From Failure to Success: Negotiating the World of Crowdfunding

I am an entrepreneurial person and am constantly thinking of ideas for new projects. I have pursued some of these ideas to various levels of success. Though some projects have ended in failure, they all provided me knowledge for the pursuit of my next great idea.

I was first interested in crowd funding/sourcing with my Soda Bottle project, which was successful through the evaluation phase of the Quirky platform. It was in line to be prototyped and mass produced—then Quirky went bankrupt. So, the Soda Bottle was never prototyped. However, through this project I become more interested in the process of crowdfunding/sourcing.

Half Way

You can’t see my next project—Sundikator—on Kickstarter anymore, because I canceled it half way through the campaign. However, you can get the general idea about the prototype in the video above, which I used in my Kickstarter campaign.

For this project I worked with a team of four people. I was mostly interested in the technology and product development. In hindsight, we did many things wrong in our first crowdfunding campaign. At the launch of the campaign for Sundikator I was confident we knew what was needed for a successful crowdfunding campaign, but we ended up learning a lot from this experience

The first successfully funded crowdfunding campaign I worked on was RGB—Ratchet Gun Belt. We have a team of four people working on all different aspects of this project. It took six months from idea to market.

We realized we would have to narrow our focus because of our limited resources. Our budget  and design capability were limited so a connected hardware project or the development of a new gadget was out. We were also looking for a product that we could develop in a relatively short time frame so we could test our understanding of the crowdfunding process.

A ratchet belt fit all of our criteria but was not a new idea. In fact, there were already two successful products in market. However, we thought there was a need for a belt that was more durable to carry heavy items, while still being comfortable. We talked to several target customers and they seemed enthusiastic about our idea.

We looked for a contractor in China to produce a prototype within our budget. We wanted to put the prototype in the hands of our potential customers to see their reaction.

Fortunately, we were able to find a great contract manufacturer in China. They helped us with a lot of small improvements to the overall design of the belt. As we had found in our research during the Idea phase of the process we focused on comfort and durability in the design of our belt.

For comfort the concept was to put a polymer material that could hold its shape in the longitudinal direction and be very rigid and strong in the horizontal direction. This would allow the belt to fit comfortably while sitting or standing.

For durability our goal was for the belt to not change its shape no matter how long it had been worn. If you take a normal belt and hold it out you can see the shape has changed—it is no longer a straight line. We wanted to use a dual layer premium leather, so the quality of the belt could be guaranteed by a lifetime warranty.

This customer review gives an idea of what we achieved.

When we received the first ten prototype belts we first tested them ourselves. We also got feedback from several people who worked in law enforcement—and had need for a heavy duty belt. Later, we put the sample in a local store to display and gather more improvement ideas. At the bottom of this page you can read the feedback from the store manager.

Here is a list of things that we added to the initial design through our rounds of changes:

  1. Buckle: changed from spring mechanism to magnetic mechanism for durability
  2. Buckle: added screws for security
  3. Buckle: dual teeth for security
  4. Belt: improved dyeing process for anti-scratches
  5. Belt: improved technique for stitches

After several rounds of iterations, we started to get pre-orders from the people that we had interacted with. They were pretty excited to see the quality and the small but important improvements that we have put into the prototypes.

Again, we were still limited by our budget and the time we had to spend on this project. So, we decided to get our products online to reach a broader consumer base and get some financial returns for further operation. The efforts worked out well, we got more orders from this ecommerce site without any marketing activity. More importantly, we received a lot of compliments from our consumers, who then became the champion of our products when we were on Indiegogo.

We selected Indiegogo as our first crowdfunding platform. We had learned from our last Kickstarter campaign that proper planning and preparation are important for a successful crowdfunding campaign. We used social media, as well as advertising through Facebook, Google and Reddit. On top of that, we also used data analytics to monitor the real-time traffic and conversion. It’s exciting to see sales increase by manipulating certain parameters in the whole process.

This is the next step for RGB. Amazon Launchpad is a specific platform for startups and small companies to launch their products. It gives products a platform for more exposure with video clips and daily deal promotions. Our path from local store to online outlet to Indiegogo makes us believe the broader consumer base on Amazon can further bring RGB’s sales to the next level.

In my next blog I will summary the key learnings from doing these crowdfunding projects and what I am going to do as my next project if I were to run another crowdfunding campaign.

Qian Li, PhD