Here at Lab 916, we are on the cusp of launching a new product that we dreamed up and designed into the world of opportunities waiting for it on Amazon. As we excitedly anticipated our first batch of inventory coming in, we realized what an amazing learning opportunity we had in our hands for those of you interested in starting your own Amazon businesses. We are at the very beginning of a new Amazon lifecycle, with the entire journey ahead of us— why not take you along for the ride?
You’ll join us through the process of Amazon selling from start to finish. We’ll explain and demonstrate best practices for every step along the way. From choosing and sourcing a product to branding, optimizing, and advertising, you’ll get an up-close look at the thought process and mechanics behind Amazon success.
Where to begin?
We believe the best way to start a business is to think of a problem that you want solved, and build around that. In our case, the idea was born from recurring conversations between three friends about shared gripes with using the JUUL vaporizer.
Vince, Eddie, and Tommy are loyal JUUL users and wouldn’t consider any other smoking alternative. However, the same pain points kept coming up again and again: mainly, how easy it was to misplace the small, thin device. At $34.99 a pop, they are not cheap to replace, but the three friends found themselves doing so all too frequently as their pieces continued vanishing from tabletops, pockets, bags.
Beyond this principal concern, other issues presented themselves. The uniformity of the JUUL made it easy to lose track of which piece belonged to who – to this day, no one is sure if they’ve grabbed each other’s JUUL on accident, and how many times this might have happened.
The lack of protection on the JUUL left the mouthpiece exposed to germs and debris as it knocked around pockets and bags, cup holders and glove compartments. The JUUL is something made to be taken everywhere you go, but this means it picks up everything it meets along the way— then it goes in your mouth. This lack affects the other end of the JUUL as well, whose charging port can get blocked up with grime. When this happens, the particles trapped inside can prevent the charger from making contact with the charging port, leaving your piece still drained when it should be juicing up.
Turning to the internet, we found that communities of other JUUL users were experiencing the same troubles. Stories of plugging in pieces to charge at night and waking up to them still dead abounded, as well as laments over lost JUULs.
So, we had lived the frustrations and seen them reflected in others. We started to think about how to solve these problems, following the principles of simplicity and sleek design that we admired in the JUUL. We came up the idea of a silicone case in three pieces: one for the shaft, and two caps for the mouthpiece and charging port. It would add heft and grip to something so lightweight, create distinction between everyone’s pieces, and protect against impact, germs, and grime.
Gauging demand and competition
With our idea fresh in our minds, the next step was to see how much demand there was for the product. We knew we were on the right track from seeing others airing the same grievances we had experienced with the JUUL, but we needed hard data to back us up before investing in this idea.
First, we used Merchant Words to determine the search volume for JUUL cases. It came up with an estimated monthly search volume of 33,200 for the keyword ‘JUUL case’: that’s over one thousand searches per day. That is promisingly high demand— but was someone else already supplying it? We turned to Amazon for answers.
Searching for ‘JUUL case’ yielded weak results: everything available consisted of vinyl wraps and phone/JUUL combination cases. Neither of these options were a complete solution for all of the issues that we had compiled. The vinyl skins offered no impact protection and had no caps to protect the mouthpiece and charging port, and could only promise a thin layer of defense against minor scratching. Plus, the overwhelming majority of the designs were outdated or tacky— a lot of loud novelty prints that didn’t complement the simplicity and elegance of the original JUUL design. The phone/JUUL combination cases still left one end of the JUUL exposed, and acted more as a pocket to carry the JUUL than a case. A user would need to remove the JUUL from the case in order to use it, which reintroduces the easy possibility of misplacing it.
We zeroed in on these weak points and knew that we could differentiate ourselves easily, by creating a solution that did not interfere with the JUUL’s design or usability. It was a low-competition landscape with plenty of room for innovation, so we dove right in. Branding, logo, legal logistics.
Once we knew we had an idea we could stick with, we needed to distinguish ourselves with a brand name and logo. We came up with Majide, a Japanese slang phrase that roughly translates to “for real?” It’s memorable and unique, rolls off the tongue, with an energy that we thought fit our product. Equally as important, however, it was a word that we could claim on all social media, and use as a domain name. This ensures that we will be the first hit on Google when someone searches the phrase “Majide case.”
Our creative director at Lab 916 designed a custom logo for us. We were looking for something simple with universal appeal, yet distinctive to us and instantly recognizable. This was because we planned to apply the principles of branding and have the logo directly on the product. After seeing the off-putting design of so many JUUL vinyl skins, we took care to design something that aligned with the original crafting of the device. This way, JUUL users accustomed to the sleek, clean lines of their piece would be drawn to the similar design of our case.
Many businesses opt to use LegalZoom to file their LLC, but this can quadruple costs. We knew we could simultaneously cut this cost and augment our business expertise by filing directly through the state of California. With this legal protection in place, we were ready to get started with our first prototypes.
Designing and prototyping
Because we didn’t have the machinery at hand to make a proper prototype out of silicone, we resorted to the resources that we did have: office supplies and our own hands. Our very first prototype was fashioned by hand from paper and tape.
However, this step was definitely necessary. We knew that we would be sourcing our product from China, and that it would be difficult to explain what we wanted without a 3-dimensional, visual reference. JUUL is a US-only product, and a niche one at that. The manufacturer would have never seen or touched one before, so we would need to provide the most tangible sense of what we wanted as possible. We included photos along with a detailed tech pack indicating every measurement down to the tenth of a millimeter. The more detailed and exact your original tech pack, the fewer iterations you will need to cycle through with your manufacturer before arriving at your final product. The more information you can provide, the better.
We decided to use Alibaba to source our manufacturer, as it is one of the largest B2B platforms connecting businesses with suppliers. It is free to use and has a network of manufacturers in over 190 countries and regions. We posted a request for a silicone product, and were selective in choosing from the suppliers who responded. Companies who already made cases were more likely to sell our product to other people; plus, we suspected they might charge a premium for “specializing” in cases. We were also looking for a manufacturer that was registered as a Gold Supplier on Alibaba. This means that they had been verified by a third-party agency as a legally registered business.
We ordered one sample but received ten, likely due to the extremely low cost of manufacturing for this type of product. These were distributed to our JUUL-loving friends, whose enthusiasm for the cases confirmed our anticipation of success. Plus, having the product in our hand helped us realize what we wanted to change about it. We noticed that the shaft piece was not perfectly flush with the window that allows the user to see how much e-liquid is left. After communicating this to the manufacturer, we learned that making it perfectly flush would interfere with the mouthpiece cap— so, we updated the design to slightly deviate from the shape of the JUUL’s original window, but still allow the user to view the level of liquid inside. We also reduced the size of the opening for the indicator light, which we had overestimated and made much larger than it needed to be. Finally, we reduced the thickness by 0.1 mm. It was just approaching clunkiness, and we were aiming to strike the perfect balance between heft and sleek design.
Where are we now?
We have now placed an order 10,000 Majide cases in various colors, which will be arriving soon. Check in for the next installment of the Live Case Study, and follow along as Majide breaks into the Amazon marketplace.