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‘We launched with a pretty mediocre product’ — how two direct-to-consumer startups iterated to success

Customer feedback is very important.

Native founder and CEO Moiz Ali (center) and JT Marino (right), co-founder of Tuft & Needle, at Code Commerce in New York City 
Native founder and CEO Moiz Ali (center) and JT Marino (right), co-founder of Tuft & Needle, at Code Commerce in New York City 
Keith MacDonald for Vox Media
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

First is the worst — at least when it comes to consumer goods. That’s the message from the founders of deodorant and mattress brands Native and Tuft & Needle.

“We launched with a pretty mediocre product,” Native deodorant CEO and founder Moiz Ali told the crowd at Code Commerce in New York City. How did he know? Customers said so. They also didn’t buy the product again and gave bad reviews.

“We quickly realized there was a need for a better-for-you deodorant and customers were willing to pay a higher price for it, but we also realized we didn’t have that product,” Ali said. “So the first year of business was just us trying to figure out how to make a better product.” That involved sending different samples to different customers and acting on the feedback they got.

“In May 2016, we launched a better formula and we quintupled revenue between May and December because we had a better formula,” Ali said. “Customers told us that.”

JT Marino, co-founder of Tuft & Needle, had a similar experience with his mattress brand.

“That was never our expectation, that our first version would be the one,” Marino said. “Our background is in technology, and what you learn in software and technology production is ‘release early and release often,’ and iterate based on customer feedback as fast as you can.”

The result? Tuft & Needle’s return rate went from the double digits to “one of the industry’s lowest, if not the lowest.”

Watch the full interview below:

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