How We Launched A Startup Selling Affordable Cardboard Standing Desks

$10,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
product
Deskmate
from London
started January 2017
$10,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
5.49M
alexa rank
3.24K
followers
554
followers
platform
accounting
productivity

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Ashley ‘JP’ Lockwood. I am the co-founder of Deskmate. We are a standing desk startup on a mission to make the world work better.

I met my now business partner, Arthur at the back end of 2016 during an incubator called Escape The City. Both working on separate projects and set up Deskmate as a side hustle to earn some extra money whilst we were living and working in London.

We have two products, Deskmate, for large setups, desktops, keyboards, and Minimate, which is specifically for laptop only users. All of our products are environmentally friendly (cardboard) and take less than 10 seconds to pop up.

We are proudly the cheapest standing desk available, globally. Which is pretty cool I think? We’ve sold over 5,000 units since launch, to just under 100 countries.

Cool fact: Deskmate started on £300 and we launched in 3 weeks.

how-we-launched-a-startup-selling-affordable-cardboard-standing-desks Our first homepage

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

We were working from a coworking space and wanted standing desks. We asked the community managers if they’d considered them. Answers ranged from, ‘too expensive’, ‘space doesn’t allow them’, ‘why do you need one?’, I guess that was the lightbulb moment.

I’d recommend anyone launching a business in an area they don’t understand to research but not to overthink it. Learn on the job.

The idea behind Deskmate was quite simple really, there was no affordable standing solution in the UK. We did the typical google search, amazon check and there was nothing there. We saw the gap and went for it.

With regards to the standing desk and office furniture market, we had no idea. I’d recommend anyone launching a business in an area they don’t understand to research but not to overthink it. Learn on the job.

I was personally from an e-commerce background, having launched an online shirt retailer at University. I then went into Fintech and left as Sales Director of a venture-backed startup. I’ve been working for myself for about a year and a half.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

I had a family member working in cardboard production and we had a rough design. We sent it over and within a week we had a prototype.

We launched without a website with a pop up at WeWork and sold 5 desks in the first 30 minutes.

I had a friend, Tara, who was working as community manager who said we were too early stage to pop up. I left it with her but said if anyone cancels, we'd be happy to fill in. The next week a coconut water brand cancelled, we got the gig!

That was idea validation, market testing and customer feedback all in one hit. We had no real business plan, cash in the bank or strategy, but we knew if could sell in WeWork, there was a market, at least in the start up space.

We bought 250 white units and realised we didn’t get a logo printed. Here’s a photo of Arthur sticking the Deskmate logo manually to our first ever batch:

how-we-launched-a-startup-selling-affordable-cardboard-standing-desks

how-we-launched-a-startup-selling-affordable-cardboard-standing-desks Deskmate first pop up at WeWork - no website, stickers purchased on the internet and stuck on product 10 minutes before we started

Describe the process of launching the business.

We built version 1 of deskmate.co in 14 days on Shopify and launched a week later.

Sales were slow to start and we didn’t have that much content to start advertising online, we took our own cameras wherever we went and shot the product. Not everything we shot was useable, but it built up over time.

This was with no coding background and on a shoestring budget. As the units began to sell (slowly) we realised we needed some capital and formulated a business plan.

Don’t overthink your MVP, keep your business as lean as possible until you have validated your idea, don’t overspend on outsourcing, you can figure most things out yourself and call in as many favours as you can.

We approached Virgin for a startup loan and raised an initial 12k. This is the only debt the business has taken on to date.

Biggest lessons I’d give anyone is to only outsource if it’s absolutely necessary. We’ve used agencies, PR people and Sales execs before but until you absolutely know your product, you are the only one who should be selling and marketing it, especially if you are selling in a niche, like ours.

Personally, I’d also recommend anyone moving from ‘side hustle’ to ‘full time start up’ to have a real plan and make careful considerations on the position of your team and co founders.

