Making it easier to keep track of daily hydration goals, Emily Chong and Nathan Chan started Healthish and created sleek water bottles with timestamps. In this episode of Shopify Masters, we chat with Nathan and Emily on product development and building their business through influencer marketing.
- Store: Healthish
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Foundr, Dribbble, Behance.net, Socialblade, Loox (Shopify app), FOMO (Shopify app)
Starting up: Identifying the right product for your business
Felix: So the story started with a desire to start an online physical product business and you had a few ideas, Emily. Is that how the inspiration struck you?
Emily: Yeah. I have a background in accounting. I had just quit my job, my corporate job, and I spent six months after that just completely in denial about not knowing what I was going to do next. I just really didn't want to go back to corporate life. So, after seeing Nathan working on his own business, I was really inspired to start up something of my own. So he encouraged me to start an online business with a physical product and that with Healthish. So I did the starting style course, taught by Gretta van Riel. So she was one of the winners of the Shopify Build Your Business award a few years ago. So she's a real expert in this field. So, it was really helpful because just getting the business up and running can be overwhelming and daunting to begin with.
Felix: Tell us about the flagship product that you guys have.
Nathan: So the flagship product is a time marked water bottle. So one thing that Emily found was that a lot of people can't keep up with their daily hydration levels. And there wasn't really a physical product or a bottle that looked great that allowed you to do that. So on one half of the bottle, it has the first half of the day. And then the second half of the bottle, it has the other half of the day. They say you should drink two liters of water a day. So if you fill it up two times and follow the time indicators on the bottle, you can actually get your daily intake of two liters of water a day. So that's the flagship product.
Felix: Are you willing to share what some of your other ideas are and why this one particular made the cut?
Emily: Yeah, of course. It's a bit embarrassing, but I came up with makeup brush ideas, like a holder, iPhone accessories. I'm trying to think what else. I wrote a list of 50 product ideas. I can't remember them off the top of my head, but those were the ones that I was most interested in. I decided on the bottle just because it was low cost to produce and easy to manufacture. So I think that was one of the main reasons we started it. Also, the fact that I'm always dehydrated, so I can practice what I preach.
Using the “Golden Trifecta” to identify your flagship product
Felix: So what was your process for like ideation? What is your recommendation to people out there that are stuck on choosing an idea?
Nathan: I have another company, it's called Founder, and we produce all sorts of content around entrepreneurship. We also do online courses and we have at least 20 plus courses. One of them is taught by one of my friends and she's really successful at e-commerce and she's the person who won Shopify build a business. One thing that she taught Emily when it comes to finding ideas is, you need to find the golden trifecta. You need to find a product that's lightweight. So it's easy to ship and the cost of shipping is low. It has high perceived value and it's relatively cost affordable to produce and it's trending. So what Emily did was she worked through at least 20 to 50 ideas and you just have to be really realistic on whether you think that idea can really do well. One thing that’s really important when choosing the list of ideas for me personally, is not only does it have to be easy to ship and lightweight, and it’s affordable to produce with a high perceived value, but it also has to be a trending product. If you want to create a successful physical product business, one thing that's really, really important in the business to consumer space is, being able to move the product and sell it online. That’s where Instagram comes into play. So it's a very, very visual product. And we had an idea that a lot of people spend money on things like drink bottles. They don't see it as an everyday product. People are prepared to spend a premium amount, like pay a premium price for a fashionable product or a product that looks great. So that's why I thought that it was a really good product. You need to really focus on what looks visually good because being able to sell on Instagram has been a really big game-changer for us. And it follows the golden trifecta.
Felix: Referring to the golden trifecta, how do you evaluate whether a product has high perceived value?
Nathan: Well, I think one thing that's really important is doing your customer research on what people are buying or what your competitors are buying. So we know that there are other companies out there that are making a lot of money selling water bottles. And I knew that if we made the design really, really good, that the value perception would be higher.. I think that's a really good thing for people to take away is take the time to make sure your product design is really good because that really ramps up the perceived value.
Emily: So I think one of our selling points that differentiates us between all the other competitors of water bottle brands, is that we have the time indicators. So people are willing to pay more for that as well.
Felix: What was the product design process like? How did you create a visually stunning and attractive product that would succeed on a platform like Instagram?
Emily: Yep. So I worked closely with a graphic designer. At first, I was cheap and did it myself, and then with Nathan's critical feedback, he said that I know we need to get someone else involved.
Nathan: I think one thing when it comes to the product design from our experience is to find just a really, really great designer and be prepared to spend that few thousand dollars extra just to make the product awesome. So, that's one thing that has been a real game-changer for us because there's a lot of drink bottles or water bottles out there, but we've been able to make one that looks absolutely awesome. Really have high perceived value and in turn, it's become a product of choice.
Felix: So let's talk about finding a great designer. Where did you look to find your designer?
Nathan: So this was actually a mutual friend that's helped me with my other company. So I was fortunate. He was, ex-head of design at 99designs. However, you don't have to know anybody. From my experience, the best place to find incredible designers is using a website called Dribbble or behance.net. So these are like online resumes for graphic designers. So what designers do is they put their best work that they're most proud of on Dribbble or be behance.net and you can run searches for all sorts of things. And you can manually reach out to these designers and that's the best place to find incredible designers, and some at a really cost affordable rate.
Felix: When you're out there looking for a designer how do you identify what is a good designer or a poor designer, if your goal is to create a product that is visually stunning to your target market?
Nathan: One thing is that design or something that looks good is an opinion. It’s very personal. But I think one thing that's really important, and this is something we should mention actually, Emily, was when we got the design mock-ups done, we both loved the design, but we actually asked other people. And I think that's really, really important getting the samples or not even getting the samples, getting the photos or the images of the mock-ups and showing people and actually asking for open, honest feedback, even if you don't know the person or ask randoms or friends of friends or putting on your personal Facebook page, getting as much honest feedback as possible. That's very important.
Emily: Because if I asked you it would be a biased opinion. I don't like to admit this, but I used to be an Instagram influencer. So, I had my audience provide feedback on whether they liked the idea of whether they would buy the product and just like general feedback on the designs. So I was lucky to have that audience to reach out to. But I joined all these health communities on Facebook groups, just to validate my idea as well. And then, I used the start and scale community, because I know that a lot of people are going through the same thing with starting an online business and finding their product as well. So that was really helpful.
Informing the design process: looking to your online community for product feedback
Felix: Do you remember what feedback you got and what changes did that lead to?
Emily: Yep. We had a few different colors of the bottle. So we had a black one and a white one and people would just lean more towards the cleaner, white version. Some people said that it looks like a baby's bottle with all the time marking. Other people said it looked like a vodka bottle.
Felix: When you were putting these mock-ups or prototypes out there to get feedback, how do you ask for it in a way that is going to get you honest feedback and not just people being nice?
Nathan: Well look, I think in these Facebook groups and stuff like that, or if you're in a community of like-minded people, I think if you just put yourself out there and just openly ask for honest feedback, I think sometimes people are prepared to be pretty critical because everyone has an opinion. You just got to try and get it from as many sources as possible. So try random Facebook groups, try your own personal Facebook profile or Instagram profile. And then, just ask close friends or family, but really push them just to be honest with you. And once you get all of that I would highly, highly recommend - and I know it can be something difficult - but if you do have a sample, you could just ask random people. But, I've heard stories of people doing that and they've had a lot of success.
Felix: How do you work with the designer in a way that gives direction based on where you want to go, but then also gives them that runway to do what you hired them for?
Nathan: From my experience, when it comes to working with designers, the best thing you can do is find somebody that you really, really love their portfolio of work. And if you really love their portfolio of work and they're really great designers a lot of the times what will happen is there actually won't be as much iteration or changes as necessary. So that's always been my thing is how do we find a really good designer that has a lot of experience, that can quickly and intuitively work out what you want? You show them examples and the first version is hopefully around 70 to 80% there. So you're not butchering and going up and back and have like 15 different iterations, which I actually have experienced as well with designers that perhaps aren't up to the skill set that I'd be looking for. So, I think it starts with the designer and their skill set. And if they're really solid, then you can get it to 70, 80%. And then coming from an iteration standpoint, it's usually I really like this part or I like this part. But from my experience, good designers are really easy to work with and they get it almost there usually for the first time.
Felix: So the most critical part of working with the designer is to spend that upfront work, finding the right designer?
Nathan: Yeah, from my experience. And then also, be prepared to spend a few extra dollars, because great talent is not always cost affordable or really cheap - but you can find a great designer and get your product designed for a few thousand dollars. And we're not talking tens of thousands of dollars here, like only a few thousand dollars. But you've got to find a mixture of both where you're not paying that person like $100. You gotta be prepared to go, “you know what, this person's really good. I want to really compensate them for their talents.” It’ll make the process a hundred times easier. Emily's working on a couple of other products right now and working with a different designer, but this person's really good. The first mock-ups that she sent, like just amazing.
