On Wednesday, I launched Elocue, selling books which help you write better. I began working on the business (to call it a start-up seems presumptuous) about four months ago, and have in the ensuing time reached the following Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs):
- Written 5 books
- Sold less than 5 books
- Gotten banned from 3 online forums
- Undergone 1 strategic pivot (from online as-a-service courses to, well, books)
- Sent 3 awkwardly-formatted newsletters
- Missed 2 scheduled launch dates
- Gone on 0 romantic dates
I’m in the middle of re-reading East of Eden and have just passed the bit where Adam tries and spectacularly fails to commercialise the process of refrigerating groceries. Like Lee says of Adam, I don’t have much of a head for business. I have almost 1000 copies of my children’s book collecting dust in my garage (I made the mistake of ordering supply before testing demand). My investment portfolio is redder than a scarlet macaw in a gunfight. I tend to bumble along, oscillating between loud bravado and wallowing inadequacy based on wholly unrealistic expectations.
I’ve learnt a lot in the past four months of building Elocue.
The value of market-testing is as great as any successful founder says. I’m not very good at this (the bravado/inadequacy cycle means I have a tendency to launch into big plans then mope at their consequences), but I’m getting better. The 5-Minute Essay, one of Elocue’s titles, received decent interest with only word-of-mouth marketing when I published it as a standalone book at the start of the year. I pivoted away from an online “courses” platform because I found myself having to explain it (and struggling to do so) to almost everyone I spoke to – which I realised meant that the value proposition was far from clear or worthwhile.
Selling is hard. I’m naturally reclusive, risk-averse to a fault, and take criticism or failure very personally – in short, all the things successful founders tell you not to be. In the past few days I’ve had many shows of support from my personal network as well as a major lack of sales. I’m rapidly finding that a humble, unassuming approach to selling is best, at least for my particular personality. Persistence counts too. Not all people are as conscientious as Elocue’s first customer, who has signed up or bought a book within an hour of any email (hi, William!). I’m hoping that regularly giving to my market – in the form of blog posts, newsletters, and other digestible tips for writing – will keep me at front of mind and maybe get some people interested enough to buy a book.
You can’t let other people define success for you. I’m a perennial worrier (once again, better writer than businessman) and the past few weeks have seen me wrestling fears that, like cobwebs in the garage, keep springing up no matter how many times you tear them down. What if I don’t get media coverage? Why aren’t there any sales this week? Is my product shit? My biggest fear is that I will disappoint myself, and everyone who’s encouraged me, by seeing Elocue turn out to be a wholehearted waste of time and money. The only way I manage to get out of this wallowing inadequacy is to remind myself that in many ways I’ve already succeeded. I’ve learnt a lot more in the past four months than I did in an entire university degree – from how online payments “tokens” work to why you shouldn’t launch until your platform looks and works great. As a PR and digital producer by day, I’ve become brutally aware of just why Return on Investment (ROI) is such a big deal nowadays: if you can’t sell, you shouldn’t bother. I don’t expect my business to change the world (which is why I don’t call it a start-up), but I do hope it will change me for the better.
Elocue was designed to last for years. Will its founder do the same? I certainly hope I will. Hopefully the rewards – financial, but more importantly mental and spiritual – will be worth it.
Elocue currently stocks titles for professional cubicle-warriors, high-school students, and aspiring creative writers. You can preview and buy them in the bookstore, including as e-books delivered straight to your email.
Originally posted on the Elocue Blog.