When Micki Krimmel decided to launch a business in 2015, she knew she had to start small with a product that filled a specific gap in the market. At the time she was a competitive roller derby athlete skating on the fourth-ranked team in the world, so she looked to her peers and fans for inspiration. “I knew the community would support me if I created a product they wanted," she says.
Through conversations and surveys, she discovered women over a certain size in the field had few options for high performance workout clothes. “The body-positivity movement wasn't mainstream yet," Krimmel says. She decided to fill that gap with SuperFit Hero, a size-inclusive, high-end workout clothes line. She designed some prototypes, gathered feedback and launched a Kickstarter campaign in late 2015, raising $155,000.
She initially marketed her products as a premium workout brand to roller derby fans via conferences and events, and as she built a following she expanded the product line and her target customer. Today Fit Hero has thousands of social media fans and rapidly growing revenues. In 2018 the company did $400,000 in sales, and is on target to hit $1 million in 2019. “It was a gamble, but we've doubled our sales every year," she says.
Achieving that kind of steady growth and fan base is the goal of most burgeoning start-ups. Krimmel and a few other inspiring female CEOs offer this advice on how to get it done.
1. Find Your People
No company can be all things to all people, especially on a limited budget. So focus on a niche community where you can make an impact and establish your brand, “If you are part of that community, it's even better," Krimmel says. Launching her company in the roller derby world helped her gain attention and win fans. She was able to use that clout to build a core customer base, generate a social media following and ultimately to attract attention from other body-positive communities.
2. Spread the Word
When Simona Pop co-founded Bounties Network, a blockchain-based company that matches gig workers to projects, she wanted the platform to be accessible to non-techies, but she knew she had to find a way to ease them in. The platform offers all kinds of technical and non-technical projects, but the blockchain community can feel “very exclusionary for people who aren't familiar with it," she says.
To make it more accessible for non-techies, she worked with her development team to ensure the user interface is easy and intuitive. Then she started promoting it at blockchain events and sitting on 'women in blockchain' panels to promote the idea that bounties (crypto payments made for doing tasks) could be used for any kind of project. “The more people who hear about us, the more they get involved," she says.
She also educates companies that already use the platform for tech tasks about other ways they could leverage the technology. “These companies outsource a lot of projects that have nothing to do with crypto," she says. Once they see the potential they start using the platform in new ways.
Know your audience and what they care about. [...] Then build campaigns that will capture their interest.
—Micki Krimmel, founder, SuperFit Hero
In its first 18 months, Bounties Network has acquired 10,000 users who have completed more than $600,000 in bounty transactions, ranging from highly technical tasks to writing blogs, producing music and starring in training videos. She has also secured partnerships with several other major blockchain companies to promote and use the platform. “Collaboration is the fire that will fuel our future growth," she says.
3. Stay Lean
The early days of any business are usually defined by limited resources and too much to do, says Monica Royer, CEO of Monica + Andy, an organic children's clothing line based in Chicago. To reduce overhead—and risk—Royer opted for a leaner, more agile business model, which she launched in 2014 with her brother, Andy Dunn, who also founded the men's clothing line Bonobos. “We didn't have a lot of money, but we did have a deep understanding of the digital consumer," she says. Instead of opening brick and mortar stores filled with expensive merchandise, Monica + Andy offers products online and through pop-up guide shops that host in vacant retail spaces for a few months at a time. Customers can browse a small curated set of merchandise with a guide, then buy it on the spot or have the product shipped. “We keep very little back-stock, with a centralized location for inventory," she says.
The model keeps real estate and inventory costs low, which allowed her to rapidly grow the business. She now has 45 full-time staff, with 45 more part-time retailers across the nation. “We've grown significantly, but we are still learning," she says.
4. Make a Splash
In the age of social media, the more attention you can get, the more sales you can make. Krimmel of SuperFit Hero made social media a major part of her growth strategy from the outset. She posts constantly on Instagram and other feeds, hashtags her posts #bodypositivity and sends product to body-positive influencers so they will be aware of the brand and show it off in their posts. It has helped her secure 20,000 followers and promote her brand to the body-positive community, which are her target demographic.
Other companies use social media to generate a lot attention from a single event. When Pop wanted to prove that bounties could be used for social good, her team took the platform to Manila where they launched Bounties for the Oceans, a project to clear plastic garbage from beaches in Manila Bay. They secured sponsors via the platform, then invited locals to clean up plastic and post pictures of their effort in exchange for $10. That weekend, more than 220 people collected 3.3 tons of trash—most of them local fisherman whose business suffered due to the waste. The project was covered by local and international media, and got the attention of a local sustainable plastics company, which is now paying ongoing bounties for locals to clean the beach every weekend, then using the plastic to make materials for road beds. “We created a sustainable business model for Manila Bay and proved that anyone can use our platform to get things done," she says.
Social media is a powerful and inexpensive tool to grow a business, but you have to leverage it in a way that will draw attention. “Know your audience and what they care about," Krimmel advises. “Then build campaigns that will capture their interest."
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