Last summer Tigere Chiriga discovered the dark side of success. The Mooresville, N.C.-based entrepreneur, a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service, used crowdfunding site Kickstarter to bankroll his flagship invention, the Floating Mug--a coffee mug that doesn't leave moisture rings behind when placed on a table. While his fundraising goal was a manageable $15,000, he ended up with more orders than he expected (just shy of $40,000 worth). Overnight, his one-man operation needed a manufacturer and logistics house that could handle shipping.
"My excitement turned to anxiety when I began fielding countless e-mails from not only my backers, but from small retailers, wholesalers and distributors who wanted my mug," Chiriga says. "I had 30 days to become proficient in manufacturing, warehousing, packaging, fulfillment, retail, e-commerce, customer service and marketing."
Chiriga turned to CrowdHut for assistance. Launched last October, the New York City-based site helps businesses take crowdfunded products to market with an e-commerce platform and a turnkey manufacturing and fulfillment model that lays the foundation for the nascent company to scale from its first batch of orders.
"Each one of these companies that crowdfund has different needs," says CrowdHut co-founder and COO David Borish. "Some of them have a product that needs to be patented. Others have design skills, but they've never engineered something. Even the best teams that raise the most money, they still have trouble getting a product to market. That's where we come in."
CrowdHut assembled a team of experts with decades of experience in retail, supply-chain management and multichannel marketing, including Jeremy Conrad, co-founder of hardware incubator Lemnos Labs; Lance White, a senior vice president at financial services firm UBS; and serial entrepreneur Andrew Stern. While Chiriga won't disclose the cost of this expert advice, he is paying CrowdHut 30 percent of each Floating Mug sale handled by its fulfillment service. The platform has helped Chiriga identify his target market, formulate a strategy, market a new premium mug and find a reliable overseas manufacturer.
While building his business from scratch, Chiriga is enjoying a luxury that most founders never experience: peace of mind. "I have reliable factories sourced through CrowdHut, as well as experts on hand to help me navigate unfamiliar industries," he says.
With the time freed up by CrowdHut, Chiriga has been able to turn his attention to developing new products and uncovering new markets.
A Second Opinion
Roger Wu, who runs a competition called New York Crowdfunds, says it can be a great idea for newbies to partner with experts to help fill crowdfunding orders. However, he warns, entrepreneurs need to be aware of the strings attached to such a move, especially when one bad experience by a big customer could ruin your reputation.
"Third parties might take much more money than you expect," Wu says. "Also, bear in mind that the entrepreneur loses control of the process. Returns and customer service fall upon the third party, but [the results] reflect back on the original fundraiser."