Selling to Businesses? Create Partnerships Throughout Their "Stack"
by Felix Thea Podcasts Nov 13, 2018 29 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Every business—including yours—operates with a “stack” of hardware, software, services, and vendors that work together to meet its needs and help it run efficiently.
That’s why strategic partnerships are especially powerful when selling to other businesses, letting you leverage the collective sales force across different solution providers.
In today’s episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn how one company transitioned from selling directly to consumers to selling mostly to businesses through partnerships.
Alon Tamir is the founder and CEO of Studio Proper: maker of beautiful hardware accessories that enable great Apple technology experiences for individuals and businesses alike.
There are so many experts that are servicing segments of a business’ needs. And they’re all great opportunities to partner together and create a really great end-to-end solution for the business customer.
Tune in to learn
What is an industrial designer and how much does it cost to work with oneHow you can get burned from a partnershipHow to transition your site to attract more B2B customersDon’t miss an episode! Subscribe to Shopify Masters.
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Felix: Today I’m joined by Alon Tamir from Studio Proper. Proper creates premium cases and accessories, mounting solutions for Apple iPhone, iPad and watches. It was started in 2010 and based out of Melbourne, Australia. Welcome, Alon.
Alon: Thank you so much for having me, Felix. Great to meet you.
Felix: Yeah, great to meet you as well. So tell us, what is the most popular product that you sell?
Alon: Well we sell … Probably our most popular product is a car mount that we created about four years ago. And we created it at a time when car mounts were made predominantly using a suction cup method to mount onto the windscreen. And I don’t know if you’ve used a solution like that before, but they’re terrible. They fall off the windscreen at the most inopportune time when you’re turning onto the highway that you’ve never been on before, or when the temperature increases by five degrees. They just, you know, face plant straight onto the floor.
So a big innovation there beyond the magnetic mounting system that we created for our iPhone products was to use an adhesive, a pretty specialized 3M adhesive to mount the actual product onto the windscreen. So what you have is a rock solid solution that’s really slim lined, super durable and absolutely never falls off.
Felix: Got it. So is this adhesive like a trade secret or did you find a solution somewhere else and adapt it for your product?
Alon: Yeah. So not a trade secret. I think you’re right when you say we sort of took something that was in use elsewhere and adopted it for this use. But essentially it’s got properties that allow it to operate in a very broad range of temperatures. It’s designed for adhering onto glass surfaces and whilst its strength is super strong while in use, it also removes beautifully and cleanly. So it was more a matter of R and D, and I suppose that’s kind of been the core of Proper since we got started. It’s been defining what our vision is and what the best experience looks like to us, and then innovating in how we assemble that experience.
Felix: Now what’s your background? How did you get into this line of business?
Alon: So my background is totally not relevant to where I am today, interestingly enough. So I grew up in Melbourne, Australia. Got pretty bored of Melbourne, Australia quite quickly after high school, did some traveling and ended up in New York City where I lived for eight years. And I worked in a variety of digital marketing companies there, across email and web, which I really enjoyed. And then moved back to Melbourne, Australia after eight years hard time in New York City, as I like to say.
I moved back, worked for a family business for a time and then Apple announced the iPad. And that sort of changed everything for me. Self-confessed Apple fan boy, through and through. And I got the device and really it was just a matter of having a light bulb moment at the time. So really hard to kind of draw a continuous thread from where I came from to where I am today, but I suppose every experience has an impact and certainly the work I did in sort of digital and email marketing in the US is now definitely coming in handy again.
Felix: Right. So you told us about your most popular product. What was the first product that you released?
Alon: Sure. So the first product I released was very much driven by the iPad when it was first launched. If you can think all the way back. Apple launches a tablet, the first consumer tablet. It’s amazing. It really is a vision of the future, but in line with that, no one really knows what to do with it. So, you know, out of the gate what most people are using it for was consuming media, right? So, either you’re watching YouTube or you’re listening to music. And these are activities that take 10, 15, 25 minutes to enjoy. But the device itself was … Yes, it’s incredibly slim compared to anything that’s ever been available prior. It is quite heavy.
