5 KICKSTARTER LESSONS LEARNED
The other day we received a phone call from an interested entrepreneur. He could not believe that the SHEL was our very first kickstarter. He was even more floored that we did this without huge reserves and that we were able to compete with experienced campaigners and large marketing firms.
After that call, we realized we had something special here. We succeeded above anything we could have dreamed (and we are big dreamers) and we want to share what we learned with you. That said, we are by no means experts, but still hope that our little insight can help some people with their crowd funding efforts.
(1) Create Something That People Want
(it sounds obvious, but, just read)
How do you go about doing this?
Focus on ideas about something you are passionate about. If you’re a baller, do something sports related. If you love tech, think techy thoughts. And if you love the outdoors and hammocks, think SHEL thoughts. We LOVE hammocks and the outdoors. We also love getting outside with less gear, so we created a product centered around combining those two areas.
This is important, because if you are passionate about a certain field, you’re likely very aware of problems that people often encounter. This makes it easier to generate ideas and solutions that could be successful. Also, because you will spend many late nights (or early mornings) working on this, it helps to love what you’re working on.
Truth be told, you might have already had many of ideas, but none that made you say to yourself: “I’m going to be a millionaire!” The problem is, the first idea that you have will rarely be your contribution to planet earth.
Go and ask the world what they want.
Create surveys and send them to your target market. Tell your friends about your ideas and have open-minded conversations with them. Don’t get hung up on your wonderful concept; be willing to change it to meet what people want. Figure out what the market wants and go from there.
We used the lunch-box app and offered hammock campers free pizza if they would take a survey for us, and we kept doing so. Our initial concept is wildly different from our final product. In addition, we have continued to ask our Kickstarter backers what they want in the product and made some adjustments. This has so far resulted in a happy backer database. Throughout all this market interaction, we have built personal relationships — relationships that have gone on to open doors everywhere.
(2) Seek a Mentor, Be Interested in Others
Build a network of people. If you love what you are doing, you will meet a lot of people. Get to know them and work hard to serve them.
Don’t just try to see what you can gain from people. Instead, see how you can help them. Be humble when you meet others. Most of the great insights come when people who are a lot smarter than you start liking you back and want you to succeed.
Another thing we found that was successful was that we were open and honest about how little we new about entrepreneurship as we both come from the engineering field. We still don’t know much, but we are always willing to listen to people’s suggestions and open to changing what we previously thought we knew. Fortunately, as engineers, we really seek to understand the why behind people’s suggestions. That has helped us to learn principles that govern executing better decisions.
Seek out mentors. There is something awesome about successful entrepreneurs. They are grateful and they want to give back. They want to share all this knowledge they spent a lifetime to accumulate. If you listen, they will give more.
People love to mentor first timers. They want to give back to the world, after all, many of them had mentors of their own. We cannot begin to convey the gratitude we have for our stellar mentors. Without them, we’d still be stuck passing out flyers and lollipops as our marketing strategy.
(3) Enter Competitions
Whether they are entrepreneurship competitions, innovation competitions, business model competitions, just do it. Do everything you can to win these competitions, because the more you put in, the more you’ll get out. But be creative. Think outside the box. Be different and stand out. They take a TON of work and sleepless nights but they also teach you more than anybody else can. We cannot emphasize that enough.
We put a lot of skin into our first competition. For example, we moonlighted over 200 hours of work for our first competition. The night before, we stayed up late and practiced our presentation about a hundred times after we had memorized it. And when we practiced, it was in front of an intimidating third party (Casey’s wife), who gave us some very helpful feedback.
We can attribute almost everything to our first competition, the BYU Student Innovator of the Year. From that competition, we won $7,000. We set up an LLC, got a bank account, and dumped the funds there to serve as our total budget. That money went to making prototypes, paying professionals for our logo and sewing, as well as paying for some preliminary marketing to build up a following on facebook.
Competitions have very little risk, and the feedback you get gives you a very good glimpse into whether your business idea will succeed. All the work you do in these competitions will only channel into the real world.
(4) Build an Email List and Following
This is such an important step and is probably the hardest. You need to build a social media presence.
Having a smaller budget actually can be helpful because you won’t fall into the trap of buying followers. Instead, market your product as something that is genuinely interesting to people. Then people begin to share it organically. It’s human nature for someone to share with their friends and loved ones something that they really like. Get creative as well. We found lots of success by offering incentives to share and like the post like entering free drawings for the SHEL.
Our first bunch of followers on Facebook was a stroke of fortune. We started our Facebook page right before giving a pitch to a college class on our product. The pitch was rough, but we told the group that we’d raffle away a SHEL to anybody who liked us on Facebook.
Suddenly we had a couple hundred likes on Facebook.
After that initial boost, Facebook friends were much more comfortable liking our page because they saw that many others had liked it. Call it peer pressure or momentum. Either way it was free at the time (we are giving the winner of the raffle one of the first SHELs manufactured), not to mention the stunt gave us a very fast Facebook boost.
Note that in a few months, our Facebook page organically grew to have about 1700 likes. Yes, we ran some ads, but most of the likes came from SHEL giveaways where we asked people to tag three adventure buddies.
Prefundia was a really critical part of our preparation for Kickstarter and is a great way to build an email list. Prefundia is a platform for setting up a “pre-Kickstarter” so people can browse your product. People can use it to sign up to be the first to buy on Kickstarter. It’s another gate that helps you refine your customer pool and know who’s really committed to backing you on day 1.
Although there may be better ways to get a following, for a Kickstarter first timer, Prefundia is essentially a Kickstarter practice run. You can make mistakes early so that your Kickstarter doesn’t suffer. You’ll create a video and get product shots and work on product description. And in return, people sign up to stay in the loop.
It also teaches you how the market will receive your product while building a loyal following. Your future customers see the company grow. They watch as your online representation grows from a rough, patchy pile of pictures to a professional page.
We opened up our Kickstarter just over a day early for previewing so people could sleep on buying a SHEL. When our kickstarter hit on day 1, we reached our least viable goal for fulfillment (of 15K) in just over an hour and a half. You could see the backers popping onto the page.
We still feel a little stunned and very grateful.
(5) Your Customers Are Real People; Be Nice to Them
The last principle we’ve learned is connected to the previous principles, but it is by far the most important: your customers are real people. Be nice to them.
Try to answer every one of their emails, texts, phone calls, kickstarter messages. If they have a great idea that will benefit all the backers, be okay with running with it. At least hear them out and consider their thoughts.
Most of Khione’s great ideas didn’t come from the co-founders. They came from our testers and backers.
We call it crowd-developing.
By working closely with customers and letting them in on the fun of creation, you get really great ideas. You also really get to know them and like them. That naturally leads to a successful product because you feel the weight of knowing it is your job to satisfy your friends. That makes all the difference.– Casey Messick, Co-founder
Caleb Lystrup and Casey Messick (feel free to reach out!) email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org SHEL Kickstarter