Marketing and Audience Building for Hardware Startups with Craig Rettew (Interview)

This article is based on a conversation between John Teel and Craig Rettew. Craig is an electrical engineer launching his own product called the Stomp Switch.

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Craig Rettew is an electrical engineer who runs his own design consultancy called Zepto Industries, and he is also an expert available to help you inside my Hardware Academy platform.

John: Let’s talk about the product that you’re working on now, the Stomp Switch.

Craig: I fell in love with the crowdfunding idea, and I’ve always been itching to kind of figure out what I can do from a product development standpoint to utilize Kickstarter as a launch vehicle for anything that I come up with.

I spent a good amount of time just focusing on coming up with different project ideas, and a lot of them come out of problems I have personally. But this particular one, the stomp switch, comes from a problem of mine.

I sit at the computer doing computer stuff most of the day, and I listen to music typically, and every once in a while I have to skip or pause the music – you could do that with the keyboard shortcut, but I said, ‘wait a minute, I’ve got these two feet sitting under this desk. I might as well utilize them.’ So I created this little stomp switch. It’s almost like a guitar effects pedal, if you know what that is, and now it sits under my desk and I use the thing every single day.

It sits under the desk, and if a song comes on I don’t like, I hit the switch and it skips a song. I made another one and gave it to my wife. She loves the thing, and I’ve got a couple other prototypes I want to hand out.

John: How many of these have you made so far and have you sold any or tried to sell any?

Craig: I have not tried to sell any yet. I have about four prototypes, but this idea is too new to go to the market. My biggest challenge is the marketing side. With the development side, I have enough experience with that to get through that, but it’s the marketing that I’m focusing on now.

In the Academy, we talk about how it’s always best to figure out your market before the product. I did the opposite here just because I’ve prototyped this thing before for my YouTube channel.

John: Yeah, it’s best if you think of the market before the product because as soon as you know the market, then you can start marketing. Typically, if you have to reach everyone, you end up reaching no one. It’s much easier to start with a niche market and then expand outward from there.

One of the many big problems I see so many entrepreneurs fall into is that they don’t think they can even start marketing until they have a finished product. So what that usually entails is a year or two of development time, thousands of dollars before they even start marketing.

I’m all about trying to minimize risk, and I think the best way to minimize risk is to have that audience build at least somewhat before you start pouring in big amounts of money into your project.

Obviously, you’re designing your own product, so you have not had to really pour a lot of money into it. You’re still at an early stage as far as any type of capital investment that you’ve had to make.

Craig: Yeah, I’ve basically put a pause on any more hardware development on this thing because it’s not completely ready to be fully manufacturable, but I know I can get there. So the biggest challenge I’m trying to solve is the audience building and figuring out that particular market.

John: So in regards to audience building, can you maybe talk about what you’re doing now? I know that you’ve done some YouTube videos, so has that been your main content strategy, and have they been aimed at the right target market?

Craig: To be honest, I haven’t done much, because this is a new idea, to launch this Kickstarter. Over the last five years, I launched a YouTube channel with no real plan. I liked making videos more for entertainment purposes to push me creatively and crank out some ideas. But from a marketing standpoint, I haven’t focused on a particular market for those YouTube videos. It’s literally just making fun stuff so I can learn and make videos.

John: I guess the big question you have to answer for yourself is what type of audience do you want to build? You don’t want to start building your audience and putting a lot of energy into it until you have narrowed down what type of audience that you want to build.

Craig: Yeah, that’s one thing I did get from my YouTube channel. These project videos that I’ve made, some of them have three thousand views and things like that. I can go in there and look at the demographics, and it is clear that my audience is mostly male, which is interesting. And they are my age, too, so that helps narrow it down as well.

John: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s helpful knowing the gender and age, but that’s still obviously a really broad market. I recommend just renting some cold Facebook ads. If you set up a sales page for your product and have a ‘buy now’ button, when they click on it, it just comes up and says, ‘it’s not currently available, add your name to a waiting list.’

You don’t want to get too crazy and spend a lot of money, but you can do some early experiments to see what type of people engage more with your sales page.

If they hit that ‘buy now,’ odds are they’re at least pretty close to wanting to buy, so that that can be a good way of getting not only some validation on the product, but also helping you to find out what market you want to focus on so that you can hone in and start building that audience.

Craig: Yeah, that’s a great idea. And also from that, you can start understanding how much it costs to acquire that customer, and that could help build in the price of your product as well. If it costs you five bucks to get a customer, well, that’s certainly going to affect your bottom line if you only retail this thing for 20 bucks.

John: Yeah, absolutely. Customer acquisition cost is extremely important, and that’s something people don’t really think about when you’re just doing organic marketing. But once you’re running Facebook ads, you don’t want to just be dumping money without knowing how much it costs to get a customer. And then what’s the lifetime value of that customer?

How many products are they going to buy over the lifetime of them being in your audience? Have you started building any type of email list or have you started getting things set up to build an email list?

Craig: I’m starting to basically build the product launch page, and then I’ll probably throw some money at Facebook ads and experiment with it, just building out that landing page.

I’ve been trying to think of a place to send people no matter where they’re coming from for things that I want to launch. I’ve had an empty website for a long time, and I’m going to focus on writing some content there.

That’s where I’ll hang the stomp switch landing page. And then from there, I want to start making some more YouTube videos and maybe narrow down that market and kind of constrain myself to make specific videos that could drive traffic to this particular product.

John: As far as the type of content, I think whatever type of content you feel most comfortable doing is probably the best place to start. Video takes a long time to create, but it also has really high engagement, so there’s a lot of advantages to it. It’s high value.

