Bryan Pate is co-founder of the company ElliptiGO Inc. and the inspiration behind a new innovation in sports fitness, the ElliptiGO 8S, the world’s first elliptical bicycle. Bryan is a former triathlete, United States Marine, and McKinsey alumnus. His company has just recently launched their product which can be found at ElliptiGO website.
Here are my 5 questions with Bryan and his answers:
1a) Now that you have officially launched your first product (the ElliptiGO 8S) what would you say are the three most important lessons you’ve learned from the experience thus far?
One, that the old adage is true: everything is going to take longer and be more expensive than you planned for. Two, becoming very comfortable with uncertainty is imperative. Three, you need to be careful where you, “burn calories”. Every entrepreneur for the most part is dealing with a finite amount of time and resources. Ultimately you need to make quick decisions and not dwell too long on the outcome. For instance, for our new black bike, the team had to make a decision to go with a flat black or a glossy black. We don’t have the time or resources to poll our potential customers about what they think. We have decided to go with a glossy black based on our gut feel, but we might never know the impact (positive or negative) of that decision.
However, with that said, customer response/dialogue/polling is an extremely important part of this process. We base these decisions not on just what we think but what we learn from the various ways we have listened to our customers (ex. surveys from the site, talking with customers at various PR events, social outlets, etc.). From there, we make educated guesses based on what we know at the time. It is more important to move things forward than agonize over the unknowns, regardless of the innate desire to want to get it right every time.
1b) Were there any unique challenges in launching a product that is technically not available yet (a product that is only available via pre-order)?
It is a tough sale to get people to put money down on something they can’t immediately start using. Part of consumerism is instant gratification, and our current model doesn’t satisfy that aspect of the transaction. Furthermore, there is limited ElliptiGO brand recognition – as a result, we have a huge trust hurdle to overcome with every single potential customer. Unfortunately, using scarcity as a marketing attribute did not seem to influence sales. We are launching into a market that we are in essence creating. It is definitely a challenge.
2) From what you have learned so far about launching a product, what is one aspect you would have done differently or plan to change moving forward?
I would have taken fundraising a little more seriously. After our second round, I was concerned about other aspects of the business and stopped focusing on fundraising for several months. When I returned to fundraising, I found that I couldn’t simply pick up where I left off and that many potential investors had lost interest because of the break in fundraising. If I had a better fundraising plan and was able to move more quickly into raising the next round, as opposed to taking some time off, I believe it might have made things a little easier. When you are going through the process of funding a business, it is important to have a well thought-out fundraising roadmap and not be caught in a situation where you are discussing investments without a clear set of terms and realistic timeline for closing the round.
3a) Even though you have acquired funding, I think it is fair to say that you are a bootstrapped organization. Given that maximizing marketing dollars is extremely important to a bootstrapped business – especially when launching a new product and introducing your company to the world – where have you seen the biggest bang for your buck with regard to marketing dollars?
The biggest bang has been the Web, no question. In November, we had more than 8,000 unique visitors come to our website and spend several minutes there. This is without spending any money on advertising at all, other than the site. The ability to provide quality information to a self-selected audience like this so easily, and the scalability of the platform, makes it an easy question to answer.
3b) Have there been any surprises?
I think the surprise has been the organic growth in awareness over the past year. Now, I’ll be riding the bike around and I’ll hear someone say, “Wow! What is that?” And before I have a chance to answer their friend will say, “That is the ElliptiGO, you haven’t seen that yet?” Considering the limited quantity in existence right now and our lack of investment in awareness building other than online and riding the bikes, it is surprising how many people know what an ElliptiGO is.
4) How did you develop the success metrics to gauge your level of achievement regarding your launch? In other words, how did you get past setting up criteria that potentially could be arbitrarily based on a market that you are in essence creating (and has no historic data in which to establish baselines)?
You sort of make it up as you go along. We have come up with what we would like to accomplish (ex. number of new entry markets, number of elliptical bike races created, criteria specific to creating brand recognition). We have PR goals. For instance, in the launch event in San Diego our goal was to get coverage on every network news station, which we accomplished. We have qualitative goals about acquiring people interested in the brand, which we keep exceeding and then we have more quantitative figures based on pre-orders that we would like to improve on. With that said, we do realize that because of the new space we’ve entered, some of this is just conjecture. For instance, we know there won’t be much correlation between how we influence people to pre-order versus how we motivate people to buy when we are ready to ship product. We are aware to some degree the deposit model has failed us and that we need to go back to the plan and make adjustments.
When we are looking for data we are cognizant that some of our desired outcomes will need to be ball-parked. When we had our launch party, there were specific things we were looking for and trying to garner. However, we were also well aware that we were not conducting a scientific experiment. You do the best with what you know at the time. Success metrics are important so that you can make adjustments and gauge progress; I suppose in our case some are “arbitrary” but because they exist they are actually almost as useful (as goals based on existing data) because they create a standard by which one can measure initial expectations.
5) How did you ultimately develop your launch plan and what facets do you think are going to play the biggest role in converting interested consumers into customers (ex. PR, product demonstrations, social media and creating a community of satisfied evangelists, etc.)?
We developed the launch plan over several years. It has gotten refined throughout the process through mentors and experts, and as facts have changed so have we (and the plan). However, the plan has been deliberate. And truthfully, your launch plan is never over until the lifecycle is over anyway. There are always going to be new markets and new iterations of the product. In the case of ElliptiGO, we understand the importance of our first customers. In some sense, they will be our de facto sales force and because of that we need to make sure we take care of them and foster a great relationship with them.
We accomplish this by exhaustive customer interaction, making sure we are an active part of the conversation regarding our product (and market), treating anyone that puts down a deposit as a VIP and making sure that to the extent that it is prudent we influence who those first movers are. This last measure is the hardest because it is a delicate balance. I mean, I am suggesting that it is important that we in some way control who are the first owners of our product, while at the same time I want to do whatever I can to increase sales. It is a tough position to be in.
So to answer your question, one of the most important aspects of the plan at the initial launch stage is to manage, enable, and influence to the best of our ability these first movers with the hope that they in turn will do the same with follow-on consumers in a positive way. Right now it is a one-on-one conversation but we hope it evolves to the stage that people begin to learn and be influenced by customers we nurtured in this initial launch.