Should We Do a Subscription Box?

Should we do a Subscription Box? We hear this question all the time. In fact, at Bulu we get asked so often that we had to start charging $10k to do an in-depth analysis for brands who want the answer. Yet, that doesn’t stop just about everyone for hitting me up for the quick “But for real Paul, what do you think, should I start one?” Which is awesome market validation! 

Spoiler alert: I don’t know. 

BUT, we can help you figure it out.

If you’ve wondered this before, or you’re currently considering Subscription e-commerce for your company, let me give you a head start by walking through the key considerations you need to make. First, a quick gut check: Subscription Boxes are fucking hard. The industry is young and crowded, they are logistically complex and there’s risk in innovation. The reward? They are one of the best (in my opinion THE best) ways to go direct-to-consumer while gaining valuable data, insights, and profit from your customers. 

There are a lot of variables that go into starting a Subscription Box and the reality is I don’t know your business, but I do know what it takes to get a Sub Box up and running. That’s why I G.O.T. you (cheesy acronym, I know 😂). The big things you need to consider are your Goals, Objectives, and Tactics. 

To provide a little context, I recently presented with Jake Bronstein, Head of Partner Innovation at Buzzfeed (and former reality show star!) at IRCE@RetailX. Bulu works with Buzzfeed to launch Sub Boxes like Lunarly, a nature-inspired self-care Box powered by moon cycles. Since it’s fresh in my mind, I’m going to use Lunarly as an example to show you how we walked through the goals, objectives, and tactics that gave the program roots (see what I did there?) 

*Disclaimer - Launching a Subscription program is not this simple, but this guide is a good gut check before moving forward.

Goals. Before you launch a Subscription Box you need to consider your company goals, your team’s goals, and your personal goals. This might seem like no shit Sherlock, but you truly need to grasp how important it is to thoroughly understand what you are setting out to accomplish and in turn effectively communicate that with the people around you. I’ve heard some terrible answers, so if your goal is vague like sell more faster, to get a promotion, or avoid getting fired, you need to STOP. The last thing you want to do is start something that will negatively impact your life that you don’t really care about. 

In developing Lunarly, our first goal was to “create an amazing customer experience for future potential Scott’s Miracle-Gro customers”, full stop. Notice that we are not trying to sell more subscriptions faster, but rather looking at the longterm benefit of gathering valuable customer insights to help Scotts interact with a new generation of customers.  

Objectives. Identifying your objectives can be tricky. You have to articulate what key performance indicators are most important. Basically, what benchmarks do you need to hit in order for you and your boss to be satisfied? And are those metrics Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely (S.M.A.R.T.)? Similar to goals, some bad answers I’ve heard include: make enough money to keep the lights on, do better than Karen’s project (sorry, Karen), and to wait until someone else tells you how you’re doing. Again, if your answers resemble any one of these, STOP. But, if you can define S.M.A.R.T. metrics that accomplish your goals, keep going. 

For Lunarly, we defined objectives by determining what success looks like for Bulu, Buzzfeed and Scotts Miracle-Gro, win-win-win. We boiled it down to accomplishing a 7+ net promoter score, hitting 15% or lower customer service tickets after each shipment, and a 10% or lower monthly churn rate. On top of that, we carefully weigh our customer acquisition cost against our lifetime value and payback ratio. TL;DR, for Lunarly, we determine success by highly satisfied customers who stay with the program for a long time. That’s how we get high-fives from our partners.

Tactics. To start, you need to figure out the specific and concrete “to-do” items. This is where most large brands get stuck. Subscription Boxes are logistically difficult to pull off and it requires someone who knows what they’re doing to step-in (literally why Bulu exists). Second, you have to determine who is accountable for what. With Subscription and innovation, there is a risk. You need to figure out who is going to fall on the sword if the program fails and who is getting high-fives if it succeeds. Third, you need a developed timeline and signed-off plan. We often find that companies will say they are ready to jump, but the budget is not currently available. Make sure your timeline is realistic and actionable. Last but not least, be prepared to revise your plan as you go. Looking into my crystal ball I can tell you that without a doubt the first 10 versions of your model will suck. It’s a normal part of the process because you will not have all the variables up front. The important thing is that you are willing to iterate your tactics as you go. Focus on the blueprints and tools, not the finished product. 

For Lunarly, Buzzfeed created the concept, Scotts Miracle-Gro handled the planning and Bulu took on execution. Each play a role in tactically pulling off a Subscription Box, but ultimately, Bulu assumes the risk, because we got you. 

