I’ve always had an affinity for bean bags. Heck, look at me from five metres and I’ll pass for one. Trouble is, designer bean bags cost too much; so unless a sack of foam pellets is worth a college education (i.e. Peking University), I make do with whatever
industrial strength material holds my weight. Then along come Jay and Shane from doob bean bags, who not only change my whole idea of bean bags, but add entrepreneurship lessons to boot. This week, I find out what it takes to start and run your own beanbag company:
Doob makes affordable, chic bean bags. Beyond furniture, doob is also a culture; it’s built a fan base through lifestyle-focused marketing and energetic online campaigns.
Doob broke the beanbag cartel (a line other finance writers can only dream of typing) through pricing, innovation, and what industry experts technically call being damn happening. So if you need a beanbag, drop by getdoob; their products are better (and cheaper) than what you’ll find in furniture stores. Also, free delivery!
Jay and Shane
Jay and Shane are the co-founders of doob. Coming from different backgrounds, their synergy is surprising. But something must be working; since 2009, doob has been going from strength to strength. Since you’re reading this at work and fantasizing about quitting, I asked some questions about starting your own business:
What got you two into this business? What led to the creation of Doob?
Shane: I was a law student in NUS, and back then I wanted a beanbag. But when I looked around they were all so expensive. Designer bean bags, up to $600, are unaffordable when you’re a poor student. Some weren’t even very nice. So I thought there might be a way to break the monopoly.
Jay: My background is actually in IT. That’s what I graduated with. But before this, I was doing marketing for SIA. So I could set up the website, develop promotions and so forth. I believe in doob’s potential, and from my background, these are the things I can bring.
A common problem with start-ups is capital. What was your initial investment, and how did you raise it?
Jay: *Thinks awhile* If you total up every single thing, I guess…close to $50,000?
Shane: It is about $50,000.
Jay: Well there was scrimping and saving; but most of the capital came from our shareholders, our concept-believers.
Shane: There’s grants you can tap into. There’s one from Spring Singapore, for entrepreneurs. We tried for that but we were too old; 25 is the age cap*. But if you’re going to start up your own business that would probably be an easier way to get capital.
(25 was the age cap when Jay & Shane applied. This cap has since been removed. – Ed)
Jay: Or else it’s about knowing people, raising awareness about your company’s potential.
So start-ups should spend a lot of time networking?
Jay: I’m mostly doing things behind the scene, Shane is the one out meeting people. He’s the public one.
Shane: Networking is important, but do it in a sincere way. Do it as a way to get to know people. If you meet people just to ask “what can you do for me?” then it doesn’t work. If you want to be mercenary about it then…
Jay: I think people can sense it.
Shane: Yes, people can sense it. Then it doesn’t really work. So it’s about building relationships.
Besides capital, how can start-ups, such as yours, keep their overheads under control?
Jay: Be willing to get your hands dirty. Do things in-house as much as possible. Don’t be like a big company and outsource everything. If you outsource work on your website, you’ll be paying more, and you won’t have real control or understanding of your content, or the outcome.
Shane: You have to learn the practical parts, so you can manage it yourself. Before this, Jay and I didn’t know much about sales and supplies and so forth. But gradually, we learned how to talk to customers, how to talk to suppliers.
We also learned how to consider things like: what’s the dimensions of the beanbag? How do we figure the height, the width, the material? Will the material be okay for certain weather, and so forth. As you learn the practical things, you’ll learn to manage costs.
And there’s also storage costs; warehouses were expensive, so when we first started, we shared space with X’tra Space. So that was one way we reduced the rent.
What about promotions? A start-up doesn’t have the funds for a big ad campaign…
Jay: You don’t have to be too conventional. Online, you can control a budget easily. Like with Google, for example, you can even decide on ads with a set cost per click (Google Adwords).
Shane: And stuff like the time we crashed that flea market.
Jay: Crash? We paid for a place!
Shane: *Thinking* Uhh, yeah. But we spread a lot beyond on our area. And we had these crazy competitions, and at the end of the day we gave away a free beanbag. These are ways to promote while interacting with customers, and we’ll also get to understand customer sentiment.
Jay: From a marketing angle, we make sure our promotions keep close to our branding and image. For these activities, we’re conscious of how they will strengthen or dilute our brand.
But what about press coverage? Don’t start-ups have to spend a lot of time chasing that?
Jay: I wouldn’t say we chase them; we’re not all out to get attention. We’re happy to take it when it comes of course, like the time Shane got us on 8 Days, or when Simple Plan used our bean bags…
Shane: They showed up in bathrobes!
Jay: Yeah, so bean bags are just right for their image.
Shane: But we’re very measured. We do our activities and if the press opportunity comes, we’ll take it. But we don’t spend all day chasing it.
So I want to quit my job tomorrow and be my own boss. What preparations should I make?
Jay: Prepare to sacrifice time. Running your own business is not a nine-to-five job. It takes more than self-motivation; you need self-discipline as well. if you’re the sort of person who has to be forced to get up and go to work, then maybe…*shrugs, shakes head*
Shane: Jay is the hard-working one, so it sort of motivates me. I feel bad when I slack. But also, make sure you have enough savings. And that depends on your lifestyle: figure out how much you spend every month. You need enough to keep going an entire year without income.
Jay: Also, think through your business model carefully. Do your research first, don’t jump into it. Be measured and take calculated risks.
Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (no, seriously, that’s the username)
getdoob.com (bag of pellets)
Mild Mannered Photographer
Drop by www.getdoob.com and furnish your room with a beanbag. Then comment and let us know how it goes!
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