So there was a light bulb moment for me where I thought, “Hey, we can really improve on this experience if we think about it in the context of a really small Apple TV”. And what do you do with most TVs? You mount them to the wall because that’s a fantastic user experience. So that was the light bulb moment for me. It was, you know, here’s a great device, at least initially it was performing a function of media center, but it really wasn’t that comfortable to hold for long periods of time. So the first product I launched was a wall mounting solution for the first generation iPad. And it essentially comprised of a protective case that stayed on the device, and that case has what we call our “x lock” mounting technology integrated into the back surface of the case. And that mounts onto a small, I suppose puck like component that you can stick onto virtually any surface.
So we had people sticking it onto the ceiling above their beds and all sorts of places and that was kind of exciting to watch as well.
Felix: Now walk us through how you turned the initial idea that you just walked us through, into a product?
Alon: So I had a really, really terrible napkin sketch of what I thought … Without having any experience in product or industrial design or manufacturing, or anything relevant at all. So that … My first step was to sketch a very pedestrian version of, “Well, how can I get this device onto the wall?” So once I had that, I thought it was absolutely everything and a bag of chips. I thought it was going to be precisely what we would manufacture.
The next step based on a lot of Google research was obviously to get engineering drawings created for this product. And mind you, again, absolutely zero experience in manufacturing ever. So this is essentially every step that I went through in this process was a journey of discovery, going from absolute zero to a hundred. So, again, Google researching, “How do you manufacture something?” Oh, you need an industrial designer and then the industrial designer can take your idea and create what’s known as design drawings, or engineering drawings, and that is the material that you can then use as what you supply to the manufacturing factory to actually create the product.
Felix: So industrial designer … What is their … When I hear that term, it sounds like someone is working on large scale projects in size. But they are also able to design things that are handheld and in this case, very consumer focused products?
Alon: Yeah, absolutely. So I mean anything that’s designed at all, an industrial designer has touched or been involved in. So an industrial designer really is the professional, the skill involved in taking a concept of any description and then figuring out, okay, based on material properties, manufacturing processes and technologies, how do we actually get a product that is physically usable out of this … Out of what starts as a concept.
Felix: Got it. How do you work with one? Like when you find an industrial designer, what’s your working relationship like?
Alon: So initially it was just a contractor that I found through Google who was located here in Melbourne. And we just had a standard, kind of consultant client relationship where that group assisted us, or assisted me at the time, in again, just understanding the ins and outs of, you know, technically what I was trying to do. And then helping me refine the designs around how that could be achieved and finally landing on a design that was both aesthetically what my vision was directing towards and it was also manufacturable at scale.
Felix: Can you give an idea of time and cost for something like this. Not necessarily your exact figures, but how much can someone expect, or how long can they expect it to take?
Alon: You know, time wise I guess from really, really seed idea, right the way through to, “Okay, we’re now ready to manufacture a hundred thousand of these”. You’re probably looking at three months if you’re doing it with a consultant.
Felix: And it’s not like a full time thing. It’s like, you’re giving them direction and they’re working on it, and you’re kind of waiting around, or … ?
Alon: They’ll go away. Yeah, yeah. And so I guess, that’s the major difference between start up phase versus where we are today. Today we employ industrial designers who are working full time on our range. But at that time, it was very much, you know, buying time from an industrial design consultant and that meant I had to make sure that my costs were as minimal as possible. Obviously trying to hedge the bet and de-risk what I was doing as much as I could. So it was a three month process, and within that three months I had, you know, photo reel images generated of the concept [inaudible], images of an iPad mounted with this case mount solution in various environments to sort of line up the product with the vision. I had pre-production prototype samples of the components so I could actually use it and experience it, and then finally, the set of engineering drawings that I could then take and present to any manufacturer to actually have those discussions.
So the industrial designer will take you from concept right up to manufacture and then the entire world of manufacturing begins.
Felix: Got it. And in terms of cost, like the budget that someone might need to set aside to start working with one, like, what’s the range?
Alon: Yeah, look, I don’t think you’ll see much change from ten thousand dollars. And certainly that’s a number tied directly to complexity. So obviously there’s an enormous range of complexity around what a concept could entail. Thankfully things like injection molded, protective cases and plastic objects can be on the simpler end of the spectrum. At least it was as far as what my concept looked like.
Felix: Got it. So in three months of time, and you know, five figures of investment, so definitely a sizeable investment that you had to put into this. What made you sure that this was a business, a product that was worth investing that time and money into?
Alon: You know, so one thing that I’ve luckily had since I was quite young is a very, very strong gut feel. And you know, I’ve very often made decisions based on gut feel and over time and quite quickly I have come to trust in my gut feel, almost more than anything else. And this was just another example of something that I was so passionate about, so excited about, and something that I just desperately wanted to use in my own life. And that was enough for me to take that punt. I believe that if I felt internally so strongly that this improvement in the experience with the iPad was going to be so meaningful to me, there had to be at least a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, et cetera, other people who would respond in the same way.
So it was, yeah, it was obviously a big punt. It was a big risk. No matter how you look at it, but I felt strongly that the experience, particularly having sort of thought through it a lot. It wasn’t something that I obviously came up with on a Tuesday and then spent five figures on a Wednesday. But yeah, it was sort of … I think sometimes you have ideas that you can’t shake. It’s just something that you feel this internal compulsion that you just have to create it, you have to get it out there. And I think that’s very much how it was for me.
Felix: So once you have these deliverables, these assets from the industrial designer. You’re working exclusively with the manufacturer at this time? Or is there still some back and forth between the manufacturer and the industrial designer?
Alon: Yeah, no. So that sort of leaves you in yet another deep, black hole of the unknown. At least, that’s how it was for me. So I had these beautiful engineering drawings, but I had absolutely no clue what to do with them, right? So obviously the industrial designer that I was working with, sort of gave me some insight into what manufacturing looks like, but again, it was very much I was out there on my own. And I did one of the craziest, but in hindsight, best things I could have done. And I hopped on a plane to China after Googling manufacturers in China and setting up remotely from here in Melbourne, tours with ten manufacturing facilities.
Hopped on a plane, never been there before, didn’t know anyone who had, had no insight into language, culture, geography, really. But it was the next step. So I had to get out there and figure it out. And then that’s what I did. So I spent two weeks in Shenzhen touring factories. And back to the kind of gut feel method. I did land in … I landed with one manufacturing partner that I felt was trustworthy, had the same view on quality. Obviously a lot of manufacturers are about scale and volume. It’s much harder to find manufacturers who lead the conversation with quality and what are we actually trying to do here from a customer experience standpoint.
So the fact that I was able to find one manufacturer that shared that alignment and that vision, that meant that it was good enough for me to take the punt with that.
Felix: For someone who wants to do something like this and go on like a ten manufacturer tour. What tips do you have for specific questions or specific things that they can look out for, look for to determine if someone is going to be a good partner or not?
Alon: So I think, you know, the bottom line really is that you have to get out there and see with your own eyes. I think that that’s absolutely crucial. You can’t really do this sort of thing remotely. But what you want to see, is you want to see a manufacturing facility that’s modern, that’s well lit, that’s clean. You want to see that there is process and procedures being followed. A very important thing to make sure you ask for is to tour the QC facility. So that’s the quality control, which is usually in a separate building. And that’s really where you can start to ascertain who it is you’re dealing with. Alright, so, it’s easy enough to clean up a manufacturing floor when a foreign manufacturer, or a foreign client is visiting, but it’s the QC room where the magic really happens. And ultimately, you want to be receiving ten thousand units of perfection. And without a QC process and a QC team and a very well organized QC facility, that’s not going to happen. So I would say that that’s probably one of the most important factors.