So back to the original question - should you do a Subscription Box? You tell me your goals and we can help with the objectives and tactics. We’ve G.O.T. this together. 

We launched 3 new Subscription Boxes! #BangTheDrum

I’m a firm believer that in 2018 people have to accept it is necessary (narcissary?) to share with the world accomplishments whether you like it or not or you’re just going to fade out and have to pay extra to be heard. For me, it’s not a challenge to be loud and proud, it’s probably my defensive lineman upbringing because deep down I know, I'm loud, proud and pumped for the bigger team, our community #TeamNebraska.

That said, our team made some dope shit I wanted to share....

Up First….The Shark Week Box

Who doesn’t love Shark Week? TV channels go nuts for it and even Shaq plays into it! Which means we were pumped when Discovery Channel approached us with the opportunity to license Shark Week and create the box to promote this crazy holiday.

One of the most awesome things about this box is….we created everything inside the box….except the Swedish Fish. Perhaps we should have titled this box….Everything but the fish?!

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This meant everything from idea to concept to design, product creation, website, social media, commercials, etc -- The Bulu team did it!

Check out the guts of the box that WE MADE OURSELVES!

  • EXCLUSIVE SHARK WEEK™ BOBBLEHEAD. Who doesn’t love bobbleheads?

  • EXCLUSIVE SHARK WEEK™ HEAT-CHANGING MUG. You’ll never drink your coffee or hot tea out of a boring cup again! Plus, this heat-activated transforming mug changes color to reveal a shiver of interesting sharks appears right before your eyes.

  • EXCLUSIVE SHARK WEEK™ BINGO CARDS. This beats grandma’s bingo club any day. Creates a fun way to watch for Shark Week shows!

  • SHARK WEEK™ KINETIC SAND. Remember gak and floam? Yeah, kinda of like that. People can’t stop messing with this kinetic sand.

  • EXCLUSIVE SHARK WEEK™ DRESS UP & WORD MAGNETS. Think paper dolls for sharks, but way more cool and imaginative.

  • EXCLUSIVE SHARK WEEK™ T-SHIRT. No matter your audience, people go gaga for soft, comfy, unique tees.

Plus, we didn’t want this cool stuff inside a regular ‘ol box…..so we wanted to make the box part of the experience (something I talk about in depth in this guide to launching and growing a Subscription Box Program).

So when a person orders the Shark Week box, not only can they get excited about all of the shark week swag that’s headed their way, but they know they can play with the box and create a shark out of that too. Killer!! (haha, get it?)

Next Up: Partnering with BuzzFeed to launch Lunarly Box

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If you watch Shark Tank (not to be confused with Shark Week!) you’ll hear stories like, “When Big Brand XYZ called us, we knew we were onto something…”

Welp, this is that type of call for us. BuzzFeed!!!!!!!!!!

BuzzFeed reaches millions of people each day with viral content and new stories - which they’ve been cleverly monetizing through specific programs, partnerships with brands, and top secret initiatives that we’re not allowed to talk about!

As one of their initiatives, Bulu partnered with BuzzFeed to create Lunarly.com -- the nature-inspired monthly self-care subscription powered by the new moon. Yea, the MOON mother f*****!

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Piggybacking on the movement of mindful living and tying this into predictable patterns like the renewal of the new moon, millennials are going crazy for this box. The growth in organic following on social media alone has been incredible.

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Oh, and there’s even a big brand partnering with BuzzFeed through this box. Perhaps we can talk more about that in the future!

This is an example of a smart brand building an audience long before they activate it - [again something we talk about in the launching a Subscription Box Guide].

Last but not least…

Okay...so one of the top 10 biggest brands in the world gets to launch the press release for this Subscription Box and then I’ll talk about it.

But let’s just say if you start following me here, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snap or Insta sometimes I provide a little more color on some cray shit we’re working on...

 

How we hired 6 people in 6 weeks: The quick and dirty

“I need to hire but I needed them to start yesterday” –every entrepreneur, everywhere.

How the eff do you hire when your company is growing like crazy?  

I hear ya. I’ve made tons mistakes (and still do) in hiring. I’ve hired too fast, too slow, the right person wrong time, wrong person wrong time, you name it...I’ve made the mistake.

But through sheer force of grit and giving a shit, our good decisions have outweighed the bad ones and we’ve developed what we believe is a solid system to ensure we can hire fast and hire right.

How We Hire at Bulu

So let me break it down step by step of what we do at Bulu -- candidates have to have the right skills, mindset, experience or potential in some cases -- but they must fit with HOW our company operates.