Emily: So she sent about, I don't know, 15, 16 designs for the new bottle and I told her my favorite ones. And then from there, we just stick to those designs and just keep working on those and seeing what we come up with.
Felix: What process and considerations do you use when deciding on a designer?
Nathan: Our first designer, he mainly did digital graphic design, which is crazy when you think about it. Generally, you want somebody that has experienced designing e-commerce products or they're a product designer. But from my experience, I think you can find that if a designer is really talented, they can create the coolest stuff. And I think that's the big takeaway I think that people need to have is like, if you want to make your product look awesome, I think that's one place you should spend a little bit of extra money or a little bit of extra time finding the right designer. Because if you find a really talented designer, they can do some incredible stuff. And then it pays itself in gold over the long term.
Emily: I don't think we'd be where we are now with the design I first came up with. Really important to invest in a good designer.
Felix: At what point did you decide the product was ready for market?
Well, I do want to, in the end, a key lesson here is that do get started. Don't just wait around. I think it's good that you took the efforts to try it out yourself first and then you got immediate feedback from Nathan. So that was our first round of iterations, at least. So at what point were you saying, let's take this to market? At what point did you see the product where you're okay, this is good. Let's put us online?
Emily: So, after we received a few samples and it was like 90% happy with it, we decided to launch. We did a presale. We built up our Instagram account before we launched it. So, we did a few teasers here and there and then slowly started building our following and then directed people from our Instagram to the waitlist to preorder. And then Facebook groups as well.
The importance of building your pre-launch platform
Felix: Throughout the process, people might be focused on getting a manufacturer or working through iterations, when did you start building up the Instagram account?
Nathan: What we did was we used the photos of the sample on the mock-up of the bottle as the teaser. And, we created content that was relevant to our target market as well. So we had a rule that we posted once per day because to grow an Instagram account, you have to keep it engaged. And Instagram is a bit funny, but if you can post at least once a day, otherwise you just lose engagement and it's just really bad. So we started building up that account at least three months before we launched.
Emily: It wasn't necessarily posting photos of the product all the time, to begin with. It was quoted. We used just photos from Pinterest and just created a mood board.
Nathan: The content was relevant to the target market that we wanted to attract people that would be interested in their health and wellness. We didn't have different photos of the product or samples of the product. It was photos that we would find on Pinterest or like Emily said a mood board. And that was three months beforehand. So we tried to post like at least probably around once a day in preparation for the launch and tried to build the email list and the waitlist for that product. So we’d just send people to the Shopify wait-list on the store and before we even had the product ready, we did the presale and made a few thousand dollars. How long do people have to wait? It was for a month.
Emily: So we had a 3PL in China, to begin with just because we wanted to keep costs low, and we were bootstrapping the business. So we had a few problems with the shipping, to begin with. So they waited four weeks for their product to be shipped to them because it was a presale. And then, because we had, not so reliable shipping, it was another three, four weeks on top of that. So I was inundated with emails from customers saying, "Where's my order. Can I get a refund? I've waited too long." That was one of the struggles we had early on. But since that, we've moved to a warehouse in the US and Australia, which is where most of our customers are. And it's been the best decision for our shipping.
Felix: How do you come up with the guidelines or parameters for creating content that would engage your target audience?
Emily: So because our target audience is, like females between 18 to 30. I know that they like all the pretty pictures. That's why they're on Instagram as well. So, we created a visually appealing feed and then incorporated the water aspect into it. And just, I don't know if it provided facts as well, so they knew how important it was to drink water. So I think that was a great way to set up the account or set up for the launch.
Felix: And was content alone enough to build a following or are there other ways to get some followers onto your Instagram?
Nathan: Yeah. We did a couple of things, strategically to build the audience before we launched. The first thing was posting regular content at least once a day. This is before we launched. Even before we launched as well, the second thing that we did was go to competitor products and engage with their buyers. As an example, we know that there's a company that sells like over $100 million a year of drink bottles and water bottles. And so we can go and we can go to their page and we can search in the hashtags that people are buying that particular product, and they're posting photos of that particular product and we can very organically and authentically engage. I think if you do that at least anywhere between 20 to 50 times a day in a nonspammy way, you can start to really build a curated small following of people that are really, really engaged. They are interested in products like this. That was one thing that we did. And then also the more that you post over time, you start to build up a bit of a following and then once we launched, we can talk about what we did post-launch, how to build the following. I think it's like 60,000 plus now.
