What can we learn about business from Sophie?

Sophie is an international star. Sophie is no ordinary person, it is a rubber teething toy for children. It brings in $29 million a year in sales. Only six years ago it was doing less than $8 million a year.  No teething trouble here. For all these big numbers, Sophie is not backed up by big company with large marketing budget.

While Mattel and other toy makers are plowing billions into new product development and marketing, a small company in France captured the hearts and minds of millions of parents and gums of their children. The revenue numbers and growth trajectory of Sophie are no child’s play.

Their journey to this state, their product decisions and marketing methods teach us valuable lessons for running a business, especially startups.

What can we learn about business from Sophie?

  1. Sophie is simple: Your product cannot be any more complex than this remarkable children’s toy. Less is more. Cut everything possible and deliver a minimum product the customer is willing to pay for. They will bite. Set the price to $25 too.
  2. User Experience must tap into all 5 senses:
    “The CEO hired a psychotherapist, who concluded the rubber chew toy tapped into all five senses: sight with its strongly contrasting colors; hearing with its easy squeak; taste because it is easy to chomp on; and the touch and smell of the natural rubber. The toy’s petite size made it easy for babies to grip.”
    Your product’s User Experience cannot be just about color of the buttons. Remember, with iPad and other devices your customers touch your product. Sooner or later, with next new iPad, they will be tasting it too.
  3. Turn customers into marketers:
    “Parents create pressure on other parents”
    Enchant your customers with a remarkable product. Delighted customers will create significant social pressure  for their friends and peers and create an environment where use of any other product will be a shame. rabid fans will be recommending your  products on a scale of 0 to 10.
  4. Stick to what works:
    “The manufacturing of Sophie has changed little over the years”
    Do not chase every new technology that comes around in the name of efficiency and cost reduction. Your product’s intrinsic characteristics are defined by how it is made. When you change how it is made, you are changing the product and the User Experience.
  5. Pivot: Sophie got its start  as rubber ballon used to spy on German lines during WW-I. Then as their business model changed and the company got out of the building and talked to their customers, it became the present day adorable product. It is clear that they applied all the lean startup principles, failed fast and pivoted by hypothesis testing.

What is your excuse for not growing your sales four-fold like Sophie did?