In early 2010, I launched a business with a 10,000-square-foot warehouse, ten-year lease, and ten custom made vehicles but zero clients.
Looking back, it was absolutely crazy. I have no idea what I was thinking or where I found the strength and confidence to execute this risky idea. But, like a true entrepreneur, I was fully committed and believed it was a great idea that would definitely work. I had no doubts, there was no question. Success was the only option. There was no Plan B.
All the foundational work had been completed — infrastructure, employees, website, legal, regulatory, etc. But one question remained: how do I monetize this strategy and get paying clients?
To answer this, I took a nonlinear path. In my quest to find clients, I didn’t just try one strategy or tactic; I did everything I could think of. It was a 24/7 nonstop hustle.
I invested a lot of time and energy in a high-quality, SEO-friendly, keyword-rich website that delivered a great client experience because I knew it was vital to attracting and converting people to my service. I created marketing materials. I spent every minute of every day selling my service to anyone and everyone who would listen, physically meeting with people face to face. I even introduced Mercedes-Benz USA to the concept of customizing one of their Sprinter vans and they eventually became a client, reselling our Brilliant Vans on their prestigious Manhattan showroom floors.
If someone expressed any interest in seeing my custom Sprinter van firsthand, I would grab a chauffeur and bring it to them. I literally took my show on the road and tried to get as many eyeballs as possible on the outrageously large and gorgeous black Sprinter van with its custom jet-like interior. Nothing got the “oohs” and “aahs” better than seeing it in person. I showed it to wedding and event planners, took it to golf outings and charity events.
Eyeballs, word-of-mouth, photos, and social media (mainly Twitter, at the time) were my best friends. This phase of my business was all about awareness, exposure, and getting in front of people, whether they had an interest or not (because they may know people who would have an interest or need).
One thing I did very well was plant the seed by selling the dream. Rather than focus on explaining all the features or functionality of the Brilliant Van, I told people how they might use the vehicle. For instance, I would tell corporate travelers to “imagine traveling with your team to a client meeting and discussing the client’s’ portfolio the entire trip. Don’t you think you’d have a more productive and impressive meeting with the client solidifying and growing that relationship?”
Or for a pitch tailored to a family setting, I would say, “Imagine your kids and family starting the trip the moment you enter the van by watching a movie together or enjoying a meal on the way to the ski slope. Wouldn’t that be great family time and a memorable experience?”
And guess what?
The phone started ringing!
We didn’t even have our pricing strategy down. I’m sure this is a letdown to my fellow Wharton MBAs, but when you’re hustling as fast as possible, sometimes you just have to test on the fly and see what the market clearing price is. All I knew was this was the best service on the island of Manhattan and we were going to charge appropriately. So we did a quick competitive pricing analysis of the top ground transportation services in New York City, and I boldly decided I would charge even more.
We took a very simple strategy. Be the high price setter to create and define our own market. We launched with the highest pricing New York (and likely the world) had ever witnessed, in the middle of a Depression and with zero clients and no prior experience. We did this by design, with intent and with no apologies. In retrospect, it seems bold. However, an insecure entrepreneur is his / her worst enemy.
Sure, we faced some pushback when the phone started ringing — some people didn’t see the value or comprehend how we would justify the high price. Others didn’t have the budget, and even if they wanted to use us, they were constrained and unable. However, much like I suspected, we were appealing to a certain niche audience that had these real needs and were looking for the type of service we offered. So we started booking clients. Every day. This was super exciting and the very beginning of my dream coming true.
But, of course, there was more to do. We actually had to fulfill the client’s order. We had to deliver a spotless vehicle with an expertly trained, hospitable chauffeur, on time, 24/7, to travel all over New York City and the East Coast…
And that’s where the next blog will take us: the Operations and Fulfillment phase.
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Richard Fertig is the CEO of three firms: high end event transportation (Brilliant Transportation), a SaaS software company (LifeZaver), and an online educational company (Short Term Rental Secrets).