People get to see you and hear you, which is really beneficial, and it’s also got good reach. And then there’s podcasts like we’re doing now, which I find to be the best form of content for building trust with your audience because anyone listening to this now is most likely going to be hanging out with us for the next forty five minutes.

So each has its advantages. But in the end, if you determine that video is the best content for your audience, but you hate doing video, then I wouldn’t pick that. Because it’s just going to be really difficult for you to stick with it and do it week after week.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a full time job to do that type of video, and obviously it’s not the immediate income thing.

John: Okay, so as far as I know right now, you’re already working on building your online presence and building your email list. You’ve written two guest blogs for me – one was on the psychological path of being an entrepreneur, which was really cool.

And then you did a fantastic article on how important it is to test your product. I was impressed enough by your both articles, but you and I have been talking about introducing you to other websites that you can start doing a guest post for.

One of the common ways to build up that audience is through guest posting because if you’re starting a blog or whatever, no one knows about you, they’re not going to find you. So, you have to go out and you have to find other people’s audiences and try to get them to come back to your website and become part of your audience. Is guest blogging an area that you’re focusing on?

Craig: This type of stuff helps a lot. Being part of the Hardware Academy and speaking directly with you has been awesome because you have a lot of experience in this world in both the product development and marketing side.

If I didn’t reach out to you, I wouldn’t be on this podcast, and you wouldn’t have given me the opportunity to guest post. This interaction has been invaluable, it’s a good start to what I’m trying to accomplish.

Like said at the beginning, I’ve been following you for years, reading your articles, and it helped me navigate my startup and bring the product to market. And I just decided to reach out one day, and here we are.

John: I love hearing that. That kind of brings me to something that I did with The Academy that I wished I would have done earlier and that’s having a community.

For instance, you’ve been following my blog for years, but it’s all been one way communication. You got to know me and my thoughts, but I didn’t really get to know you and your thoughts.

So much of the new content that I create, or new ideas I have for the business, stem from conversations in the Academy community with my actual audience. You never know where any conversation is going to go or any type of content, and that doesn’t happen if you don’t put yourself out there.

People think that to find investors, you need to go out and just ask people for money, and that’s generally not the best way. It’s much better for them to find you and then want to give you money. So that’s why I think marketing is really powerful.

When you’ve been doing podcasts like this, you’re not necessarily marketing your product, but you’re marketing yourself and putting yourself out there, and you never know what type of opportunity that’s going to open up.

Craig: Yeah, definitely. I’m a big fan of pushing myself outside my comfort zone, and that has gotten me a few places, so I’m going to continue to try doing that.

John: Yeah, that’s generally a good strategy. And there’s such a mix of people in my audience. There are plenty of people that are expert marketers but have no engineering experience. But probably a majority of them are like you, they have engineering experience but don’t really have any marketing experience, or any interest in marketing.

Or they’re just afraid of marketing because it’s outside their comfort zone. And I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and do the things that you’re not comfortable doing because those are the things that probably need the most work.

Craig: I just finished this book called Quiet by Susan Cain, and it’s about the introvert/extrovert stuff. It’s pretty fascinating because there’s not really a hard line between the two, but there are definitely different personality traits and character traits.

One of the examples was Linux – the big open source operating system – but that was basically created through online communities and collaboration. And so the argument is, if Linux was created inside of an office environment, would the success of it be the same as it is today?

And so the reasoning was that introverts can speak differently through an online medium. From a productivity standpoint, the collaboration with open source software has been phenomenal, and maybe some of these people wouldn’t thrive in an office environment, but they thrive by themselves, sitting at home, collaborating with people on the other side of the world.

John: Yeah, I can relate to that because I’m very much introverted, where I feel most comfortable when I’m just focusing and thinking about something. But yet, I love online marketing, and I love making connections with other people.

I’m not a total hermit, but it’s a type of socialization that I find works well for my personality and my engineering type brain. It’s a lot different than going out and selling to customers or going door to door. And so many people group marketing and sales together, but they are so completely different.

Marketing is basically just getting word out that you exist and your product exists, and once they know about you, then you have to sell to them. You can do that online, too.

You don’t have to really do in-person sales too much in our cases. I had my product at a booth at a big trade show that had tens of thousands of people there, so I’ve done the in-person selling.

No matter what, you’re going to be forced to go outside your comfort zone. I was terrified when I went to Blockbuster Video headquarters to present my product to their executives, on one of the top floors of this huge skyscraper in downtown Dallas. I was terrified, but I did it because there are going to be so many obstacles in your way, you just have to have that persistence. I’m going to do what it takes to make it happen – that’s really what’s required.

Do you have any content on your website yet?

Craig: Yeah, just to give you an inside look, I’ve been writing articles on Medium.com, the blogging site.

John: Oh yeah, that’s right. I would really recommend that before you go off and do a bunch of guest blogs, focus on creating maybe three to five, or even one, pillar piece.

These are really foundational pieces of content on your website that are not just short little blog articles, but really in-depth ones that really cover a topic in detail. Get those on your website first, and then when you go out and do guest blogging on other blogs, you can link back to that content. You don’t want to go out and do all this guest blogging but not have anywhere to send any interested readers.

Ideally, you can even send them back to a landing page, because the goal is to get them to come to your website. Then, you can get their email address. We didn’t really hit on that too much, but with audience building, it’s all about email.

Social is important to some extent, but in the modern world, even though email has been around for decades, it’s still all about email marketing.

If you want to build an audience, you’re collecting emails. And that’s commonly one of the best ways to judge how successful a guest blogging opportunity is, by how many email subscribers that you get from that piece of content.

You want to make sure you have some content of your own to send people to before you start going out and just creating content for other websites.

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