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The Journey of Launching My First Product, “To Do Cal” (chrisnorstrom.com)
123 points by ChrisNorstrom 1544 days ago | hide | past | web | 24 comments | favorite

I was nodding along through a lot of this post. A while back, my wife and I started selling what are essentially speech bubble shapes cut from MDF and painted with blackboard paint. We sell and ship from Australia:


(They're bought by people for parties, weddings with photo booths, photographers, etc.)

I built a one page site and got a sale before we'd even created the product. At first, we relied upon a sibling with access to a college laser cutter and mailed out the product in expensive boxes.

Many of our adventures parallel that of Chris'. Weeks to get quotes progress on custom stickers, months of getting laser cutting quotes (including quotes from Asia or using material other than MDF), for the custom-made boxes we now use, handles, etc. We still paint the shapes by hand and cut/sand the handle shapes from broom stick dowel.

We've made some progress, but still have creases to iron out. Selling a physical product is an interesting adventure for someone who normally works on and builds virtual products/services.

I laughed at the photos of the room getting filled up with supplies. I've just installed new shelving in the garage to handle the 200 boxes we have folded and ready to go, the 600 cut-out pieces of MDF, the packing peanuts and bubble wrap, etc. Feels good to get on top of it all though!

Interesting point for a gazillion $ company:

"Fab is NOT automated, everything is done manually by emailing people back and forth a LOT. (At least when I worked with them). Everything is done through numerous people. There’s a person in charge of buying, editing your listing, shipping, accounting, UPS account setup, packing slips, payouts, etc… And they will all send you emails with forms, and excel spreadsheets, and instructions. It can get complicated on your first time through."

This is an excellent, candid, thorough post. If I were thinking of making/selling a physical product like this, I'd totally bookmark it to help avoid the mistakes OP made. Thanks for sharing!

Agreed on all points. I have a feeling I'll be coming back to read this again in the future.

Great read — thanks!

Once you're ready to expand, you ought to consider a calender that has the weekend at the end of the week, MTWTFSS, for those countries that have the week starting on a Monday.

I think the best effect of Kickstarter might be to show just how hard running a business and selling a product really is.

I often hear people lament over "it only costs $3 to make China, why are they selling it for $19 here!" without realizing how many details and costs are involved.

It seems every month there is a new story on reddit/r/boardgames about someone with an idea for a killer new game who raises ten of thousands through Kickstarter but still can't ship the actual product.

Can't help but feel like the product's domain (dayonepp.com) is practically typosquatting/deliberately confusing with dayoneapp.com, that of the incredibly (almost overnight) iOS diary product, Day One.

Couldn't help but bring myself to check registration dates (this was a year and a half later after Day One gained huge numbers of customers).

Quite probably accidental, but what a way it would be to gain custom... :|

Chris.. I just ordered two. Because: 1. cool product 2. your hustle 3. the cool post telling us about it all

Did you do any product testing with the calendar with family/friends? Iterative design exists in physical products as well and I was surprised that you didn't mention any kind of testing/feedback before the actual sales.

I guess your first run of 250 could count as the product testing, though.

Suggestion: What about putting holiday names in block capitals on the line in a very light grey? Then you can see the holiday name clearly, but you can also write over it without feeling guilty or the print being too distracting. The small black print looks like it takes up enough of the line to be annoying.

Edit: There are a lot of distracting spelling mistakes in the blog entry that would make me slightly hesitant about ordering a printed product.

Holiday names would make it a pain to sell the product internationally. That might be premature optimization ("Do things that don't scale" and all that) but it certainly is a consideration.

I mentioned it because they're included in the calendar that he took a picture of and the first thing I thought when I saw them was "So I'd have to write around that?"

it was a pretty massive post. cut the guy some slack

Thank you for sharing your experience! And I am certainly going to order the calendar as well :-)

That was a very insightful, and honest article. Thank you for taking the time to put that out there for everyone, and cheers on a handsome looking product.

Great blog and fun idea.

However, as far as I'm concerned the only 'innovative' part of this is the day-of-the-week indicator. Calendars like http://www.amazon.co.uk/2014-slim-month-black-calendar/dp/B0... or http://www.amazon.co.uk/column-large-month-planner-calendar/... are actually better at conveying that information anyway and use less space to do so.

Even if the design itself were completely new (which I don't think it is), I'd be very reluctant to say that a calendar design idea is something that should be given a legal monopoly, so that even if someone else were to come up with the idea independently they should be barred from doing anything with it.

So I wish good luck to the poster, and thanks for clean design, an informative and interesting post, but also this: please compete on execution rather than trying to get the state to grant you a monopoly over an idea that is at best a small incremental change to designs that have been around for ages.

How to completely miss the point but use it as an excuse for some half-assed rant about patents. The repeated ignorant, ill-informed, incorrect amd emotive use of the word 'monopoly' merely betray your naivety.

> How to completely miss the point

The post did not make a single point, but a large number of interesting points. I was responding to this one specifically, which the original author gave an entire headed section to:

> Yes I wanted to file a patent. If I work my ass off for something I don’t want it ripped off. I don’t want to lose money in the future due to bad business decisions in the past. I hate software patents like the next guy but physical inventions deserve some kind of protection.

Your criticism seems to imply that I should have to address every point that the original author made in his post which would be insane, especially when other commenters have already addressed them better.

> The repeated ignorant, ill-informed, incorrect amd emotive use of the word 'monopoly' merely betray your naivety.

I'm happy to be naive, but nevertheless, you're more likely to cure me of it with arguments rather than personal attacks. I will defend myself somewhat though:

I could possibly accept emotive, but ill-informed, incorrect and ignorant? Good alliteration obviously, but here's the thing: patents literally are state granted monopolies.

You can see them mentioned as such on the patent wikipedia page. The Mirriam Webster definition includes in its definition for Patent (noun):

> 2a : a writing securing for a term of years the exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention

> b : the monopoly or right so granted


Patent law in the USA has a lineage going back to the Statute of Monopolies in the UK.

I find it strange to imagine how someone could reject the assertion that patents are temporarily granted state monopolies, but feel free to educate me out of my naivety.

Great article.

He makes several strong points on ThemeForest's Avada theme. I recently read about this theme, it reputedly earned $1M for the author.


Lesson: Sell your product ASAP, IF there are sales, THEN continue and build a brand and site around it.

This and the accompanying graphic are 100% spot on. It's amazing how many times we continue read this same exact advice and continue to empirically ignore it in practice...especially for us techies. Sell first, build next.

From a software point of view, this is what I like to most about GitHub: using the README.md visualization as your web site.

Before GitHub and README.md, when you published your source code you also had to create a small website, just to let people know what it was, how it worked and where to reach you. With GitHub you just write a quick README.md and you have published your acceptably nice homepage.

With a simple README.md you do not distract yourself with creating an homepage, writing a CSS, maybe even installing a CMS. Obviously you can create a site later on, but only if and when it is really needed.

Very insightful and open. The point that stood out was how selling trumped all other tasks/activities.

The same thing was echoed by PG in the inc.com article that was posted recently [1].

[1] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6278293

Not that it will help you now, but WooCommerce is by far the best free WordPress e-commerce plugin I've used. They charge for extensions, but it's also very easy to extend. I created a custom payment option in just a few hours.

Thanks for the post! A lot of great insight, and a bit of inspiration as well.

My only thought: You're going to use the profits to get rid of that PT Cruiser correct? ;D

Absolutely great read and tons of advices! I'm all in software right now, but I'd love to release a physical product one day.

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