The other is just look for vertical expertise. So if you’re making something that is predominantly produced in plastic, you want to work with a manufacturing facility that 99% of what they do is in plastics. There’s a lot of manufacturing floor knowledge and expertise that you’ll find in a Chinese manufacturing facility that comes purely by way of them doing this every single day and standing next to the machines that are pumping out the product.
Felix: Now when you lined up these tours before you left to go to China, did they ask you how much quantity you were talking about? Did they care about volume?
Alon: Yeah, they did. And I probably just put out, you know, 20, 000 units, trying to find a number that would be enough for them to give me the time of day. And also a number that was reasonable. Yes, absolutely. There’s certainly … You can imagine the amount of demand on these manufacturers, given how much of the world they manufacture for. So you do have to validate who you are and what your intentions are. Absolutely.
Felix: Got it. So was there one clear winner out of those ten? Or were you deciding between a couple at the end of your tour?
Alon: There was one clear winner, so some of them were just too big and I felt like we’d get lost immediately. And I didn’t feel as though they’d really care too much about us, in the context of their very large operation. Some of them were just not … They didn’t feel sophisticated enough. I sort of had concerns around cleanliness and organizational issues. But there was, thankfully … there was one that really felt right. It was a smaller shop, a small team, a lot of them were family members. They really kind of enjoyed and responded really positively to a young guy jumping on a plane with clearly very little knowledge. And they loved the spirit of it, and that was super meaningful as well.
Felix: Got it. So you mentioned something earlier about how you got this x lock technology. I like how you branded the technology that multiple products of yours is using. What advantages have you found with doing something like this, where you’re naming your technology and branding it?
Alon: So essentially, you know, we kind of created a whole new accessory vertical, by launching this product. And when you’re launching something new that hasn’t been done before, giving it a name helps people understand it. So instead of saying it’s a case that you can mount onto things, by calling the technology a name, in our case “x lock” and then for iPhone it’s “m lock” for the magnetic system. It gives us a central thread to badge onto every product in the ecosystem. And so what we can do is, we can explain the system once, how this technology works. And then the understanding that it applies across the entire range is easy.
So it helps in communicating what we’re doing effectively, and it’s also something we can leverage as kind of a naming convention as we grow, quite easily.
Felix: Right. It reduces the cycles of education you have to do, once you teach it to them once, or once they learn about it once, you don’t have to go back and explain it each time you’re marketing your product.
Alon: Yeah. And you know, consistency of language is crucial in trying to grow a business. So that helps in that vein as well.
Felix: Do you have examples of times when this has helped or hurt when you haven’t had that consistency?
Alon: Well, you know, it certainly took a while to get to the point where we were having discussions around messaging in general. In the very early days, you’re hyper focused on product and sales. And you don’t necessarily have the time, knowledge or experience to think about messaging and how the customer is actually viewing what it is that you’re putting out into the world. So certainly in the early … It took us a while to create the naming convention, to sort of understand that what we created wasn’t a wall mount, but rather it was a mounting technology. So I can’t necessarily point to any specific moments, but I think it was more a gradual progression from that really early start up where it’s about product and sales, and then sort of getting to the point where you can take a couple of steps back and take a bit more of a holistic perspective on what you’re doing, think about what your customers are seeing and how they’re digesting what you’re putting out there, and then start to fine tune that through things like naming conventions and range descriptions and things like that.
Felix: Yeah, and I think your positioned a bit differently than … Maybe vastly differently than the typical iPhone case sellers out there, I think because of the branding. And also, it looks like you’re focused on, at least, B to B is a pretty larger channel for you. Was this always a focus? Focusing on businesses as a customer?
Alon: No. Again, a really interesting part of our trajectory to date. So we started purely as a consumer brand and the vision was always consumer focused. But the iPad very quickly become a tool for business, particularly driven by iPad as a cash register technology. So I’m sure you see it many times, you’ll go into a café and what’s running the transaction is actually an iPad.
