TMBA 222: The Full Story Behind Our First Niche

TMBA 222: The Full Story Behind Our First Niche post image

For a variety of reasons, Ian and I have never spoken openly about the first successful B2B business we ever started– This week we are going to change all that and go into the details of how that business got started, how we won market share, and what we are doing to grow the business in the future. Terry Lin from Build My Online Store was kind enough to interview Ian for his great podcast and I think he did a great job of extracting the real scoop. We asked him if we could share his interview with our listeners, and he was very gracious for letting us share it here. Enjoy!

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • How we found out about and became a leading supplier in a little-known B2B niche (and how you can do the same).
  • Why word of mouth is so critical in B2B and how to cultivate it in your marketplace.
  • The important differences between B2B and B2C businesses.
  • Some predictions on the future of drop shipping and ecommerce marketing tactics.
  • How to determine– before you get started– if your niche is a winner or not.

People on this episode:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 6.13.15 PM

TVS Products - Post PIcMentioned in the episode:

Listening options:

Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Thursday morning 8AM EST.



Dan & Ian

PS, if you’d like to receive emails from us occasionally, you can put your email address into the form below:

Published on 12.12.13
  • JakeReed

    You mean you guys didn’t make billions in cat furniture? ;)

  • Dan

    NOT YET! :)

  • Biz question

    With limited funds, say $5k, and membership of the DC (:-)) what business would you start today?

    Love the way you guys niche down,

  • Dan and Ian,

    This episode was spot-on. I’ve been waiting to hear what business actually got your feet wet. Thanks for sharing the info!

    Your valet cabinets are obviously B2B. Cat furniture is mainly B2C with an ever-so-slight ability to reach across to B2B. You have experience in both capacities. My question is:

    I have a very niche, 2.5 year old indoor decor ecom store that serves both B2B and B2C (this is “bricks and clicks”, as you would call it). The majority of my Customers are B2C, with some B2B sprinkled in here and there (mainly interior design firms, and the like). I am getting ready to start a push to build a greater B2B presence. I’m doing this by obtaining a list of the 43,000+ interior design firms in the US and…laugh if you will…am going to cold call every single one of them. As a teaser, just last week, I sent out hand-written Christmas cards to 100 random interior design firms, which included kudos/love your stuff and a friendly offer to help them bring some designs to life, with a business card.

    Any advice you can offer to help my phone-to-phone conversion rate during this epic journey I’m about to embark on? I’ve thought about using your line from a couple seasons ago, “Hey, yeah so, so-and-so referred me to you….”.

    Thanks and love the show!

  • Guest

    This just proved the greatest concept in Startup-land “Service your customer’s interests, not yours!”. I have considered joining a program that helps you engage(cold call) clients in order to land ideas through the pain points you discover. That is what blew me away about your valet app – but now with what Chris mentioned in how he takes actions for e-commerce. This principle can be implemented across all walks of industry.

  • )

    You guys just bring it to my table, I don’t want to pay for my meal. I need to get out there EXERCISE (take action) and pay it forward!

    I feel like this …

  • Duane Stevens

    Once you mentioned the product, it made SO MUCH SENSE (for you). I could visualize the product, and when I took the link from your email, yep, the images matched my imagination. So this is a turn…. to a very niche area… but maybe there is an opportunity to expand to customers that don’t realize they could use such a product (I’m thinking Charities and other non-traditional parking situations).

  • I don’t know, I think toothpaste is pretty critical…

  • Ryan

    Have you ever thought of creating transcripts of your podcasts? I’m not much of a podcast guy since I prefer to listen to music as I work/read so would love to have a text version available.

  • Ian

    Chris, referral method as a qualifier is strong.. I would probably segment the list and try a few different approaches. I like the idea of sending out a card before calling but that’s probably going to get expensive. With a list that big calling them all probably isn’t going to be possible but if you figure out a way to do it within a decent amount of time let us know how! I’m sure you’ll find out a lot once you start talking to them.

  • Ian

    Maybe something wellness related. Fred Wilson had some interesting observations about the future here:

  • Dan


  • Dan

    we have! it’s just expensive / time consuming and we always record the show the day before it goes up so the transcripts would be late.

