In today’s podcast I speak with Chris Sonjeow of LoveBookOnline.com (just in time for Valentine’s Day). Chris’ company designs personalized gift books for special occasions. Chris shares some excellent tips for starting a business with friends and marketing a unique product. He also shares the story of how the got their product featured on Digg Nation and the Today Show. If you’re in the product business for yourself, you don’t want to miss that part.
Starting a Small Business with Friends
If you’re starting a business with friends, it helps if you all bring diverse assets to the table. At least, that’s what Chris Sonjeow and his friends did when they began LoveBookOnline.com. Chris had a background in marketing and design, another friend was a programmer, another knew about databases, and another was the glue that held the team together.
Rob, the “glue” guy,was the one who came up with the original idea for LoveBook. He had a small, drugstore notebook that he had been sketching drawings in for his girlfriend. The drawings would be illustrations for page after page of reasons he loved her. When his buddies saw what he had been doing, the idea for a mass-marketed LoveBook was born. Self-publishing a book is also a great way to earn extra money; read about how to do it here.
Finding the Target Consumer
When they weren’t working their 8-5 jobs at a design company, they were devoting endless hours to creating a prototype of the LoveBook. The goal was to give the prototypes to loved ones as Christmas gifts.
If you cannot figure out who is going to write you a check for the service you provide, you are going to be dead in the water before you even start.
When those prototypes elicited the responses the team was hoping for, they began working on an application that would create mass books for customers. The site originally had been created with the male customer in mind—husbands or boyfriends purchasing books for the women in their lives. However, once launched, there was a learning curve with what consumers actually wanted. It turned out, more women were purchasing books for the guys in their lives, so the team had to revamp the website and book covers with the ladies in mind.
Getting the Word Out and Going Full-Time
Initially, the team relied on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for marketing the LoveBook, but they learned to not neglect mainstream media’s ability to bring in customers. Their friendship with Robin Spizman of TheGiftionary.com led to a LoveBook appearance on the Today Show. The novelty of their product definitely opened doors for them.
Every business idea requires money, and the LoveBook was no different. Since the guys on the team were highly skilled, though, there wasn’t as much of a need for a venture capitalist or an angel investor to help them start up. The guys formed an LLC, put together an operating agreement, and each of the guys contributed some of their own money to cover any initial expenses.
A small fledgling company like we were developing could not handle everybody, it just could not. So, everybody did what they could. Some people kind of took steps backwards a little bit. Some people just kind of took what they had to. There were sacrifices that were made in order to devote the amount of time that was needed for it.
Once LoveBook took off, the guys didn’t all quit their day jobs. Chris said a small fledgling company like theirs couldn’t have handled supporting all of their salaries. Everyone made sacrifices and put in the extra time that they could. People went full-time on an as-needed basis. And even when the guys went full-time, it was still terrifying to leave the security of their well-paying jobs with benefits. Read more about my experience leaving my job to become a blogger.
Chris advises anyone who is considering going into business with friends to first have a business plan. Entrepreneurs have to figure out who is going to write checks for the service they provide or else they will be dead in the water before they even begin.
If you are ever going to go into a business with a bunch of partners, save a couple of bucks up, go find a lawyer that will help you, somebody who understands how to set up an operating agreement between the partners so everyone has a clear understanding of what their responsibilities are, where they stand, and what happens in the future because how many times have you heard the horror stories about big fallouts of companies and things just going awry, so it is good to have that up front so everyone has a clear understanding of what they have to do.
Listen to the Podcast
Here are the questions I ask Chris:
- Why did you want to make part-time money?
- Where were you working at the time?
- Who came up with the idea for the lovebook?
- When did you spend your time working on the business?
- What drove you to stick with the project, spending extra time doing this?
- What were you doing at the design company? were your partners working there?
- What was your financial motivation for this?
- What skills did you need to start the business?
- How did you start selling your idea to the general public?
- How did you get on the today show?
- How did you structure the business to protect each others interest?
- When did you go full-time? was that scary?
- How did you handle health insurance?
- What mistakes do people make when starting a business with friends?
- Tell me the unique value proposition of lovebookonline.com and tell me what’s next for you guys.
Win a LoveBook™!
Chris at LoveBookOnline.com has generously offered to give away a free LoveBook™ (a $24.95 value) to one lucky listener.
To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment below telling us what your favorite Valentine’s Day gift is. I’ll select a winner randomly next Friday, the 11th and email you the promocode. One entry per person, thanks! This giveaway is now closed. Sorry.
To see the full transcript click show