Today’s coffee morning, and SALES SALES SALES

18.10, Thursday 15 Jan 2015

Coffee morning 4 was super fun! Great chat and thank you for coming, Tom, James, Martin, Tom, Matthew (who took a photo), Dev, James, Daniel, Basil, Ben, Chris, Iskander, another Tom, and Jess!

Three people showed prototypes from their hardware startups. So, so good. Two people had successful Kickstarter campaigns under their belts. There was talk of new year’s resolutions and books, and Dev described his brand of technology as the art of turning things off and on… but, you know, in an experience sort of way. And I got to play with some Duplo because Jess brought her infant. Or someone’s infant, I didn’t think to ask.

But before I get to any of that:

Holy shit, TOO MANY DUDES.

This is a real problem. I know this is only chat and coffee, but what I’m attempting to foster here is a sparky street corner where serendipity occurs. With no structure! Informality! And it’s working well. But when it’s mostly men it’s just weird.

So I had a chat with Basil and I had a chat with Jess, and we’ve got a couple of ideas about how to bring this back into alignment with the regular world – and there’s no excuse, especially because hardware startups so often have women founders. If I don’t fix this soon, it’ll get entrenched. So more ideas welcome.

Selling to people who aren’t your mates

When I was a kid, I had an LP – a long-playing vinyl record, which is kind of a large black CD where the sound is actually sculpted into the surface of the plastic – and I guess I should also say that a CD is a Compact Disk, at which point you say: Compact compared to what? It stores a hundredth of what you get on an iPod and you can’t even plug your headphones in.

An iPod, by the way, used to be a physical thing. Now it’s an app on your phone.

I had an LP.

On the LP was a novelty song by Charlie Drake called My Boomerang Won’t Come Back, and I won’t pretend it was anything other than shamefully racist. Sayeth Wikipedia, the track is not exactly a paragon of political correctness, even by 1961 standards. In the song, an Aboriginal meeting is described as a ‘pow-wow’, something more appropriate for Native Americans, while their chanting sounds more African than Aboriginal.

Here’s the song on Youtube. Listen at your own risk.


The punchline of the song is where the boy who’s boomerang won’t come back (who has practiced till I was black in the face/ I’m a big disgrace to the Aborigine race) meets a witch doctor (I know, I know…) who tells him:

if you want your boomerang to come back, well, first you’ve got to throw it.

Which is true. And also hands-down the best sales advice I’ve ever encountered.


One of the most common challenges I see in hardware startups is that, after the initial burst of selling, product sales stall.

There were two conversations I had this morning that made me think of this. There’s a startup at Techstars who is thinking about the same thing; I’ve had similar conversations with a couple of other hardware startups thinking their way through this. I’ve experienced this myself, and the story goes as follows:

You’re a designer, or a creative technologist, or whatever. You’re good at networking so you know how to reach many thousands or millions of people.. You’re good at pitching your idea, well practiced, so you know how to craft a story. You launch your product; it sells.

And sales are decent. When you have PR.

But hardware ain’t websites and ain’t apps. You don’t get an email address with hardware. You can’t encourage your users to spam their Facebook friends, like an app can. Apps have got virality: Monkey see app, monkey download app from the App Store right there and then. Hardware got no virality. Users don’t get more users.

So sales don’t hockey-stick.

Now what you do is what everyone does when they experience a challenge, which is you repeat what made you successful in the first place. You do what you’re really good at. You iterate the design, add features, you do better PR, you do a bunch of talks and you craft better stories.

But this is a build it and they will come approach. It probably doesn’t work.

Your local social network is now saturated. You need to reach beyond your mates - and your mates of mates - and sell in a different way. But how?

You gotta advertise.

At Techstars, I’ve been privileged to work with people who really know their shit about digital marketing. They understand e-commerce inside-down and upside-out.

Here’s a simple thing they talk about: Putting a budget against, say, Facebook ads. Try a bunch of stuff, see what works. Whatever profit you make from that, recycle it: buy more ads! If you’re receiving money from new sales on a weekly basis, you get to recycle money every week. If you get money daily, you recycle daily and grow faster!

As you get better at selling, you recycle the cash and your budget grows and grows… but it’s free money! It’s still your original budget!

I was talking to Dev about this - at the coffee morning - and he went through the same thing for his Kickstarter campaign. He said that digital marketing was clear and obvious… once it had been framed for him as an engineering challenge with end goals and a toolset. What channels generate sales? What phrases work? Measure it all.

Anyway, I know this is obvious, but it’s all about reaching and selling to the people we don’t already know, in a repeatable, testable, iterated-and-improvable way. And I only say it because I’ve had this conversation a dozen times in the last month, and as tech folks and designers (as opposed to biz and marketing people) it appears to be something that we don’t notice, or don’t get to, or find excuses to not do because “the product isn’t ready” or something. Holy shit I’ve heard a lot of excuses.

This sales attitude has got to be in the team DNA early on, or it’ll feel alien when it - inevitably - gets introduced later. What the product is and how the product is understood AND SOLD has to evolve hand-in-hand.

If you want your boomerang to come back, first you’ve gotta throw it.

Other reason I bang on about this: Ignoring sales is a personal pitfall, and I want to make sure that, for my next venture, I think about sales as early as possible. Ultimately it’ll make for a better product.

Next coffee morning

Coffee morning 5 will be January 29th, same bat-time (9.30am), same bat-channel (Old St). For reminders, join the mailing list.

Folks who came today: Thank you for coming! If you want me to connect you with anyone you chatted to, drop me a mail – I collected email addresses. I’d love to hear about the conversations you had, let me know what sparked your imagination!

Follow-up posts: