Inspiration strikes us all on occasion, and I am a firm believer in encouraging the flames of concept. But how do you know when to continue with an idea, let it go, or wait for it to mature?
No matter how much energy, stamina, and follow through you have to make things happen, at some point you have to ask yourself if it’s the right idea and/or the right time. A few weeks ago I had to make the tough decision to pull the plug on an event I had been working hard on for six months. Show & Camp was my baby, and I felt it expressed everything I wanted to make happen in this world. But at the end of the day, I had to admit that despite the efforts I had put into it, we weren’t getting the ticket sales we needed to follow through.
I’d like to share the lessons I learned through this process because I think they are helpful to anyone who has ideas and likes to make things happen, which might be you.
1. Marketing 101: Watch Your Words
Know what words trigger people and what words entice—USE THE WORDS THAT ENTICE. Simple, right? For example for our event Show & Camp, we were originally calling it a “micro performance festival and camp out”. The word micro works because it sounds homey and hand-crafted, which is what we were going for, but “performance”? Stop the presses. People would rather die than get on a stage (just ask Jerry Seinfeld). The English language has 500,000 words, so you can say the same thing a million different ways. Test some phrases out on your target audience before putting things in print. It’s hard to turn around a perception of your event once the words have left your mouth. “Oh, it’s about performance? Well, I’m not a performer…” You just lost them.
2. Accept that the first time is scary for most.
Someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, there’s this thing that no one else has ever done, and I have no idea what’s going to happen if I do it. Join me?” Would you accept this invitation? There are VERY few people who would. This is just human nature. We want to KNOW what we’re getting into. That’s why so many people do so much research on a place before they take a vacation. It’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s hands and trust that everything is going to work out how you like. We like to try to control our experience so we feel safe.
But the people who DO say yes are the early adopters. They don’t need to have outside evidence to take a risk on your idea. They like the mysterious nature of the first time, and they like the rush of not knowing. Cherish your early adopters, for they are willing to take the risk with you, and their insights are what will help you spread your idea to a larger audience later.
3. Confirm buy in before launch.
There is a huge difference between, “Your event sounds great!” and “Yes, I’m coming for sure.” Enthusiasm does not translate to ticket sales. Your friends and loved ones want you to succeed, so they will say encouraging things to support you. And this does not mean they will buy a ticket! Get a firm YES from at least 75% or better yet 100% of your breakeven number before you launch. This confirms buy in on your concept, and means that these YESes will most likely become promoters. People want to go to events their friends are going to.
3. Super Edgy Concept + Expensive = Low Ticket Sales
So we’ve covered the edginess of the performance concept, now let’s look at the numbers. The venue we had chosen required us to hire a caterer, for even though it was a camp out, they did not want stoves to be used onsite due to fire danger. This increased our costs per person considerably. But just let people know that food is included, right? Wrong. If people aren’t used to getting food at a camp out, it doesn’t matter if you tell them it’s included, all they see is the price tag. “That’s expensive.” So the lesson here is to maintain a low barrier to entry as long as possible, or until your concept takes off. It takes people to experience your idea before they can decide if it’s right for them or not. Make it easy for them to experience it first.
4. Start with a Minimum Viable Product
So after we decided to cancel/postpone the event, a friend reached out to us and offered us his 30 acre ranch in Pescadero overlooking the ocean to do a BETA version of Show & Camp for a select group of early adopters on the same weekend. We couldn’t believe our luck and his generosity, and as of this writing, we are busy preparing the ground for our BETA event this weekend. The vision is the same, but the execution slightly different, and we definitely couldn’t have planned such a graceful pivot. As Eric Ries says in The Lean Startup, going with a minimum viable product (MVP) to test your concept is wise when you’re just getting started. Thanks, Eric for your wisdom, and thanks, Andrew for your land! More proof that the universe provides exactly what you need.
In the end, your idea has nothing to do with YOU. But it does have everything to with marketing and buy in. Perhaps you’d heard this before, and so had I, but when you feel the sting of money coming out of your bank account, you REALLY understand what it means. So keep those big ideas coming, but test the vision first with the diminutive beauty of the BETA.
I hope some of the lessons I have shared here help you in your entrepreneurial endeavors. I think we all owe it to each other to share our lessons learned so others might learn from them.
Reach out if any of this resonates with you, and/or if marketing has ever been a struggle. I am always excited to hear what big ideas others have cooking and see how we can make them fly.
Struggling to define and communicate your brand? Get clear with the Brand Identity Brief free download here.