A colorful silicone strip designed to help you live a clutter-free life in this increasingly tangled age, Unlace began as a 2D sketch on a bar napkin, and with the help of popular crowdfunding engine Kickstarter, it became a reality for the design team of Cindy Glass and Dante Pauwels. Their journey, however, was anything but simple. From site-specific hurdles to supply-chain snafus, product designers can encounter bumps of all shapes and sizes on the crowdfunding trail.
If you’re looking into launching a product with help from crowdfunding, make sure to fully research things like fees, terms and conditions, rewards, and, most importantly, the audience, before making your decision.
There are dozens of crowdfunding sites out there, many of which serve niche markets. Regardless of which one you choose, below are four critical crowdfunding tips to get you moving in the right direction.
1. The Most Important Investor Is You. After months of researching similar products that had done well on Kickstarter, Glass came to the conclusion that before she could go out and convince people that they could deliver the product they described in the timeframe they had established, they had to take Unlace as close to the finish line as possible. That meant taking on a healthy amount of financial risk.
After using AutoCAD to design their product, Glass and Pauwels had molds 3D-printed to create their prototype, all of which was paid for out of pocket. After tweaking things like wire flexibility, silicone texture, and color attributes, they were able to send out their prototypes and CAD mock-ups to potential manufacturers. By investing that money up front and coming away with a nearly complete product, they were able to create accurate manufacturing timelines and cost structure, all before their Kickstarter page went live.
2. Make It Personal. “This isn’t just about buying a product. This is a personal engagement,” stresses Glass. “This is trying to connect with another human being.”
When Glass and Pauwels showed a rough cut of their Kickstarter video to friends, the response was unanimous: “It’s great, but where are you guys?!” The video had Apple-like simplicity and a catchy soundtrack, but it was devoid of any human element. The video was recut with an intro from Pauwels and her admittedly camera-shy partner, and though it was a mere 10-second addition—and they look “like nerds,” says Glass—it was the first step to creating a bond with potential investors.
First contact, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. During her campaign, Glass was answering 10 to 15 emails per day from foreign and domestic customers, a task she considers “the most incredible, extraordinary, supportive, informative, invaluable piece of the entire experience.” The key to managing her inbox and the expectations of her customers?
“You want a relationship with them, and they want a relationship with the product,” she says. “Just be honest, direct, and quick, and don’t get bogged down trying to figure out someone else’s psychology.”
3. Know Your Reward Tiers. When it comes to putting together your reward tiers, not all projects are created equal. Those looking to fund art projects, albums, or films have the luxury of more creative or even unorthodox perks, like a guest-starring role in a video or a painting commissioned exclusively for the highest donor. Product designers need to worry about things like supply chains and minimum-order quantities, and if you’re manufacturing overseas, don’t forget about transportation costs. If you haven’t factored in how your reward tiers will work in conjunction with those needs, you could end up losing your shirt.
“Our minimum order quantity was 1,000, but to get the reward tiers that Kickstarter was requiring, we have to make 8,000 because we had eight colors,” Glass says. “We couldn’t offer expansion reward tiers, so we had to produce twice as much as we needed, but because I knew our cost structure, I knew we could still do it and make money.”
Take time to review the rules and regulations surrounding each crowdfunding site’s reward tiers, and make sure you can put together an offering that will entice donors without having to go beyond your means.
4. Feel Fulfilled. When going from prototype to production for the first time, there are two absolute truths. One, it’s almost impossible to anticipate everything that can go wrong; and two, everything that can go wrong will almost always go wrong. If you don’t have the luxury of quitting your day job to bring your product to market, it’s wise to consider enlisting the services of a good fulfillment house to help with things like distribution, warehousing, and inventory management.
Glass and Pauwels chose to partner with Fulfillco, who they described as “extremely patient with young companies,” and were able to leverage their efficiencies for about the same as it would have cost them to do it all themselves. The benefit? Orders were shipped to satisfied customers at the end of November as opposed to late December, a full month before their promised date.
“We could have done it ourselves, but we really wanted to get people product as soon as possible,” says Glass. “Leveraging a fulfillment relationship helped us achieve a customer-service goal that was very important to us.”
For more crowdfunding tips, check out 10 Crowdfunding Tips for Your New Product, Cause, or Creative Project and Crowdfunding Success in 5 Easy Steps. And when you’re about to decide which crowdfunding site is right for you, take a look at 3 Top Crowdfunding Sites for Product Designers.