Dec 11, 2014

Need/Want’s Radically Transparent Approach to the Holidays

We all know that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are big days for retailers. But how big, exactly? Companies sharing their holiday balance sheets is about as rare as an unclaimed Tickle Me Elmo on December 24, 1996. But for Need/Want, it’s just part of doing business.

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Founded earlier this year, Need/Want sells “products that solve problems.” Problems like, for instance, the eternal struggle of tangled bedsheets. Meanwhile, founders Marshall Haas and Jon Wheatley are working to solve a problem of their own: the lack of transparency that surrounds running a small business. Through their email list, blog posts, and podcast, they shine a bright light on tricky subjects like canceling a Kickstarter project in favor of self-funding and ditching San Francisco for St. Louis.

“We’re very honest,” Marshall says. “Like, ‘Hey, yeah, we had this big sale, we didn’t knock it out of the park, but we’re making a decent living off of this.’ I would like to think people appreciate that. If nobody does that, and then somebody does, that becomes interesting.”

So as Need/Want was approaching its first holiday season, Marshall and Jon decided to up the ante. In an email sent to their list on Thanksgiving day, they announced they’d be sharing all sales numbers from Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Monday afternoon, they emailed an update:

“Sales numbers from Thanksgiving – Cyber Monday as of 1pm CST (today).

Peel Cases: $9,947.63 / 415 checkouts
Mod Notebooks: $4,994.79 / 155 checkouts
Emoji Masks: $849.78 / 38 checkouts
TOTAL: $15,792.20 from 608 checkouts”

When they shared the final numbers on their podcast later that week, the total was up to $20,789.95 across 811 orders. The email was sent out to 1,755 subscribers, with 723 (41.3%) opening and 66 (3.8%) clicking. Also, much like their transparent attitude, Need/Want’s emails are pretty honest affairs: mostly text, vital information, usually one image at most. They don’t have anything to hide behind fancy design—and it seems to be working.

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“This is our first Christmas as a company, so we had no expectations,” Marshall says. “We’re certainly pleased with how it ended up.”

With their first acquisition on the books and a new product in the way, Need/Want plans to be even more transparent in 2015. But they’re careful to strike a balance between sharing and oversharing, especially when it comes to email. Marshall wants to give his Need/Want’s readers “another reason to look forward to another email,” he says. “It’s always a balance of being someone’s inbox too much and too little.”