Sam Bendat has a story about his career... so far
Russian Trump Dolls - Kickstarter Project
August 2017 to Present
Back in 2017 when I decided to go on a crazy Kickstarter journey I was working for two companies, Startup Grind and CleanStack. Becoming frustrated with the attempts to get CleanStack off the ground (which I discuss later in the Cleanstack section) I wanted to try product development on my own, but this time with a simpler product and approach where I could control the whole show. Which I quickly discovered was both a blessing and a curse.
I decided to venture out and create my own project financed by my successful 2016 cryptocurrency investment into Ethereum, which you can read more about here.
The doll itself is obviously very simple but also has a solid market fit, think of the kind of people who liked to watch Stephen Colbert's political satire show the Colbert Report, liberal but with a satire inclined humor. The idea of the doll itself came from a chatbot a friend made during the Presidential Race, called Trump Survival where the user had to survive as Trump for 24 hours. Shortly after when Trump was elected we thought lets try and make a second bot where the user plays as the President, and to monetize it lets try and sell merchandise inside the bot.
So we sought to create Trump Survival: White House, though unfortunately at the time my friend was too busy launching his own chatbot company and couldn't keep up with my product development speed. So I decided to go and crowdfund my idea of a Trump Russian Matryoshka Doll on Kickstarter while I worked on bot V2.
Product Development - Making the Doll
To design the doll I had to predict how the Russian scandal was going to play out months ahead of time and create a design that was both funny and tasteful. Having done quite a lot of in-depth outsourcing for HomeHello and Cleanstack I knew I could find affordable quality talent overseas. After vetting 20 or 30 designers on Upwork, Freelancer and Envato I chose two guys and commissioned each to create Trump doll mockups.
Which WOuld you Choose?
I chose the design on the right, which was created by a gentleman in Uzbekistan for $15USD. When I was satisfied with the design and coloring I then commissioned each doll separately thereafter so I could oversee quality.
With the designs underway I began contacting manufacturers through Alibaba who specialised in wood Matryohska dolls. Again contacting about 25 different companies I ironed out what details specs and MOQs I had to work with. Once I was down to 4 manufacturers who I was confident could produce a quality product it became purely about pricing and lead time.
Once we settled on the specs of the doll I was able to get box die lines and other vital info for shipping pallets and carton sizes. Unfortunately my original designer's computer broke and he was unable to do the box design so I found an Indonesian designer on Envato who could reproduce the current style. You'll also notice a messenger code on the side of the box that leads to a special post sale version of the chatbot my friend and I created.
Product Marketing - 99% of Kickstarter
If I could attempt this launch again there is about a million different things I would try and change. I had a few tricks to create a email list and some thoughts on what what cold PR would be like. With the pre-purchase chatbot we created every time a user starts a conversation I can then re-target them or push them messages whenever I like, I treated this as an extension of my email list. All together by the point of launch I had an email list several hundred strong.
I also used other services like, Kickbooster which offer commission sales to backers who invite friends, Viral Loops which creates a referral landing page widget to incentivise sharing between friends.
Before launch I flew to China and visited my manufacturing partner where I mailed out 50 samples to what I thought were the most likely people to promote my doll. I was wrong, only two people of the 50 contacted me after receiving their free doll. Lesson learned, make sure there is an agreement in place for cross-promotion or something of the sort before mailing out free samples.
On launch night I invited 30 friends to a co-working space run by another friend and we celebrated the launch. I had drinks, snacks and computers available in the wings if someone desired to purchase a doll.
My Big Mistake (In RetroSpect)
I think my most fundamental mistake was setting the funding goal too high, in my eyes $20,000 seemed very reachable. in retrospect I could have satisfied the MOQ with dolls to spare for further orders by setting the goal to $10,000. I knew what my landing cost of the dolls was going to be per unit and I negotiated with a friend to use his warehouse for fulfilment in LA so $10,000 was realistic.
Crowdfunding undeniably benefits from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when a hot product takes off in its first few hours. I raised $2000 in my first few hours which could have been 20% of my funding goal, but instead was 10%. At $10,000 I would have been fully funded well into the campaign and I think more people would have been likely to contribute if they knew the product was a certainty.
I had to push quite hard though instagram influencer partnerships, facebook advertising and paid PR to get from $10,000 to $20,000. In the end I made it over my goal, but it brought with it incredible amounts of stress, nail biting and smaller profit margins. At several times I contemplated scraping the whole campaign and resetting for a new attempt.
People still seem to be enjoying them, which is awesome! Here is one review from Amazon, exceeding expecations!
Startup Grind - Melbourne Community Manager
March to October 2017
Startup Grind is the worlds largest start up ecosystem with a presence in over 95 countries worldwide and is primarily sponsored by the Google for entrepreneurs program. I had the great pleasure of working with one of the top directors of the organisation, Chris Joannou. Chris has built the Australian Chapter from scratch over several years and it was a great insight into community building to see behind the curtain of the organisation.
