Lincoln, NE, USA
Our first in a series of posts about our Kickstarter experience.
Once upon a time, an undergrad architecture student, Nicholas, was frustrated with his overheating laptop and the use of an architectural scale to lift it off the table was just not cutting it any longer. After perusing the interwebs only to find expensive (especially for college students) and clunky products available, he decided to design his own. Though quick and dirty (and in between bites of Ramen) the output was the beginning of what, four years later is the subject matter of this post and became the foundation for our company.
That design would, over the course of no less than twenty iterations, evolve into the Prop laptop stand as it is today. The Prop was originally designed to elevate your laptop off a working surface thus passively cooling it. Turns out as we began to ponder on its marketability years later, that it perfectly fit a market gap: a sexy, yet low priced, truly portable, laptop stand.
Fast forward through the design iteration and patenting process, we found ourselves needing a much larger sum of money than our student budgets could fund in order to produce the injection molding plates for our final product: $20,000. We spent more than a month in preparation quoting the tooling of our injection mold, refining the product to suit the process of plastic molding while staying true to the original concept of the Prop. Enter Kickstarter: a funding platform for creative projects, having become quite popular with the successes of the TikTok watch, and the Glif iPhone mount. Not only had Kickstarter become pop-culture trendy, it was starting companies based on project successes and this was exciting for us, as we felt we had a way to fund our project with little to no debt!
From the end of summer when we started pre-selling Props on our website till our Kickstarter launch on October 20, 2011, we had the opportunity at the suggestion of a friend to enter a design competition to raise awareness for the Prop. ApartmentTherapy.com was holding their annual Design Showcase competition and we snuck in our entry on the 23rd of September. We had a great showing, generated some press for ourselves and ended up winning the Judges Choice award! This was a spectacular eye opener to what we had to do to present our product to appeal in a mass market. We found a lot of criticism, both harsh and helpful that directly altered our plans for Kickstarter and our marketing otherwise. It was probably the most crucial event that happened pre-Kickstarter for us - thus we highly suggest going "public" with your product before your Kickstarter project.
MAKE A PLAN
First things first: craft up a detailed plan:
Start with the Numbers
1. What is it going to cost to produce your product? Get quotes, talk - not at, but with - your manufacturers or skilled people who know what works. This will save you time and money later. Get as detailed as you can with every little aspect that involves potential costs.
2. What are you selling (donation rewards)? Realistically what are your margins on each reward you? You want these to be as profitible as possible while still providing something unique that your backers could not get anywhere else. Make a spreadsheet and get quotes, don't guess.
3. Don't forget Kickstarter and their payment processor take something like 8% of your total raised (this happens at the end.) We buffered and used 10%.
4. What will it cost you to distribute your product? How are you going to do it? If you get crazy popular we suggest Shipwire if you don't do it yourself (as we did). If you didn't already know, Kickstarter does not let you limit regions to sell to. International shipping is expensive and time-consuming! Make sure to add extra costs to anyone international - it's now a common practice.
1. Brand your product, if you cannot do this well, find someone who can.
2. How do you present your story and product? Kickstarter loves a (short) story, the backers want to back people not just products. Present a compelling message and take time considering your choice of images, video etc. Use colleagues, friends, and relatives to bounce your story or explanation off of and see if you can explain it to them clearly and concise, being sure it is easily communicated to a wide audience of potential backers.
3. Get a pro to do anything you can't do well. The Kickstarter video is a really powerful part of your project and videography was not one of our combined strong-suits. While we had no money, we made a deal with a colleague - the stupendous, Jimmy Rohr - to shoot our Kickstarter Video. We agreed on a contract to pay him a little up front, a little after, a little more if we were successful with our project. This was a beautiful partnership and you can work this kind of contract for more than just videos.
1. It is really important to get your product out in any news source you can. Contact bloggers, reporters, local media including tv stations, and student newspapers. This was really important to us getting funded as 76% of our Kickstarter project funding came from external sources. This means we drove that traffic there ourselves, Kickstarter doesn't do much to market your project on it's platform.
2. Craft a nice email. Don't be pushy, make it short, simple and give the recipient everything they need to quickly write a story about your project. See some of our press.
3. Make a press package. We sent a lot of emails, like over 200. In every email we sent a press package, check ours out. (Link to download).
4. Get your message out to the media sources early, and try to get commitments to publish within the time frame of your Kickstarter campaign - especially a big one on launch date! If your lucky they will trickle out nicely throughout your project.
Finally, Make your Proposal to Kickstarter
Below is the rejection response we got to our first proposal. Good thing we are stubborn.
Friday Sep 9, 11:11am CDT
Thank you for taking the time to share your idea. Unfortunately, this isn't the right fit for Kickstarter. We receive many project proposals daily and review them all with great care and appreciation. We see a wide variety of inspiring ideas, and while we value each one's uniqueness and creativity, Kickstarter is not the right platform for all of them. We wish you the best of luck as you continue to pursue your endeavor.
We were frustrated to say the least. Our product, the Prop laptop stand, was something that over a hundred people had bought into and pre-ordered through our website without a shred of evidence that it would be produced soon. We also had the backing of a well-versed team of patent lawyers at NUtech Ventures who had long ago submitted our patent application. From our perspective, we had more proof of a successful product than half of the things we had seen on Kickstarter. Yet, we didn't give them a good enough idea of the product in our initial proposal. Our product was simple renderings and animations - nothing substantiated in a real life prototype.
We had a quick discussion about going elsewhere (Indiegogo and a few other nameless options, some no longer existing, crowdsourcing sites) which ended with, "Kickstarter is king." Out of frustration and stubbornness, we drafted a response to their rejection and sent it away. I was more nervous about this message than our original because if they said no to our secondary proposal we truly had to find another way. Timing found us in a good position to shoot a quick video of our freshly 3D printed rapid-prototype. (Keep in mind we were working on a college student, shoe-string budget which included shopping around and fending off salesmen with quotes ranging from $7,000 to $12,000 for quick prototypes!) Check out that video below.
Please ask us questions, grab our RSS feed or signup for our Mailing List to follow along (on the left). This is post 1 of 3 tracing our Kickstarter experience! The next will focus on what to do and not do during your project and a bit deeper into our own process.