So that was a technology that was invented and launched primarily by Square initially, and has certainly proliferated since then in many ways. But we had this audience of businesses, these small to medium sized businesses who immediately recognized how great the iPad was as a cash register replacement. I mean, you’re going from a big, black box that typically could cost $30,000 to a device that costs under a thousand dollars, and could do a lot more for your business.
So that, the adoption of iPad by business was something that launched and very quickly caught fire. So the realization around businesses adopting iPad was that they needed a way for the iPad to actually exist within their context. So it was a very delicate, precious, breakable object that was super expensive still, right? So you needed a way to integrate this technology into your business, and the first thing you look for is a protective case. But more so, businesses had a need for a stand, or a hand strap or a shoulder strap. And so, unbeknownst to us, products were being bought by businesses, or by people for use in their business.
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Felix: And were you marketing it as a business product? Or did people just …
Alon: No, and we were totally ignorant to the fact that … For a while we were ignorant to the fact that our products were being used in this way and it was a really fast moving segment of our audience. Again it happened really early on in sort of the history of our brand. So it was well before we had the sophistication to do market analytics and understand where our products were being used. But we started getting messages from customers saying, “I love the iPad stand, I’m using it in my café. But hey, I need some security, so do you have any kind of way in which I can secure this down?” And these kinds of inquiries became far more frequent and that became a meaningful segment of the business very quickly. And there was an internal realization, “Hey, we’re actually servicing two very distinct users”. Even though it is the same device, there are two very, very unique markets that are growing around it.
So, absolutely not. We had zero vision around the business application of these devices, being part of Studio Proper, or Proper as a brand. But that changed very rapidly and has become an extremely exciting part of the business.
Felix: Is B to B a bigger channel for you today than B to C?
Alon: It is still around a 50/50 split. But I think what’s exciting about the B to B space is the pace of innovation. Right? So the pace with which the iPad is being adopted into new parts of businesses is really exciting. The peripherals around the iPad that are coming to market, to facilitate transactions and all sorts of things in that world, a lot of fast sprint innovation happening in the business side. So it’s an exciting place to be and certainly there are exciting partners that we work with and the customers are trying to do all sorts of wonderful things with this tech. So, very excited that we’ve stumbled into that market.
Felix: So you start off as a consumer brand, saw an opportunity with businesses buying your products and recognize that this was an opportunity that you could take on. So what did you have to shift around with the company to start the company to take on this opportunity?
Alon: Well, you know, it was more a mindset shift, more than anything else. I mean, again, our x lock technology could be leveraged to do myriad things. There was no limit to what we could apply that technology to, but what we needed to do was really understand who our two customer bases were now. What the customer profiles look like and what were the unique needs that each of them had. So the business user obviously has needs around a level of robustness, they need a level of permanence in how something is installed into their space, at times they need a level of security, they’ve got questions around if the wifi fails, what can I do to ensure that my system doesn’t go down. They have concerns around charge management, so ensuring these devices that are being used all day for really critical business tasks remain charged.
So it was more the understanding that we’re no longer servicing one customer demographic, or one use case, we’re now servicing two and they’re very distinct. So we needed to sort of create a bit of a mind shift within the business to understand that there are two, and we need to give each of them deep respect and deep analysis to ensure we’re servicing them effectively.
Felix: What have you noticed about the difference in that journey that the two types of customers go on from finding out about your brand and then eventually buying? What about the marketing or sales channel is different between the two?
Alon: So certainly on the business side, you’re part of the solution. So on the consumer side if an iPhone owner purchases a case and car mount, that’s what they’re going to use and there isn’t anything else in that equation. So we own that entire experience and we can sell that entirely.
On the business side, there’s obviously lots of components that go into a businesses technology stack. And so on the business side, we’ve had a lot of success in partnering strategically with those other components. So whether it’s the Telco that’s providing the data service, or it’s the systems integrator that specializes in retail executions, or retail fit out companies, you know. There are so many different experts that are servicing segments of a business’s needs. And those are all great opportunities to partner together with them to create a really, really great end to end solution for the business customer.
Felix: Yeah, definitely. So you mentioned there are companies that are offering complimentary products, but then also companies that are offering services that you’re partnering with. What kind of partner did you focus on first?
Alon: So it certainly was the partnerships with the point of sales software vendors. So the companies that are making the apps that allow the business to transact on iPad. They are the critical path to a business adopting iPad, or at least initially that was the process that most businesses were using iPad for and it was obviously fully reliant on an app driving that experience for the business. So partnering with those guys was extremely valuable because we recognized how valuable they were and they recognized also how valuable we were because ultimately, you know, if I’m running a café I want the software to work, but the software works in the context of a hardware execution and that’s all got to marry seamlessly so that I can actually get my day started and sell my coffee.
So we sort of solve each other problems, we’re sort of a ying to one another’s yang, and that was great for us.
Felix: Got it. So there’s a huge advantage with this approach because you can leverage the sales force of the team that’s already probably actively talking to these customers, but you have to first get them to want to partner with you. So what was that process like?
Alon: You know, so it’s always … The process is always the same. It’s about thinking about how you can add value and how you can help. And that’s the way we always try to lead our conversations. So we’re never trying to kind of shove our products down anyone’s throat, we’re never trying to sell our products to anybody. We’re evaluating what the other party is doing and we’re understanding perhaps where the friction or pain point in their process is. Do any of those relate to kind of a hardware challenge? And if the answer is, “Yes”, then how can we package up what we do so that we resolve that challenge for them?
And I think that approaching conversations, particularly when it’s a partnership that you’re attempting to strike, you’ve got to really approach it from a, “Well what problem can I solve for them?” Or, “How can I reduce the friction in what they’re trying to do?”
Felix: So have you created new products to make a partnership work? Or do you recommend people look for partners that can work with your existing product line already?
Alon: I mean, we’ve definitely created lots of interesting riffs on our standard range. There will always … Well, quite frequently there are needs that fall 25 degrees in either direction of what our core range looks like. So I think what you want to look for is a partner that demonstrates the level of quality in craftsmanship, the level of vision and innovation that you want to sort of attach yourself to. And I think if you identify those key points, there’s always something that can be done. So I would suggest you focus much less on, what’s the nuts and bolts that I can see today, and much more on a more top line, holistic viewpoint around, is this a company that’s innovating? Are they thinking in a way that’s impressive and that’s market leading? That’s usually the indicator that you want in a partner.
Felix: Can you walk us through the way that you’re developing these relationships with these partners? Are they large companies where you have to find one person and work your way up? Like, how do you even begin down a process of finding a partner and eventually working with them?
Alon: So initially, it’s usually through the customer. A customer will … So let’s take the point of sale software example, just to continue on the same course. They are obviously selling directly to businesses and their sale has traditionally, or at least initially traditionally ended at that software solution. And then the customer is very much left on their own to find the other components, a lot of which of the products we supply.
And so the customer would be buying the software. They’d be going out and buying the hardware components on their own, and often times that customer becomes an evangelist for us to the software provider. That’s at least how it happened quite frequently in the early days, where the customer was so happy to find a solution to their problem they would evangelize that to the software side and almost facilitate those discussions for us.
So that again, when you’re focusing on creating great customer and user experience, you’re focusing on adding value as much as you can, you’re focusing on great customer service, people want to evangelize your brand and your products. And often that gives rise to these discussions and these partnership opportunities because you know, they are talking to the same customer that you are talking to and it’s only natural that customers talk about what’s exciting them about the solution that they’ve found.
So in the early days that’s how we got in front of some of the software partners that we’ve partnered with, but I suppose, a totally different side of that is the distribution reach of our products and looking for distribution partners to help us gain further reach. And that’s a very different discussion and that’s typically about identifying the right person. A lot of these distributors are enormous with many hundreds of account managers or category managers. So that’s a very different, you know, defining the right person, finding a way to get in front of them. And again, how do you convey your value to that person based on what it is they’re intending to achieve?
