THE PATH, PROCESS & PROGRESS TO BUILDING A DTC(DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER) CRICKET-BASED HARDWARE BRAND

New and innovative hardware products are all about experiences. The biggest challenge for any early-stage hardware startup is to recreate their product experience in real-time for prospective buyers and potential business partners at scale. Although we at freebowler have successfully captured our prospective buyers’ attention from a concept standpoint for a non-electric and portable ball thrower, we still see a good percentage of drop-offs because people are apprehensive and didn’t get a demo before they could complete the purchasing decision. It’s complex for us to recreate the whole demo experience where people interact with the product hands-on, especially for a global sports product like cricket. It’s also challenging for products with a relatively larger footprint and a high-ticketed item for e-commerce standards. Newmarket creations are always like this. It’s crucial to bridge the gap between people wanting to see the demo and committing to purchase the machine.

So, it’s vital to develop a product that reduces apprehensions and minimizes the friction that people have surrounding the purchasing decision in making it easy for people to buy the product. And this whole optimization process comes in all shapes and forms to create an environment that people feel safe to buy it. It’s essential to create that credibility and authenticity around the product through word of mouth. And build a product that answers most questions intutively for people— simplifying the product functionality so that it doesn’t call for a demo, especially if we are looking to build a genuinely consumer-centric global DTC brand.

A product has to be utility-based and should be desirable. A brand should not predominantly rely on paid marketing activities for sales. Any paid marketing activity should be around branding, while the sales should happen organically due to well-executed marketing campaigns. The utility quotient of the product should be such that it implores people to make an impulsive and instinctive decision with mass adoption capabilities. The product concept should be self-explanatory that it is easily be communicated by channel partners and flown through information channels without or less friction.

FINDING THE SWEET SPOT FOR A PRICE-SENSITIVE MARKET

Price is a huge differentiator for a price-sensitive industry like cricket. There’s much money in the market system, no doubt, but people don’t like spending a lot on training equipment but looking for inexpensive alternatives. They’d rather spend it on other match-like experiential activities. That’s why it’s imperative to position the product in such a way that the price justifies itself without bargaining for additional discounts on top of the offering. Because the two biggest battles we are facing with the current version are that people are always concerned about the product pricing and can’t justify the product value without a demo. Simply because there’s never been a product like this made available(especially on the internet to buy) for people before, and people don’t have context and a frame of reference to compare it with an existing product. We need to emphasize educating people, especially in tier — 2, tier — 3 cities that make up for the bulk market.

It’s essential to invest in the infrastructure(machinery, equipment, and human resource) to sell the product at a price point determined by thorough product-market fit research and customer feedback surveys. And that price is at Rs. 15,999 INR including taxes and shipping in India and about $300 USD globally including shipping. It looks like that is the sweet spot for mass adoption globally for the current non-electric and portable bowling machine version in getting to that point at selling at Rs. 15,999 INR or $300 USD will eventually lead to higher conversions and opens up to a whole new market from entities/institutions to individual buyers. It will help us scale the business as we’ll accommodate channel partners at a price that works for all without losing margins.

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT: BUILDING BRAND REPUTATION

It’s all about building relationships with the entities and institutions like brands, dealers, database management companies, camps and academies, sports facilities, boards, organizations, and associations. It requires a dedicated 12–18 months period for these business development activities headed by the founder/CEO and a small team to go along with him. Because these platforms have an already targeted and narrowed audience that we will likely go after. Simultaneously, these may not have immediate business results but will yield results over the next 12–24-month period due to these partnerships. These meaningful long-term business relationships are built by first establishing ourselves by building traction and proof of business concept through B2C sales by spending $$$$ on acquiring individual customers through brand awareness and customer acquisition campaigns on the internet through social media marketing globally.

HARDWARE IS A GAME OF VOLUMES THROUGH DISTRIBUTION: SCALABILITY

The dealer network is an integral part of the equation in terms of scaling the business because dealers not only have to sell it through the retail route but could also sell it through the e-commerce route. They have access to a significant amount of cricket institutions and, more importantly, could influence a sale through their long-term relationships and goodwill. It will serve as an extended line of information distribution, allowing us to focus and channel our energy and core competence in product innovation. We have to build it up to that point, and it will take time and effort. It’s an initial investment on which we can plug our future line of products. We have to treat it as both information and sales outlet.

Working with Dealers, Marketers, Influencers Is More for Content/Information Distribution Strategy & Solving the Logistics-Supply Chain Challenges Associated with the nature of the product (We will be a combination of DTC and B2B Business — B2B2C). We still need to work with channel partners to be a DTC brand. Because they are the ones with the sales DNA, they know how to market and sell it. They know how to bundle it up and clear the goods as a combo along with other equipment. Actual scaling happens through these activities.

We have to put out enough units on this planet to create enough case studies that justify the partnership with us for all categories of channel partners. Ex. We should get to a point where a global brand like SG(Sanspariels Greenlands) or SS(Sareen Sports) who are responsible for the 80% of the cricket products that are made available in the market to push our product aggressively through their channels through incentives that will have their skin in the game. It is also equally important for a brand to have that kind of leverage in the marketplace where the channel partners are actively willing to take up the distribution of our product because there’s enough demand in the market already.

CREATING A SAFETY ENVIRONMENT FOR CUSTOMERS

The majority of bulk order sales could come through institutional and entity-based partnerships over some time in the next phase, while the primary phase is just focusing on building the marketing and sales machine. The next phase is activating and running it. So, that’s how we’ll connect the dots with our prospective customers where they would have come across us through brand awareness campaigns. Still, entities and institutions will endorse it on our behalf to complete the buying cycle because the customers tend to trust their business relationships with such entities/organizations/institutions/individuals more than us. People are more comfortable making a purchasing decision on a platform/place that they are more familiar with known faces. So, it’s essential to create that safe environment for them through brand positioning.

CHALLENGES OF TRYING TO BE A DTC(DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER) BRAND FOR A SMALL HARDWARE STARTUP

Everything is said and done; there’s always going to be more than we think we are prepared for. Becoming an all in all DTC brand also comes with its own set of challenges like handling customer inquiries and providing them with all the necessary information, including follow-ups could be a never-ending process. Answering long-duration calls for customer service and support is not a scalable activity for small businesses. It’s not fun when the customer thinks the brand or the company owes him/her everything after the purchase. The documentation & paperwork is laborious to attend to every customer individually. And it’s purely a commoditized activity, and there’s no creativity involved. Managing Logistics — Inventory Management, Warehousing, and Tracking Orders and providing a status update to customers is very painful because small brands cannot take the load without a sound backend. And these logistical costs are, for the most times, inconsistent and, if not monitored diligently, could be very expensive. Over a period, all these activities and more could be distracting and physically taxing. It involves much human labor and could take away a good chunk of one’s creative mindset and leave founders wondering if they signed up for a services/community management business rather than a product innovation business. It’s not impossible, but one needs to be aware of it. But it’s worth getting to that point of threshold limit to figure out the best DTC model that works for each one of us.

Learn more about Freebowler Superthrower non-electric and portable cricket ball thrower innovation on http://www.freebowler.com/

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Pratheek Palanethra

Founder & Innovator at freebowler . Cricket’s 1st Non-Electric & Portable Cricket Ball Thrower.