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How I Created a Bestselling Product While Spending $0 On Marketing

Learn the step-by-step business design process this founder used to develop a product alongside her customers, helping her de-risk the process and come up with a truly winning idea.

May 9, 2023 6 min readFlow
Photo of Teresa Comi Sansa
Teresa Comi Sansa

Co-founder of Caeli

Many creatives become business owners because they want to bring their ideas to life in the world. The problem is we can get stuck in our own heads and end up developing products and services that we think are brilliant, only to put them on the market and find that nobody wants them.

In addition to being the co-founder of Caeli—a slow-living brand that helps people feel more relaxed and inspired in their homes—I am a certified business design consultant who helps other founders avoid this trap. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, business design is a process through which you thoughtfully design new businesses right alongside your customers. It can be used to ensure you’re releasing something they’re truly excited about, pricing products correctly, and marketing in the most effective way possible, essentially de-risking the aspects of a business launch.

Thanks to the process of business design, within six months of launching Caeli’s Evening Rituals Meditation Box, the product is already in ten retail stores and has become our best-seller—without us spending a dime on marketing.

Below, I’m going to walk you through how my team developed this product, step by step. Follow the process next time you’re developing a new product, launching a new service, or making any business decision, and you’ll be guided to the right path by the very people you’re here to serve: your customers.

1. We learned about customer needs before we even started brainstorming

The impetus for the Evening Rituals Box came at the start of the pandemic when we noticed the levels of anxiety in our friends and customers skyrocketing. As a slow-living brand with a focus on wellness, we felt we were in a position to help.

I already had plenty of ideas spinning in my mind, the forerunner being a kit that would help people develop a morning ritual to start their day off on a grounded, relaxed note. But, instead of diving straight into product development, we started with customer research.

We posted on our Instagram that we were looking for people to help us with developing a new product, outlining exactly what would be required of them and offering incentives in return: a 20€ (about $22) gift card, ten percent off the site for a year, and free product. We had anyone interested fill out a survey to apply with questions related to their experience with slow living, their current wellness practices, the challenges they currently face when it comes to slowing down, and some demographic data.

We chose 12 customers who expressed interest in slow living but were facing significant challenges in practicing it. Some were more advanced than others in terms of their “mindfulness” practice; we selected a range to be able to compare the needs of different user personas. To kick off the process, I had a 30-minute call with each of them to understand who they were, their current practices, and what was contributing most to their stress.

We immediately learned that most of our customers already had some sort of wellness practice in the morning, but were struggling to disconnect and wind down after a long day of working from home. That clued us into the fact that we should instead be developing something for the evening.

2. We shared prototypes at every step

With a clear customer need in mind, we started brainstorming and had lots of ideas. But instead of spending time mulling over the various directions this product could take, we turned to another key aspect of business design to help us out: rapid prototyping. By getting our ideas in front of customers as quickly as possible, we could make decisions based on their feedback.

Through our interviews, we learned that our customers loved rituals, so we decided to explore the idea of an evening ritual. We picked an idea to start with—a box that would pair incense with music to help customers relax or reconnect with themselves—and got to work on creating something we could put in front of customers. I’m not even talking about a sample box at this point: We kept things really simple to start by creating a digital prototype.

This essentially amounted to some mock Facebook and Instagram ads that showed a sample picture of the product along with a short description of the value proposition. We wanted it to feel real enough that customers could imagine it was a product they were considering buying, without us having to put a lot of time or effort into development before we verified the idea was interesting to them. We sent this along with a short survey with questions like:

  • How would you describe the product or service?
  • Who do you think it is for? Who is it not for?
  • Is there something that appeals to you?
  • What are you unsure about? What could make it better?
  • Which of the two ads resonates more with you? Why?

One of our main doubts was that people would perceive incense as something that was too “hippie” and wouldn’t be open to using it. This digital prototyping step helped verify that customers were willing to try a more modern take on incense, so we felt confident moving onto the next stage: building a physical prototype.

3. We asked specific questions to help shape the product

By the time we were building out a physical prototype—essentially a sample product—we felt confident in the core direction of our idea. We wanted to use this phase to verify that our idea would help our customers in practice, and then hone every detail to make our product as perfect as possible.

We pulled together a draft box with a lot of options so we could get a variety of feedback: every participant would receive five different incense smells from two different brands (in total we were testing 12 smells), with QR codes to three guided meditations of varying styles, and two different music selections. We asked our test customers to use these for about a month and keep a diary of their experience, experimenting with the different smells and sounds and sharing how they felt after. Then, I had another call with them to dig into all their thoughts.

We learned a lot. We learned what kind of scents they liked and didn’t like. We learned that the meditations had to be around ten minutes or else people wouldn’t use them regularly and build a real ritual. We learned what styles of meditation people connected with (and which they hated). We learned that they loved the glass tubes and valued our eco-friendly packaging.

Most importantly, we learned that the box was achieving our goal of helping them create a daily habit of slowing down. Before we started developing the final box, we just had one more thing to verify with our customers…

4. We used this process to inform everything from pricing to positioning

Business design can be used for all sorts of things outside of core product development (you are actually designing the whole business!). For instance, the last survey we sent to our customer testers was about how much they would be willing to pay for the box. This helped us verify that we could make a profit from this product before we invested in manufacturing it.

We also used the data we collected during user interviews to create customer personas and help us determine the best positioning. For instance, we had two customers who hated the prototype. We had enough other participants who loved it that this didn’t turn us off from launching it entirely, but instead helped us identify the types of people the box was and wasn’t a good fit for.

Common questions or doubts that customers had during the testing phase also helped inform our marketing copy, allowing us to alleviate those up front. For instance, we still had some customers who weren’t sure if they would like incense, so we made sure to frame our product as modern incense and encourage buyers to put their past perceptions aside.

And the business design process never stops. We’re still using it as we test various sales channels, comparing selling in places like yoga studios to more high-end, concept boutiques to see what works best, and even to think about ways we could improve the product.

Ultimately, it’s about always looking for ways to quickly test, learn as much as you can from your customers, and constantly analyze so you can move forward with confidence that your idea will truly create an experience beyond their expectations.

Business design could seem like a bit of extra work, but taking this approach can help you avoid costly mistakes and ensure your product or service meets your customer's needs. And the results speak for themselves — after launching the Evening Rituals Box in September, our Q4 revenue jumped up 195 percent compared to the previous year. I’ll take that over going with my gut on business decisions any day.

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