I have a tendency to think 10 steps ahead and dream big. So yes, I think about what I will say when Guy Raz interviews me for the How I Built This podcast and asks about the biggest mistake I made in my first year of business.
My biggest mistake was letting my ego get in the way of listening to all the warnings I've ever heard to not tie up money in inventory. It led to me spending over $20k to buy inventory for 500 TreatBoxes that I would never sell through.
Maybe it's a little unfair to say it was my ego's fault—don't get me wrong, there are plenty of holes my ego has been responsible for digging me into. But in this case, I think it may have been a combination of lack of business experience and pure ambition. Let me back up a bit to where this all started.
I launched Kono's Kitchen in July of 2020. Right smack in the middle of a pandemic and raging wildfires. I knew that I wanted some sort of Holiday TreatBox, and I wanted to partner with woman of color-owned small businesses, so I started the process of sourcing products immediately after launching my company. Once I found companies I wanted to partner with to include their products in my Holiday TreatBox, the question they all asked me was: how many do you need?
There is honestly no basis for the number I chose. I didn't talk to companies with similar products, I didn't do research into consumer trends for gift boxes, I didn't have any historical customer data because I had just launched. The biggest driver for my number was the mission behind the TreatBoxes: for every TreatBox sold, I was going to donate a bag of Kono's treats to a local LA rescue that I've worked with in the past, Wags and Walks.
So the magic number became 500. 500 TreatBoxes sold. 500 bags of Kono's treats donated. Not long after I launched Kono's Kitchen, another small business owner asked me if she could buy some treats to include in her gift boxes. I asked her how many she needed and she said 10. I remember thinking, what did I get myself into? 10 sounds like a reasonable number, and yet here I am trying to sell 500 fucking TreatBoxes for the holidays.
Seven months after launch, one holiday season under my belt, and one FB/IG ad campaign later and guess how many Holiday TreatBoxes I ended up selling?
25 TreatBoxes. And my mom & sister probably bought at least 5 of them (thanks, fam, I love you <3)
What did I learn from my biggest business mistake so far?
Start small and test a product first. There is one caveat I will mention here—when you buy products at a wholesale price, there's usually an MOQ, or Minimum Order Quantity. I reached out directly to the companies to ask what those numbers were, but I definitely could've started a lot smaller than 500.
Building brand awareness and product awareness is hard AF. Most of my marketing efforts are focused on social media, and specifically Instagram. The problem is, you can have thousands of followers (not that I do yet) and only a very, very small percentage will actually see your posts! This was pretty eye-opening for me. Despite how awesome the branding for my Holiday TreatBoxes turned out, there was no reason to scale up the production when I hadn't even built much brand awareness yet.
Don't tie up your money in inventory. I am now an example of what it looks like when this happens. I have less capital for new products because I need to sell through what I currently have first, which puts a bit more pressure on me to sell. Learn from my mistake. And then go forth and make a ton of your own that others can learn from as well.
- Take a step back and acknowledge your wins. Despite the entire rest of this post....THIS right here is the biggest business lesson for me, and something I continue to work on daily. At the end of the day, I was able to donate 25 bags of Kono's treats to Wags and Walks. And to do that after just 7 months of business is a pretty big win in my book.
There you have it. My biggest business mistake so far. And you know what? It won't be my last. But I'm grateful for every lesson I've learned in the past seven months and the personal growth I've experienced along the way. It's been a wild ride so far and I'm holding on tight for what's to come.
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