Ideas and Validation May 22, 2020

Starting with a Product: My Juicy $3000 Mistake

Wit Sumathavanit @witsuma

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.

Bitter Melons

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.

Green Juice

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.

Ginger Juice

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!

Originally from my blog: Builders' Sun
For bitter melon juice recipe: Builder's Report Newsletter

  1. 2

    Hi! Can I ask you what are some communities you will recommend with focus on this? I find it extremely interesting and want to learn more.

    1. 1

      Good question! Actually for the community part I mostly lurked Reddit which was mainly for home use juice. It was also very location specific. For recipes and knowledge on juice I googled for weeks. Like just typing "capsicum turmeric juice recipe" and clicking all interesting looking links.

      Now I know MUCH more about this topic than my commercial skills with it. Maybe that's how one guy started: Juicing To Profit. Dude didn't mentioned enough how super mega hard juicing to profit is, maybe that's now he's now selling highly profitable ebooks :P

  2. 2

    👏 10/10 post title and a great write-up

    1. 1

      Thanks! I actually dropped the topic in some IH comments before. @audacious_da suggested the juicy part of the title hehe.

  3. 2

    I know exactly how bitter are 'bitter melon' and people who actually should drink it, don't want to drink it. I love them actually (yes, i m a bit of healthy eating enthusiast ) but if they are cooked with mince (lol).
    Its really worth spending $3000 to learn about the industry trends.

    1. 1

      And it's true healthy eating is such a trending topic, many passionate people are jumping into it for sure. Yet food is already a super hard industry; very low margins, regulations, need to deal with spoiling natural raw ingredients, shipping said prepared ingredients, high infrastructure costs. Hence in hindsight I'm not even surprised that the best people in it are doing passion projects without financial goals as one of the main objectives.

      They sure are much easier to consume and tasty cooked!

  4. 2

    Wow. That's a fun way to learn business, right? Hey you got yourself an admission in a business school for 3k. Doesn't sound too bad to me.

    1. 1

      It was a lot more fun in hindsight haha. Dealing with raw products was a lot messier than the Indie Makers way. And it's true that people have lost more $$$$ and not even started focused on learning demand first!

  5. 2

    Nice post Wit. Sometimes we need to first drink the bitter then enjoy the sweet things. You are on your way!

    1. 1

      Thanks Leo! First bitter drink, and many of them. The trick is that we can mix with many healthy things and it becomes more drinkable. Juice recipe principle!

  6. 2

    Great insight @witsuma. Thanks for sharing your lessons learned :)

    1. 2

      Oh look these juice already paid off dividends for some people on the internet. Learning sure doesn't like taking the path of least resistance ;)

  7. 2

    Great write up! Think this is a fantastic illustration 'solution in search of a problem', fortunately you realised it early on, it takes a lot of founders months/years to realise this, $3000 well spent in my eyes.

    1. 2

      Yeah I'm now starting to get used to it as a eye-opener. A lot of people don't get the chance!

  8. 2

    I thought this was going to be about Juicero :). It looks like you learned that lesson orders of magnitudes more cheaply.

    The bitter melons look delicious.

    1. 1

      On the bright side yes much cheaper than a cold press startup. And some people actually like them for taste. They're found in some Asian supermarkets in the US and Europe. But beware, suuuuuuuper bitter!