First off, can you tell us about your background and your product?
I am a marketer-turned-developer-turned-entrepreneur. I was born in Bulgaria and currently, I'm based in Amsterdam where our business is operating from. I started DULO together with a friend of mine in September 2016 and ever since we've been working together on building the company while still maintaining our day jobs as developers.
At DULO, we make non-iron dress shirts for entrepreneurs and busy executives. Every shirt is designed to deliver a hassle-free experience without a single compromise in style. The reason DULO exists is due to a personal need to have a dress shirt that doesn’t stand in the way. Both Julian and I like to wear formal clothing, but the hassle around looking sharp, especially the ironing, was a huge blocker for us. So, we decided to do something about it and while at it, build a company that provides value with its products and content.
From day 1, we have been documenting our journey of building the business - from the idea validation stage, through 1 year of product development, to today, where we are steadily getting the word out about who we are and what we are doing. Our aim, with this, is to share the experience we gather from doing and hopefully assist other makers who are on a similar path.
How long did it take to build your initial prototype and how did you validate it?
Very first iteration to make first adjustments First batch of samples
To get to the very first prototypes it took about 3 months, in total we spent almost 1 year in product development, going through 70+ dress shirt prototypes before we decided on a final model.
The validation for the idea happened in several stages. First, we had to validate internally that it is a viable idea, which we can execute, e.g. confirming that we have access to the technology and expertise required to make a dress shirt, but also that the market would be open to such a revolutionary product. Second, once we had our first prototypes, we confirmed with real users by shipping around 70 sample shirts in Europe, the US, and Canada. And third, once we launched, we confirmed with real paying customers who trusted us with their wallets.
How did you get your first paying customer and how long did it take?
Shipping our very first orders
We chose to document the journey of building the business from day 1, creating a historical record of our experience in a blog, a vlog, a podcast, and a very “raw” Instagram account. To this day, the strategy continues to pay off dividends - it is our most well-received content by far because it connects with our target audience.
This approach allowed us to build up anticipation in our tight-knit community during our product development process, so from the first day after we launched, we got paying customers. Our first customers were those who closely followed the journey and the majority have been among the lucky testers who got to try out our prototypes.
What worked and what didn't work when finding your first users?
What worked was our strategy to document the process and create as much content as possible around our experience in as many formats as possible, so as to make it accessible to as broad an audience as possible.
A month or so after our launch we tried Facebook ads, but after a month we realised that it would take a much higher investment - both financially and time-wise, to be able to get any meaningful results. At that point in time, we decided not to continue.
Instead, we saw early on that a physical touch, an experiential factor really reduced the psychological barriers of customers. So, we decided to start sending shirts to influential figures within the entrepreneurial community. We already got a few shoutouts that drove interest and increased credibility.
Here is a good rundown of our thinking when it comes to investment in marketing.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to onboard their first users?
In our short experience, it became clear that finding, winning, and keeping your first customers is a form of hand-to-hand combat. You have to go deep and focus on building a relationship. Be very helpful and always start with one thing in mind - how can I provide value to the person on the other side. It is not a straight path to getting those early customers either. Sometimes there will be moments where all your efforts will be hitting a wall, not reaching anyone. Don’t get discouraged. Learn to quickly identify what works and what doesn’t work. Try many things and don’t chase perfection. If what you are doing is good enough and not completely embarrassing - deploy and ship it. The market will then tell you if it is good or not. Just focus on doing and delivery. Don’t waste time pondering or debating. 1>0.
Oh, and if you can, work with a co-founder. Sharing the journey and the load of building a business from scratch with someone else will keep you sane, motivated and accountable.
What resources have helped you in the early stages?
The biggest help we got from asking a lot of questions and utilising our personal network to reach people who might be able to help us with advice or practical skills.
Other than that, Gary Vaynerchuk has been someone we regularly watch and listen to for marketing and business advice. The strategy to document the process is something he really pushes in his content.
How can people reach you and find out more?
We are always open to chat about our work or any questions fellow entrepreneurs might have about building a business. You can email me directly, write to us on our website, or use Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.