Telling strangers that I make panties always elicits a giggle. Telling my professional connections results in squinty-eyed confusion. How can someone who’s never worked in apparel, retail or anything like that make underwear? I sense them trying to figure out if I’m pulling their leg — or if I’ve gone off the deep end.
It’s uncomfortable for them. All of a sudden, I don’t fit into a box. I’m a technology-focused research and marketing professional who is making and selling women’s underwear. This isn’t a chocolate and peanut butter combination. This is oil and water.
The parallels between my career and business are numerous. After oodles of conversations, I’ve boiled down the seven commonalities that translate across the perceived chasm.
Commonality 1: Problem solving
In the tech world, it’s rare to have the benefit of a comprehensive manual as a guide to build functionality or troubleshoot a problem. When you have limited information to go on, you need to get creative to be successful.
So, I learned to break the problem down into smaller variables, start experimenting, figure out what got me closer to a solution, tweak my approach and try again.
I used the identical approach when I started making panties. I had multiple things to figure out at the start — the panty, the embroidery software, design and production and the machinery settings — and each one had a multitude of variables to be evaluated and tested. The first prototypes weren’t pretty, and the studio looked a bit chaotic, but there was a method to the madness. I quickly identified the right mix of variables for the highest-quality product.
Commonality 2: Product development
In my career I’ve witnessed two main go-to-market strategies from tech companies. The first is to knowingly put out a subpar product and rely on the hype generated by the marketing and PR teams to make revenue numbers. The second is to put out a great product, give customers an awesome experience and let the hype spread naturally. While the first approach may get immediate attention, the only strategy I’ve found with true staying power is putting out a damn good product.
As a result of this firsthand perspective, I put the majority of my capital into developing a top-notch product rather than into marketing. I focused on the quality of the panty in fit and feel, the superiority and softness of the embroidery and the beautiful packaging. I wanted my customers to be so excited about receiving, giving and wearing the panties that they would tell their friends and write great reviews.
Commonality 3: Product launch strategies
Betas are good for making sure something doesn’t break, but they can offer too many safety nets. Under a beta test, it’s far too easy to make excuses for disappointing customers or for why your process isn’t running as smoothly as you would like. The pressure to correct issues isn’t strong, and the potential to ignore serious failures is high. However, going out with an aggressive soft launch is like learning to swim by jumping into the deep end of the pool. Yes, it’s risky, but you are definitely motivated to not drown.
Case in point: I launched my shop right before the 2014 winter holidays. I had only 10 panties on hand, a handful of thread colors and some tags on order from my supplier. I bought cost-per-click placements, sent out an announcement to my network and started pitching bloggers. If I’d taken the launch more slowly, I would have missed the critical holiday shopping season and valuable word-of-mouth traffic from the gifts.
Commonality 4: Balancing trade-offs
When I was aggressive about launching, I was forced to make trade-offs between speed-to-market and perfection. This meant I had a long list of things I needed to improve once the product was in market. I learned this list will never be complete, so I embraced this new reality early on. Customer feedback, new technology and new ideas keep adding more “to-dos” to my list of improvements. Putting them in priority order, based on revenue impact or another metric, keeps me from being overwhelmed and scattered.
Commonality 5: Prioritization and reprioritization
I launched my apparel business with product images that I took myself. The photographs were poorly lit and didn’t have the wow factor I envisioned, but they worked for the launch. Improving product marketing was priority number one, so I brought in a professional photographer and models, which resulted in a huge improvement. However, to do so I needed to de-prioritize other important things on my list such as offering a thong option based on customer feedback, expanding the size range and building a website with e-commerce functionality. While I eventually got to those items — and others — the list keeps growing. Eleven months post-launch, and I’m constantly reprioritizing the small and large improvements based on what I know will drive sales conversion.
Commonality 6: Collecting and using customer feedback
Whether a platform, application or physical merchandise, people will figure out unique ways of using the product based upon their own needs. After more than 15 years of tech industry market research projects, I developed a great respect for consumer insights. I learned time and again if your product or service is falling short or missing an important feature, consumers will let you know.
For instance, when I followed up with bloggers after I sent them a sample panty, many of them told me they were initially concerned with the embroidery being rough against their skin and uncomfortable to wear. In their reviews, they made sure to call out the softness of the embroidery and how comfortable the panties were. Once this concern was brought to my attention, I immediately went into all of my product descriptions and added language about the feel, and conversion rates went up.
Commonality 7: Keep your customers coming back
It’s easier to maintain a repeat customer than it is to bring in a new customer. In order to use my existing customer base to help spread the word about my business, I make sure I’m offering a steady stream of reasons to come back. New products, new gift sets and Instagram postings — anything to keep them excited.
Final thought on running your own business
You are going to spend countless hours working on your product. You are going to dream about it, curse at it and lose your hair over it. The only way all that will be worth it is if you love what you are doing with such a passion, you couldn’t turn away if you tried. That passion will feed your energy when it seems like nothing is working the way you want or the challenge is insurmountable. Passion breeds the perseverance you need to succeed.
About the writer: Hi, I’m Joy and I make one-of-a-kind panties that spread confidence and positive energy to women of all walks of life. My InnerTruth Panties feature encouraging messages embroidered on the inside so you can read them when you pull them down, however, the embroidery also shows on the outside, in reverse, so you can read it when you look in the mirror. Genius, right? Check them out here.