This story covers the successful funding of our Kickstarter campaign, reaching over 570% of the fundraising goal in 30 days, the product launch, and the new e-commerce store. I'll talk about tools, methods, ideas, and strategy behind the launch. I have many people to thank for this, including over 2500 paying customers that placed their faith on my execution.
Entrepreneurs, Find your Product
This is the point that's easiest to get to, and at the same, easiest to drop away from and back to your normal lives. I listened carefully to everyone around me for over a year, learning about their problems with brands, pricing, personal stuff, lifestyle issues, etc. I forgot to listen to myself until it came time to buy more boxer briefs. I looked online. My first choice was Amazon.com and found Calvin Klein underwear for $28. I said, ok, that's better than buying it at $31 plus tax on Nordstrom. I added 1 to my cart, and then proceeded to change the quantity to 7. Total was $196 with free prime shipping (yay for free shipping!). But heck, $200 on underwear? I might as well make my own, right? Ding!
Think of a Sales Channel
I've been a massive fan of online retailing since its inception. Ordering from home and getting it a few days later seems like a viable alternative to driving through traffic. I looked at amazon fulfillment and found fulfillment prices there don't work well with items that cost less than $15. It is because of this that I decided to launch my own store online at ComfortableBoxers.com. But be careful, this decision has plenty of repercussions:
- Designing the Website - if you can't do it yourself on Shopify, you'll run into a $5000 charge for a decent website. And even if you can do it yourself, making it look spiffy is a whole other deal. And knowing how it's built is important to understanding problems later on.
- Optimizing the Website - you need fast load times! I used jpegMini to optimize my images and Mac's Keynote and Adobe Photoshop to design other things. I had to do plenty of googling to find tips and tricks on image design. Everything you see on my website was crafted by me.
- Connecting the Website to Fulfillment centers - API's, connectors, apps. - I use Fulfillrite fulfillment. They have an app that connects through your Shopify store. It updates inventory, tracking numbers, and has a slew of great mapping features to offer your clients all the shipping options you want. They also have great pricing on a per order basis, low storage charges, and excellent shipping rates.
- Connecting the Website to Accounting Platforms - API's and connectors - I use Zapstitch on Shopify to connect to Quickbooks online. You'll need some relatively advanced accounting experience to get it right as you'll need to do some account mapping.
- Marketing, SEO, & Maintenance - If the above things break, you won't have time for this, which is why you have to get everything right before you launch.
- The result is a fully optimized, connected, and live e-commerce platform. Try searching for comfortable boxer briefs or just comfortable boxers on google I'm still working on more key words!
With this came the decision to launch a Kickstarter project to launch to product beside the e-commerce platform. We want to really test the product and the market before we stock up. I need the money to do so, but there's still spending to be done to get to this point.
Source Your Product
Sourcing is the most expensive portion of the process. Because you don't want to stock up on inventory that's not guaranteed to be sold, you'll want to partner with someone that will sit with you throughout the process. Most factories want quick orders and deliveries and then you'll never hear from them again. Others, however, care about what they deliver to you, and make sure you're ordering at a time when you can and are able to. Finding the right factory requires time, a bit of traveling, and some swift negotiating on a friendly manner. Look for a factory that cares about you, and I mean this in a business sense. The higher your chances of success, the higher their chances of a repeat order. I gathered a team of known associates in the textile industry to source the best possible factory for my boxer briefs. I ordered samples, trials, prototypes, tests, and then repeated until we reached our current version. This can get quite expensive, but if you're sure you're making a great product, you won't have a problem spending the dough.
I pre-partnered with Flexport for shipping logistics. I was lucky enough to be accepted into this startup. When the product is ready for shipment, they're ready to get these bad boys over to my fulfillment center in New Jersey. You'll want to arrange an FOB to Door shipping service, meaning you won't have to deal with customs, BL's, documents, taxes, etc. You must follow strict receiving guidelines like labeling and tagging, otherwise you'll be charged extra for labeling at the fulfillment center. This is why you have to coordinate carefully with the factory to have them labeled correctly from the source. I pre-arranged final shipping to customers with Fulfillrite.
