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How I created a company then sold it

studio_hungry profile image Richard Haines Updated on ・8 min read

This piece was originally posted on my garden.richardhaines.dev

Before I was a software developer I was a scaffolder, for 6 years. It wasn't
what I wanted to do, I had moved to Sweden in 2010 having gone to university in
London and met my would be wife. When we arrived I didn't speak the language and
my girlfriend was pregnant with our first child, so as needs must I got a job
through a contact of my father in law as a scaffolder in Stockholm. We had moved
to the north of Sweden so this meant living in Stockholm during the week and
travelling back up north for 7 hours every weekend to see my wife. I did this
for 8 months until I found another scaffolding job in the north where we lived.

The years passed and we had another child, bought a house, got married and had
lots of pets. (At one time or another we had a cat, rabbit, tortoise and
hamster) This was all great, except something had been missing from my life, I
missed having a creative outlet, something for me to relax with and at the same
time dive into to escape the boredom of my day job. I had been taking night
classes to learn swedish but it was a long slog and progress was thin on the
ground, which meant that i couldn't really engage in conversations at social
gatherings or at work.

Until one day in 2015 I decided to look into the possibility of selling
something online. At first I had no idea what I was looking for or how to go
about getting an idea of what to sell let alone how to do it. I had no idea
about creating websites, how to sell things on a website, how to source the
thing you want to sell, how to ship it to the customer or even how to get
customers!

After much googling I happened across
Google Trends, I used this and a
combination of searching for what was cool at the time that I found out about
wooden sunglasses. This idea seemed a bit wild to me. How could sunglasses be
made of wood? How would they be stable? I soon realized that there were indeed a
few companies out there that was not only selling them but making them too. Now
I should jump back a few steps here and point out that this didn't happen over
night. I had planned to sell children's clothing, all eco, fair trade etc but
the costs were crazy and we certainly didn't have the money to be throwing into
something like that, competing with huge companies which had been doing it for
years.

Once I decided upon wooden sunglasses it was time to figure out how to sell
them.

Now before we continue I must say that this isn't going to be a step by step of how to do this stuff, this is merely my experience of going through this and how i approached it.

When we look at our clothing, our kids toys, our kitchen utensils or our mobiles
they all, most of the time, have something in common. They are made in China. So
it stood to reason that this would be a good place to start. Sourcing items from
China can be done in many different ways, one of those ways is from
Alibaba, a type of Ebay for wholesale. I searched
through some companies that made wooden sunglasses and sent them questions
asking about price, quantity, shipping etc.. All the things I thought I would
need to know in order to begin selling online. Some responded and some didn't
but I ended up with a shortlist of companies and items that i could begin with.

Now it works like this. They have a catalog of items from which you can order
samples. Samples are expensive (relatively speaking to the final items cost) so
you pick some items you like the look of and order them from the list of
companies you have gathered. As these items are comping from China they take
some time. So spreading that order is good as it gives you the best chance of
finding the right company with the right product.

Once I got the glasses I needed a website to sell them on. At this point in time
I had no idea how to make a website so after some market research landed on
Shopify as the platform to host my site and sell my items. You know the drill,
drag and drop until you have something that looks ok. We took the pictures
ourselves (me and my wife). I had looked up how to do product photography at
home, bog white sheets of paper, slight curve at the back, utilize the sunlight
from the windows by having the table placed next to a window on the side.

I finally had a site up and running, had chosen a supplier, got some stock and
was ready to go! I was going to make millions, it was going to be amazing, easy
money!

Except it wasn't and I didn't sell anything. This was mainly because no one knew
my site existed. I had only told friends and they were kind enough to buy some
glasses but other than that there were no sales. The fact that no one knew my
site existed wasn't the only reason I didn't sell anything however. When looking
at some other sites that sold wooden sunglasses I realized that I had been
copying a formula used by someone with big investment and a celebrity
endorsement. They had managed to get Kylie Jenner to pose in their glasses
before she became the breakout, multi-million dollar star she is today. After
she became mega famous their sales went through the roof and they could then
afford to by in more product, keep the prices dirt cheap (the mark-up on buying
items from China pre-made is ridiculous) and pay for more marketing.