We’ve had a few people come and go since launch, with me and Arthur consistent throughout. Startups are tricky, you have to be 100% committed and you need a thick skin.

how-we-launched-a-startup-selling-affordable-cardboard-standing-desks

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Deskmate is a really interesting product in that it has multiple customer channels and routes to market.

We break our sales channels into three main sections;

1 - B2C (direct to eccom)

Driving customers directly to deskmate.co. Main traffic drivers are paid ads, PR, social media (IG, FB, Twitter) and blog posts.

Google ads are challenging (CPC is high due to competitors price point being 10x higher), so we’ve worked hard on FB adverts, building content to help the top stage of the funnel understand who we are, what we do and how we can benefit.

2 - B2B (business to business)

Our direct to business sales mainly consists of outreach out to businesses directly that look to sell multiple units, directly to businesses.

Main drivers for this are email marketing, LinkedIn, strategic sales calls and hustle! We use G sheets to track our leads and conversion rates.

3 - Wholesale (retailers, partnership channels, amazon)

These are third parties that either resell Deskmate or are able to promote the product to their network. Deskmate is available on Amazon, Wayfair (hopefully US) soon and we regularly offer the product on third party relevant websites.

I have also had meetings with a host of other wholesalers who have said no: ASOS, Urban Outfitters, Argos, the list is extensive!

Segmenting like this allows you to have a clear understanding of what's working and what's not.

We also use different marketing techniques for each market, e.g. B2B is directed far more in relationship management, email marketing and targeted sales calls. B2C is more digital marketing, paid ad spend and content marketing.

Within our marketing efforts we use digital advertising (IG, FB, etc), PR (via a programme called response source), SEO (blogs), and partnerships (Virgin, WeWork, Three), to attract customers.

Via basic outreach, I have secured PR with Forbes, and other major newspapers in the UK. Be consistent with your outreach, create a positive message and be clear on what you are offering.

We’ve partnered with the likes of Three, Virgin and WeWork to sell to their customer bases. We started our relationship with Virgin through start up funding. We used their network internally, asked for introductions and eventually find our way into Virgin Red, who are Virgin’s customer loyalty app. This was a slog and took around 3 months!

Why? It’s great distribution and usually free marketing if you can get in there. My advice for any start up would be to think about their sales channels and how to sell to them before you start!

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Gross margin is around 65%, monthly traffic to the site is around 10k and our customer database (B2B + B2C) is 14k. Our sales funnel is long and takes time to educate people on the product. The business is tricky today and it will be tricky tomorrow, but our aim for 2020 is to break 1m units sold.

Our Operations are lean, we manufacture, pack and ship from the same factory in the UK, meaning less time from production to customer and also means we can stay nimble on stock, test product ideas quickly and provide a great service to the end customer.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

In hindsight, I would have started selling other products earlier, hired interns to help with admin and onboarded international shipping from the start.

Deskmate has done well with our partnerships, considering we are a niche product in an emerging category. I think signing contracts with Three and Virgin are the two that stay front of mind.

Our PR has always been strong, and I’d recommend any business with a unique idea or service to start reaching out to journalists right away. They don’t bite!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

  • Slack - communication
  • Whatsapp - quick answers
  • Gmail - email
  • Klaviyo - emails
  • Shopify - e-platform
  • Response source - PR
  • Google Docs - to do lists every week
  • Google sheets - a great way to process orders with fulfilment centre if you can’t afford to right away

Have also used:

  • Trello - better for larger teams
  • Monday.com - same as above, good programme though

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Don’t overthink your MVP, keep your business as lean as possible until you have validated your idea, don’t overspend on outsourcing, you can figure most things out yourself and call in as many favours as you can.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now

We are currently hiring a sales intern and a marketing intern. Drop us a note if you want to apply! [email protected]

Where can we go to learn more?

Lastly, we are currently looking for a partner to expand our US presence. Previous background in e-commerce, furniture, and early-stage products preferable.

how-we-launched-a-startup-selling-affordable-cardboard-standing-desks

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Ashley ‘JP’ Lockwood,   Founder of Deskmate

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