The Creator Behind a Robotic Bartender Spills the Secrets on How to Run a Successful Kickstarter Campaign
Somabar -- a Wi-Fi connected craft cocktail kitchen appliance that, after you've selected a custom-made drink via an app, promises to concoct the beverage in five seconds flat -- stemmed from frustration.
"The idea was an amalgamation of being annoyed by waiting in long lines for drinks at bars combined with the difficulty of making good cocktails at home…especially when you've had a few," says creator Dylan Purcell-Lowe, who came up with the idea for the "world's first app controlled automated bartending appliance" back in 2011 with CTO Ammar Jangbarwala.
After three years tinkering with a series of prototypes, in which the duo "worked out of our garage like stereotypical entrepreneurs" the product launched on Kickstarter. It was a runaway success, reaching its $50,000 goal in less than two weeks, and raising a total of $312,707 by the close of its 53-day campaign, which ended last week.
Entrepreneur spoke to Purcell-Lowe about how he prepared for the campaign, his experience on Kickstarter and what's next for Somabar.
Why the duo decided to go down the crowdfunding route on Kickstarter
Purcell-Lowe and Jangbarwala were initially inspired by the technology they'd seen at work in Japan, where vending machines dispense alcoholic beverages. After studying home-brewing coffee company Keurig's business model, they realized they could create a similar product that would make craft cocktails in lieu of coffee beverages. After developing a workable prototype, the pair was confident they had a product consumers would respond to. First, however, they needed to generate a large enough number of sales to bring down manufacturing costs. "Crowdfunding gave us that ability," says Purcell-Lowe. "We would never have been able to do it without it."
They chose Kickstarter, instead of Indiegogo or other smaller crowdfunding platforms, because of its fairly rigorous and lengthy approval process: Campaigns on the platform were vetted, and it showed.
The pre-launch: It's all about planning
Leading up to Somabar's launch, Purcell-Lowe pored over past Kickstarter campaigns in an attempt to decipher what worked and what didn't. The most useful case-study was The Coolest, a campaign for a picnic-ready frozen drink machine. The first time The Coolest launched, it failed to reach its $125,000 goal. Undeterred, creator Ryan Grepper tweaked his campaign strategy and re-launched The Coolest a few months later. This time, it not only reached its goal, but raised more than $13 million, becoming Kickstarter's most funded campaign ever.
Learning from Grepper's failure and emulating his tactics for success, Purcell-Lowe ensured that Somabar's campaign page featured multiple photographs of the prototype, as well as a clear and concise video showcasing exactly how Somabar works. (While Purcell-Lowe and Jangbarwala were reluctant to spend any money on marketing, they happily invested in this area, hiring a professional videographer who had worked on other Kickstarter campaign videos).
Purcell-Lowe estimates they spent an entire year researching and planning before the launch. "We were very careful going forward – we didn't want any surprises."
The launch: Focus on traction and exposure
Because the minimum pledge to receive a pre-order of the Somabar was $399, Purcell-Lowe couldn't exactly rely on friends and family to fund the campaign with small goodwill donations. The campaign needed a broader audience, and so generating press coverage was all-important. But the pair didn't have the budget to fork over thousands of dollars a month on PR agencies to pitch their campaign.
Instead, they depended on a more home-grown style of marketing: maintaining an active social-media presence on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter and reaching out to "every single magazine and blogger we could think of," says Purcell-Lowe. They were polite but persistent, a combination that paid off. During the campaign, Somabar was featured in a diverse array of outlets -- from tech sites (TechCrunch, CNET and Gizmag) to fashion blogs (Refinery29) and even tabloids (The Daily Mail). While the campaign got off to a slow start, as soon as Somabar was featured in Fortune and Uncrate, pledges began pouring in, and the campaign blew past its funding goal in less than two weeks. "By this point we've been in hundreds of blogs -- and that's with no PR budget whatsoever."
What's next for Somabar
With pre-orders for the Somabar shipping in July, Purcell-Lowe and Jangbarwala are in the process of taking their original prototype and getting it assembly-line ready. They are also fleshing out the Somabar app, which enables users to select a rotating list of craft cocktails that the appliance will mix in seconds. "It's fully operable, but we want to create a community around it to share recipes and their experiences using the product," says Purcell-Lowe.
While he originally envisioned Somabars lining the shelves of major chains such as Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma, "it's hard for us to go into a big-box store, because they take a 50 to 70 percent margin." Currently, the duo continues to take pre-sale orders (now priced at $429) on the Somabar website. "Being on Kickstarter puts you out there in a very public way – we've had dozens of offers for distribution or investment," Purcell-Lowe says. Fresh of the heels of a whirlwind Kickstarter campaign, however, they are giving themselves some time to slow down and figure out what's next for Somabar.
Related: Anatomy of a Kickstarter Backer
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