Entrepreneurs are always told that the key to a successful company is simple: Find something that people need or want, and then just create it--or make something that people already use just a little bit better.

For Karin Shoup, founder of SportsChic, that's what she set out to do. After moving to Marina Del Ray, California in 2010, she started playing tennis at the local courts and noticed that the women around her spent lots of money on their appearance and gear, and yet they were keeping their expensive tennis rackets in plastic bags. There was obviously a disconnect.

Shoup saw an opportunity. With a background in product and fashion design, and having worked at Estée Lauder in New York, Carré Noir in Paris, as well as designing laptops for IBM and Compaq, she set out to create a new product.

After her 10 initial prototypes got positive reviews, she launched the brand in 2015 and has since gained national retail distribution through sporting goods stores and pro shops. Now securely in her into her fifth product line, she uses ambassadors to sell for her.

Thinking of trying your own product line? Here's some simple advice from Shoup to help get you started. 

1. Pick a niche market.

When you have a specific market focus area and customer persona in mind, it becomes easier to find early customers.

As Shoup's initial niche was tennis, she started by going to local tennis pro shops and asking them to connect her with their sales representatives. Those contacts enabled her to gain retail distribution in a hyper-focused way.

2. Add value.

The key to creating products is either to fill a need or want, or to make an existing product better. Examine the most-used products in your niche out there and research what people like and dislike about them.

For SportsChic, the existing solutions were adequate--but ugly. The goal, therefore, was to create a bag that would still look good, no matter how poorly it was treated. 

3. Iterate, iterate, iterate.

When creating a product, your first draft won't be perfect. As LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman famously said, "If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late."

Since the development cycle for tangible goods is longer than for software, it's even more important to get your products out into the wild to be tested quickly. Find out what's working and not working so you can get the next version developed right away.

4. Have a clear mission.

Starting a business is difficult--long hours, little recognition, and long stretches of low income can easily derail you from your goal. If you have a strong vision that is aligned with your personal values, it can help keep you going through the hard times.

While every business is ultimately about making money, Shoup says the most rewarding thing she's ever done is partnering with the Cedars-Sinai Journey to Wellness Breast Cancer program.

And when the stress of business wears you down? Here's her advice:

"Happy hours are good."

Published on: Jul 8, 2019
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