7 Marathons to Kickstarter
Guest Post by Cole McGowan, Co-Founder & CEO of Ambulant, Inc.
I remember rather early in the Concept Generation phase, my team and I would talk about how we were only on mile 3 of a marathon. I thought this was a conservative estimate of our progress. Surprisingly, developing a new product involves many marathons, all staggered and interconnected. Our experience taught us the following steps were the most significant and time consuming activities that led up to our Kickstarter campaign.
1st Marathon: Concept Generation
We believe the final product concept should define and refine our vision. During this phase it was critical to filter out elements that did not fit well with our vision, by receiving feedback from our user base. However, be cautious about altering your vision based on seemingly important new information. It is very common for consumer feedback to lead you down the wrong path, away from your vision. Steve Jobs was a prime example of someone who did not let the end user alter his vision. According to an article in Forbes, Steve said “…people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” With our product (Wingo Case) being so different than other cases, we knew we had to establish research parameters early on that would limit the amount of information participants were given, to prevent them from immediately rejecting the concept. Using the same questions, we noticed responses from participants in early groups were much different than responses from later groups, when we started using prototypes they could touch and feel.
2nd Marathon: Legal
There are many legal challenges that arise. They include creating a legal business entity, preparing service contracts, establishing equity with co-founders, and selling stock to investors, just to name a few. Your choice is to either do it yourself or hire a law firm. Your budget, available time, and the complexity of the task at hand may dictate your decision. We did both, but were very selective based on a function of time and cost. We only performed tasks that would have been most expensive, but also least complex and time consuming. Essentially, I am recommending you not spend three days working on something that you can pay someone else to do for $50. If you do hire out, I would recommend finding a law firm that understands that when you win, they win. If I were to recommend anyone, it would be Siobhan McCleary from Lowenstein Sandler in Palo Alto.
3rd Marathon: Building Your Team
The people are the most important element of your new venture, but it can also be the most challenging. This is exactly why you should have fun with it. I have discovered that some of the most important and difficult things are best approached with an element of fun. Luckily, I have always enjoyed meeting and interacting with new people, so building a team has been one of the most enjoyable parts of this process. It takes a while to find the right people; ones that best complement you and the vision. Do not rush through this process. Start reaching out to your immediate contacts, and then network, network, and network some more. If you’re not comfortable doing this then, well, I would recommend you start getting comfortable.
4th Marathon: Funding
Our team decided to bootstrap the first portion of our venture. More recently, we decided to do a small round of angel funding (friends & family) which we like to refer to as “Friendraising.” This approach to funding will likely end up looking like this:
This timeline illustrates that launching a Kickstarter campaign is not cost-free. It may be possible with other crowdfunding platforms, or with web-based products, but not with a hardware product on Kickstarter. Kickstarter recently changed their policies for design projects (hardware), which now includes a requirement to have a working prototype. It is no longer acceptable to use “product simulations or photorealistic renderings” in your pitch. Therefore, unless you are an engineer with access to rapid prototyping equipment, you will most likely need some capital to pay for design, engineering, or at the very least, a prototype.
5th Marathon: Product Design
Your final design is the foundation of your house. The only difference is that you will be laying your foundation on quicksand. You must not lose sight of your vision. Once you have complete confidence in your final product design you should then feel comfortable enough to move on to prototyping, which should be as close to what you envisioned as possible. A great example of a Kickstarter project that built a great foundation and never lost sight of their vision, is now a company called Revolights, who recently launched a 2nd Kickstarter campaign.
6th Marathon: Prototyping
There are several stages of prototyping, which goes from basic handmade prototypes all the way to your final working prototype that should look and feel like the real thing. Through this process you will discover the difficulty of developing a product that is a perfect blend of your vision, user feedback, and feasibility. Since our product does not include electronics, it was relatively easy for us to develop prototypes in the beginning phases (foam models). However, as we got further along in the development process, our prototypes became exponentially more difficult. Our final prototype was fairly complex, involving moving mechanisms, a variety of different materials, along with advanced surface engineering and various functional requirements, all of which equated to longer and more expensive turnaround times.
7th Marathon: Preparing for Kickstarter
This is currently where we are in the process. I see it as the light at the beginning of the tunnel because this is where “proof of concept” comes into play. Typically, proof of concept is measured by the number of people who buy your product. However, when it comes to crowdfunding achieving a high proof of concept is much more difficult since people who back your project must not only be willing to buy your product, but also willing to wait several months for it. There are many things to consider here including what must be in place before your campaign launches, so it is available to you immediately after you receive funding. One example of this is reaching out to various fulfillment partners (e.g. Rush Order) to get a sense of who might be able to support you after reaching your funding goal. Otherwise, you run the risk of not fulfilling your rewards on time, which could damage your reputation. Nonetheless, every project is different, which means that every team will go through a slightly different process in preparation for Kickstarter. You must present your project in the best way possible by developing a great Kickstarter site and video, along with a comprehensive strategy to promote it so enough people actually see it during the short period you are live. A poorly developed campaign would be like NASA spending years developing a space shuttle and launching it into space without enough fuel. You have gone through all the effort of developing a product, why would you not make a video and site to accurately showcase it?
At the end of the day, whatever your approach may be, the more preparation you do for your specific project the better off you will be. I would start by reviewing Kickstarter School and their blog. Or if you would like some more detailed information, I highly encourage you to check out the “Hacking Kickstarter” blog entry by Tim Ferriss. Really great stuff!
Co-Founder & CEO
Note: This is not an all-inclusive list of how to succeed in developing a product or crowdfunding through Kickstarter (or any other platform). This is a description of the events that led up to our Kickstarter campaign, to be considered in building a product and campaign that meets the needs of your project.