CEO Gaya Samarasingha’s shares six lessons and strategies learned.
As we celebrate Kalaia’s second anniversary and the launch of our first international market (Australia), it is humbling to look back on our journey thus far. Since the launch in February 2018, we have been able to build a solid foundation that allowed us to expand internationally; create consistent growth in the United States; and most importantly reach profitability within our first year. I’m honored to be asked to share some of the lessons learned and strategies that contributed to our success over the last two years.
Your independent sales force is the backbone of your success. At Kalaia, we make decisions every day asking ourselves, “how can we better serve our Brand partners and help them grow their businesses?
1. Money matters but where money comes from matters even more.
One of the best decisions I made was to fund Kalaia on my own without any partners or inventors. It gave me the freedom to invest our time and resources with a focus on the long-term goals instead of the short-term gains. No matter how much you plan, every new business is unpredictable in nature, but the direct selling industry has its own set of unique challenges, seasonality, and other factors that play a huge role in how the first few years play out. As important as it is to have enough capital to start the business, I’m a big believer, it is important to partner with people who understand and appreciate this industry.
2. Scalability will give you longevity.
I have seen many companies make the mistake of getting the big office and hiring a full executive team before they recruit their first distributor or make their first sale. For us being scalable and lean has been a priority from day one. We outsource almost everything except few core functions and in most cases, we opt in to using freelance/contract staff instead of hiring full-time employees. They have become an extension of our corporate team. This has allowed us to scale our operations up or down based on the seasonality and given us the ability to maintain a healthy cash-flow. That being said, we have also been very selective in choosing vendors/business partners who understands the direct selling industry and have the capabilities to scale with us as we grow and expand globally.
3. Keep it simple, you cannot be everything to everyone.
I think this is true regardless of the size or the maturity of the business. In this industry it is so easy to be pressured into following the latest product trends or feeling the need to offer something for everyone. For young companies with limited resources it is critical to focus on quality over quantity when it comes to everything from products, promotions, to expansion strategies. Keep a pulse on what’s happening around you but don’t lose sight of who you are as a company trying to please everyone.
4. Technology isn’t the answer to everything, but it is a fundamental piece of the puzzle.
Like many, we thought having advanced technology would be critical to our business. We launched Kalaia with an app that integrated with our system to quickly find out majority of the Brand Partners, especially those less than part-timers, weren’t utilizing those tools. All they want is a simple platform to manage their business. Currently, we have an outstanding technology partner that provides us a simple platform that works. The key phase here is “a platform that works”. I have repeatedly seen how companies lose sales and even worse, lose the trust of their sales force because their systems fail to deliver. It is more important to have a simple system that works than having a broken system with all the bells and whistles.
5. Have a passion and love for the industry.
Many people with innovative product ideas choose Direct Selling as their platform to bring their product to market simply because they have seen others do it. But they don’t understand nor have an appreciation for what this industry stands for. They don’t understand what it takes to continue the growth when the newness of that product wears out. Hence, we have seen so many new Direct Selling companies come and go. One of my biggest advice to anyone considering the start of their own Direct Selling company is to either surround yourself with people with the industry experience or take the time to learn what makes or breaks companies in this industry, which leads me to my last and probably the most important point…
6. Your biggest asset is your independent sales force.
Sometimes we tend to forget the biggest asset of any company in this industry is the independent sales force. No matter how innovative your products are, how incredible your technology is, how creative your marketing is, this is a relationship business. Your independent sales force is the backbone of your success. At Kalaia, we make decisions every day asking ourselves “how can we better serve our Brand partners and help them grow their businesses?”. We continue to invest in the personal and professional development of our Brand Partners; we have given them a voice at the table through a very active Advisory Board; and we have created a rich culture that not only attracts but also develops savvy businesswomen and men.
We are incredibly blessed to have the women and men who have partnered with us as Brand Partners, employees, freelancers, and service providers to contribute to the ongoing success of Kalaia. We wouldn’t be here today without an amazing team that has come together to support our mission to empower women and change lives through our products, business opportunity, and the Kalaia Cares charitable program.