For starters, we use a few tools to help us analyze potential employees -- currently the "CliftonStrengths" and "Hartman Personality Profile" are our favorites. (What are yours? Share below!)

CliftonStrengths have been around for 18 years. Candidates have to answer a set of 177 questions in less than 30 minutes, and it tells our team a few things about them, such as:

  • A measure of their talents within 34 themes (hint: we’re looking for diversity and folks that are self-aware of their strengths.)

  • An instant common language for us to accurately describe to other team members how candidates think/behave and what they do best. In most cases, we’ll relate it back to current employees and say “the applicant has Adam strengths with a Kelsey personality.” so we instantly all know them a little better.

  • What I call the “red flags” and there’s only a few of these. Things like...If someone is applying for a Finance position but “Analytical” is their bottom strength, likely means they just don’t have the skills.

The Hartman Personality Profile (aka the “Color Code”) divides personalities into 4 colors -  Red (motivated by power), Blue (motivated by intimacy), White (motivated by peace), and Yellow (motivated by fun). If you wanna try this with yourself or your team, here’s the worksheet.

Basically, we use these tools to:

  • Diversify our team. It’s critical that we don’t have a team of everyone who thinks alike – differences are good!

  • Help identify folks who embody our 4 core values – Fearless, Foundership, First Class, and Fire the Assholes.

  • What I call the “red flags” and there’s only a few of these. Things like... “White” personality applying for a position with a lot of travel, trouble shooting, sales, customer service, etc. is probably going to be miserable as they tend to be creatures of habit.

As an example, if someone has the strength “Harmony” and their color is “White” from the color code, this is typically an indication that confrontation will be hard for them. Which also means that the core value of being “Fearless” might be a challenge. Key word, might, every case is different but it helps us manage people appropriately.

Knowing this, in our process we can address things likes:

  • How do they overcome that?

  • How self-aware are they of their strengths and weaknesses?

  • Can they find someone to help them?

What’s cool with this is….while they may have trouble with being fearless, someone with those two qualities probably won’t have an issue with the values of “First Class” or “Fire the Assholes”.

By using these tools as just one step to analyze potential team members, it’s a way for us to say, “WE ARE THIS WAY….ARE YOU?”

And then if they say “YES, HERE’S AN EXAMPLE,” we can dig into that and see if it matches up with what we found on their assessments.

If they say, “Nah, that’s really not me….” – then that could be a red flag and we drill deeper, and sometimes even warn them that they’re likely going to be miserable working at Bulu. And that’s usually accompanied by key insight from the assessment that they appreciate.

Don’t Be Afraid To Say No!!!

Each company has their own culture, and that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. That’s definitely the case for Bulu. We’re closer to the ‘85 Bears than the ‘04 Patriots (only a few will understand that reference...so here’s a link to the ‘85 Bears. Please watch the whole thing.)

The goal of your hiring process should be to weed out people who aren’t a fit for your culture at all!!! Have you ever tried changing someone’s personality? Yeah, not easy (impossible as some psychologists would say!!).

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We have a great culture for someone – a specific set of someones.

And those folks somewhere within themselves need to be Fearless, take ownership (AKA Foundership), produce First Class work and positive and friendly. And be okay with some “tough love” because this is a team. The best team.

As an entrepreneur or anyone in charge of hiring and growing a company, you MUST have some set of core values and standards that define your culture, that likely embody the best parts of yourself. When you can use tools that help you identify people that fit the mold, you can make better decisions faster...which is all that really matters in business.

When and if you can do that, it makes it easier and faster to hire employees (we call them teammates). Which is great, because we hire a lot. And hiring 6 employees in 6 weeks... we followed this to a T.

For a look at those 4 core values I mentioned in this post, check out the video below. The real conversation happens in the comments but the video shows just how committed we are to our goals with our massive sign!

Give me a shout out if you have questions about any of this. Or if you want to know the fuck ups when it comes to hiring! Maybe I’ll write about those in a future post. 🙄

PS: Carefully apply values and tools to hire because the flip side of that is that you need to be ready to fire based on those same values and tools...but that’s a whole new post for a rainy day.

What Got Missed in the 2018 HitWise Report for Subscription Box Data

What Got Missed in the 2018 HitWise Report for Subscription Box Data

The HitWise report namedrops the “Subscription Boxes” everyone knows – Hello Fresh, BarkBox, Dollar Shave Club, Birch Box, StitchFix – you get the idea. Currently, it’s one of the best reports that documents our industry and I think it’s great and it gets everyone fired up in a good way.

But it’s not the whole story.

Read More