Starting with a Product: My Juicy $3000 Mistake

My brain made the connection to something that might have untapped market potentials: Asian bitter melons. Yes, you might not have heard of them.

Starting with a Product: My Juicy $3000 Mistake

It was in March 2020 back from before I pivot from offline to online entrepreneurship. Before sitting down to learn lean principles and more. In one evening after a long day of trying to get a ghost restaurant off the ground (right now it’s on going just about break even). My brain made the connection to something that might have untapped market potentials: Asian bitter melons. Yes, you might not have heard of them.

So a few weeks before that, I tried a plain bitter melon drink and choked. It’s named “bitter melons” because they’re so darn bitter. The kind of bitter that’s stuck in your throat for a while and nothing takes it away. It’s used in some Asian dishes and importantly traditional Asian medicine. Specifically it’s one of those foods that scientifically proven to lower blood sugar and a host of other health benefits for small amount consumed daily. And it’s super bitter.

A quick maths in my head revealed that tens of thousands of diabetics and those at-risk would have need for daily doses of magic lower blood sugar superjuice. If only someone would be able to make a bitter melon juice that’s went from choke to death to barely drinkable….

It was the beginning of COVID-19 WFH season and I was stuck at home. Thanks to the magic of e-commerce, I could do next day home delivery of commercial grade vertical cold press juicer AND an excellent horizontal cold press juicer. The best tools make sure we do best business right? $2000 turned to shiny machines to extract natural goodness.

The next 3 weeks flew by with morning till evening filled with chopping fruits and veggies. Googling juice combinations and recipes. Navigating the messy and inconvenient organic produce ecosystem of Bangkok. Fun fact: most merchants of “organic produce” don’t know where their stuff come from. I had sampled litres of fresh juice. Which actually produced great results for my body.

It was done. I actually came up with the secret commercial recipe that made bitter melon juice barely drinkable. I’ll even share it in this week’s Builder’s Report. That wasn’t enough, I came up with 7 more recipes of health boosting cold press juice. Ginger, turmeric, garlic, white mugwort you name it I’ve got it.

I sent samples to selected healthy juice enthusiasts, diabetic-risk people, health conscious people. The results range from “This is actually ok” to “I’d rather not touch it ever again even for free”. So far I’ve found 4 people in Bangkok who can tolerate drinking the (much improved!) bitter melon juice daily and only 1 of them diabetic.

To break-even I need to sell 400+ bottles priced at Starbucks espresso. Cold press juice should be consumed within 72 hours. Normal dosage of the drink is an 80 ML bottle per day. So it’s looking like 20+ highly committed customers just to not make a loss. The logistics of dealing with fresh produce plus sterilising glass bottles are also hard requirements.

That’s when I decided to pull the plug on the experiment before it gets even more carried away. Watching interviews of long-standing juice businesses in the space revealed that these people (with $50000+ worth of juice machines) serving several hundreds of bottles daily are very passionate about juice. What’s more, they began with sizeable volume from day 1. How? They have been hobbyist juicers who have been documenting their juicing for years before doing it commercially. The juice community find them to be influencers. Family and friends have tried their juice for years. They had relationships with customers from day 0.

I now believe they are in business for the love of it, looking at the numbers it’s much less profitable than it seems from the outside. My main takeaway is to have customers from day 0. Call it pre-launch audience building, content marketing, whatever. It’s about having the relationships as early as possible and nurture them.

The second takeaway is that solutions =/= demand. Just because a healthy option is available doesn’t mean that people will choose it. Not delicious tasting also adds more friction to the process. Odds are firmly stacked against it. A finding from connecting with juice enthusiasts is that healthy people are the main consumers of healthy products. People who are not obsessed with superjuice will not get up one morning and start craving it. If they don’t want it, they don’t want it.

Instead of 3 weeks of mixing juice concoctions together, perhaps it would have been more clear earlier if I had spent 3 weeks market research on juice enthusiasts in Bangkok and validating my assumptions directly with diabetic potential customers. Well, at least I have a kick ass juicer that runs continuously for hours to show for this attempt. The pivot to online has shown me incredible possibilities and get me quality engagements every day!

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