More than fifty people attended a Scarlet Startups meetup to listen to 2013 Rutgers graduate Joe Caiola speak at the Rutgers Business School, on the Livingston Campus, on October 25.
At 27, Caiola is the youngest alum to come back and speak at Scarlet Startups, the largest alumni network at Rutgers.
Caiola revealed some insights that have helped him grow his business—its chief products the board game “Watch Yo Mouth - The Original Game and the e-commerce site associated with it—to seven figures in one year before selling the company in August.
He also discussed some basic business principles that entrepreneurs should know, such as understanding your minimum viable product (MVP); utilizing the “build, measure, learn feedback loop” to improve your MVP; and knowing how to choose your launch strategy, whether it be based on bootstrapping or crowdfunding.
Even after they make those initial decisions, entrepreneurs continue to make ever-important decisions as their businesses grow, said Caiola. For example, choosing the right product manufacturer is vital. Details such as a manufacturer’s location will affect the cost of manufacturing and freight shipments associated with fulfillment. Hiring a sales agent as an intermediary between your company and overseas manufacturers is extremely helpful when entering negotiations with foreign manufacturers. However, be mindful of the fees sales agents charge, he advised.
Overseas manufacturers are cheaper than those in the U.S., but there are drawbacks, Caiola noted. For example, he originally sourced the parts for the Watch Yo Mouth game from overseas, having the pieces shipped to his house. The freight costs were astronomical, he said, and “my girlfriend and cofounder Kelsey [Abrams] and I would have to assemble the games ourselves.”
Caiola also emphasized the need to “always make sure to ask manufacturers for a sample. If they are a good company, they should have no problem doing this.”
A solid marketing strategy will boost the chances for success in e-commerce. Caiola put $40,000 into digital marketing campaigns, and generated seven figures in revenues from them.
“Find products that are similar to yours and identify marketing campaigns that worked for them,” he advised. “For me, I knew the product skewed toward women based on social media demographics, so I would run campaigns targeting women, and also people who liked Cards Against Humanity.”
Caiola eventually made enough to begin assembly in the U.S. Most assembly companies, however, do not provide fulfillment, so he highly recommends partnering with a third-party logistics company if you cannot secure your own warehouse.
He also stressed teamwork and organization. Without them, his bootstrapped startup would never have undergone its trial-by-fire blaze to success. Mistakes were made, but Caiola is not ashamed of them. “Entrepreneurs are seen as rock stars, but we really need to bring them down to our level. If there was a playbook, the route we took was the hardest way to create a business,” he said.
His best strategy for beating the competition to market is a straightforward one: “Be faster.” This, he said, is a simple, but hard lesson for entrepreneurs to learn. Caiola himself is a living testament to the wisdom of that strategy. In fact, he brought the idea for Watch Yo Mouth to life in less than a day, having accidentally stumbled upon itwhile at work on May 12, 2016.
That day, Caiola cancelled a 4 p.m. meeting and spent the rest of the night building a website. He then put together a $30 marketing campaign with Abrams. Watch Yo Mouthmade $1,000 in sales overnight. But he didn’t have a product yet! The ensuing scramble forced Caiolaand his team to learn some tough business lessons. The team’s lucky break was that all they had to do was catch up to demand, not reinvent the wheel.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my team,” he kept reminding the crowd.
Caiola is a lifelong entrepreneur. He began his first startup before college, selling after-market car parts. The idea fizzled, and so did two more that he pursued while in college. But, “I genuinely love entrepreneurship and business. Failures don’t matter all that much.”
The talk was sponsored by the Entrepreneurship Minor/Concentration program at Rutgers and Scarlet Startups. These organizations host events monthly as a way to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem.