When you’re starting a business, you likely have some initial assumptions. Maybe you’re 100 percent confident of your target demographic. Or, you know exactly how you will market and sell the product. And, of course, how you will price it. Left unchallenged, these beliefs can become nearly sacred, or even worse, obsolete.
When my co-founder Bryan and I founded Tovala– a smart-oven-paired subscription meal service– back in 2015, I definitely viewed aspects of the company as set in stone. I was wrong. Every entrepreneur needs to learn what I did: nothing in business is sacrosanct.
Our product is complex, new to the world, and when we launched, it was expensive. We were convinced people would have to try the food first. Even while offering our product online, we doubled down on tactics for in-person testing, participating in many kinds of events, and even buying a food truck pre-launch (a great example of what not to do). The results just weren’t there. We pivoted (slowly, unfortunately) and started to question the hypothesis of “try before you buy.”
Today, the reality couldn’t be further from our initial beliefs. Last year, our customer base doubled because consumers did exactly what we initially doubted– they bought a premium product online without trying it first. This past Cyber Monday, we sold an oven every 37 seconds. If we had not evolved our thinking early on, we might not be where we are now. For entrepreneurs just starting out, don’t cling too tightly to early impressions.
Another limiting belief became a significant opportunity for improvement– our menu. Many of our initial meals tended towards the gourmet because that’s what much of our team liked, and what we “assumed” our customers would like. “Assuming” what your customers will like was mistake No. 1. Once we started talking to customers and prospects about the menu, we realized we were off base, but we still worried about introducing items that were different from expectations we’d already set. Slowly, we began to embrace testing things that might have been sacrosanct.
Now, we view our menu as a place for constant iteration. Last year, we launched breakfast for the first time as an initial trial. Our goal was to determine if taking up 10 percent of our menu for breakfast options would really be a valuable trade-off. The answer ended up being yes, but more important was our eyes-wide-open attitude that it could have been no. Rather than being too precious with our menu, we now view it as a channel to keep learning about our customers’ preferences. As with our menu, all companies can find channels to continue learning. Larger companies can test in isolation, and smaller companies have a great opportunity to be nimble. Whatever works best for your company, don’t let a fear of damaging the brand keep you from trying something different.
We had to rid ourselves of the two previous assumptions early on, but it’s never too late to question long-held beliefs. If there was one aspect I remained most skeptical about altering, it was the price of our oven. Historically, we thought it wouldn’t be possible to change the price of the oven because of what our current customers might think and what it might do to the behavior of new customers. Then, in 2021, we really started tackling the issue of barrier to entry, and it became clear that lowering the price of the oven could be key to doing so. There was no guarantee, but I only had to look back to previous tests to see that we shouldn’t be afraid to fail.
The results? Growing our annual recurring revenue (ARR) by over 100 percent in a matter of five months. The math worked. We increased our conversion rate, spent less on media, and still maintained a retention rate befitting the creation of an entirely new category, “connected food.” The success of our pricing test proved to me that no matter if an entrepreneur is in week two, or like us, six years into the journey, the willingness to constantly challenge and test remain just as important.
It would be a mistake to become complacent and have the testing stop here. In 2022, we’ll continue to aggressively test things like offering new food product extensions, packaging alternatives, and free trials, along with dozens of other things across every function. I’m encouraging my team to view each of these projects as a chance to reassess what we thought, and I would encourage every entrepreneur to do the same.
Challenge your own assumptions. Try something new. Be willing and open to failing: testing something you know will work isn’t really testing. Don’t let the fear of change– or releasing past certainties– keep you from taking the risk.