Story Tuesday: All downhill
Starting a business requires a lot of self-motivation, determination, and money. We knew that. What we did not know was that keeping the business growing and keeping your head above water was not any easier. This entry is above our ups and downs for the year 2016. Check out the first seven (7) entries before reading this one just so you can understand better.
Part 8: All downhill
So we ended 2015 with a bang and a lot of energy. We had so much order for Christmas that after the rush we decided to remain closed for a few days so that Armando could rest and we could regroup. We began to take orders again in around midday January of 2016. During this time, we began meeting often with a potential business partner.
This person had proposed to us that he would be able to push us to another level. He talked about how to increase our inventory with more items that had a higher value to reach another market of customers, he told us about the contact he had made of potential buyers for us and how we could create an amazing website. These were things that we did need at the time and also seems too far or difficult for us to obtain so we were very excited about the collaboration.
Perhaps it was the fact that we were on a high from the very eventful 2015, or perhaps it was overconfidence with no action or being dependent on the expected partnership with this new person; whatever the case was 2016 was by no means as good as 2015 was.
In May of that year, we had our first set of matching phone cases design. The designs were made by a friend that had a full-time job but was making designs and logos for people on the side. We posted them hoping that people would be interested in that type of design but didn’t get much attention from it. We continued our best to keep on pushing sales even though we had absolutely no type of sales training and were just passing by as the days went by.
In late April we needed more ink. At the time we were getting ink from a company in the US where we had bought a new printer. [SIDEBAR: Last week I had mistakenly thought that we bought the printer in 2016 but turns out we bought it in 2015 so that story will only be seen in the compilation of this series] The company was pretty strict with the way they took payment. Armando had an Atlantic bank account opened after we received the prize from the Entrepreneurship Challenge so we were using that account to transfer money to the US for the ink. We had it and were following up with both the bank and the supplier because it was crucial that we got the ink on time. So while waiting for the money to go through we were informed by the supplier that the money wasn't cleared and that they suggested we contact our bank to speed up the process. They even told us that all they needed to verify was the name on the account, date of birth and address. Armando went into the bank that day and spoke to someone from foreign exchange and they said that everything would be fine and we should give the transfer a couple more days to complete. But like with a lot of other things going wrong in this story, that was not so. We later got an email from the supplier saying that the money was still not cleared. How can something so simple be so difficult?
Turns out that the name “Armando Perez” is pretty common. Yup. So common that it was also the name of a suspected drug dealer. So the bank of the supplier just needed to confirm Armando's date of birth to ensure that he wasn't the drug dealer. To our surprise, our bank never managed to confirm the date of birth on the account and like any bank without the proper documentation would do, they sent our money back. Banks have a policy that if they can't verify who the money came from they won't clear the money to go into your account and would basically return to the sender. The catch to the return to sender policy is that you are still charged for attempting to transfer money. So we were charged by our bank and they did not provide the proper service we were charged for. We were mad. Very mad. Armando stormed into the bank that day and closed the account he had and we were left having to find another way around to send the money and buy the ink.
We eventually ended up using Aeropost to make the purchase and bring in the item. So we got the stuff and we're trying to get back into our routine. That's until around June when I came across a post on Facebook.
The post was about someone complaining about a business that she bought a case from an online store in Cayo. Not sure if the business name has changed but the last I saw, the name was Mobi Belize. The customer complained about the quantity of the case they received was nothing like that of what they received. I was moved by the post and offered to give the person one of our cases at no cost simply to prove that some online businesses still exist. The customer sent in the image we made the case and they gave us an awesome review in Belize Business Review group on Facebook. They were happy, we were happy, everyone was happy. But someone was not so happy.
A few weeks after the good review in that group I started to see some bad reviews on our page. A couple at first, but then they kept on coming, to the point where there had to be over a hundred all giving us 1 star and pushing our total starts to 1. I was furious because Facebook doesn't allow a page to remove bad reviews. We had no choice but to completely disable the review section of the page.
We had been very slow but sales got even slower. It was so slow that Armando was able to handle the messages that were coming in and I became disconnected from most of the day to day activities. Armando was also discouraged because we were both looking forward to the collaboration with the possible partner that eventually didn't work out. There was no argument or discord but there was silence. The silence lasted a long time before we completely give up on the idea. It was very disappointing because we had been very dependent on the partnership for the website to go up, for the connections and most importantly for the support. Getting an outside person to trust us would have given us the validation we needed that the business was worth more than just the money we had invested in it.
Honestly speaking, we did not try hard enough to maximize sales in 2016 and we were in a slum. So when December was coming, Armando decided to change things up a bit. He ordered 3 different colors of chargers for both iPhone and Android phones, namely USB type and lightning. These came in time for the Christmas rush and they went quickly.
Having this new product on the inventory was a turning point for us because it represented us waking up from the fog that had been clouding our judgment as well as opening the doors for newer items that were to come. Because people responded so good to the new item we had newer motivation to promote, push and create opportunities for us to get sales. This was displayed by the numerous requests for a buy one get one free promotion like the one we had the year before.
So although 2016 was a mentally difficult year for us, and it showed in the number of ads, posts, and pictures of that year, it also showed in the numbers. We worked so hard in 2015 to increase sales just to lose out a lot in 2016. So after the Christmas rush, we were super excited by a call for collaboration we got. The call was a secret collaboration that was announced in 2017.
Overall 2016 defeated us because we allowed it to, but it also taught us a lot. It showed us that we needed to put way more effort into creating sales and we were super excited about the collaboration we had been asked to do.