Felix: Yeah, I bet the types of deals, the types of partnerships that you’re creating are also going to be vastly different. What are some examples of ways that you would work … Or you can work with a partner or they buy the inventory and then packaging it up with their product? How is it … How are some of the ways that that partnership is arranged?
Alon: Sure so there are a few ways you can do it. I mean, certainly getting products into a distributor is a great step. It’s often a difficult step but it’s an important step because many different types of partners can then pull that product from the distributor so it becomes sort of your centralized supply chain into all sorts of partners who may need that product.
So that’s option one. Option two is certainly the … Several of our software partners will purchase and hold stock directly from us and will pass that stock that assists with the on the ground implementation of their systems. We have partners for whom we create landing pages on our website that’s co-branded and that software just passes the customer onto us and we manage the hardware sale directly to them. So, you know, the old rule of being everywhere and getting that surround sound implemented is still crucial, being available through every channel, being open to creative ways to work with partners because there’s no one right path. I think that the thing that you need to realize is that flexibility and getting creative and being innovative even in how you supply product is really what’s crucial.
Felix: Now what about … What does not work with the partnership? What are some things that you’ve learned about working with partners? Or that … You just basically got burned or just didn’t turn out the way that you expected?
Alon: Look I think you’ve always got to be wary of … And this is probably more in kind of the distribution world, perhaps more in the consumer world than the business product world, but you’ve got to be wary of any potential partner that’s making enormous claims and promises off the bat. That to us is always a signal that we might not be heading down quite the right path. You want to find partners who are curious about what you’re doing, they ask a lot of well thought out questions about what you’re doing. Often partners that don’t immediately understand your value, they turn out to be the best because they’re the ones that take the time to think about things more deeply.
Felix: And not just make assumptions about your business?
Alon: Not make assumptions, not just … You don’t want any partner who is simply trying to get as many brands as possible under their umbrella. Those are typically the worst kinds of partnerships that you can find. Even though they sound great, it’s often fools gold. But the really meaningful partnerships will take time to develop, they’ll be based on a lot of really great discussions, either with a founder of the partner business or customers of the partner business. And that’s what we love. We love engaging directly with, you know, all the parties involved, having really meaningful discussions.
And the big benefit of that is also that you’re really right there on the edge of that feedback loop. So you also don’t want to distance yourself from the customer too much, and that’s been something that we learnt and has become very central to our strategy. We definitely do whatever we can to remain as close as we can to the customer.
Felix: What’s your R and D process like today when you have such vastly different types of customers on the B to B and the B to C side?
Alon: So we kind of go through quarterly sprints. So we’ll define a quarter as either a consumer or a B to B quarter. And obviously that’s not hard and fast, there’s a lot of times where that … there is an intermingling of the two. But when we think about innovating within a particular range, we try to bucket it into quarterly sprints. And you know, it really comes down to, again, making sure that we are very well aware and very invested in understanding how our products are being used, has that changed? What other new market technology is kind of in the same hemisphere as us from a technology perspective? Has anything major shifted in an industry?
So there’s a lot of kind of market analysis that goes into an R and D process. That’s always the first step. It’s to analyze. Step one is looking back, right? What has worked really well? What have our customers absolutely loved? What have they maybe not loved as much as we thought they would? How can we resolve that? And what’s going on in the industry. So that’s always step one.
And then step two is ideation. Getting really creative around what can we improve? What can we define? Is there any added value that we can integrate into what we’re doing? Is there a new product that we need to add to the range to service a market or a need that we’ve discovered? And then, you know, so that ideation process goes right from concept through to physical design. We do a lot of 3D printing, we do a lot of workshops. And then right the way through to pre-production, real prototypes and then straight through to manufacturing and launch.
Felix: So you’re obviously selling accessories for Apple products. What are the challenges with this when you are working, you’re creating accessories around, essentially another company … A large company, their product releases.
