Who doesn’t love biltong? The nation’s staple food bears the South African flag with pride and is sold all across the country, as well as overseas too. As an entrepreneur and business owner born in France, I relocated to South Africa five years ago – and instantly fell in love with South Africa’s signature snack.
That got me thinking: Was there room in the market to create a biltong experience unlike anything else available? I launched Biltong Board at the end of last year, offering carefully-packaged premium biltong delivered to your door every month. Then I expanded my product offering with a full online store to complement the subscription service and re-launched the website this September.
Here’s what I’ve learnt cultivating a business in a crowded market (which, upon closer inspection, isn’t so crowded after all!).
Don’t hold assumptions about the market
It’s easy to assume that any market you enter is over-saturated. But who’s to say it is?
I realised early on that I was filling a gap with Biltong Board; not necessarily a gap customers knew existed, but one they were willing to experiment with.
Biltong is sliced, packaged and sold en masse. I wanted to impart a sense of ceremony and offer flavours people hadn’t tasted before.
I set about creating a biltong experience: a box of delights with a specially-branded biltong knife to cut your organic meat with. The market responded in kind.
If your idea works, people will let you know.
Prototyping is good, but get it out there
It’s all well and good spending month after month organising your thoughts and putting plans in place, but nothing beats starting small and testing the market with a live product.
In developing the Biltong Board, I launched with a website and the core subscription first. I had recently sorted out my logistics process, sourced my suppliers and tentatively started developing a brand.
The full product range wasn’t yet in place (including biltong makers, cutters and branched merchandise) but that didn’t matter. I wanted to see if people shared my enthusiasm for the project.
Then, when orders started streaming in, I was safe in the knowledge I could expand – with a built-in customer base already in place.
If you’re selling a product online, make your website good
If you’ve entering into an online business model, your website is everything you have.
That means you need to spend time making sure it is user-friendly, appealing and intuitive.
Have a clear idea of the website vision in mind and don’t fall prey to gimmicky website builders that are foisted on you at additional cost.
There’s a reason website likes The New Yorker and eBay are built on WordPress: It works.
Don’t fall in love with your product
This is tough, but it bears remembering: for every entrepreneur that makes a success of their business there are 9 who are too invested in their idea and unwilling to recognise when it’s destined to fail.
Passion is great, but doggedly sticking by a labour of love clouds your judgement and makes you forget about the most important thing: the bottom line.
If your idea isn’t wowing the market, chances are it’s not the market at fault.
Be fussy with who you partner with
In developing the Biltong Board, I have had a three-pronged game-plan in place: Champion a subscription service; sell products over my store and start selling Biltong Board in shops and markets.
To achieve this goal, I’ve talked to angel investors, farmers, logistics companies, packaging firms – you name it.
What I’ve learnt? Choose your partner(s) wisely, especially if it’s an investor.
A good partner is someone who understands your product and has a vested interest in making it succeed; who adds value by offering strengths in areas you lack. Don’t enter into business with people simply because they ask you to.
It’s easy to overspend when you’re starting out, especially when you’re building the backbone of the enterprise: from website to offices space and more, early start-ups cost money.
But be prepared to fight you corner. Work out deals that’ll help you save a buck and repay the favour further down the line if you need to.
That means keeping the business lean and avoiding the temptation to simply hire more staff. Make sure the business scales first.
Don’t be afraid to try new things
Coming from France, I was confident I could crack this distinctly South African produce, but I wasn’t sure people would respond to the idea of carefully-packaged food delivered to their door every month. The subscription model is big in Europe; less so here.
Still, that didn’t deter me from building the Biltong Board around the key idea that customers would enjoy a platform from which they could order biltong to their door every month.
I didn’t launch until my website was built and my ecommerce platform worked.
And now, several months later, I’m moving towards my own product line.
Just because a lot of people aren’t doing it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. As I’ve stressed, the market always responds.
Take inspiration from the businesses all over the globe that succeed every day. The business doesn’t even need to sell the same product, but perhaps they’ve got a handle on marketing, strategy or a savvy financial model that you could learn from.
As a business owner, you’re going to be wearing multiple hats and required to master skills that may not be your forte. Don’t be afraid to fish around and get ideas from other success stories.
You are not copying anyone – you are learning.
Detail is everything
Someone once said: “Branding is in the details.”
When you’re building a brand, you’re conveying emotion and cultivating a reputation. You need to work harder than anyone else to stand out.
Every aspect of the product counts, from visual identity to one-on-one interaction with the customer. These are details that will define your brand and, with persistence, become value generators.