From Backers to Buyers: How Kickstarter Helped Me Launch a Product the Traditional Way
Here are five things I learned from crowdfunding that prepared me to take the leap.
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My fascination with watches began a decade ago. Age 20 at the time, I was struck by the unique watch my business mentor wore around his wrist, a timepiece his own father had passed down to him 30 years before. The watch's heritage and history drew me in, as did its elegant design.
I saved enough to buy myself a $400 watch the day I turned 21, a purchase I hoped to turn into an annual birthday tradition. Fast forward to the present, and I just launched my own line of watches. While the trajectory from then to now can feel like a blur, there are a few things I know to be true: It wasn't easy, and it wouldn't have been possible without Kickstarter.
But first, let's backtrack to 2013. At the time, I had just launched my first product, a bike lock, on Kickstarter. It raised $51,213 but wasn't profitable enough for me to take a salary. This, coupled with my recent divorce, put me in a precarious financial situation. That year, when my birthday rolled around, I didn't buy myself a watch. I couldn't afford to.
It was a tough time. Looking back, however, I can see it was an invaluable period, too. Kickstarter taught me how to run a company that shipped products across the globe. For my next campaign, I decided to focus my efforts on something that could be more profitable: a travel backpack. It blew past its goal, and went on to raise $612,000 on Kickstarter and another $620,000 on Indiegogo.
Nearly five years after my first crowdfunding campaign, I'm finally ready to launch a product the old-fashioned way. Going from collecting backers to making the entire investment up front was a big, but exciting, leap; for the first time, my customers can buy a product the moment it launches. The training wheels are officially off.
I couldn't have done it without Kickstarter. Here's what I did on the platform before making the jump.
1. I created a brand identity.
Launching a bike lock and a travel backpack attracted certain types of backers. By engaging with them and asking them questions, I learned what attracted them to the products. Today, I know I'm making products for people who are similar to me -- constantly on the move, often strapped for time and comfortable multitasking -- which helps me design new products I know my customers will use and love.
2. I developed an engaged audience.
My email newsletter currently has more than 30,000 subscribers, most of whom found me through through Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Going into the watch launch, I knew I already had a group of people who were familiar with my brand and liked my aesthetic. I've been in contact with many of them since 2013, back when they took a meaningful gamble on my first product. At this point, they're more than just customers -- they're my community.
3. I learned the importance of press coverage.
That sounds rudimentary, but when I launched the bike lock, I didn't fully understand that online articles and mentions can make or break a campaign. Major media coverage often has a global ripple effect, leading to more backers in the U.S. but also in Germany, Singapore, Japan and other parts other world (which, in turn, generates even more press coverage).
I started actively reaching out to editors and reporters, learning (mostly through trial and error) the types of pitches that worked and the types of pitches that didn't. A general rule of thumb: Pitch journalists who have covered products similar to yours. Don't go in expecting to hear back from everybody (or you'll be sorely disappointed). Instead, cast as wide a net as possible and be polite, always.
4. I went through the manufacturing process.
For both the bike lock and the travel backpack, I worked with manufacturers in China. This meant that when I started looking for a factory to make the watches, I was already familiar with general do's and don'ts. I knew to start looking for leads on Alibaba to get a rough price idea. I also knew how to spot bad operators (if a manufacturer has one logo on his business card and another logo on "his" factory, run). Eventually, I settled on a manufacturing facility that also produces watches for a well-respected major brand, a indication of respectability and craftsmanship I wouldn't have known to look for if I'd gone into the process blind.
5. I saw the forest for the trees.
In the midst of a product launch, it's easy to get caught up in the details and forget the bigger picture. After multiple crowdfunding campaigns, I'm able to take a step back and identify what worked and what didn't. Timing played a huge role in the success of both campaigns. This time around, I kept our release date in mind from the beginning. Using Google trends, I knew that web searches for watches steadily climb in the months leading up to Christmas. I chose to launch in mid-November, in time to take advantage of the spike in watch-related searches, but not so early that the press generated from our launch wouldn't coincide with the gift buying window that precedes the holidays.
Overall, a lot of the steps are similar to launching a product via crowdfunding and a traditional launch. The biggest difference is that if you don't already have an audience, launching via Kickstarter or Indiegogo can be a great idea if your product is a good fit and offers some sort of new tech or advantage over other products in the market. Kickstarter has millions of visitors a month looking to invest in exciting new projects. If you launch on your own website, you will face a challenge to get the same type of engaged audience that is already on Kickstarter, not to mention the upfront investment. If you are able to launch via crowdfunding, it's a great way to get backer feedback before production starts -- so you know you can perfect your product on the first launch. If you are investing upfront in purchasing thousands of units, it's important that you are confident in your abilities to make a great product.