Alon: So the good thing about … So we develop exclusively for Apple devices. And the benefit of that is you don’t have an enormous number of fragmented devices that you’re chasing, each of which are on their own kind of iterative release cycle. Apple has fairly standardized launch schedules and certainly it’s always a challenge to make sure that you’re on top of it and that you’re launching your new range in line with the new devices so that customers can jump right back in.
But again, the very proactive decision to design exclusively for Apple is partially due to the fact that they have a really controlled number of devices and their launch schedule is controlled and consistent as well.
Felix: Do you get some kind of lead time or heads up on an Apple product before it comes out so that you can be ready to create an accessory for it?
Alon: I mean, we’ve gotten better at getting that. So there are certainly things that we can do now that we couldn’t do early in the piece. Not a whole lot that I can say in relation to that, but I suppose suffice to say that it does get easier. I suppose the more visibility we gain in the market, the business application of Apple devices is something that’s extremely important to Apple so we service a real need there. And yeah, it’s something that does get easier.
Felix: Right, makes sense. Now I want to talk a little bit about your website. It’s studioproper.com. What are some of your favorite features or pages on your website?
Alon: So it’s an interesting point for us to be having this conversation. We’re about three weeks away from launching our very, very substantially updated website. So the website that you see today is very much a consumer focused experience. The website is a couple of years old, built on a custom theme and sort of iteratively improved over time. And it’s been a beautiful process, going from something that started out as a fairly basic theme and then implementing add ons and improvements over time. Until we got to a point where we thought we sort of have to blank slate it and do another ground up development cycle. Again, in line with the maturation of our brand being heavily consumer and heavily business focused.
So that’s … I suppose that’s where our web and Shopify strategy sits at the moment. We’re at a bit of an inflection point and a pretty big change coming down the pipes in a few weeks.
Felix: Got it. I think by the time this episode is out there, people can check it out for themselves and see what you’re talking about.
Alon: Yeah, hopefully, right? I mean, we’re chomping at the bit.
Felix: Yeah. What do you think about when you are approaching a redesign to try to focus on both B to B and B to C. What are some considerations that the audience should keep in mind if they are also in the same situation?
Alon: So I think it’s the realization, obviously the buying approach and the buying decisions that are being made by each of those demographics, each of those target markets is very different. The questions they’re going to be asking themselves as they’re making the purchase is very different. Often the individual doing the purchase is very, very different. But ultimately, I think the big realization for us is that no matter who you are or whether you’re buying for yourself or buying for your business, you’re ultimately viewing that purchase at some level as a consumer. So the product, the experience, the web experience has to speak to you as a consumer, which means it has to be clear, it has to easy to navigate, the information has to be really logically arranged and easy to access. There needs to be very accessible customer service points so we have live chat on our website, as well as email, an email support platform.
And the product photography is obviously extremely crucial. So even though the two audiences buying from the website are different, a lot of the drivers are the same, I just think the information that you present needs to be different and specific to that purchaser. One thing that we are going to be doing very heavily on the business side of the website is a lot of case studies. So really sort of presenting the vision around how adopting proper business products can really enhance a business, from efficiency, from an aesthetic improvement, from a customer experience improvement. And that’s probably something that’s much more important obviously when you’re servicing a business need than when you’re selling into a consumer where … You know, our consumer experience is very much focused on the visuals around why our solution is great and is the right one for you to purchase.
Felix: Got it. So again, for folks who want to check it out, studioproper.com. Thank you so much, Alon. You mentioned to me that you have a gift for the audience.
Alon: Yes, I do. I will have a discount code for all our listeners today, to jump onto studioproper.com. Hopefully it’s the new website at that point, but either way, the products will be the same and yeah, we hope people jump on board and give us a shot. We’d really appreciate it.
Felix: Got it. So check out the show notes for this episode, we’ll have the discount code listed there. Again, thank you so much for your time, Alon.
Alon: Absolutely pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.
Felix: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Shopify Masters, the e-commerce podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, powered by Shopify. To get your exclusive, thirty day, extended trial, visit shopify.com/masters.
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About the author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. Got something to share with Shopify Masters listeners? You can submit your story for consideration.