Managing a startup can be taxing. How can new founders turn their ideas into viable businesses?
Those are the questions we tried to answer at our first Airtalks in-person event in Singapore. We spoke to three exciting D2C founders:
- Meryl Lim, cofounder of Apogee Collective—a femtech startup focused on sexual wellness, operating brands Genvie and Hedonist.
- Daryl Koh, cofounder of Hoseiki—a bootstrapped Feng Shui brand that generated $1m in sales in 15 months.
- Samuel Cooper, cofounder of Ollie Brands—a hard seltzer brand available in Singapore.
We asked them about their journeys and advice for new founders. We talked about steps that helped them build their D2C brands for the right audience. These are the tips they shared.
Add value to communities relevant to your brand
Sexual wellness brand Genvie faced advertising limitations due to its positioning within the adult category. To counter this, Genvie singled in on building an ecosystem around their products by running pop-ups, workshops and events and working with relevant partners such as hotels, sexual health clinics, nutritionists and physiotherapists with a focus on normalising conversations around sex. In doing so, prospective customers would invariably discover the brand via new organic avenues.
Modern Fengshui atelier Hoseiki revolutionised their business by focusing on educating the audience via complimentary feng shui readings and direct interaction with their in-house feng shui master. Signups would receive a personalised voice recording of their feng shui reading. In connecting with relevant interest groups, they successfully converted these interest groups into customers.
Ollie’s founder Samuel Cooper directly approached marketing by organising events of various scales to encourage social interaction and fraternisation, with the aim of building brand equity. He also recognized that adoption of alcoholic beverages happens mainly in bars, and so began building a network of venues that he currently partners with for distribution.
Stay flexible to adapt your business strategy
Hoseiki was able to cultivate their business by testing pricing, positioning and branding. Focused on modernising traditional Chinese geomancy products in a stylish contemporary way, the brand underwent multiple facelifts with product and branding, testing various versions of their webpage design and landing page offers. When they discovered that their initial target audience was not responding, they sought to uncover associated peripheral audience interests via a longer but more effective marketing strategy—they targeted and engaged related zodiac and horoscope-related interest groups before introducing feng shui products.
Genvie adopted a similar method by expanding their product offerings from the initial range of sex toys to accessories like lube, condoms, and a truth-or-dare questions card game to keep up with the demand of consumers and drive traffic. Before deciding on her product line, co-founder Meryl tested existing sex toys on the market across price bands to identify what worked and what failed, eventually deciding that "affordable premium" was the ideal marketing positioning for the brand. Through a market survey, she also found that people needed help and advice when purchasing sex toys and decided to place a strong emphasis on education as part of her marketing strategy.
Ollie entered the market well aware they were unable to beat the prices of major alcohol brands, and so would have to position themselves very differently from them. As a new product in a new market, innovation is key. The brand built a more defensible position by focusing on branding and partnering with reputable businesses to drive brand awareness. Their products were priced higher at the start with the knowledge that raising product prices down the road may dampen purchase decisions.
Drive retention through consistent engagement and innovation
Ollie boasts a 100% retention track record for their B2B sales. This is maintained by founder Samuel and his team checking in with partner F&B outlets frequently (at least once a month) to stay updated on sales and build long term relationships with their partners. They also continue to drive consumer sales through creating memorable experiences—they organize four events a week—and encouraging organic growth through word of mouth.
Hoseiki helps to match higher product pricing with perceived value via reverse engineering. The establishment of premium branding and trust building is cemented by complimentary add-on services like jewellery personalisation (crafting of birth date and time), freebies, warranty, guarantees and refunds under 30 days. To increase lifetime value, Hoseiki is constantly redesigning and modernising their full suite of products.
Another method the brand has adopted to increase value would be their free Bazi fortune evaluation with Feng Shui master Chase and further customisation such as a free 1-minute Bazi reading voice recording sent via Whatsapp. This service can be further upgraded to an extended full service Bazi reading. The added personal touch can convince potential customers by making them feel special and that their needs are taken care of.
Brand awareness and retention can also be maintained via product innovation. Genvie constantly organises new product launches and are hyper-focused on catering to new needs of their customers. The key goal behind their efforts is always to spark conversation which leads to organic interest in their brand and products.
The days of hard sales are over. Storytelling and communicating key brand values can help prospective customers relate and connect with businesses, catapulting a brand into the public sphere. Whether your priority is sales or brand building, every startup has a different strategy. It is important to note that there is no one size fits all approach to growing a startup, but the messages of forging genuine relationships and adding value to customers remain the same.
Photos and summary from the first Airtalks: D2C Meet-up in Singapore at Draper Startup House, held on 26 October 2022. If you’d like to be invited to the next event, sign up to our newsletter for updates!