to their friends. How can you build from the ground up? If a customer sent 100 holiday cards, then TinyPrints had its logo on the back of the card. It was a naturally viral product. They were constantly figuring out celebrity marketing and viral stuff to keep their search results on the first page of Google search results.
- Team formation is key. Pick people who have similar values. What kind of company culture do you want to build? What are your business goals? They wanted to be entrepreneurs first. They launched another business first that failed. They worked together on ideas, vetted roles, and tried different working styles. Then a team of three stayed together.
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TinyPrints Had 5 Cultural Values:
#1 was to Treat each other like family. At the end of the day, if love is there, you trust that you want the best for each other. Hire great managers with a good culture ethic. They’d have two candidates, and they’d go with someone more flexible, even if they didn’t have as much experience. They selected for grit.
TinyPrints also had Passion Mondays with little surprises on some Monday afternoons such as a visiting ice cream truck, Boba tea or brownies.
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Q: How can women mentor other women?
A: You need to be Intentional about women having a seat at the table. That means hiring men who get it, and who will mentor diverse people and who want to mentor and provide leadership opportunities. It’s good to have diversity around age, race, and background. Be yourself and be genuine as a leader.
At TinyPrints, she’d shy away from speaking publicly as to being an Asian, female entrepreneur. But she sees the need to speak up, and to be honest that you don’t have to be perfect to be an entrepreneur.
Authenticity makes a difference.
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Q: How do you have the courage to face people who don’t seem to take you seriously?
A: Surround yourself with people who believe in you. There will be people who will support you and they will believe in you.
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TinyPrints took VC funding to be able to get PR and to attract top management talent.
Online testing is easy. She loved data analysis and used google analytics. If people dropped off the home page, they figured out why. If a holiday card page, and a user left off page two, maybe they had the wrong products. For Focus groups, they brought them on later, and as needed they spent time to graduate the brand and to expand to other categories, like weddings. And they tested new product ideas.
Q: Perspective on pricing?
A: Pricing comes down to supply and demand, and what customers are willing to pay. They offered unique, one-of-a-kind designs, changed fonts, and allowed for the ability to upload a picture. Given customer feedback, they worked to bring the price down, moving away from traditional printers, and bringing their own printers and designers to reduce the cost.