The early days of an ecommerce business are among the most important. Growing a business from infancy is complicated and unforgiving. There are many factors to consider, including platforms, inventory, social media, and more.
This is the third installment in my series of conversations about building an ecommerce business. The previous installments were “Part 1: Choosing Partners” and “Part 2: Selecting Platforms.”
This time I visited with Andrea Nucete-Elliott, co-founder of TIY Life, a new ecommerce company offering premium hair ties for active women.
What follows is my entire audio interview with Nucete-Elliot and a transcript of it, edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Give us an overview of your business, TIY — Tie It Yourself.
Andrea Nucete-Elliott: My husband and I established the company in early 2012. He came up with the idea of TIY as a hair tie that solves a problem he observed as a collegiate volleyball coach. It started as an observation on his side, and TIY slowly became the solution that we didn’t even know existed. It came out of the need for women to have a different type of hair tie when they were running.
He noticed that his female athletes, during the timeouts, were doing their hair. The ponytails would fall on the side. They were redoing their messy buns.
TIY was born out of the need to fix something. It has grown into a vehicle to empower women, and their hair.
Bandholz: Could you describe the products a bit more?
Nucete-Elliott: It’s a type of elastic that is engineered to be different. It’s softer and stronger at the same time. It’s a hard idea to describe until you put it on and try it.
We currently offer two different versions. The basic version is 34-inch elastic that will allow one to five hair ties.
The other product is the pro version. It’s longer at 41 inches, and it comes in a system that will cut it for you — kind of like dental floss. You pull the elastic out of the dispenser, and it will cut it.
We offer 14 colors in the basic version and 13 in the pro system.
Bandholz: That’s 27 SKUs to launch, which has to be challenging. How are they manufactured?
Nucete-Elliott: They are made overseas. It was a long process to get off the ground. We went through a year of samples. We talked to a friend in California who had the contacts to produce the product.
He created a sample. We tried it out for a couple of weeks, and then we made a couple of tweaks. We gave samples away. We received some feedback. That back-and-forth happened for a year until we found the perfect formula.
Bandholz: Was this a side project for you?
Nucete-Elliott: My husband coaches here in Austin, Texas. That is his full-time job. He and I had not met when he came up with the idea.
The way I learned about the product is funny. I received an envelope with three of the elastics that he had been testing. They sat in my car for about two months. I was on my way to volleyball practice. I broke my hair ties, which I need three of them to hold my ponytail up. I decided to try these elastics.
It was a side project because I was finishing college. He has a full-time job. I then decided to dive into TIY full-time.
Bandholz: You ordered all 14 colors of the basic version, and then just started researching the market. Is that right?
Nucete-Elliott: Yes. We placed a minimum order from the manufacturing company. We still have them in our house. We started doing market testing — very grassroots, word-of-mouth. It just snowballed from there.
We have not advertised until now. We will soon start.
Bandholz: Your new Shopify store launched recently, in early September. What was your sales volume before the launch and after?
Nucete-Elliott: Before the launch, our orders came from people that knew about it. It was a minimum volume.
After the launch, it’s been amazing. We have received close to 100 orders in 17 days, without any type of advertising. It’s been great.
Bandholz: How do people find it?
Nucete-Elliott: Mainly on Instagram.
Bandholz: Why did you launch your own ecommerce site — TIYLife.com — versus selling on Amazon, or Etsy, or eBay?
Nucete-Elliott: We have a community that is based on organically-given feedback. When you arrive at TIY Life, you know you’re getting a family and a community — a tribe feeling that gets lost when you start selling on Amazon and bigger platforms.
Bandholz: How do you utilize Instagram?
Nucete-Elliott: Instagram users want to see our product in different applications. We have a fun video of a dancer that is spinning with our hair tie, and at the same time, on a split-screen, it compares her same pirouettes to a normal hair tie. People love that video. They want to see the reality of non-edited content in high-end videos.
With Instagram, we can show the product for what it is, and the different applications that it has. We can demonstrate the lifestyle that you can have if you can stand out on your own and wear something different.
We’ve had about 4,200 visitors on our site this week. It’s been great considering that a month-and-a-half ago, we had only 200 per week.
See the next installment, “Part 4: Copywriting Matters.”