Felix: How do you engage with an Instagram user or an Instagram audience in a way that makes them actually want to come back and check out your profile and hopefully follow you?
Nathan: There’s no hard and fast rule, but one thing that's really important is identifying people that are buying a similar product to you. So if it's a big business and they have a hashtag and they've got like, 50,000 people using the hashtag, when you look at that hashtag it's photos of the actual products, the competitor's product. I don't see it as a bad thing to follow them, look at their most recent photos, and actually write something that perhaps is, acknowledging something around that photo. And in a non-spammy way, say “a great photo.” That's something that we did in the early days. And if we know that they're interested in buying these kinds of products, if you do that over time, it compounds. So to answer your question, what kinds of things would you engage with? Just, acknowledging their photo or their latest photo in any way, shape, or form, maybe even providing some humor just as a bit of fun. Then following them and you do it in a nonspammy way though. No more than a maximum 20 to 50 people a day. You have to be very, very careful. You don't want to, really push the boundaries and try to do it with hundreds. Definitely between that range. But one of those people every single day, if you do it over a couple of months, one of them might be a potential person that buys your product or actually really engaged. What’s really powerful is we know one, that they're a buyer, and two, that they're interested in products like this.
Felix: What did you identify in their posts or their activity on Instagram that flagged them as a buyer?
Nathan: So if we searched the competitor's hashtag, it would show the photos of that competitor's bottle, from an everyday person like you or I. So we know that they are a buyer, we know that they're interested in products like this.
Felix: In order to carry a buyer through the sales funnel, what incentive did you use for someone to leave their email address for your presale waiting list?
Nathan: Crazy enough. It was just launching something along the lines of “launching soon, sign up for the waitlist to get an early bird special” or something along those lines.
Emily: Yeah. We did have an early bird discount.
Felix: What did the landing pages look like? How far along in your manufacturing or design process did you start driving people to a presale page or a waiting list page?
Emily: So on that landing page, we did have a photo of the product. So they knew what they were receiving. We started directing people to that page when we were manufacturing. But you can do it as early on as before you placed the order.
Nathan: You can also use that as a way of validation. I think that's an interesting question because, if somebody signs up to your waitlist or your email list, and they know what the product looks like or what it's going to look like, you can use that as a way to work out the interest in your product. If you're prepared and know how to do Facebook ads or anything like that if you're prepared to go and show five different products on Facebook and then run it to the same audience and then see what the take rate is and what your cost for a lead is, you can quickly see which is the most desirable looking one. That's something to think about. But I think we started doing it once we knew for certain that's how the product was going to look and we'd chosen our manufacturer and got the sample and paid for the production.
Felix: So with the original landing page, did you only collect emails for marketing, or were customers actually pre-ordering the product?
Emily: It was just their email address, and then we sent them an email after with an early bird discount. Just closer to us being at the manufacturer completing the order.
Felix: So when you were building this email list, you weren't necessarily asking them for a presale order right away?
Nathan: Yep. So we built up the interest list. I think we had at least a few hundred people from memory. It was closer to maybe 300 to 500 people that were on the interest list. And, it took a while to produce the product, and we even did a presale before the product was ready. But when we were getting close, I said to Emily, "Look, we got to do something." So we sent about five emails over a three or four day period, just saying, "Hey, we're running a launch." And, I remember a couple of weeks before we were showing sneak peeks, we had photos of the product in manufacturing. So the product that looked really cool. And we showed photos of the boxes and we got people to respond, "Write back to us if you can't wait for the product," and stuff like that, in order to try to boot up a little bit of engagement around the prelaunch and a bit of hype. Then we did a campaign which closed at a certain time period with that special offer ending.
Felix: A lot of people might hesitate to sell something before it exists, how do you frame the message in a way that actually gets customers to buy a product before it exists?
Nathan: I think one thing that's really important is to just be authentic around the fact that the product's not ready and you're going to get it on X date, or we estimate it's going to be X date and it is scary. I think if you look at Kickstarter, that's always a good way to think about it. People are always prepared to do that. Fortunately, because of that course that we created with Gretta for my other company, we had email templates that we could use. Those were proven email templates that she'd used for her products every time she launched a new product. But, it's just one of those things with the messaging. You have to write an email as if you were writing to a friend. I think that's really important. Emily, is there anything you want to share maybe?
