Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Jesse Hambly, I’m 1 of 3 brothers working at Pressa Inc. Luke and Mason are full-time founders as well. We have a diverse background, Luke manages engineering and manufacturing duties. Mason is in charge of media, content creation and strategy, and I (Jesse) oversee marketing, operations, and customer relations. We’ve been in business since 2015 where we’ve been selling our flagship product, Pressa Bottle. Pressa Bottle is a unique water bottle that allows the user to juice and press real fruit into any beverage.
Our company operates at just over $50k per month and we do this primarily through our .com and Amazon. We do sell in a few retailers which are Saks Fifth Avenue, Dillards and Uncommon Goods. The product lends itself well to the healthy/active crowd but we also sell a lot of units for flavored cocktails.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We started the project in college when we noticed class-mates flavoring their water naturally with lemons and limes. One of our roommates complained that she wasn’t getting much flavor and often disposed of the fruit at the end of the day. So we went to work creating concepts for how we thought the product would function and look.
We had absolutely no background in plastics and for this reason. Jesse’s background was marketing, Lukes was manufacturing and Mason graduated from Toronto Film academy. Our product is quite complex and was difficult but once we got it dialed in we’ve been able to repeat the manufacturing process perfectly. After our first concept, we validated the product by running a successful Kickstarter campaign. Our campaign wasn’t pretty but it did the trick and we reached our goal of 35k.
In our Kickstarter campaign, we underpriced the product. People on Kickstarter expect to pay slightly more to be the first to own a product, if we were to have done this again I’d price the product higher.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As mentioned above we ran a Kickstarter campaign and we used 3D printed prototypes to do this. We had no prior experience with 3D printing or prototyping but we were able to Google and YouTube enough information to produce a solid model. This allowed us to skip the costly prototyping step and skip right to validation. This was a great option for us since we really didn’t have any money and wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do this. We did have help from our college that allowed us access to a commercial-grade 3D printer but the original prints were done on a Makerbot.
Total startup costs were around 100k and we ran ourselves into more debt for inventory totaling about 50k. We were able to move through these units by selling them at tradeshows and local gift shows. We then started traveling, doing trade shows and other shows throughout the USA and Canada. The whole time we traveled we were constantly teaching ourselves how to market and sell the product online. At one point our digital efforts became more profitable so we switched all efforts there. Today we’re primarily eCommerce but deal with some retailers and various dropshipping programs.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The process to launch started with concept then validation. Once we were able to raise enough money we found a supplier in China who would produce the product for us. We went to China for several weeks to set up the manufacturing process. Once this was in place our website and 3PL were established. As many processes were automated to minimize work for our small team. The only manual process was customer emails, everything else needed to be self-maintaining.
If you have a product that fits into an existing category but wouldn’t be searched on Google, Amazon is a great way to take market share from competitors.
The entire project has been self-funded. Kickstarter was a primary source but this can be a tricky medium to use. The 2 main errors that we made were underpricing the product and not pre-campaigning long enough. People on Kickstarter expect to pay slightly more to be the first to own a product, if we were to have done this again I’d price the product higher.
Pre-campaigning can be done months before the launch. Figure out the optimal way to store emails and collect as many emails and phone numbers as you can. If you’re planning on using a marketing agency you will need to account for their margin. Some agencies take up to 50% of revenue so it’s important to pick the right partner. Pitch contests, credit cards, LOC’s and any other form of capital we could take on we did. It’s difficult to get investment as a CPG company without significant growth so we made do with what we had. I still believe this is what caused our company to succeed. It’s important to minimize costs when starting something like this, expenses with a physical product are much different than say a tech startup.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We primarily use Facebook. The reason is that each platform has its own purpose, Facebook’s is primarily customers discovering new things. If you’re not entering a market where people are already searching specifically for something like you product platforms like Google are costly.
Amazon has been great for us. The main things that matter are page rank and reviews and there is an abundance of strategies to improve these. If you have a product that fits into an existing category but wouldn’t be searched on Google, Amazon is a great way to take market share from competitors using Amazon PPC. Amazon contributes to about 50% of annual revenue.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We just finished Q4 and had our best, and most profitable quarter yet. We’ve really come to understand Facebook. We have our supply chain and shipping to customers streamlined and are able to add other websites into this via API eliminating work on our end. The months after Christmas are often slower and we’re taking this time to work on branding and content-related tasks.
This year we’re looking to scale up substantially, hopefully receiving investment. We feel that a substantial investment, injected into our marketing campaigns would be extremely beneficial. I believe we will hit $3M in sales next year. All of this is done from a bedroom office haha.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Mistakes are unavoidable and only help your business. The trick is to react quickly to limit losses. For us, having a small team has meant heaving automation. Emails, chatbots and an optimization system for social campaigns that our grandma could step in and run. We keep things simple and when we find something that works we capitalize on it quickly.
When you’re starting it’s exciting and easy to overspend while you’re chasing the final product. Until you’re selling, budgeting should be top of mind.
Things that you’re going to run into are customer complaints. You learn not to take these to heart quickly and use all feedback to better the company. I think one of the biggest hurdles for us was learning how digital marketing really works. Thinking you’re going to create viral content is unrealistic, you still try but it’s hard.
The main thing that I’ve taken from digital marketing is that whoever can pay the most to acquire 1 customer wins. Feeding customers into a pipeline of purchases so you can outbid your competition on the first purchase and sell the customer multiple products on the backend is the best way to do this. This is my opinion of course.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For selling platforms, we use Shopify to host our website and Amazon Seller Central. We use a 3PL service called ShipBob that’s an app on Shopify. For retailers, we’re forced to use EDI, which is a clunky and dated service. For email, we use an app called Front. This is a great app and integrates with Shopify so you can quickly find customer orders and tracking from within your email software. It’s also similar to a CRM as you can assign and chat with colleagues within threads without the customers seeing the team convos.
Social media is something that’s quite labor intensive regardless of how you do it. Mason is our community manager and he monitors our accounts every couple hours to quickly address customer.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Remember that when you’re starting it’s exciting and easy to overspend while you’re chasing the final product. Until you’re selling, budgeting should be top of mind, especially if you’re bootstrapping the whole project.
Also, when being given advice by mentors etc. do your homework on them. Some (not all) like to fill your head with things that don’t matter, they just want to talk at you. Sort through the people who are leading you astray quickly!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We don’t have any new hires at the moment and often contract out anything that needs to be done. We have partners in Europe and China but their business is more of a distribution model so they don’t work directly for us.
There are obvious benefits to keeping a small team while you grow. We’ll likely be hiring within the year.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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