Build a Kickstarter Project
You must first design a script, have it reviewed, then shoot as much video as you can. Make sure you use specific keyword that match the audience, in particular the crowdfunding aspect behind it. You then record a voice over. You shoot and record, you build a film, tie the audio and video together, and add a nice background song that goes along with your script. This is best done by a novice filmmaker with some Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier experience. If you're a perfectionist, it can get quite stressful. But I learned Final Cut Pro and did it all myself with the help of a experienced camera man on shoots. After that, you design your rewards scales and price them at below your retail price after the campaign, offering backers additional incentive to pledge. If you have any special items you can give away, make sure you do! As for the storyline, make sure it's neat, concise, and flows well. Charts and graphs are a plus!
Good photography is expensive! However, theimages you use to portray your product will make or break a conversion. I spent a good $2000 on E-commerce and Lifestyle photography (model included).
You can't launch to crickets! I found this post to be extremely useful. Here are the ones I paid special attention to:
- Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 Days
- Hack Kickstarter - 6 Experts Reveal How They Crowdfunded $1mil
- The hackers guide to getting press
- Advanced Kickstarter linking strategies
- 3 Simple ways to get PR for your startup
- How we helped raise $75,000 for an Indiegogo campaign
- Six steps to run cheap and successful Facebook advertising campaigns
We then placed a small manufacturing order to ensure our quality control methods were sound and partnered with another sourcing expert to supervise the manufacturing. All of this because, as a sacred rule of business, it's best to find problems during and not after manufacturing. We used these items as samples for bloggers and influencers to review.
Getting to this point took 12 months since the idea was born, and 6 months since the last prototype was built. It takes time and patience, something most people can't afford to have. But what if I told you that I did all this while on a full time job? I quit just last month to get the ball rolling on the PR. The samples that were sent to bloggers and influencers are currently being reviewed, and we're expecting some great outlets to feature us later this week.
As for Kickstarter, you'll need to have your project pre-approved by their staff to make sure it meets their guidelines.
The moment I clicked launch, I fixed up all the URL forwarding with the project URL, notified the influencers, and sent out e-mails to the Mailchimp lists, friends, and family. Here are some screenshots.
We have received non-sponsored coverage from some great outlets including:
Linking and SEO
Another important thing to note is linking. You can either link directly to the campaign and ask the publications to switch the link to your own website later on for SEO purposes, or you can prepare a forwarding link for each publication that will automatically forward to the campaign. You want your domain out there! Take advantage of the coverage.
The $142,672 Kickstarter Campaign
Some people may call it luck when it comes to Kickstarter and disregard the formula for success that many bloggers preach about. Although, I find that it's no surprise that many of these blogs are part of successful Kickstarter projects themselves. There is indeed a formula, and I call it the: 'create a high converting project and drive traffic to said project' formula.
I consider myself a minimalist with decent design and editing skills. Other people call me a marketing guru, although most of them are family members. My backers, however, saw a trustworthy individual that placed his time and work on creating a pleasantly presented project with an attractive product and idea. I could write paragraphs and elaborate on every single word behind this past sentence, but the idea is simple enough to understand that I don't have to: you have to create a beautiful looking project, present a clear message on the problem you're solving, and offer a viable and realistic solution. So I set out to do just that.
Should You Hire a PR Agency?
DO NOT HIRE A PR AGENCY. Their interests are not in line with yours. They will dangle 'possible' and 'interested' publications at the end of every month just before it's time to renew the ridiculous $4000 monthly charge, only to find yourself paying for the same 'we're still reaching out and waiting for responses.' Do us all a favor and do this work yourself. Find various ways to pitch publications and make their work easy! Don't be afraid to reach out to large outlets through their contact form. Also, check out PressFriendly. I used Prezly to create the following:
Driving Heavy Traffic to Kickstarter
PR mentions will drive heavy traffic to Kickstarter and put you up there with the most popular projects on Kickstarter. I also ran a robust PPC campaign during the last 5 days to kick it up a notch. Another driver for Kickstarter traffic are cross promotions with other projects. You promote your project to your backers, and they do the same. The same philosophy works great under regular e-commerce stores via Newsletters.
