In industries where egos are abundant, many young entrepreneurs don’t understand the concept of doing whatever it takes for their startup to succeed. As HauteLook Founder Adam Bernhard says, “There is no job too small for you to do at your company.” No matter what your title is, you have to be shameless enough to do the lowest type of work possible when you’re building a startup. One of these people who gets this notion is Fernando Campos.
Fernando is the founder of Topwick, an online store and journal for people with interests centered specifically around health, productivity, technology and design — basically a Lifehacker meets Gilt. The startup is a two-man team and completely bootstrapped.
“… We basically curate some of the coolest products, whether it’s a standing desk or a well-designed watch or maybe a white noise machine that helps you sleep better. Then we provide insider pricing for the brands that you’d want to discover. Then we create a bunch of content that supports those interests as well.”
While thinking of ways to market their startup, Fernando and his co-founder Nick Shum had a creative idea: Why not take advantage of the the iPhone 6 launch and promote their startup to people waiting in line? In a guest post to Inc, Fernando wrote:
“We worked like hell to get the platform ready and created flyers offering a 10 percent store credit. Yesterday, I woke up at 6 a.m. and drank a big cup of coffee to make up for getting just four hours’ sleep. I arrived at the Grove Mall Apple Store before 7:30. There were 400 or 500 people in line, waiting for the 8 a.m. opening. I started walking up to people, handing out fliers, inviting them to check out Topwick. As soon as the store opened I went after people walking out with their new phones. They were all so happy and excited: I wanted to capitalize on that good feeling.”
Although Fernando and Nick spent time avoiding security and even getting kicked out of a store at one point, they managed to get over 300 flyers out and talk to almost the same amount of people. Not bad for a full days’ work.
Previously, Fernando had sales roles with venture-backed startup Betterworks and Y Combinator alumni AnyPerk. We recently had the chance to catch up with Fernando Campos via phone. There, we discussed his philosophy on marketing and the pros and cons of working with a venture-backed startup compared to a bootstrap startup.
What do you think is most important when it comes to marketing?
“I would say the most important thing is doing something different or what other people are afraid to do or aren’t willing to do. I mean, the Airbnb growth hack is absolutely brilliant not only because of the technology and the creativity that came behind it, but nobody else was doing it and that’s what we did. So powerful and actually so viral, Dropbox is one of the first ones with the referral program really making it sticky. I think the strategy that we came up for Topwick was just something that other people would be embarrassed about, like walking up to strangers and handing them flyers and really selling yourself. At the end of the day, it was really just our energy and our passion about Topwick that ended up converting people and getting them to try it and to use the flyer, to use the discount code and then come purchase on our site.”
I know a lot of entrepreneurs that don’t like doing the dirty work, so I think it’s really respectable that you are one of the few who aren’t afraid to be shameless.
“I appreciate that. Yeah, I wish I could say that we had some like huge marketing plan that would take us to the next five years. This is a big opportunity, we’re gonna be basically interacting with people that are our potential users and they’re the perfect demographic. These are the people that need to have their iPhone on the first day. That’s a very small group of evangelists or early adopters that speak really well to us and it would be a shame if we were too embarrassed or afraid of getting out there and talking to them.”
Walk us to the process of how you approached people in line during your “iPhone 6 Launch Campaign.”
We had two different strategies that we were AB testing. What we were doing is at certain points when there weren’t a bunch of Apple Store employees or mall security we would actually go near the line and talk to the people that were waiting. They’re kinda bored, right? They’ve been waiting there for hours, so having someone with a lot of energy that’s just talking about something new would usually be pretty well received. What I would do is just try to break the ice and say ‘Hey, are you excited for the iPhone?’ or ‘Are you guys buying any iPhone accessories and products we’re carrying?’ One of the products that we’re carrying right now is the NoMad charger keys, which is a really new product to talk about because people find a good use for it. It’s really an iPhone charger on your keychain; it couldn’t be any simpler. Then it was easy to show people the product, get them excited about it and then tell them about Topwick. That was the strategy for the line, which is actually a little bit more dicey because Apple employees or security probably won’t be thrilled about it.
The other strategy was actually getting people as they were leaving the store. So the idea behind that was these are pretty much the happiest people in the area because they just got out of line and now they are leaving with their iPhones. Most of them were playing with their iPhones as they were leaving. Because they are not waiting in line, we had to be a little bit quicker about it, which is like ‘Hey, by the way, if you’re looking for iPhone accessories and cases and cool gadgets, here’s a $10 gift code that you use at Topwick.com,” and usually they’ll stop and ask, ‘What’s Topwick?’ and then we just cover it quickly as they’re leaving.
How many times were you rejected?
“I would say probably about 50 percent of the time. It wasn’t ever a harsh rejection. But equally for as many as those that just walked by we have just as many meaningful conversations with people that were excited about what we’re doing.”
How have the results been since the campaign? Are you guys getting any traction?
“Yeah, actually we were pretty excited. There was a lot of purchases that came in through the discount code. So we were able to track all of those that got through the flyer. So yeah, I mean it was actually really great.”
What has been the biggest challenge so far running your startup?
“Something that not a lot of people know about me actually is that my business partner and I are working remotely. So he’s down in L.A. and I’m actually based in San Francisco. I’m sure you have these moments of self-doubt. We both left amazing jobs in companies that we love and it’s like, “Oh man, did I just leave something great?” and you have this feeling of whether our lives are truly better. “Is this gonna really work?” I think it happens to a lot of entrepreneurs. I’ve read a ton about it the last few months and it’s an interesting challenge. At the end of the day, you have to keep pushing through. Make sure along the way you always celebrate the small wins and keep yourself focused on the next milestone.”
What’s it like going from venture-backed startup to a bootstrap? What are the positives and the negatives?
“… I think the pro is definitely that you’re just scrappier. You have to think differently because you have to prioritize your funds and resources a lot better. You can’t really throw money at the problem. If you wanna acquire users, but you only have x amount of money, then you have to think of other creative ways to make your dollar go further or to acquire users even for free. I would say another pro is that you can focus on building the business and on the KPI, which is most important.
I would say cons are definitely that when you have money in the bank, you can take a small salary and you hire people to handle a lot of the work. Because we’re bootstrapping, we’re working crazy hours. For me, I personally wouldn’t trade it just because I love the grind, the scrappiness and the feeling of sitting down on the couch at 10 or 11 having a beer and really feeling such a huge sense of accomplishment of what we’re able to complete that day.”
What do you think are the biggest mistakes that young entrepreneurs make when they’re working towards success?
“I would say not asking for advice. I think as an entrepreneur — I’m not speaking for everybody — but a lot of people have kind of an ego thing like, ‘I’m the smartest guy in the room’ or ‘I’ve made it this far, like I don’t really need advice.’ But there’s just so many talented people out there that are willing to lend a hand or give advice especially to a young entrepreneur. It just really makes a difference. It’s really inspiring to hear why they decided to start the company and why they feel they were successful and to get advice because they’ve been in a lot of the same situations or business issues and they can definitely provide guidance.”
Check out Topwick.