Online to Offline: Buy Online Crowdfunded Products at a Store Near You
One of the biggest problems every startup with a consumer-facing product faces is showcasing prototypes in the real world, and not just online. Proving consumer interest, market traction and sales also becomes difficult when one is just starting out, and while Kickstarter and other crowdfunding websites are a great place to showcase and raise some money, not many people feel comfortable purchasing products from an obscure startup.
Added to that are long online waiting lines, a lack of being able to touch and test products offline, and delayed shipping, all of which can turn customers off from investing or purchasing crowdfunded products online.
But We The People, a startup in Singapore, has found a solution to this: physical stores that carry crowdfunded products.
Co-founder Nison Chan shares his insights on why he decided to launch the company, and how his startup addresses some crowdfunding concerns.
What inspired We The People? How did you get the idea?
My partners, Ryan and Joel were already launching successful Kickstarter campaigns with their brand, and the only sales channels they had were pop-up stores, retail stores, and online channels. Sales was good for them, but only when they were present, i.e. doing the sales themselves. Their products were placed at top-tier retail stores but sales were abysmal. They could be selling much more than the retail store by themselves. It all boiled down to the store’s staff. We realised that they weren’t motivated. Such is the condition of the general retail industry.
One day at a pop-up store, Ryan decided to test the crowd. He placed a little signboard the size of an iPad on his table that read “FUNDED WITH KICKSTARTER”. This was the eureka moment. Sales tripled. Like moths to light, people came and bought.
Then we thought to ourselves, are there physical stores that only retail crowdfunded products? (No, there weren’t) So we took the plunge.
Initially the business focused on retailing products that were made possible with crowdfunding. Today, we’ve repositioned the company as a global product launch accelerator platform.
What is the problem We The People is trying to solve?
The products featured (on crowdfunding websites) were so new, there hadn’t been any mass-market take up. The discovery process could only happen within our stores. We provided the only platform with the tangible aspect of product discovery. It’s a much larger market that still prefers to shop in-stores.
We also provided the after-sales service, and our prices are extremely competitive.
What were some challenges you faced in the initial phase?
To this day, the biggest risk we took was starting the business in the first place, purely because there are so many variables and unknowns - from major paradigm shifts in retail to changes in consumer trends, to overall economic forecasts on how consumers are spending their money. Any of those factors could have doomed us to failure if the economic winds had shifted.
Luckily, time was on our side.
We opened our first We The People store in Singapore in 2016, just as Kickstarter started to open up its platform to creators in Singapore and Hong Kong. This provided us with an opportunity to showcase exciting new creators in our new store, and cultivate those consumers with a passion for crowdfunded products into loyal customers.
All our moves since opening the first store have been carefully and conservatively calculated. We took our learnings and applied them, and now we have six stores worldwide and a rapidly expanding, exceedingly loyal customer base.
Tell me two things you think you did right in your initial days launching the company.
1) Getting the press releases out early to get taken up by media and released right when we opened the first store
2) Managing to forecast the right amount of inventory to hold for the first few days. It was perfect.
Who is your main competitor?
We compete with the online market fiercely. However we’ve managed to overcome that battle by being the only physical go-to-market channel for new product discovery. Our online sales are strong because consumers know that it’s because of the fact that we own physical stores, as they would be able to have immediate after-sales service. Which is a key wheel-turner for new emerging brands. The way we curate our products while making sure proper after-sales service is met is why consumers trust us.
With online sales, trust is probably the most important factor. If the online store is backed up by physical stores. It’s a win!
What according to you are the mistakes that have been made by other startups who failed in this space? How you are trying to avoid them?
I guess the one notable one would be Sharper Image. The general comments were usually something of the sort of “I like to use their massage chairs and leave” or "cool stuff that I would never buy.”
While Sharper Image had the cool-factor, it lacked some degree of curation for the products. Consumers can be wow’ed by cool gadgets, but this does not mean they will purchase them. The things that almost always sell are function. We focus on a good balance when we do our buying. A lot of times, we crowd-source what products to bring in and ask our audience directly.
Keeping and nurturing a strong community is key.
What's the story behind the name of the startup?
We decided on WE THE PEOPLE simply because we’re all about crowdfunding, and crowdfunding is all about us, the people. We wanted a name that would resonate, and create a sense of belonging and unity with us, creators and consumers alike - a name that, once big enough, will be indestructible. When you come to WE THE PEOPLE, you’re part of a family.
We The People in numbers:
- Monthly Rev: $180,000 to $220,000
- Break Even: 1.5 years into business
- Number of customers: 40,000+
- Target market: Male/Female, 33-55 years, Tier 1 cities
- Major traction gaining services: Crowdfunding Newsletters for creators
- Major traction generating cities: Singapore, Korea