Why putting community at the heart of your brand is a recipe for success


IN DISCUSSION WITH

Juda Honickman

Chief Marketing Officer @ Slinger

How the product came about

In 2017 Joe Kalfa, the founder of Slinger® and the man behind the Slinger Bag thought up the concept for a personal tennis ball launcher, during a break in a tennis match.

Joe is an avid tennis player, who plays tennis a few hours a day on average. He found that one of his biggest problems was finding a partner to play with. As with all simple but great ideas, he imagined that his pain point was actually a common problem for others who play.

It was then that Joe met Juda, sharing with him his vision and bringing him on board as a consultant to lead product design and overall strategy for the company’s pre-sale crowdfunding initiative.

Over the next year, the team worked on the product’s design and in May 2018 unveiled a prototype of the launcher - one that was portable, cordless, and could be operated using a remote control, and launched their Kickstarter campaign.

The product was an instant hit.


Slinger® hit their goal of $25,000 in 45 minutes, $100K in 7 days, and $1M in 90 days.

The team realized that their solution to a personal pain point really was common throughout the tennis playing community.  Throughout the crowdfunding process they listened to their customers, trying to best understand their wants and needs. This way, they could create the ultimate personal tennis ball launcher with all the additional elements that tennis players needed and wanted. 

They went to the wider tennis playing communities and recruited the “Slingers” asking them all sorts of questions:

What type of remote do you want?

What would you want from your own personal tennis ball launcher?

Their research became part of the community-wide conversation, leading to the final product which is now on the market. The C level team then arranged a meeting with Mike Ballardie, former CEO of Prince - one of the world leading tennis brands, who agreed to come out of tennis retirement and has been leading the company as CEO ever since.

Launching a product in Covid

With the crowdfunding campaign over the next stage was to create, test, and manufacture the Slinger Bags for shipping, which proved to take longer than initially expected. The first units went out to the Kickstarter backers in March 2020, with a plan to make Slinger available to the wider tennis community shortly after... and then Covid 19 hit the world.

Supplies of the product dried up as China slowed production on their machines, which led to a delay in the production schedule, leading the company to make the product available to the USA market with a 60 day delivery lead time - a challenge for a new brand.

On the other hand, Covid 19 turned out to be the ideal time for the Slinger® PERSONAL launcher as people found themselves alone with no tennis courts open and no partners to be found.

Slinger® then launched their “No courts, no problem “ instagram campaign showing members of their community from around the world playing indoor and outdoor tennis using their Slinger Bags. Orders began pouring in faster than Slinger® could manage.

No Court, No Problem Campaign.

From the beginning, Slinger® had always been about the tennis player and making tennis more accessible. The community of tennis players is well established on social platforms. When Slinger® reached out to them, they found that many of the community loved the product before they even saw it.

There was some backlash and complaints over the delayed 60 day delivery from some customers, but the “Slingers,” Slinger’s community, was solid and supportive.

Original Kickstarter backers got involved in the conversation, responding to the complaints with comments such as “We have waited 18 months, you can wait 60 days, buy the product!” and “The product is worth the wait, trust me!”

As Juda says:

“From day one, our focus was building a community. From the first email we sent, calling our customers “Slingers”; until the most recent email offering them to beta test our new app (to which 2k+ people responded), we knew that it was all about them".

Everything that we’ve done has been mission-driven. We had a goal to make tennis more accessible and fun, and we are doing just that. 

While there have been many bumps along the road, we stuck to the plan, listened to the community, and kept moving forward with dedication and drive. 

The global tennis community sees and feels our passion and dedication, and their response has been nothing short of amazing.”

On using Influencers:

Having seen the success the newly launched product was having, Juda set out to expand this feeling by onboarding a select number of influencers who were given the product for free in exchange for social media promotion. 

Rather than going straight for the bigger names in tennis, Juda chose to launch the campaign with Micro-Influencers, those with between 7K – 25K followers who were more likely to use the product and who would be more relatable to their followers, and therefore more likely to convert followers into buyers. This strategy proved to work beautifully and resulted not only in an expanded product interest and in turn customers, but also set the stage for customer submitted content which has become the communities go-to for understanding and learning how to best use their Slinger Bags. 

Juda’s top takeaways for others looking to put community at the heart of their product:

“You can’t build a community without listening to your community.”

There is nobody who better knows the pain point that your product is aiming to solve than the community who it is aimed at. 

“Authenticity shows.”

From day one until today Juda still manages the brand's Instagram account and does not believe in handing it over to an intern.  

“Every customer can be your influencer, and so each one deserves equal respect.”

If people love your product, they will share it with their friends, making every customer a potential sales rep.

“Never underestimate your ability to figure it out.”

When he was first approached by Joe Kalfa, Juda had never played or even watched a game of tennis, but this didn’t keep him from learning the sport and industry to understand the need for and drive demand for the Slinger Bag.