When Shopify connected me with Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox and one of their Build A Bigger Business mentors, I wasn't sure what to expect. Although GoldieBlox started out as a toy company, turns out Debbie's startup journey was anything but child's play.
From bouts of loneliness and overwhelm to initial rejection from the mainstream toy industry, she's since sold over a million toys while empowering a generation of girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math careers in the process.
Just 6 months after launch her company was averaging $300,000 per month in sales. But you don't just change gender stereotypes around women in STEM careers overnight. She had a lot of work cut out for herself. "The thought of becoming an entrepreneur was terrifying" she said.
Coming from a middle class family, Debbie worked a job since she was old enough. The idea of leaving that lifestyle behind and striking it out solo paralyzed her. So, to help offset the fear, she started to do some research. How could she make her startup a success before even pressing the launch button? This was the question that set her massive launch in motion.
Debbie did nine months of due diligence on everything from gender differences to children's play patterns. She even contacted leading neuroscientists at Harvard and others to learn more about the role of play in brain development. In between research, she would beg friends to babysit their kids so she could observe how they play. She tested her prototype on children all around the Bay Area. 40 homes and 3 schools in total (talk about market research!)
After nine months of testing and validating her idea, she resigned from her full-time job.
Armed with a proven prototype, she took it to the New York Toy Fair. Her enthusiasm was immediately met with rejection. "Construction toys for girls don't sell" she recounted buyers saying. Dismayed, a friend told her to go to a social entrepreneurship conference instead. This one called Starting Bloc.
"I hated conferences and networking. I went in with my arms crossed and sat in the corner" she said. Until she saw several others take the stage to present their ideas. Debbie figured she had nothing to lose.
"The moment I became an entrepreneur is the moment I got up there and spoke in front of those hundred people.. Because I put myself out there and welcomed people to join my mission instead of just doing it alone" she said. It was a good decision. She got a standing ovation and a line around the block of people looking to join her.
Encouraged to go the crowd-funding route by conference attendees, she took it to Kickstarter. She raised over a quarter million dollars in just 4 days. She has replicated this launch strategy several times over, earning more per launch each time.
Debbie attributes this ability to replicate 'virality' across several different mediums (toys, videos, apps and more) by making it as easy as possible for other people to share in the excitement. Here are 4 key components that you can apply to your own launch strategies.
Build a catalog of sharable assets.
"We write up sample Tweets, Facebook posts, content.. we give people a playbook for sharing. We recently launched a coding app with the specific design of getting girls interested in coding. Part of that strategy was figuring out what the hook or angle. How do we come up sound bites that get people interested. A lot of the design was around cupcakes. We're hiding coding in the cupcakes, like hiding broccoli in the mac and cheese."
"We made it educational, but we made it so much fun that they didn't even know. For some of our VIP influencers we actually sent them cupcakes on the day of the launch. It was a cute, inexpensive thing to do that was a treat and a surprise."
"We created a bunch of social media assets with cupcakes, pictures of kids with cupcakes, we invited some of our customers and fans to come in with kids and take pictures with cupcakes. We were able to provide those to the press, along with screenshots, we made a video that showed the gameplay. We created a lot of great, shareable assets."
Share your message with anyone and everyone.
"I built up a database of everyone I knew -and everyone I wanted to know- and tried to get myself in front of as many [of them] as possible.. to get feedback.. To ask them to share it. Over time that database kept growing and growing" Don't be afraid to personalize it either.
"If I thought someone was going to put in a hundred bucks or more, it was a phone call. If I thought they would put $10 to $20 bucks, I'd send them an email. 'I created a sense of urgency. If we get close enough to our goal, we'll reach the home page.
Be ambitious with your fundraising goals.
"I was terrified to post the Kickstarter because our fundraising goal was $150k and that's more money than I've ever seen in my life" she laughed. "I posted the project at midnight on December 12th and I had a few phone calls with friends and mentors before.. and was saying maybe I should put the goal lower."The goal, albeit terrifying, pushed her to hustle harder. She hit it in four days.
Keep innovating afterward.
"The best way to keep innovating is to keep talking to your customers about what they like and what they want to improve. The more you know what they think about the more you can improve your product, the more stories you have to tell. Whether it's a new launch or a new feature. Or maybe it's even an Op-Ed that you write because you've learned so much. There's always new things to talk about if you're always listening for things to improve on."
3 Killer Product Launch Strategies From This Shopify Mentor
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.