Ukuleleunderground.com has given me the opportunity to meet and befriend so many amazing people throughout the world. I always take some time everyday to think about just how fortunate I am to have made so many new friends within the past year. One of these new friends is a man named Mike Hater from Nashville Indiana. Mike is an amazingly interesting person. He has described himself to me on more than one occasion as a hillbilly. His youtube channel is filled with videos of him tending to his bee hives, or sitting on old tractors drinking moonshine and strumming an ukulele.
Mike recently found himself out of work and decided it was time to start his own Ukulele Company which he named Mainland Ukes. Having worked in the industry and been an avid player of the ukulele, it seems like a logical progression. For all I know this is his first foray into entrepreneurialism but he has done so many things right so far it seems as if he has been launching businesses his whole life. Crazy thing is, I don’t think much of it is pre-meditated or planned at all. He just does these things because it makes sense to him. He’s doing things that so many larger companies who are stuck in their ways will never understand. Mike is 42 years old and does not even own a cell phone, yet he understands how to use the internet for business better than 99% of the people I’ve ever personally talked to. Whether he knows it or not, his business should be studied on how to launch a business with limited capital in the 21st century using the internet. Let me break down what he’s doing and why he is bound to succeed.
1. He is a part of his business’s community – Mike is an avid ukulele player. He’s worked in the industry helping put them together. He loves playing them. Because of the fact that he already has a passion for the ukulele, he joins internet forums about ukuleles and talks to any other enthusiasts all over the world. He joined the UU forums over 1 year ago, way before starting an ukulele company was even a thought in his mind. Because of this, Mike, or Hoosierhiver as he’s known everywhere online already has some personal brand equity. People know him and when they found out he started a uke company, they checked it out.
Why is this important? There are billions of websites online. Billions of people trying to convince you to give them your hard earned money on the internet. Who do you trust? How do you know if it’s a scam or not? These days a website is simply not enough. So many people make the mistake of thinking that launching a website is the end all be all of web marketing. You could not be more off the mark. Getting in the trenches, interacting with your potential customers, is the fastest way to gain trust online. You need to give your customers as many ways to reach you as possible. They don’t want to talk to an answering machine or a secretary, they want you. Trust is not something that should be expected, it needs to be earned. Because Mike was in the trenches, sharing info, befriending other uke players from around the world, when he announced that he started his new company, he already had a few people that were willing to give his ukulels a shot sight unseen.
2. He has a great product – New ukulele companies seem to be popping up all over the place. Not only that, guitar makers like Fender are now seeing an opportunity to cash in on a growing niche market and are putting out ukuleles of their own. One might look at the marketplace and see oversaturation. So many of these ukuleles are being made overseas, why create another line that is just going to get lost in the crowd?
Mike has an advantage. Because he is a part of the ukulele community, he knows what a good ukulele should sound like and what features ukulele players are impressed by. His ukuleles feature things like high quality covered geared tuners, and real bone nut and saddle. He strings them stock with a more expensive brand of strings. Theses are features that help make his ukulele look and sound better than most other ukes at his price points. When those early adopters who purchased his ukes got them in the mail, they were all blown away by the quality of what they had just purchased. What happens when expectations are exceeded? They all came back into the forum singing praises for these Mainland Ukes they got from Mike. This lead to more sales from more members. Word of mouth marketing is the most powerful form of marketing, it’s free and spreads like wildfire. To start that fire, you need to have a solid quality product that exceeds expectations.
3. He Sponsors the Longtail – Advertising online is still a mystery for many businesses. Many fail to see the value in it especially if they are coming from traditional media outlets. The numbers for online viewership are almost always smaller than TV and Radio. Conventional wisdom would say, why even bother?
Before he even launched his company, Mike was e-mailing us saying he wanted to purchase advertising on ukuleleunderground.com. He understood that for his market, there was no better way to reach his potential customers and that ROI for his advertising dollar was highest sponsoring a site like ours. When you sponsor the longtail in your industry, you’re essentially piggybacking on existing brand equity. You create brand awareness and in most cases online, if you sponsor a company that has a strong connection to their visitors, people who see your ad will at least check out what you have to offer. It’s why I personally have tried Sweet Leaf Tea, why I’ve used godaddy to register my domains even though there are cheaper alternatives, why I tried netflix, why I signed up for Raffstar, the list goes on and on. Sponsoring the longtail is a shortcut to building your own company’s brand equity.
4. He didn’t give up – When Mike decided he was going for it and was going to start his ukulele company, he e-mailed us to ask if he could advertise with us and that he wanted to work with us to create a signature ukulele model. His e-mail was ignored. At UU we have a strict policy on who we let advertise on our website. We feel that if we vouch for these companies, then they better bring straight thunder to our visitors and members. We turn down many advertising solicitations because we feel their company would not benefit our members, most usually never get back to us.
Mike was different. He e-mailed again asking the same thing, in fact I think he e-mailed a few times before we finally got back to him. Always polite but on point. We told him that we were working with another company to create our signature ukulele. He left the door open for us if we ever wanted to take him up on that offer. We eventually allowed him to purchased some advertising and he sent us an ukulele to give away and for us to take a look at what his company was producing. When we got the ukulele, we were blown away by all the features he was offering. Once again his product exceeded the customers expectations. After a quick meeting it was decided that we needed to be selling his ukuleles in our store and that Mainland Ukes was the company to make our signature ukulele as our previous deal had fallen through. We added Mike’s ukuleles to our store today and will begin marketing them heavily in the weeks to come. He’s happy and we’re extremely happy with the arrangement as well. All this because he refused to take ‘No’ for an answer and was professional about it. In business, especially when you first get started, you’ll face rejection a LOT. It can be soul crushing but never giving up is more than half the battle.
Where does Mike stand now? Well he officially been in business for less than a month and he’s already having to place a reorder for his instruments because he is starting to run low. If he continues to create quality products and deliver quality service, there is no doubt in my mind his company will only become bigger and more profitable as time goes on.
Check out Mainland Ukes and say hi to Mike