Emily: Yeah. Because it's prelaunch, I think they just want to know what stage we're at and just being really open with them, with updates. I think that's what will work really well.
Felix: From a customer service standpoint, how did you handle people who were getting unhappy or impatient for the product?
Nathan: This is one thing that's really important. When you do a presale, be prepared to refund people. If people don't understand or they didn't read in very clearly bolded text that this is a presale that the order is coming in like X date or X amount of weeks or X amount of months even, just be prepared to refund people. I think there's actually nothing wrong if people are really unhappy and they're like, hey, I was misled or whatever. That's fine. Just refund them. There are some people that just really want the product and they're prepared to wait. That’s how you know if you're onto something. If people are really prepared to wait and as long as you set expectations, I think setting expectations is the most key part with a presale. And how did you handle them, Emily? Like, all you can really do is just be kind and pleasant. Are you ready to jump in?
Emily: Yeah. Just be really clear with them that it was a presale and if they still don't understand I would offer a refund.
Felix: What was that process like to find a manufacturer?
It seems like once you offer a refund, they have nothing else to complain about at that point. So I think that's reassuring that there's always a solution if you're obviously able to offer a refund. So let's talk about the actual creation, the manufacturing of the product. What was that process like to find a manufacturer?
Emily: I found my manufacturer off Alibaba. So I did get a few samples from a few suppliers, but I thought this one was promising.
Felix: How long did it take to find a manufacturer?
Nathan: It took at least a good couple of months to find a manufacturer. And I think the key parts to take away there is, we were going up and back and wanting to get the sample. There was a couple that we used that we weren't happy with the sample. And that takes time. It actually takes a bit of time, probably more time than we thought, going up and back with different manufacturers on the sample, being happy with the sample, and getting the product right. And then also being confident or having that confidence to say, you know what, I'm going to spend a bit of money on like a minimum order quantity of stock, like thousands of dollars. And it's going to actually be done and the works, like it's not going to be faulty and all these different things. Then you've got to get the product inspected and stuff like that. We used AsiaInspection to make sure the product was all good, and everything was done that was said, and if there were defaults, they would fix it. So if there were faults, they would fix it.
Felix: When you were producing this for the first time do you remember how large that first order was? How much inventory order at first?
Emily: Yes. So I think we ordered 3000 units, to begin with. I think that's usually the minimum order quantity for most of these manufacturers. But that was with our first design. When we made our second order, we slowly increased it just as we were gaining more confidence with that manufacturer.
Felix: Was there a difference between how much you first ordered and how much you sold in the presale?
Nathan: We did the presale and that was like once we'd placed that MOQ order. So once we ordered the 3000 and they were being made, et cetera, et cetera. And then after like maybe a month or so we did the pre-sell.
Process for optimizing influencer marketing through Instagram
Felix: How did you begin the process of branching out to influencer marketing on Instagram? What was your first step?
Emily: I think it's important to identify the type of influencer for your business and also, finding who's the best fit. I came up with a list of criteria for the influencers and then, just started reaching out to them via email. Just because we have such a low-cost item to produce, where we can afford to send to hundreds of influencers per month now. So we would send the product as a gift or, have a contract deal with the influencer where they would post in exchange for a product. And then sometimes, as the business matured, we paid for sponsored posts.
Felix: How do you identify whether an influencer is going to be a good fit or not?
Emily: At the beginning, you can pick people in the different niches and see what actually works for you and then decide to go down that path. For example, we worked with a vegan influencer and it didn't work too well for us just because I think our audiences didn't align. So we didn't really work with vegan influencers for sponsored posts anymore. But what really worked for us was working with YouTubers and reality TV influencers just because they've got a big following or a big audience, that has their trust.
Nathan: I think when it comes to identifying influencers, the best ones to work with are the ones that suit your target market. And it takes trial and error. We’re in a fortunate position where the product is relatively low cost where we can afford to send out to many. So we just send out too many subsections of the market. We sent out to fashion bloggers. We sent out to fitness influencers. We sent out to vloggers, we sent out to people that were in all sorts of different niches and markets. And then we could see when somebody posted what that result would be and we refined it. So it's a little bit of trial and error. In regards to choosing the influencers, we're always looking for ones with good engagement