One of the first mistakes budding Makers make when they start to sell their product is not charging enough. It’s easy to see why, for all sorts of reasons. They want the product to be popular, and they know the lower the price, the more it will sell. Some may even feel that if the product was created with community volunteer help, it would be unseemly to charge more than it costs. Such thinking may be understandable, but it’s wrong. Making a reasonable profit is the only way to build a sustainable business. Let me give you an example. You make one hundred units of your delightful laser-cut handcrank toy Drummer Boy. Between the wood, the laser cutting, the hardware, the box, and
the instructions, it costs you $20 to make each one. Let’s say you price them at $25 just to cover any costs you may have missed, and start selling.
Since it’s a fun kit and pretty cheap, it sells quickly. You suddenly realize that you’ve got to do it all again, this time in a batch of one thousand. Rather than putting up a couple thousand dollars to buy the materials, you’ve got to put up tens of thousands of dollars. Instead of packing the kits in your spare time, you’ve got to hire someone to do it. You need to rent space to store all the boxes, and you’ve got to make daily trips to FedEx. Now your hobby is starting to feel like a real job. Worse, the popularity of your kit has come to the attention of some big online retailers, and they’re asking about buying in batches of one hundred, with a volume wholesale discount. You’re thrilled that your kit is so popular and flattered that these retailers, who can reach many more people than your own website, want to sell it. But if you’re selling it at $25, that’s the market price—the retailers typically can’t sell it for more. The retailers ask for a lower price because they need to make their own profit on each one, usually around 50 percent. So they need to buy them at no more than $17 each. But that would mean you are selling each one at a loss! Your costs, which were once within the limits of hobby spending, are now at risk of driving you and your business into debt. What entrepreneurs quickly learn is that they need to price their product at least 2.3 times its cost to allow for at least one 50 percent margin for them and another 50 percent margin for their retailers (1.5 × 1.5 = 2.25). That first 50 percent margin for the entrepreneur is really mostly covering the hidden costs of doing business at a scale that they hadn’t thought of when they first started, from the employees that they didn’t think they’d have to hire to the insurance they didn’t think they’d need to take out and the customer support and returns they never expected. And the 50 percent margin for the third-party retailers is just the way the retail market works. (Most companies actually base their model on a 60 percent margin, which would lead to a 2.6x multiplier, but I’m applying a bit of a discount to capture that initial Maker altruism and growth accelerant.) In other words, that $20 kit should have been priced at $46, not $25. It may sound steep to you now, but if businesses don’t get the price right at the start, they won’t be able to keep making their products, and everyone loses. It’s the difference between a hobby and a real, thriving, profitable business.
Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson
“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.
— Charles T. Munger”
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Disclosure of Material Connection:
Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”