Meet the Experts - Annabel + Shanna on Launching a Business
Let’s start at the beginning! What made you want to start a business? Is it something you had always wanted to do, or did you have a different career path in mind growing up?
But the idea for the strong alphabet magnets actually came first, then the business. We wanted the product to exist so we just tried to figure out what it would take to make that happen. At the same time we are both fairly risk averse with mortgages and careers, so we didn’t want to jeopardise that too much. We initially envisaged Wordbits being a side-hustle that would sit patiently waiting for us to have some spare time to invest in it when we felt inspired. So naive!
Seems like the pair of you are a bit of a Dream Team. How did you end up doing this together and what roles do you play in your partnership?
Alphabet magnets are such a playful, nostalgic idea and of course they go so well with lockers! Where did the idea for creating your own magnets come from and what do you love most about your products?
As we well know here at Mustard, it’s one thing to come up with a product idea and a whole other thing creating a strong brand and telling your story. Your products are beautiful, the typography is genius and the branding is on point. Tell us a bit about the design and branding process and the work that went into it.
The initial idea was to use Helvetica for the magnets but we were convinced to do our own custom typeface which was 100% the right call. It gives a more unique personality to the brand and is much more ownable.
The typeface design was informed by earlier prototypes which we had toured around New Zealand while on holiday there, putting them on the fridge at various friends and family’s places. We observed how everyone used them then shared these insights with the type designer. One example is that we noticed that children who weren’t yet spelling would use the letters to make pictures (this was before we found out how highly regulated small strong magnets are and that the product needed a 14+ age rating). As a result of this research the type designer made very symmetrical forms that paired well with each other, making them better to create pictures with.
We started the product design process simply by hiring a freelance engineer from Upwork to design the magnets to our specifications. We then 3D printed initial prototypes through Shapeways. We’d done a lot of prior research and testing of magnets but ultimately sourced these using Alibaba which is where we connected with our manufacturing agent who we love.
Starting a business during the uncertainty of the pandemic must have added its own set of difficulties. What ways did this affect your business journey and did it change any of the plans you had, since you launched your kickstarter pre-Covid?
Yes it certainly did! Because we weren’t actually selling anything yet it affected us differently to existing businesses though.
One of the major disruptions was obviously to travel, meaning that we weren’t able to go to China and be with the manufacturers during the critical time when they were finalising colours and surface texture. As anyone knows, nothing is ever perfectly correct the first time. We spent months back and forth sending samples and feedback via FEDEX courier, when pre-pandemic we could have spent a week spent in person at the factory and saved a huge amount of time.
Another example is that when our early supporters backed us on Kickstarter in 2019 they paid current shipping rates, but by the time we got the product sent out it was late 2020 post ’rona and shipping fees were 5x more expensive. Ouch.
How have you overcome the challenges you have faced bringing the business to life and how did you stay motivated after the setbacks?
Fear of public failure and letting people down is hugely motivating! We knew that because we’d taken people’s money already through Kickstarter and pre-orders we had to make it happen. While it was great to have the cash up-front from Kickstarter orders it was also a huge responsibility which came with a lot of guilt about product delays or issues.
Probably our biggest challenge is time. We have had to squeeze Wordbits into the gaps in our lives, between Shanna’s full time job, Annabel having a baby (and now another one on the way) and trying to still maintain family and social lives. We started out thinking this would be a tame side-project but have been blown away by the amount of admin and behind-the-scenes work that goes into a small, owner-operated business.
Lastly, without seeming cliche or like we have to say this (we don’t), the support of Becca and Jess from Mustard has genuinely been instrumental in us making it this far. We often feel that they believe in us more than we believe in ourselves and have been the most amazing cheerleaders we could have ever asked for. They have become informal business mentors, friends and also our biggest customer so there was no way we were going to let them down.
Where have you turned along the way for advice and inspiration - any good business books, podcasts or blogs people starting a business just need to know about?
*Opens imaginary rolodex!*
- Mustard! Following their journey and our close contact with Jess and Becca has been extremely inspiring
- Podcasts: How I Built This, My Daily Business Coach, Productpreneur, The Product Boss Podcast, Super Creative
- Books: The Lean Start-up
Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone starting a new business and what is the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Now that your products are out there in the big wide world, if you could tell your former selves (the ones at the very beginning of your journey) one thing, what would you tell them?
Describe yourself in three words. (Too much pressure! So we decided to describe each other instead...)
Annabel - Passionate, driven, visionary (she’s going to hate that!)
Shanna - Sharp, grounded, bubbly
We’ve met up to chat business, what drink should I buy you?
Annabel - Very kind of you. Top shelf would be a Cloudy Bay TeKoko Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, otherwise a buttery Chardonnay. Not that I’ve had either of these for a long time as I find myself 7 months pregnant.
Shanna - Literally anything.
What’s your favourite quote?
Annabel - Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.
Shanna - Underpromise, overdeliver. (Note to self, remember to actually practice this!)
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Annabel - Instagram + Dolly Parton
Shanna - Candy + Netflix
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Annabel - Morning
Shanna - Night (so yeah, that’s working out really well for us haha).
What’s your favourite mustard locker?
Shanna - Ooooh if I have to pick one… the Midi in Olive is a total babe.