The Nutshell story is possibly quite typical of many innovative businesses; starting small, pursuing the dream and somehow making it through the myriad pitfalls and landmines of being a developmental caterpillar to eventually emerge from its chrysalis as a fully formed butterfly. Hopefully not as short lived as many of that species, and certainly not in the same 'insect' category, but with every intention of spreading its wings and soaring, onwards and upwards toward the light.
Over the past twelve years we have experienced just about every sort of catastrophe that can befall any modern business; website and shopping cart hassles, the untimely death of a business partner - is there ever such a thing as a 'timely' death? - cash flow problems, business BS, product failures and recalls and customer interactivity. In all a plethora of situations that have tested the group and led to the winnowing-out of those unable to cope with the continual stress and uncertainty.
But it has not all been gloom and doom; our customers are the most fantastic folk we could ever wish for. Caring and understanding to a fault; the expressions of sympathy and concern following the personal calamities were heartwarming and provided the impetus for those of us who remain to continue. After all, with over twenty thousand loyal customers, how could we just roll over, wave our legs in the air and give up without a fight?
But the most heartening development was a totally unexpected invitation from Seattle. Out of the blue the online retail giant Amazon invited us to become a vendor in its fledgling wireless accessory space. More interestingly, from a business development point of view, the invitation is the only one ever offered, according to Amazon, to any organisation from within the Australasian area. Surely an honor to be welcomed, and warmly accepted with approbation.
This invite would take another two years to mature and Nutshell is now shipping small amounts of select product across the Pacific into two of Amazon's fulfillment centers. In the initial product list we've included the smartphone wallet and a small, carefully selected range of regular belt cases, all in black leather with either mag-tab or mag-flap and the choice of clip or loop, or just as a plain no frills pouch. Initially we are offering Amazonian smartphone users these product options in three sizes, #258, #260 and #208, to accommodate today's most popular smartphones and the growing range of accessory covers.
As we accept our second restock, at ten pieces per item, we are facing a whole new set of challenges associated with the management of the ordering, logistic and payment cycles.
So far the exercise has caused us to appreciate the process of creating industry standard product listings and definitions, along with their attendant identifications. A set of code for each and every variation - internal SKU begets GTIN barcodes, which in turn beget Amazon ASIN product codes - enable us to offer a growing range to consumers through one of the world's major sales portals.
We recognize the extreme need for accuracy, in both product specification and descriptions. Even so, it is still very much a case of "not knowing what you don't know you need to know," until you've screwed it up at least once. And that learning takes time. And patience. And money.
One thing we do now know for certain; the need for professionalism and deep pockets to meet the start-up costs of product and people-power has never been more important. As we stand poised on the brink of the very real prospect of having to satisfy a customer with an insatiable appetite it's global business learnt the hard way. No how-to manuals here. No shortcuts.
To learn how to be an Amazon Vendor also means I'll be climbing on a jet plane and heading, like Mohamed, to the mountain that is Las Vegas and the annual International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) next Monday, January 9. While Amazon Services is conducting a series of midweek induction seminars that will be an invaluable experience, as a fully paid up International affiliate member of the Consumer Electronics Association, I'm thinking there will be lots of potential allies and business partners to assist Nutshell be the best it can in a very competitive global marketplace.
We know that, even as a proven 'cottage industry' exporter with a very real potential for rapid growth, we cannot achieve this on our own.
If Nutshell is to 'cross the chasm' to become a successful Australasian exporter into one of the world's largest retailers with a huge and disparate customer base, the company needs, more than ever, strategic manufacturing and financial partnerships and, above all, support.
At a time when business needs more co-operation and less antagonism to overcome the significant global hurdles that face us all, it would surely be a crying shame to stumble and fall.
PS:: If you are planning to be in Vegas and want to say hi, enter the friend code: 699-829 in the CES app and drop me a note. I'd love to meet up..