Confessions Of A Design Geek

Paul - our Freedom To Exist CEO - was recently interviewed by CONFESSIONS OF A DESIGN GEEK to talk about the experience that Freedom To Exist had with Kickstarter.

"Crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter are increasingly the go-to option for new designers looking for investment to launch a new product. Instead of a traditional bank loan, which has to be repaid from your profits, Kickstarter allows your customers to order your product before it exists, so you can use their money to make it happen. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds, so we asked Paul Tanner, co-founder of independent watch brand Freedom to Exist which recently raised £25,000 on Kickstarter, for his tips…

We launched our watch brand in November 2015 with a debut collection focusing on timepieces for the smaller wrist. The 30 Edition – taking its name from its 30 millimetre case – proved popular as soon as our website went live, so much so that we started to get requests for a larger version almost straight away. The most frequent feedback being, “I love my 30mm watch, do you have a larger size so that my boyfriend can also wear one?”, or “I prefer to wear an oversize watch, do you have the same design but a bit larger?”

As we are a bootstrap start-up and completely self-funded, we did not have the money to place the order for the larger watches straight away – we would have had to wait at least six months while we sold the 30 Edition to raise the money as our supplier requires payment upfront before production. This was very frustrating as we could see that there was a business opportunity that we could tap into and we already had a customer base keen to buy what was to become our 40 Edition.

The team discussed various options, and after researching and asking friends in the design world who had been in similar situations, we decided to set up a Kickstarter campaign. We could have taken a bank loan but felt that Kickstarter would also be a great way to reach a wider audience, especially as we were a new brand and fortunate to have a product that was small and could easily be shipped globally.

Our listing went up in early April 2016 after the team spent about a week perfecting the imagery, video and copy. We wanted to keep it clear and simple, but still get all the product information in there. As soon as the listing went up, we took £1000 in the first two hours, and at the end of the 30 day campaign we successfully reached our target of £25,000 allowing us to place the order for the larger watch in two colour-ways.

So what did we learn?

  • We are really glad we did it, and will definitely look at doing other campaigns in the future as our range expands.

  • The video is key. This is what will create the desire and interest in your project. Viewers will watch the first 20 seconds, and will then scroll down to read the words and view the imagery on your page while still listening to the rest of your youtube/vimeo video. For this reason the video needs to immediately capture the essence of the project as you only have a few seconds to draw the viewer in. I would actually advise Youtube over Vimeo, as potential customers are more familiar with it, and will find it easier to share your clip. You should invest in editing it and making your film as slick and professional as possible, by all means film it on your phone, invest in a microphone, and use an app to edit it.

  • You need great photography, and lots of it. You must have a prototype – Kickstarter will not let you use computer renderings – and spend time ensuring that the photography looks great, ideally with someone using the product to give a sense of scale.

  • The viral campaigns that Kickstarter is famous for, the ones that have raised over £1m, have probably had £100k spent on marketing them. This is something we grew to learn during our campaign. Kickstarter does not wave a magic wand and a month later the money arrives. The prototype and creating the listing page is the easy bit – the hard and really time-consuming part is the on-going promotion throughout the Kickstarter campaign, and this is the aspect that determines if you will be successful or not.

  • The 10% marketing rule of thumb is about right – whatever the amount you want to raise, you will need to spend 10% of that to promote the campaign. We spent a lot of time contacting friends and family who helped with the early backing of our project, but it was the paid-for Facebook and Instagram adverts that really helped to guide new people to our page.

  • A successful Kickstarter is a self-fulfilling prophecy – if there’s interest and the orders start to come in then Kickstarter will also start to promote and feature you on their homepage, which will lead to a wider audience and more pledges. The listings that make the big money always have the “Projects we love” banner on them, as Kickstarter has seen their potential, and then amplified the audience that they reach. To get one of these banners is the holy grail, and you should research in advance the kind of projects and how they present themselves, that are awarded these.

  • When contacting people, you need to be as personal as possible. This goes for friends and family as well as blogs and marketing. A “Dear Sir / Madam” will not open the door, and the amount of time you put into making contact is reciprocated by the amount of time the person puts into replying – and hopefully backing your campaign!

  • If your product is quirky and fun, then it does have the potential to go viral as people are likely to share it with friends. A recent campaign for a plastic bottle cutter raised £350k (the target was £8k) as people thought it was a fun project, and shared the video on Facebook. It can be harder for a more mainstream item, especially if it’s not a cheap impulse buy.

  • It is an incredibly stressful process. We spent many an afternoon clicking refresh hoping for the tally to increase. Ultimately it can be very rewarding, but you really have to work hard to reach your target and obtain the funding – and an important note, if you miss your target you don’t get anything and the backers are not charged.

  • We launched a 30 day campaign, but with hindsight, 60 days could have been better. A lot of the online press routes we contacted really liked our campaign and product, but due to their lead times – some blogs schedule their news articles a month in advance – by the time they would have reported our story our campaign would have been over.

  • Not everyone understands crowd-funding, so there’s an education job to be done. Clearly show that your customer will actually get a physical thing in return for their pledge. A lot of feedback we had from friends and family was that they were unfamiliar with Kickstarter and assumed that they were donating money. Once we made that clearer, our support increased tenfold.

  • It is possible to schedule your Kickstarter listing in advance, allowing you to start promoting it before it officially goes live. This will really help with gaining the much needed early momentum as you will have people poised and ready to buy.

  • The 5% Kickstarter commission is something you should factor in. This is taken from the total amount you raise. If you need to raise £10k to place your order, you need to factor in about £1000 on top of that to promote it on social media, and £500 for the Kickstarter commission, plus the cost of delivery which depending on your item and the amount you sell (we would recommend making delivery free to boost the number of people that back you) could be another few hundred pounds to consider.

  • The “stretch” is a great feature on Kickstarter. This is the money you can earn AFTER you reach your target. For campaign, we had to reach £25k, but if we had reached £40k we could have added in more colours. The stretch is one of the most interesting aspects of Kickstarter and one you should really consider when planning.

We had assumed that we would put up the listing and the money would just roll in, but our actual experience was that we had to promote and market our listing every single day. We were constantly chasing blogs and posting Facebook, Twitter and Instagram updates. Towards the end of the listing when we got closer to our target it did become easier as people were more willing to support a project that was already close to coming to fruition, but getting the initial traction was much harder than we had anticipated.

Something that Kickstarter was very good at for us was ensuring we asked ourselves a lot of important and relevant questions. As you are selling an idea, you have to make it as compelling as possible, especially as your backer might have to wait six months to receive the product. The whole process challenged us on pricing, photography, our brand, our quality level, and how we compared and could set ourselves apart from the other watch listings on Kickstarter that we were competing against.

Thankfully we were successful, and we were able to fund two colour-ways – a rose gold and a gun metal option – in the 40 Edition. Our small business is now stronger and more focussed thanks to going through the Kickstarter process. It sped up obtaining the funds to place the order with the manufacturers, and also made us more equipped to ensure we have happy customers when we dispatch them in mid-September."

"I was losing the will to live searching for a ladies watch with a leather strap. My criteria were; long enough strap, easy to read face but not huge numbers, dial not too big and not too small, no fuss, no visible brand name, and elegant. Paul and Kirsty were extremely helpful, and their service and speed was much appreciated. A great brand; I’m glad I found it!

Monica - Customer