The format of Startup Grind is an informal fireside chat with a popular CEO, founder or personality who has a valuable story to share. Such guests include the Prime Minister of Australia, founders of Lonely Planet, Hired.com, Zendesk, RedBubble, Envato and so on.
As you will find out when you read about my time with Private Label Lab a bit further down I never intended to work for Startup Grind. Though my perspective on opportunities is to go above and beyond expectations and add value before day one.
I helped Chris here by creating systems for outreach and content creation. Creating and managing facebook groups and pages, mailing lists, and advertising campaigns to ensure tickets to events were being sold. Together we created lasting partnerships with ZenDesk, MYOB and Vinomofo to ensure the success of our events.
Our events frequently sold out with a capacity of 120 people, or even sometimes oversold with people buying yearly passes just to attend one event.
I had the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing people in the Melbourne and Australian startup eco-system and my networking skills benefited tremendously. Like most people in the tech industry I had been adverse to mixer events and talking to strangers but now striking up conversation at meetups and events comes second nature.
Cleanstack - Strategy & Growth Manager
March to AUGUST 2017
The first company I began to work with Chris Joannou on was Private Label Lab, when that separated I had two options, go on the job hunt or join Chris at a new company he had wanted to start, Cleanstack. Even though the company never succeeded in launching there is still quite clearly a niche in the US market for a strong plant based nutrition brand.
Cleanstack was going to be an Australian holistic brand that cut the highly homogenized dairy ingredients out of nutrition powders. We created a diet plan of five different powders that you would take periodically throughout your day and built a chatbot companion to help you diet and exercise. Still to this day nothing really exists in the market to fill this gap as we envisioned.
Even though the brand identity was strong and the design was planned out in great detail it all came down to securing a manufacturing partnership with favorable terms. The nutrition industry operates on incredibly low margins and anything less than owning your manufacturing plant makes it near to impossible to build a business.
With our struggle to secure a manufacturing partnership we also became tangled in too may iterations of the product. The chatbot I was building had become too feature rich. Learning JSON to build the bot I was scrambling to continually add new features without getting validation from users. Here is a comparison of the CleanStack trainer bot outline and what is the Trump Survival: White House bot - the trump bot takes about 12 minutes to play.
The packaging had also undergone several iterations and some times it seemed like we were making the greatest product in the world that no one was ever going to see. Many of these lessons I learned building Cleanstack I took with me to create my Kickstarter campaign. One valuable lesson is it's sometimes harder to decide when you're happy with a design element, product or project then reaching that point of completion all together. Knowing when to finish and move to the next task is an important skill within itself
Private Label Lab - Head of Growth
January to March 2017
When I completed my Master of International Business from the University of Melbourne, #1 university (college) in Australia and #32 worldwide rated by Times Higher Education, I began the search for a new career path.
During my time with HomeHello I had been working out of the co-working space Collective Campus in the heart of Melbourne. Chris Joannou and his brother were also operating a white label import and export business out of the same office, Chris was the entrepreneur in residence due to his work with Startup Grind. They heard I was looking for work and contacted me to come in and talk with them about their business and how they saw me fitting into the company.
After some brief negotiations I took the deal and began my new job only a few weeks after completing my last one. At that point leads and the sales funnel only began with cold calling prospective partners, together we turned this on its head and created a marketing strategy to bring prospects to us. Through some simple typeforms, intercom integration and leveraging a CRM we were able to create an efficient sales funnel to validate and pursue leads. Within a month we had 5 to 6 solid leads coming in every day. I also created an OKR system that was beginning to take root as well.
It was unfortunate that shortly after we began building momentum Chris and his brother decided to divide the company and I was faced with either unemployment or going with Chris to Cleanstack and Startup Grind.
HomeHello - City Manager
September 2015 to December 2016
I initially applied to Homehello as a business ops intern while in the first year of my studying my Master degree. After the interview I was informed that I had actually been interviewed to take over the city manager role and it was mine if I wanted.
HomeHello is the uber for house cleaning of Australia, the US equivalent would be Handy. At our peak we managed hundreds of contractors in 4 cities across the eastern seaboard of Australia.
As the the CEO and other key personnel stepped back in 2016 I began to command more responsibility for the company as a whole, taking weekly skype calls with one of the co-founders based out of Shanghai. I moved from managing one city to managing the company in its entirety, remotely managing a staff of 5 and my own staff of 4. When I started with HomeHello we had maybe 65 cleaners onboard, when I left we had nearly 140 cleaners in total. Our recruitment processes were optimized and demand was being met as continued to grow.
I am proud to say that not longer after I left HomeHello was acquired by another player in the market. I did have a vesting contract as part of my agreement with HomeHello. I had a lot of fun with HomeHello and learned a lot about business operations and management and view it as a great early win in my career.