  • Dan

    hey Duane thanks yeah totally we’ve looked at a lot of parallel uses / similar verticals and or product uses, that’s in part what drove us to start

  • Dan


  • Dan

    cheers hope it helps!! most of our best product ideas have come directly from the marketplace and not our own ‘good’ ideas.

  • Dan

    wow respect sir. check out this episode for some tips and inspiration as well:

  • Dan

    I’d start a small consulting firm that helps entrepreneurs with membership sites and other retention business models optimize their software and sales funnels.

  • Dan

    yeah i like this approach too, perhaps you can come up with an incentive strong enough that you can run an inbound campaign. card says they’ve won or received something for free, they just need to call to claim it etc.

  • Dan


  • This is gold man – mention it in your next podcast with a supremely serious approach. It never receives enough emphasis. Ideas aren’t the hard part, it’s applying the innovation and taking action on it. Yet, people are held back by so many fears of the uncertainty and naturally become insecure and self defeating.

  • David Shirkey

    Hi Guys,

    Thank you for sharing!

    It is not often that I hear about an eCommerce business that
    faces the manufacturing and freight shipping challenges (or opportunities, right) similar to what we do here at

    Many of our items ship freight and we are yet to come up
    with a good way for our customers to understand and get comfortable with the

    For example, imagine receiving one of these bad boys at your garage…

    TheValetSpot website offers a very good example for how we could do
    things better!

    Thanks so much!


  • Dan / Ian,

    Thanks for the feedback. I like the idea of an inbound campaign. I’ll give that a go on my next mailing round. It took me a few good hours per day, over a couple days, to come up with only my first 100 contacts (the ones I sent the cards to). I’m going to start with calling them. I’ll let you know how it goes. If successful, I’ll expand my reach, but this time, I’ll likely procure the list from a list service.

    Side note: As I was walking into the grocery store today, I had one of those “stop sign tag” moments, “you go first, nooo, you go first”. Well, I won, the other guy walked in first. I overheard him tell a lady he was an architect (architects are on my B2B prospect list). I ended up hunting him down, telling him what I do and giving him a business card (always keep them on you; never know when they’ll come in handy). I might end up working on a project with him in the near future. Yeah buddy.

    Cheers, guys.


  • Dan

    rock on!!! :)

  • One more question: Knowing that you started with valet kiosks… As you’ve mentioned, you’ve leveraged that niche knowledge and those connections to help launch Valet Up. Did you walk down the same thought path with the portable bar company? Utilizing your hospitality and bar/club/party connections that may have been Valet Spot customers to help chum up sales for the bars?

    I ask because I’m looking down the road at what areas would be good to expand in. I keep looking at what’s closest “to home”….how could I leverage my current customer base, etc. Is that a similar approach you take when considering new markets?

  • Dan

    Rock on man products look great!!! Glad we can help.

  • Dan

    Absolutely! We are doing everything possible to learn about the market and to get customers. We also see an opportunity for higher value products and services in the hospitality niche, but one step at a time !

  • One step at a time is right! It’s too easy to look down the road and lose focus on the opportunities in front of you. Good luck, guys. I’m sure you’ll kill it!

  • Hi Guys
    Great to get the full picture.
    One thing I missed was the argument for going with CampaignMonitor, when they are not supported by a lot of third party plugins?
    I use them but that is heritage and would probably not be my first choice today.

  • Dan

    great question there, I’m not exactly sure why we’d choose it or what the other options are, but we’ve been happy with the results so far.

  • Ryan

    business idea generator, The Guinea Pig Method: have Ian work a host of shitty jobs, 1 month each, until inspiration hits

    I used to work a really terrible job at a bread factory. these were two separate jobs
    – guy that put dough trays on a rack
    – guy that took the trays from the rack and put them onto a conveyor belt.
    the factory ran for almost 24 hours a day

    I used to imagine designing a machine that simply exchanged trays to and from a conveyor belt

    factory jobs around the world are leaving money on the table without more machines like this and in the meantime innovation is dead in this industry

  • haha that’s a good one! :D

Next post: