So, What's Harder? Taking on Kickstarter, Launching a Startup After Age 50 or Fighting Cancer?
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While the above question is one I never envisioned having to answer, it’s amazing how similar the challenges are between: 1) orchestrating a successful Kickstarter campaign; 2) launching a startup after age 50; and 3) fighting cancer.
Let’s start where these three prongs of my life began to converge two years ago. On March 8, 2016, I launched my first crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter which ended that April 12). I had previously passed on potential investments from venture capitalists to fund the first-of-its-kind: The Edge Desk. I saw my product, a portable and kneeling desk, as indicative of where people are today; and I was eager to get it out there.
But first I had a major decision to make. We’ve been hearing about the massive changes in the retail landscape and last week's news of ToysRUs' closing is just another example (albeit a big one) So, I’m happy to say we made the right choice when we rejected the brick and mortar retail route. Instead, I decided to step out of my comfort zone, expose my idea on social media/crowdfunding and let the whole world poke holes at it and tell me what they thought.
History and past successes be damned: It was time to see if anyone really wanted the product and find out if I had what it takes to market in today’s consumer centric world.
Well, a happy update: Not only did 1,500 people in 41 countries decide to back my product during the Kickstarter campaign, but I actually benefited from the honest feedback, critiques and suggestions I received from around the world.
So, flash forward to July 17, 2017. My design and production were in gear; my team of five was hard at work.
But while I thought Kickstarter was tough, after that fateful July day, I soon realized I hadn’t seen anything.
The day began with a run. While stretching afterward, I looked down at my legs to find two black and blue handprints, one on each leg. After a quick trip to the doctor, I was in the ER that afternoon by 4:30 p.m., facing a diagnosis of leukemia. An hour later, I had my first dose of chemo.
I was at a low point that for me was unimaginable, when a ray of light hit: My doc told me that while I faced a battle, the leukemia I had had a 90 percent-plus cure rate. Game on.
First: I know what I know, and I don’t know what I don’t know. I've always been aware of this truism. But my product provided me the opportunity to apply it to make my product better. Today’s consumers expect complete transparency if they are going to support a brand with their hard-earned funds. Success today, therefore, requires a dialogue with your target audience, not a monologue.
Second: You can’t get by without a little help from your friends.
Our Kickstarter campaign had an aggressive target of $165,000. We did our homework, which was what we needed to to do get the tooling done and go to production. I went to everyone I knew asking for posts on Facebook and LinkedIn; and, in large part, thanks to friends with huge networks, we were able to hit our goal in 50 hours.
Ultimately, we secured $484,000 in crowdfunding; and some of this happened, I believe, because the paradigm had shifted: Big box retailers were, and are, taking a back seat to ecommerce. Traditional funders were, and are, being given a run for their money -- literally -- by crowdfunding sites.
And we had success in that sphere: Believe it or not, there have been just over 140,000 successful Kickstarter campaigns, and ours finished in the top 1 percent of them.
We were off and running; and with our campaign came some lessons learned.
The first lesson: Change is good.
We proved to the world that we were open to new ideas and this new -- crowdfunding -- way of doing business. For me, our campaign on that platform was the first time in 20 years I wasn’t marketing myself as someone who'd worked as senior vp of marketing at Hasbro and overseen the promotion of some of the most successful toys ever created (ever hear of Furby?)
Suddenly I had become “the kneeling desk guy.” It felt great to know that I could start a second career after age 50. It felt good to do it in a way that combined what had worked for me previously (e.g., Never take “no” for an answer) and adjust to the new go-to market strategies that are necessary today.
Still, if I thought Kickstarter was tough, when the cancer hit, I realized I hadn’t seen anything.
March 23 this year will be awesome. It will be my 120th round of arsenic (an alternative to chemo), marking the completion of my treatment, which has included 34 days in the hospital, thousands of pills, numerous transfusions -- and, the good part: so many calls, emails, visits and check-ins from family and friends that I will never be able to thank everyone enough.
The second lesson: We all need help.
Whether your challenge is a battle like mine, or the search for a new job, the start of a new business, or a campaign on Kickstarter: At times, we all need help. The best doctors, nurses,and caregivers at Kellogg Cancer Center in Illinois made it possible for me to be here writing this and getting ready to get back to work.
My family, which extends to friends, associates and so many more, has kept me laser-focused on my only real job: to get better. No one likes to admit having cancer and needing help. And, in fact, hearing myself say that for the first time was surreal; it still is.
But the key is recognizing and understanding that if you do as you're told, there's a great chance you will be able to get back to doing the things that you love.
The third lesson: "Be that friend you would want."
In other words, be the friend that you, at one time or another, will ultimately need. Take that call from a friend’s kid looking for his or her first job; help an associate brainstorm a solution to a complex problem, without worrying about time or compensation. Make time to help others; it comes back tenfold.
What’s up next for me? Getting back the keys. My work family was incredible, making sure that The Edge Desk kept moving forward during my hiatus. They took all the feedback from our Kickstarter supporters and made improvements. As a result, the product is awesome, and we are now about to go “all-in” on global sales and marketing efforts. We’re even developing our newest edition, so watch out.
And, as for that original question I posed, of "Which is hardest?": I guess it’s a trick question, as only time will tell. I’m just thrilled to still be here so I can find out.