For the past few months, I’ve been working with three others on our new startup, outline.wtf. We are just at the start of our journey, but we managed to go from idea to paying customers, which we’re super proud of. Here’s how we did it.
We are all tattoo lovers, but the process of getting a tattoo can be tedious. It usually involves reaching out to unknown artists on Instagram, having a back and forth, sending them a deposit either by bank transfer or on PayPal and then paying the rest of the cost at the shop, after the tattoo is done, with that archaic thing called “cash”. Alternatively, you can visit a tattoo shop to look through your artists’ designs, but it can be a bit awkward to sit in a small shop and look at designs, or even intimidating if you’re new to the scene.
Our value proposition
We will create a place for people to easily browse, book and pay for their tattoo.
For tattoo artists
We will get you more customers and give you an easier booking process.
We decided that we needed one very clear goal to work toward. I read somewhere that a good way to validate an idea is to get 5 paid customers. If people were willing to pay, that would be a great indicator that our idea was worth building. We decided that we would aim for 8 paying customers.
With the goal set, we started thinking about the different elements at play. On the one side we have artists and our assumptions about them:
- They must be very comfortable with using Instagram, so it’s probably going to be difficult to convince them to try a new platform
- If they are very popular, they probably don’t need more customers
On the other side, we have people who want tattoos and our assumptions about them:
- As tattoo lovers ourselves, we would love a service like this. We’ve also spoken to other tattoo lover friends who say the same. That makes us feel somewhat confident that this is something people want.
- Tattoos can cost anywhere between £80 and £1000+, with the average tattoo being somewhere around £300. We thought that adding a small service fee on top of this cost would seem reasonable, given the already high cost.
Although these were some very basic thoughts, it gave us enough of a direction to proceed.
At this point in our planning, these were the condensed logical steps that we went through:
- We wanted artists to sell their tattoos on our platform and we needed to direct customers to them.
- We didn’t want to invest a large amount of money in advertising, so we needed a different way to get customers.
- This gave us the idea of creating a physical event, where we’d have the opportunity to convince people to buy in person.
- We wanted to make it really easy for people to buy tattoos at the event, so we decided that the artists should only offer pre-drawn designs (flash) rather than custom bookings.
- We thought that by making the booking process quicker and easier, this would lead to both artists and customers trusting us more.
- To ensure that the booking process was really seamless, we decided to build our own website which handled the whole purchasing process.
Our business model
We spoke to both artists and potential customers about whether they would be comfortable with paying a fee for our service. In general, artists responded negatively to this and potential customers seemed ok with it, as long as it wasn’t a really large fee.
Using this information, we decided that we would start by charging an 8% fee on top of the cost of the tattoo, which we’d make clear on our checkout page. Quite a lot of thought went into this, but I’ll leave that for another post 😁
At this point, we needed a website with the following fundamental functionality:
- A customer can visit the website and view flash designs
- A customer can see the cost of the designs, based on where they want it to be tattooed
- A customer can pick a design and pay for it. They can then decide the booking time/date with the artist
- An artist can accept payment from a customer (by connecting to stripe through our website)
- An artist can see a booking time request and either accept it or suggest another time
- An artist can confirm a booking
We kept the functionality to a bare minimum because we wanted to validate some of our assumptions without building too much. We spent an evening mocking the required flows up on pen and paper, and Jack, our designer, spent the rest of the week designing the whole flow.
Once the designs were done, we got to building the product. We all have full-time jobs, so this was done in the evening and on weekends. Our deadline was the day of the event, which gave us around 2 months to build the MVP.
Planning the event
Getting artists on board
We met one of the artists at a fruit market and sold the idea to him. He worked at a very successful tattoo studio and agreed to join us.
- We reached out to three other artists on Instagram and they all said they were interested.
- We walked them through our onboarding process, which included them connecting their bank account to our system through stripe and signing paperwork. This was a key step because it meant that we entered a legal agreement with the artist.
- We ended up with four really talented artists who were onboarded and ready to sell their tattoos at our event.
Getting a venue
- We started by looking at East London. It’s an area we all know well, and it’s one which has a lot of tattoo studios and a generally young crowd.
- We were willing to spend up to £500 for a few hours.
- We found out that our budget was way less than what venues in that area were asking, so we decided that we’d need to get creative.
- We asked around in our networks. One of our founder’s gyms was owned by a friend and he offered to host us at a discount price. The space was perfect for what we wanted, and we managed to secure it for £350.
Getting people to come to the event
- Again, we didn’t want to spend money on advertising, so we attacked this in different ways.
- We had around 1.3k followers on Instagram at the time. We DMed a large number of our followers in London and invited them to the event.
- We reached out to our immediate network and we asked them to attend and help spread the word.
- We designed and printed flyers which we handed out to local businesses.
- Regular posts and stories on Instagram inviting people to come to the event
- We managed to get 178 people signed up to attend
- We brought tables and chairs to act as stations for artists, which included custom posters behind each station. These described how customers could buy that artist’s tattoos.
- We brought printed books with the artist’s designs so that customers could browse them on the day
- We set up a projector which projected a video of how the booking flow works
- We set up a drinks station which we supplied with our own soft and alcoholic drinks
- We set up speakers and a music playlist
The event begins
- Customers started entering and we encouraged them to mingle with our artists and each other
- We moved around the space, making sure that we could answer any questions that anyone had
- It was extremely tiring to speak to so many people and ensure that things were going smoothly, both at the event and also with the website
- It was also one of the most fun moments of our lives. We had a lot of family and friends there, which made it extra special.
- 10 bookings 🙏 🙏
- £1,285 in revenue for our artists💃 💃
We learned a lot from the event, and we’re still learning every day. The event was held just before Covid-19 hit the world, so we’ve been slowed down a lot by that. During this time, we’ve been ramping up our brand marketing and trying to grow our following on Instagram. Our future goal is to establish a more sustainable marketing loop. Watch this space.