During this phase, which I like to think of as a trial run, I used to send out the glasses in cardboard boxes filled with wood chippings. This was a terrible idea. Don't do this! 😆

So it was back to the drawing board. Buying in pre-made glasses was not what I
wanted to do. I wanted to design my own and create a brand around them. Me and
my wife (who is a wonderful illustrator) set to work drawing glasses, in detail
to the millimeter. We put together some designs we were happy with and I started
the hunt for a manufacturer which could make them for us. My first port of call
was Europe. Then I branched out to the Americas. Both of these ideas failed
rather flat as the cost of having them custom made was far to high for us to
handle, not only that but the only people that made them were selling them
themselves so they were unable to make for us too.

So this led me back to China again, but with a different plan. I wouldn't be
using Alibaba this time, instead I searched for general purpose manufacturers
and filtered from there until I found a couple which were willing to make our
designs a reality. After getting some samples from a few of them I settled on
one and so we began production on a line of wooden shades!

I stuck with Shopify buy paid for a theme that I thought would encapsulate my
idea of what the brand would be. Coming up with a name was also quite hard, it
was my mum that actually suggested the one we chose (I shift between I and we a
lot here, this I because although this was my endeavor, my wife was also heavily
involved), SideRoot.

It was a play on words meaning to take a different path to the others, take a side route, with route being swapped out for root, like a tree root. Get it?🙃

We had a friend in Stockholm who knew a professional photographer so We sent
down a batch of the glasses and they had a photo shoot with some models, all for
the price of some of the glasses. Win, win.

I now had a name, products designed by my wife and I and a website with
professional product and model photos. But I wasn't quite ready to launch, I had
learnt from the previous attempt that you can launch anything you want but if a
tree falls in the woods.....

Marketing. Certainly a tough cookie but with some effort, lost dollars, A/B
testing and perseverance a wonderful thing indeed! I created Facebook and
Instagram accounts for the company as you need to have a social presence, and
poured hours into learning how to do Facebook Ads. I'm not going to lie, it's
hard.

After some time and testing we launched again. We got sales. If you have ever
had a Shopify store you will know that they have an app and whenever you get a
sale you get to here to most glorious sound in the world, a small "Ching Ching"!
It wasn't long before a local opticians wanted to sell our wooden sunglasses in
their store. Then a store in central Stockholm got in contact. I had calls from
other websites wanted to stock our glasses too, though we only accepted one
offer.

Things were going well but the big difference in buying in pre-made glasses and
designing them yourself is the cost. Paying a manufacturer to create custom made
glasses costs a lot more and as such our mark-up was much smaller. Even though
we were selling more we couldn't afford to design and pay for our next seasons
glasses run. It was then that I decided to try out
Kickstarter. I ran a campaign and it basically
failed. I tried again, only this time I concentrated on copy and offers. What
would convince people to get on board? Our story of course! Being honest in
anything in life will bring you the best rewards, be that being honest with
yourself or your business.

It was a success, The campaign was 249% funded and we had the money needed to
launch a new season of designs! You can checkout the campaign here:
SideRoot Kickstarter.
To re-use that win in our marketing I decided to add all of the people that
bought a pair, or more, of our glasses to our website in a dedicated page. This
made them feel special, like they were apart of something, added weight to our
claim of mass sales and enabled me to push this onwards in future marketing
campaigns.

I had another idea that I thought would combine well with our Kickstarter
success, and that was to plant trees. I contact a few non-profit organizations
and found one i liked, Trees for the Future. We agreed
that for every pair we sold, they would plant 10 trees which would help to
provide families with a sustainable food source, feed for their livestock and
fuel for their fires. This basically completed the brand.

After a while it was becoming apparent that I couldn't sustain this level of
time investment as the business grew so I looked to sell. I wont go into details
but the long and short of it was, I put a price on the company, had some offers,
then someone came and just said name your price. That was that. Soon after I was
back to being just a scaffolder without the creative outlet I so desired. It
just so happened that my wife saw an add for a C# .NET course starting in our
city. I enrolled in that, got a job as a frontend developer, taught myself
JavaScript and React. Fell in love with it and started learning outside of work
everyday, pumping those creative juices. The rest as they say is history. 👊

Oh i should probably mention the website, it's still live, not sure what the new
owner is doing with it as nothing seems to have changed since i sold it to him.
SideRoot

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