What I Missed
I missed out on a ton of Kickstarter traffic because I didn't get the 'Staff Pick', which means I didn't show up on their home-page. Their 'Magic' sorts Staff Picks first. I'm not exactly sure how they decide to make you a staff pick, but i've read that heavy initial traffic is a key driver.
Organizing Kickstarter Backer Information.
I use Backerkit. Their platform reads all the Kickstarter backer information in a way you won't believe. It's absolutely essential when it comes to organizing shipping information, pledge levels, add-ons, shipping charges, and integrations with your fulfillment center. Without it, I would've spent at least 2 weeks organizing a large excel file. Despite my love for the platform, Kickstarter does a terrible job when it comes to managing quantities and integrating them into surveys. I really hope they acquire Backerkit in the near future. For anyone running a Kickstarter, make sure you sign up BEFORE your Kickstarter ends. I cannot stress enough how important this tool was in fulfilling 10,000 pairs of boxer briefs to 2500 customers. I even got an extra $2700 in sales in add-ons thanks to this platform.
Other Sales Channels
After a successful Kickstarter campaign like this one, get ready for other outlets to reach out to you for product. I was featured in Huckberry! Thanks to this, driving additional sales that served the company's finances well and drove the brand's image to a whole other level. We have interest from others as well. We'll be expanding to Amazon and Ebay soon, although the roll-out will be completed until my integrations are ready.
There's no better feeling than a satisfied customer that expresses himself:
Tools I Use
- E-Commerce. I use Shopify. I find their suite to be complete in every sense, with enough add-ons to merit a completely automated environment for your back-end. Their templates are beautiful and their customer service exceptional.
- Accounting. I use Quickbooks Online. Straightforward! An excellent cloud-based platform with a great app for the road.
- Integration. I use Zapstitch. Handles all the information to and from the e-commerce platform to my accounting platform. You'll need a relatively advanced understanding of accounting to get it just right!
- Customer Service Chat. I use Intercom. I get chat requests and messages on my iPhone and can immediately respond to any questions or customer service requests at any time and place.
- Referral Service. I use SLoyalty. I find that their suite covers the widest range of services with the easiest execution. It works under a points-based system that tracks the customer's purchases, any referrals made by that customer, and automatic redemption of rewards with fraud protection.
- Fraud Protection. I use Riskified. I find that their fraud insurance gives me piece of mind with large and suspicious orders. Here's how it works: you submit an order to them for approval (which it pulls automatically from Shopify); if they approve the order, they charge 4.7% and assume responsibility for the whole value in case of chargebacks for unauthorized use of the credit card; if they deny the order, you're better off refunding the customer's credit card. They also offer a 0.7% service that covers ALL orders instead of manually selected orders.
- PR CRM. I used Prezly. They handle e-mail and press beautifully. You'll need to gather media contacts yourself.
Recommended Partners & Services
- Shipping from Factory. I use Flexport, a logistics partner with bid-based quotes and an entirely electronic management system. No need for printed paperwork or signatures! They handled everything beautifully, FOB to Door.
- Shipping to Customers. I use Fulfillrite. What a great company to work with! I regularly speak to them over the phone and they're always attentive to your needs. They managed to ship out 2300 orders and 10,000 items in 2 mornings!
One More Thing...
I have 0 equity partners and 0 employees. I handle purchasing, procurement, graphics design, video editing, marketing, social media, systems, accounting, banking, payments, sales, quotes, wholesale, and customer service. You can too if you organize yourself. For more on this, please read The E-Myth.