I can’t believe it but we are almost done with our Early Supporter Program! We have 4 shipping out Monday and just one more form to cut this week. I thought it might be a good time to reflect.
Learning by doing
When starting anything new, including starting a business, you can only really learn by doing the darn thing. As much as we’d like to think that we can imagine what it’s going to be like, there will always be surprises and some failures – which I prefer to frame as “learning”.
So what did we learn? A lot, thanks to all the incredibly patient and generous sewists out there that took a chance on us. Here are the big take-aways:
1 – Squishy is better than hard as a rock.
Our original EPS foam was inexpensive, rigid, and easy to machine. All of our early prototypes were made of this type of foam. Early feedback was positive so we ordered a two car garage full of it. That’s a lot of capital for us at this stage in our business but we figured it was a good move to get a price break.
It turns out that wasn’t a good idea. As testers used their forms more, we discovered that the rigidity of the EPA foam that made it so easy to sculpt also made it vulnerable to damage. Dress forms need to be durable, yet our forms couldn’t even survive a bump into a table.
At that time, we had already scheduled all of our Early Supporter body scan appointments (we assisted everyone over video chat). We had to put the whole program on hold for a few weeks to research and test an alternative. We ultimately selected a little bit pricer compressible polyurethane foam that performed much, much better in practice. It was a huge upgrade in quality. But, the new foam behaved completely different in our cutting machine. We rushed to re-jigger our entire manufacturing process. Which brings me to our next learning…
2 – Making your forms takes longer than we thought.
Prior to Early Supporter, we based our labor estimates on machining the original EPA foam and editing body scans that Nathan captured of me in our studio. We’ve come to learn that these estimates were overly optimistic.
For one, Nathan’s scans of me were almost perfect because we repeated them about 50 times in an ideal lighting situation here in the workshop – we are very good at them! Editing these digital models was super fast, as they were near flawless to begin with.
Digital models coming from the field were a different story. Body scanning is a physical process that takes a little practice IRL to get a good result. After a while, we realized that second scans were markedly better than first time scans. By requesting folks perform 2 scans back to back and improving our teaching methods, we were getting totally usable models – they just needed more editing than our in-house scans. About 8x more time!
Another thing we noticed right away was our faulty assumption that sewists would be the ones using the app. Duh. It might be their phone but in almost every case, it’s the partner/parent/child/sibling/friend who is using the app to perform the body scan – most definitely a non-sewist. That changed everything in terms of design.
As for the new foam, we had to slow down the cutting process because the material has a “grabby” quality to it. One time when Nate was first experimenting with how to machine it, a chunk of foam managed to wrap itself around the router, broke it off, and ripped a huge hole in one of the forms! Slowing down helped.
3 – We need to build another (bigger) machine.
While our first machine was a great proof of concept, it’s just a prototype really. One day when Nate was cutting a form, the router died (that’s the drill like thing that cuts the foam). Then the cutter needed sharpening. Any number of failures could mean the machine is down until we can track down a part. I have no idea how long we’d be down if the electronics pooped out. We clearly need another machine for both redundancy and increased throughput.
We also had some long torsos that pushed the limits in terms of length, and we can’t have that for Beatrice. We are all about body diversity, and we can’t be limited to making forms for only certain sizes. The new machine needs to be bigger.
4 – It’s personal.
Having a custom dress form made for yourself is a very personal, vulnerable experience for most. We knew this before going into it, but we have a better appreciation for what this feels like for our clients after Early Supporter.
We spent a lot of time with our clients – over video chat, phone, and email – answering questions, supporting them through the process from scans to delivery. It can be an emotional experience for people. While they know having a custom form can be immensely empowering for both fitting garments and truly knowing their body, there are moments in the process that present personal challenges.
Our Early Supporters told us it makes a big difference when we’re there to “guide” them through the process. It matters that we personalize the experience. We agree!
Realistically, we may not be able to participate in every scan over video chat in the future. But we have some creative ideas on how to ensure clients are supported and make ourselves available in a way that scales as our business grows. More to come on that.
Honestly, we learned so many unexpected lessons – I can’t begin to capture everything here in this post – but I hope that gives you a little taste! Above all, Early Supporters helped us discover that we are unwilling to compromise in terms of the quality/craft of our forms, the personalized experience that is creating a Beatrice, and supporting our users after delivery. That’s why we got into this business – to make something that delights and empowers makers.
Being the optimists we are, we certainly underestimated what that would take (and cost) but we have adjusted our planning and pricing to make sure we stay true to those values – and keep the lights on!
Whew! Thanks for hanging in there until the end of this long-winded post. 🙂
Until next time,