I wrote this series of posts primarily for myself, or at least someone who is trying to make something electronic to sell. If that’s you then I hope this helps you on your journey! If you just want to see the end product then you can find it at https://hortus.dev/products/social-battery.
This is a long post so I have broken it up into chunks to make it a bit easier to digest. These are:
Selling the prototypes online
The first prototype badge working
In the previous post in this series I designed and manufactured a small batch of social battery pin badge prototypes. My plan was to sell them on Etsy. There were a lot of the non-interactive enamel social battery pin badges there already, but I figured I would stand out reasonably well amongst them - especially if I boosted my listing to get it at the top of the page. I signed up, took some photos, wrote a nice description and published my product. Everything seemed great but very quickly I spotted an email in my inbox with the title “We removed some of your listings that don’t follow our Seller Policy”. Okay, no problem… I figured I’d check exactly what policy I’d violated, fix it an republish… Unfortunately Etsy won’t tell you where you’ve gone wrong. All you get is a few links to generic articles about Etsy’s seller policies. Maybe it was because I was selling with lithium coin cell included?
I updated my listing to be batteries not included and tried again. The next day I woke up to find another “We removed some of your listings that don’t follow our Seller Policy” email. I messaged support to see if I could get more detail, but they replied with what looked like an automated response with the same generic links and said that they wouldn’t provide any further information. I decided to look at people selling similar listings to see if I could find any hints as to what I needed to do there. Someone was selling a badge that flashed LEDs in a random ‘supercomputer’ pattern. I noticed that they were shipping badges with a zip tie and had very prominent and clear instructions for securing the battery in place so that it could only be removed with scissors. I figured this must be what I was missing (and a sensible idea anyway) so I took some more photos, wrote some instructions, and updated my listing again.
I got the same email the next morning and soon after that I got another email saying that due to having too many policy violations I would be unable to achieve ‘star seller badges’, and that any further violations would result in my account being permanently suspended.
I had spent a couple of hundred pounds by this point, and whilst I knew I was taking a risk with this project it felt pretty disappointing for my plan to hit a brick wall before people had even seen my product. It was even more frustrating that Etsy were seemingly telling me that my product wasn’t safe or legitimate, when they had plenty of other similar items for sale that I assume also violate whatever policies I’d run afoul of but pre-date or are established enough to not be picked up by Etsy’s automated moderation. It’s entirely possible I’m wrong and there genuinely is some detail that I’ve missed that sets their listings apart from mine, but from my perspective it feels like a double standard and I reserve the right to feel a bit salty about that!
The next challenge was how to drive potential customers to my site. In an ideal world SEO would be easy and I’d be able to get tonnes of organic traffic from search engines right off the bat, but sadly for me other people compete for those positions. ‘Social battery’ is already a pretty saturated search term and it will take me a while to climb up the rankings for it. The easiest thing to do is to pay for traffic via adverts. I’m not the biggest fan of online advertising or the AdTech industry (I’ll save that rant for another blog post) but it’s hard to beat it when you’re trying to get your product in front of people who otherwise wouldn’t know about it and wouldn’t go searching for it. Meta ads felt like a relatively inoffensive way of doing this to me - users expect to see new and varied content in their feed, and they’re aware that some of that will have been paid for.
I put together a basic ad on Facebook, set it to run for the weekend and spend ~£5 a day - not much but hopefully enough to test the water. The next day a new email appeared in my inbox and this time it said I’d received a new payment on stripe! Very exciting! I was delighted because this was proof that there were people out there who wanted to buy the thing I’d designed. I left the ads running and sold another badge through them that weekend. I sold two more directly to a friend who wanted to give them to his sisters as Christmas gifts, and I kept the last prototype for myself. The only wrinkle was that between advertising and manufacturing costs I’d made a relatively large loss - but that was expected. The goal wasn’t to make money with these prototypes, it was to prove that people wanted to buy them with a view to doing a bigger (and more cost effective) manufacturing run in the future, and as far as I was concerned that goal had been achieved.
You can read about how I went from this prototype to my production version in the next post in this series.