Developing a Runaway Bestselling Product with Self Journal Co-Creator Cathryn Lavery

The Nitty Gritty:

  • How Cathryn and Allen came up with the idea for the 13-week SELF Journal (and how they use subscriptions within their business model)
  • How they found manufacturers through Alibaba and why the BestSelf Co team focuses on community in conjunction with offering a high-quality product
  • Why they used Kickstarter to validate the SELF Journal before starting the manufacturing process (and what their content marketing and promotion strategy looked like)

In this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit., I chat with Cathryn Lavery, CEO and cofounder of BestSelf Co, a company known for the SELF Journal, a best-selling 13-week productivity planner.

In this episode, Cathryn shares how they designed the journal and funded the manufacturing process. She also dives into the importance of pairing the SELF Journal with community — and how prioritizing customer feedback inspires smart updates to the journal that people actually want.

Want to hear even more smart conversations with small business owners? We release new episodes of Profit. Power. Pursuit. every week. Subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.

How to find quality manufacturers

Figure out for yourself what you’re looking for. Describe it to them and show them pictures of what you’re trying to do. Then have them send samples of similar products that they make. If they’ve never made anything like that, there’s going to be another manufacturer that has.

— Cathryn Lavery

Once Cathryn and Allen designed their journal prototype inside a Moleskin, it was time to find manufacturers. They had a clear picture of what they wanted the journal to look and feel like, down to the outer material and the paper quality — now all they had to do was find a manufacturer that would meet their quality needs.

Cathryn recommends first figuring out what you want your product to look and feel like — then find a manufacturer who does what you need before requesting samples. Otherwise, she says, you’ll end up with a library of samples that don’t meet the minimum requirements for your product.

Why you should use Kickstarter to validate a new idea (and get feedback!)

We’re big believers in validating first. Kickstarter is a great way to build a product with your community. You show them the product you want to create. We gave backers a free PDF of what we were creating. People started using it during the campaign and we got feedback that made the product better by the time we went to produce it.

— Cathryn Lavery

The SELF Journal was fully funded within 28 hours of launching the Kickstarter campaign (and they’ve sold a quarter of a million journals since then!) Cathryn recommends running a Kickstarter campaign — especially if you’re creating a physical product that you aren’t sure people will want — before you place orders with your manufacturer.

And how smart was Cathryn and Allen for giving away PDFs? Not only so their community could start using the journal right away but also so they could provide insights to the BestSelf Co team for immediate improvements before the journal went to manufacturing.

How physical products and community go hand in hand

We put out a challenge at the start of every month: fill out your journal every day and post a picture of yourself or put it on social media. That way we can see that you’re doing it every day. If you do it every day, we give you a $10 Amazon gift card. We want them to get in the habit of using the journal. Then there’s more engagement in the community.

— Cathryn Lavery

If there’s anything that sets the SELF Journal apart from other productivity tools, it’s the community that actually uses the product consistently. But just like using any new tool (digital or physical), it takes discipline to form a new habit. To encourage customers to use the SELF Journal right away, Cathryn and Allen built a community around the practice of using the journal every day. By using the community in this way, they’re able to foster relationships and support between customers working towards the same goal.

They also ask customers to share photos of their journal because it encourages new and potential customers to make the journal their own. People don’t want to mess up their new, pretty journal — but they’re that much more likely to use their journal consistently if they see others using it too. As Cathryn says, “it doesn’t have to be pretty — it just has to work.” Yup.

Listen to the full episode with Cathryn Lavery to hear more about BestSelf Co, the SELF Journal, and how she and her team have created a community experience around a physical product.