Thoughts on building products, entrepreneurship, bicycling and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Covidsupplies.NYC – Helping source PPE in NYC

These past few months have been incredibly strange. In early January / February, we started to hear murmurs from our luxury industry customers at Wami about a global slowdown in consumer spending. 

As the pandemic picked up speed in the U.S., it was evident that there was a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals in the NYC area.  

With the majority of Wami’s customers significantly impacted by the global slowdown in consumer spending, we teamed up with 3D Brooklyn to build Covidsupplies.NYC to link healthcare organizations in need of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) with on-demand 3D printing in the NYC area. 

I’m very proud to share that as of May 27, this project has produced and shipped 15,000+ face shields to 200+ hospitals and raised $60,000+

Covidsupplies.NYC
Version 1.0 of the Face Shield

My role was to lead user tests with doctors and health care organizations and then build the website and requisite functionality to securely link organizations in need with local manufacturers able to produce face shields. 

While user-testing with doctors and nurses, it was clear that this needed to be a mobile-first experience, and it needed to be secure and straightforward to submit a request for supplies. 

I used Sketch for the initial designs, and WordPress + Elementor Pro to build the website. I went with Typeform (Typeform even covered the project!) for the form inputs and Zapier for email automation.

The entire MVP was scoped and launched in under one week. With this lightweight tech stack, we were able to implement changes based on rolling feedback from the healthcare organizations on the fly. 

Video: Loyalty 360 thought leadership series

I recently had the chance to chat with Loyalty360 on how brands are adapting their outreach initiatives, and how marketers are recalibrating playbooks to be successful in Q3 and Q4.

It’s quite strange to make predictions right now about how businesses will reopen back up for business. Still, I think it’s a fair assumption to assume customer loyalty will be a critical component of success for the brands that do succeed in the new normal. 

Why startups should focus on staying alive

For the first few years of any company’s existence, people are naturally skeptical of its ability to endure. Especially in the B2B space, Enterprise and SMBs have no desire to purchase from a young company that may fold up shop as soon as the ink dries on the contract. The stakes of this skepticism are even higher for bootstrapped companies that lack the helpful TechCrunch or VentureBeat articles which highlight their latest funding round to aid in credibility.

It’s been my experience that, provided you create something of value for customers, after a certain threshold of time and energy, your endeavor starts to gain legitimacy on its own to the outside world by the sheer force of its continued existence.

After a certain amount of time investing energy and passion into a startup, something wonderful happens. The skepticism begins to fade. The exact amount of time and energy varies between products and founding teams (as some “products” shouldn’t exist in the first place) but the company starts to make leaps organically.

Potential customers begin to trust you can deliver what you promise slightly sooner. You notice sales cycles begin to speed up. No one moment is the precise cause, instead, it’s a sum of the total input from the organization. These moments inspire the team to keep going, and often open additional doors for the growing company. For new products, the sum of these moments often manifests as “finding product-market fit.”

In the early days of 3DPrinterOS, these leaps of credibility made all the difference. While our competitors would throw spaghetti against the wall hoping something would stick, we focused on delivering an awesome product for schools and gained momentum one school at a time. This focus and passion to survive led to 3DPrinterOS making it through the 3D printing crash of 2012, and to this day they are still adding schools and establishing further credibility.

At Wami, we’ve seen these moments manifest in a variety of ways. It’s the customer who lets us know they felt comfortable purchasing our handwritten notes after researching us online. It’s also the initial case studies from our first customers showing that our handwritten notes did indeed make a significant impact on customer retention.

None of these moments happen if you fold up shop during the early difficult times. The longer your company can exist and compete in your respective market, the better chance at finding a positive outcome. It seems like common sense, yet we see other companies burn cash way ahead of their revenue pursuing growth in unhealthy and unsustainable ways. Don’t be those companies. Stay alive.

Insights from the first month as a founder

As I wrap up my first full month of being back full-time in the start-up game at Wami, here are 3 insights/reminders that I think may help my fellow founders and early employees:

1. Always remember to ruthlessly prioritize.

I have a million things I could be doing right now, the most difficult (and most important) thing is figuring out the exact action that will keep me and my team around in 30 days, in 90 days, and in a year. When I was younger, I would often default to attacking the easiest tasks, and count that as being productive even though the larger, more important tasks remained wide open. The big difference today is my team now refocuses our efforts on accomplishing the single most important task, even if that takes multiple days or weeks to complete because ultimately that’s the only way we will survive.

As a team, we ask ourselves, “if we don’t do this one action, will the other open tasks even matter in 30 days?” For example, although we know we need to spin up our website, it’s more important at this stage for us to focus on generating revenue from potential customers from within our own network. With revenue comes the flexibility to hire incredible freelancers who would do a kickass job on the design with what we’ve budgeted at this early stage.

2. Understand your COGS or they will crush you.

Being that we’re bootstrapping our company, we are hyper-aware of the unit economics of our business model. As producers of an end physical product, we are simply not in a position to lose money on every customer. One of the most important parts of our business is managing and optimizing our cost of goods sold (COGS). Slight changes in materials cost, such as the recent rise in Forever stamp prices from 50 cents to 55 cents in early 2019, can have a monster impact on gross profit for a business sending 50,000+ handwritten notes in a single campaign. It’s our job as a company to understand where potential changes may come from an appropriately anticipate them in our pricing model.

In my former role at Bond, we threw in stamps as part of the single price customers would pay, sometimes a year in advance,  to reserve our services. While this was great for focusing on pure bookings growth, we were essentially subsidizing the costs of new customer acquisition. This created strain for Bond as rising COGS put strain on gross profit and, without transparency in pricing, all price increases were met with strong resistance by our customers. Ultimately, this was not a sustainable business model and, I believe, was one of the contributing factors to the closure of the company. At Wami, we’ve broken stamps out as it’s own line item, and charge our customers only for what they actually consume. Thus, we are much more protected from potential shifts in our underlying COGS, and able to provide much more pricing transparency to our customers.

3. Embrace the roller coaster.
“We landed our first few clients and they paid us! Things are awesome!”
“The base of our stamp machine broke down and cost us thousands of dollars we had not planned for. Things are not awesome at all.”

The highs and lows happen daily, weekly (and often feel hourly), but we know, if we are going to build anything that lasts, we must stay focused on our long-term vision, celebrate the wins as they come, and buckle down during the hardships.

Coursera: The 3D Printing Revolution

It was an honor to be part of the “3D Printing Revolution” Coursera created by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This course was listed in the top 50 MOOC’s of all time by Class-Central.

The module I contributed, the “3D Printing Ecosystem” covered the current state of additive manufacturing, and it’s growth potential and obstacles to overcome in the years ahead. 

This course demonstrates how 3D printers work, shows the various use cases, and examines the 3D printing ecosystem overall. It also explored the future of 3D printing and discuss how this technology will revolutionize our world. 

The goal for this course was for learners to have a solid understanding of 3D printing and its revolutionary potential and be able to print and customize 3D designs upon completion. 

About

My name is Aaron Roy. I’m the co-founder and CEO of Wami, a B2B service for sending personalized, handwritten notes at scale.

Here is a bit more info about me and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.  

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