Today I want to share the story of Elizabeth, a student from my course From Zero to Funded. Elizabeth reached out to me last year, and this was her email:
As you can see here she’s an action-taker, I love it and it's why I've been so excited to see how far she's come. Today I want to share her story from when she went from a full-time working mom to an entrepreneur with a physical product business who also recently appeared on Shark Tank!
Elizabeth was a style conscious young mom with a keen eye for design, so when she had her baby and was shopping for playmats the only thing around were “circus looking things that looked really ugly in my living room”. These ugly playmats had to be put away before company came over – not ideal. So what if there was a better solution?
That’s when she came up with the idea to create beautifully illustrated playmats that would create the atmosphere of a nice rug that you wouldn’t need to put away every time you had guests over.
Introducing Little Nomad:
*Traditional foam play mats are practical but not cute. We make beautiful play mats both Mamas, and little ones love! *
7 Things Elizabeth did to Crush It:
1. Became an Expert of her Product
Without experience in physical products, it always seems tough to know exactly where to start with everything. I always think the best place to start is writing down all your questions and then make Google your friend as you begin your research. This is how Elizabeth played it, and she used Google to start sourcing and to learn everything she possibly could about how to create these custom play mats. She researched everything from government foam standards, to the process behind creating the mats to the best shipping methods… essentially she became an expert in foam.
Takeaway: Do your research! If you have an idea you need to network and start speaking to people so you can find the connections you need to make it happen. Many beginning entrepreneurs are too precious with their ideas, worrying that someone would “steal it”.
An idea is nothing without execution, and generally people that would execute well on stealing your idea don’t even have time to execute on all their own ideas as it is. Execution beats ideas every single time, and noone could have out-executed Elizabeth.
2. Fake it ’til you make it
Before Elizabeth even had a prototype she knew she had to test and validate the idea was something people actually wanted. Rather than spend a bunch of time and money going straight for a real foam prototype, she took a trip to Kinkos and got some large paper sheets, in the size of the mat squares, to use to mock up how it could look in a room. After photographing her living room and then photoshopping the illustrations on top of the initial paper mockups, she was able to show them in real life environments to further sell her idea.
Had she just shown a big rectangle with the pattern on it I doubt she wouldn't have gotten as big a positive response she did. The reason being that showing herself and her baby on the mat people gives her prospects everything they need to imagine themselves using it the same way.
Idea + Ingenuity (and a little Photoshop):
Takeaway: You don’t always need to spend a ton of time or money to prototype your idea before you’ve done the initial validation. The speed of implementation is crucial for success, had she waited for weeks or more likely, months, for a real prototype she would have spent a ton of money and ended up delaying the project, perhaps even indefinitely.
3. The Power of Facebook Groups
Elizabeth knew her customer avatar, mainly because she was her target customer – a stylish mom. To get around more people like her, she went to where they hung out online, Facebook groups. Typically these Facebook groups were mom groups and local networks. From there she posted within the groups asking for feedback on her idea, it’s important to note that she wasn’t trying to sell to these people. Many groups ban that type of thing, so it’s important to add a ton of value into the group before posting your own stuff.
Think of these type of groups as a bank, if you have nothing deposited in the bank, then you won't be allowed to withdraw anything. You need to make deposits over time to build a balance that you can withdraw on later – with groups you do this by engaging with the group and providing value first.
For weeks before asking for anything Elizabeth would engage with group conversations and help people out by commenting on their posts, which increased her trust level within the groups. This way when she was ready to post she had built up a good amount of goodwill credit with the group.
Here's an example of one such post. Check out the amount of engagement on this within just a few hours:
Takeaway: Get into groups that are related to what you are building or where your target customer hangs out in. Spend a few weeks (or even months) adding value to build up your social bank before posting about your idea. Keep your posts “un-salesy” and lead them to your site or landing page if people seem interested.
For some of Elizabeth's most eager prospects, she set up her own Facebook group to share mat designs for feedback, reward ideas and
4. Building an email list
Once she had her Kinko’s prototype photographed and had created a landing page through Squarespace, she started focusing on building her email list. In the first two weeks alone she collected over 1,160 emails.
In only seven weeks Elizabeth grew her email list to 4,565 people. Incredibly impressive!
Her landing page:
You can see that in her text she addresses the pain and describes how her idea will be the solution. If I had to critique I would have made the Call To Action something more like 'Get Invite' or 'Join the Waitlist.'
This was her opt-in:
Honestly, I almost spat out my coffee when I saw this form that had gotten her so many emails as the amount of information she asked for seemed extreme. I mean I couldn't even get the whole thing into one screenshot! In case you aren't aware, for every field, you add to an opt-in form your conversion rate drops… however, these mom’s seemed to really want these mats!
Takeaway: Create a simple way to collect people’s emails. Make sure your headline describes the pain you're solving and make the action you want them to take clear. I would recommend ConvertKit to set up simple landing pages with an email list.
6. Know who you're marketing to for your List
Once Elizabeth knew her market and had tested out what really resonated with the people from her mom groups she created a sponsored post within Facebook that she used to grow her email list. This is one of the ways she was able to grow her list so quickly in such a short amount of time. Look at the amount of engagement she got from this post, for her product that starts at $99 she was obtaining leads for as little as 10 cents!
Takeaway: Craft your messaging correctly by describing the pain, and how your product will benefit the user. Then put some money into getting the people you need for your launch.
7. Show some alternative use-cases
When setting up a crowdfunding campaign, I always tell people to focus on 1-3 different use cases for their product if possible. For Elizabeth, her primary focus was mom's, however, within her campaign and on her website, she also showed several different ways of how you could use the play mat, for example as an anti-fatigue mat for the kitchen, a workspace or even an alternative to a yoga mat. These use cases came from the feedback she gathered from her Facebook groups. Not only does this increase the possibility that more prospects to buy from you, but it also gives people more reasons to buy as they feel like they're getting more for their money than just a playmat.
Some imagery she used to get the point across:
Takeaway: Find other possible use cases or users for your product to increase potential interest. It's important not to go too broad as you don't want to dilute your idea, but there's a sweet spot in there whereby showing a little variation can expand prospects. Personally, I don't have kids so I wasn't thinking this was for me until I saw that it could be used as an anti-fatigue mat and it got me thinking about it.
Little Nomad on Kickstarter
Funding goal: $68,000 (reached within 3 days!)
Final amount raised: $104,025
Shark Tank - Episode #814
Elizabeth appeared on episode #814 of Shark Tank, episode description "a mom from West Hartford, Connecticut, changes Kevin O'Leary's nickname to "Uncle Wonderful" and asks him to hold her toddler while she pitches her stylish version of baby mats." It aired on February 3rd 2017.
That's how it's done folks! Elizabeth had the tenacity to bring an idea from zero to funded in a few short months that has gone on to create a business with raving fans who absolutely LOVE her product. Check out her Instagram here if you don't believe me. No longer is she working for someone else but has the freedom to work on her own business while spending more time with her daughter.