This Episode Gets A Little Sticky!
In a good way… because today we talk with Anthony Thomas, one of the owners of Sticker Mule – a company that manufactures custom stickers for all your marketing needs.
Oh heck, who are we kidding? Forget marketing. Stickers are just fun!
One day Anthony wasn’t in the sticker business – and the next day he was. So we want to know: why stickers?
Turns out he didn’t actually choose stickers. They sort of chose him.
Anthony graduated Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), a prestigious engineering school in New York, with a background in manufacturing. One day he was sitting around with a buddy talking about starting a business and the next day… business!
Anthony turns out to be the “act fast” type rather than a perpetual planner, but we’ll get into that in a sec. For now we have another very important question…
Why A Mule?
Mules are humble and hardworking, says Anthony, so it fit with the kind of company they wanted to be. They didn’t want to take themselves too seriously and they wanted to have fun. Plus when they say, “Our stickers kick ass!” it sounds even cooler.
It All Started With The Internet
True story: when the whole conversation about starting a business happened, Anthony’s buddy wasn’t even familiar with the Internet! So Anthony sat down and showed him the ropes.
They explored sites like Zazzle and in Anthony’s own words, “I showed him the Internet and the next day he wanted to start our business.”
As I mentioned earlier, Anthony likes to move fast and isn’t one for extensive planning. He’s more of an “act first, repent later” kind of guy.
So they went from Hello Internet! to incorporating a business to finding designers and developers to figuring the rest out along the way.
Move Quickly And Learn As You Go
Anthony says you can learn and improve as you go. He says it’s important to have humility and be able to question yourself.
He also says it’s better to go for small wins along the way rather than trying to get everything perfect immediately.
Question But Don’t Over Question
Questioning is a great idea but what happens when you get stuck in those moments of self-doubt?
Well, Anthony shares a big dose of common sense: while you should always be willing to question yourself and learn, once you make a decision then you just have to live with it and move on.
Or, as Anthony says, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”
A First Customer Fail… And Win
Anthony remembers his first customer well. Github, a pretty big name in the tech space, placed an order for 10,000 stickers. Since this was their first customer (and one that had a lot of influence to help get the name “Sticker Mule” out into the market) Anthony and his company decided to fulfill the order for free.
Turns out that was a good idea because it didn’t go so well. The quality just wasn’t there and Github said… um… well… thanks, but… these kind of stink!
So Sticker Mule fulfilled the order a second time and Github said… um… well… these are kind of… well, to be honest they still stink!
The good news is that the third time was a charm and thanks to a great collaboration between Sticker Mule (who wanted nothing more than to make their customer happy) and Github (who was willing to provide constructive criticism and stick around for the long haul), a batch of perfect stickers was born.
It’s been all ass kicking ever since.
Should You Grow Your Own Business Or Look For Investors?
Now that our own company is involved in a couple of startup ventures that you’ve probably heard me talk about recently, we’re really interested in the idea of building a business vs. seeking investor funding in anticipation of selling the business.
Anthony says it depends on where you want to go with your organization.
Do you want to flip it or go IPO? Then you’ll need investors. Just remember that you are giving up control of your company to a large extent.
If you want to build your own business and a culture that you want, if you want to be able to grow your team the way you want it to grow, then you don’t want investors.
Anthony says he knows a lot of people who have been burned by investors and sadly this is a story we hear again and again.
Good news for Sticker Mule (and the rest of us): they are only interested in building their business and making the world a happy place, one sticker at a time.
What About Marketing?
They don’t have social links on their website except for a “tweet us” link on their contact page and there’s no obvious way to connect with them online.
So we want to know: how are they doing their marketing?
Anthony says nobody on his team has a marketing background and he wants everyone to do what they love. So they are only doing a very organic type of marketing where they talk about what they do naturally but not with the explicit intent of marketing.
But They Must Market Somehow.
Turns out this “unmarketing” philosophy has been all they’ve needed so far. They live by the mantra: make people happy.
Anthony believes in giving customers such a great experience that they’ll talk about his company and want to refer them and do more business with them.
Customer experience for the win!
Bumper Stickers…. Not Cool
Another true story: in the beginning when they started the business they thought people wanted bumper stickers. Everyone seemed to have one but it turned out… nobody really wanted them.
Next, Sticker Mule got into iPhone skins thinking those would be popular, too.
So what did they learn? People want stickers. And they wouldn’t have known that without trying.
Live, learn, test and keep going.
Speaking Of Testing…
Since people weren’t ordering skins, Anthony decided to remove them from the site. But strangely enough, their overall conversions dropped.
When he put the skins back, conversions went up again – even though people weren’t actually ordering the skins! (Well, some people were, but not enough to account for the big rise in conversions.)
Anthony thinks maybe the skins are what people remember even if they don’t buy them. Whatever the reason, they keep the skins as an option.
Don’t Overwork Yourself Or Your Team
Anthony believes in making things better for their customers – but also making things better for his own team.
He doesn’t believe in overworking people.
Seems to us like Anthony has got the balance of business right – planning but not over planning, thinking but not overthinking, working but not over working.
Stickers. They’re Not Just Three Inches Anymore.
Sticker Mule also has giant wall stickers, up to 6 feet! Why? Because people asked for them.
At first Anthony was reluctant to produce them because there’s a big difference between a three-inch sticker you slap on your laptop and a six foot one that you mount on a wall.
So they experimented to find the best way to manufacture one that would work well on a wall surface, lay flat and be easy to install.
They changed up the materials a bit and now also provide instructions to help people put them up effectively.
Customers Come First
We ask Anthony how they decide what to do next and he says… whatever is most important to their customers.
I’m sensing a theme here.
Why Use Stickers In Marketing?
Stickers are fun. And face it, the inner kid in you comes out when you see one and you can’t help put it somewhere.
As a business owner you can put them in with products when you ship them, you can give them out at conferences – or if you’re like us you can give them away because.
Anthony says that if you are willing to put a brand sticker somewhere, that shows a commitment to the brand. And you’re more likely to do business with that company.
Plus it goes back to the happiness factor. Anthony is focused on making customers happy and that means a high quality product, a great experience and fast turnaround.
And You Can Afford Them
Considering the quality and the fact that you can custom design a sticker for just about anything, the stickers are completely affordable. Even teeny tiny businesses can buy a few, use them in their marketing and see what happens.
Imagine adding that happiness factor to your customers’ days.
Your Marketing Action Item
From Anthony: Get over your fears and hesitations and be willing to contact people to promote yourself. Find someone you think would be interested in your product and contact them and ask them if they’d like to try it out.
Make your ask simple and short. If you write a long email they may not read it. But if you write a simple request, there’s a good chance people will reply.
Links & Resources
- Visit the Sticker Mule website and add a little happy to your day
- Visit their second site Button Frog – it’s everything you love about stickers but for custom buttons
- Follow Sticker Mule on Twitter @stickermule
- Follow Anthony on Twitter @ac132
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