Don’t just feel the Bern. Be the Bern! Bernie Masks was an enzymatic way for me to go through the entrepreneurial process of a physical product: from idea, to sourcing, to designing, to manufacturing, to marketing, to selling.

And most importantly, for me to feel the pressure of losing $2,000 on 5,000 plastic masks.

Lesson #1 – Plan for Delays

I started manufacturing around the end of April, expecting masks to be produced and shipped by 21 days. Lesson 1, is that Chinese manufacturers will overstate capactiy (or, outright lie) to get your business, even if they are a legitimate business. After 2 months, I received the masks in June… just in time for Bernie Sanders to lose the Democratic nomination.

Lesson #2 – People Don’t Always Care, Even If They Say They Do

While Bernie groups said they’d purchase masks, or they loved the idea, they never ended up buying even after being reminded. People are willing to say they will buy something, but what really matters is if they actually do.

Simply asking has merits and can grab great feedback, but it isn’t the most accurate way to assess demand.

Lesson #3 – Don’t Give Up Hope

I hadn’t gotten masks on time, and until September, I had only shipped about 9 pairs of masks (excluding a bulk shipment of 1,000 masks to a DNC-protest organization). That was after $50 worth of Facebook and Instagram marketing, posts to Bernie Facebook groups, and posts to a few niche forums. While my analytics were telling me I was receiving thousands of impressions, I had almost no sales.

Until October rolled around, and I edited my copywriting to include Hillary and Donald Trump keywords.

With 800 mask pairs still in stock, Halloween season started. And at its peak, Bernie Masks sold over 50 pairs a day without marketing.

By Halloween’s end, I had no more mask inventory at the fulfillment center (though I have over 1,000 masks still sitting in my living room).

Lesson #4 – Own Your Platform (With a Caveat)

I was selling the masks via Amazon’s fulfillment program. This had pros and cons.

The pros:

  • The masks would show up in Amazon searches, which exposed them to organic search traffic with buying intent. This is how I sold all those masks to begin with
  • I only shipped Amazon a bunch of boxes, and knew I could rely on their superior shipping system to deliver happiness to my customers

The cons:

  • I didn’t actually “own” the Amazon listing. 3 competitors (who knows how they got the masks) popped in and attempted to undercut me. Sometimes, their lower prices took away the “buy box” (Amazon’s big yellow buy button) away from me, so I had to lower my price to grab it back. This ultimately reduced my overall margin to dollars per sale… not optimal.
  • Amazon charges large fulfillment fees (~30% of the sale price at my original $12 price point, and almost 80% of the price at $8) which drastically damaged my margins.

There’s really 2 lessons here. The first, is that owning your own platform and driving your own organic traffic is optimal.

But the second is that, sometimes, you can’t wait for perfect conditions to occur. There’s opportunity sitting in simple solutions, even if you don’t own the platform. And with a business that has much more ideological potential than selling plastic masks, this frees up entrepreneurs to come up with creative solutions instead of being paralyzed by analysis.

Despite handpacking all those masks to send to Amazon, I had a blast.

Just for fun: a glimpse at the October Amazon copy:

  • WEAR THE FACE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE – Be popular at every hip Millennial party and spook some kids as the avatar of social equality
  • 2 MASKS PER ORDER – So you and a friend can both be the Bern this Halloween!
  • THE MASK – Made of thick, high quality 3D plastic. A sturdy black strap secures the mask to your head.
  • THIS HALLOWEEN, BE THE BERN – He’s out of the race, but not out of our hearts. Be the endearing champion of American rights this Halloween. Forget Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump: this year, be the Bern

You can check out Bernie Masks right here.