Please introduce yourself in just a few words or sentences.
My name is Casey Lorenzen, one of the co-founders of Co.Alition. Our campaign on Kickstarter was for our smart backpack that we just developed called the Colfax. It’s basically the world’s first true smart pack. It’s an urban backpack that we have integrated within it a computerized power supply that charges virtually any USB device while you’re on the go, as well as an integrated wireless mobile storage device that allows you to use your mobile devices, basically to access all of your files anywhere at any time, without the use of an internet connection.
Where can people best find you on the web?
Our website is www.co-alition.com.
What month and year did you start working on the project that you ran the campaign for?
We kind of started by pre-planning. We started planning in May then we launched the project in July.
What is the size of the current team working on your packs?
There are two of us, just Jeff and myself.
What is the current monthly revenue if there is any at the moment?
Right now we’re currently at zero because we’re only taking pre-orders at this point. We are looking to deliver at the end of this year – basically just everything that we raised on Kickstarter and on our pre-sales.
It’s no secret how much you raised with your campaign. Can you share that with us please?
Our goal was $15,000, and we raised $50,900.
You were on Kickstarter, right?
What location are you operating from?
We are in Denver, Colorado, United States.
Can you please describe your product development process from the first idea to the first working prototype, to the ready-to-ship product if you have that at this time?
It started from an idea that we had and we have an existing pack brand that focuses on outdoor packs. That brand is called MHM, and we’ve been running that brand since 2009. We’re pretty well versed in the process of the development of the packs, so it was a pretty easy transition into the Co.Alition brand for us. It really just starts with the idea and we have a couple of designers that we work with in another state. They’re able to produce our first working sample. That’s what we ship to our factory overseas. They then counter sample that. With this project, we went through 7 or 8 different samples and counter samples before we hit our final product. From there, everything in between was just sourcing fabrics and materials that we are going to use then placing the order with our factory. Right now we’re looking to ship late November/ early December. The order was placed a couple weeks ago, so that’s kind of the timeline and how things go for us.
What was your biggest struggle during the development process and how did you overcome it?
I think it is something that we always face when we are developing packs is because you can come up with different uses that would cater to any person. At the end of the day it is near impossible to do that because everyone has a different scenario, they are carrying different things, they want something different in the pack. We can really only do so much before it really starts to get expensive or just overbuilt. For us, it kind of got to that point. We reached a point where we just had to re-evaluate it and build the pack based on what we originally had in mind. I think re-evaluating everything that you’re doing, second guessing, and tweaking things was probably the biggest challenge for us.
How much did you know about your niche and the market you were about to enter?
It was a totally different kind of audience that we were targeting with Co.Alition than with MHM. For the packs themselves, we’re pretty knowledgeable about that. Whether it be students, commuters, or business travelers, however it may be, that’s how we got the ideas for the pack. So that we were pretty well versed in, it was the tech side that I think caught us off guard. I don’t think that we realized that this product would resonate so much with the tech crowd. We are the soft goods designers, the technology that we integrated; we left up to the smart people to figure that out. We just figured out how to wire it through our pack and integrate it in a way that’s easiest for the user. I guess it would be half and half, we knew some of it but we didn’t know all of it.
Why did you decide to go with crowd funding for that product? You’ve launched products before, did you do anything different with this crowd funding campaign, were the other ones crowd funded as well or was this the first one?
We did one crowd funding campaign for MHM, but that was after the business had already been established. It was more just to launch a line of day packs through MHM and that one kind of we just went in blindly with. For us, we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into. We just created a campaign pretty quickly and let it run. We didn’t do a whole lot behind it. So we kind of knew what to expect with this one, we had a good experience the first time around, we were successfully funded with the MHM one as well. For us, it was a win/win especially when launching a brand because you reach an audience that you wouldn’t normally reach if you were just trying to startup from the ground. For us, we knew that we were going to manufacture this product. We wanted to bring it to market. For us, it was just kind of a way to get the name out there more and collect some pre-sales.
How did you choose your crowd funding platform?
We used Kickstarter because it was the one that we used the first time around. So now we are pretty knowledgeable, the platform worked and everything. It’s just kind of the first one that you think of when it comes to crowd funding, so it was kind of a no brainer for us. Though, we are actually evaluating doing another crowd funding campaign through a different platform.
How important do you generally believe protecting ideas is before you throw it in the market on Kickstarter?
That’s a tough one, because for us, we’ve looked into it with both brands and it’s kind of come to the point where in the U.S., it’s just going to be too expensive to get patents or to protect those patents. So at the end of the day for us, we just do it and as long as we keep doing it better than other people that may try to copy it, we’re okay with us. We’re okay with that, you’re going to find copy cats in any industry, so for us, as long as we stay ahead of the curve, we’re okay with that. Trying to police it, especially across borders, with all of the money that goes into it, at the end of the day for us, it didn’t make sense. Anyone can do something and tweak it a little bit differently to make it their own and there’d be nothing we could do about it.
How did you prepare for your campaign?
There’s definitely a lot more prep behind this campaign than our first one with MHM in that it was a lot of press, a lot of media, getting in touch with media folks, just kind of building the whole platform and our whole campaign. From photos, to copy, to video, the video itself is a huge aspect to any campaign. Having that dialed in and done right is a big determining factor in how well campaigning can do. For us, it was a lot more tedious, so that it was ready to go for our launch day.
Which book, website, or other resource did you find most useful in preparation and would recommend to other prospect Kickstarters?
I wouldn’t say it was anything in particular. We did a little bit of research just with similar campaigns that involved technology and design. We really looked into the campaigns that were successful and kind of saw how they did it and what their approach was to it. I wouldn’t say we copied it or mimicked it, but we definitely made it our own in that kind of style. I think Kickstarter was one, because you can look on there and see which products are doing well and which ones are not. Aside from that, we just looked at other websites that had info. There was a cool project called Soma that was a water purification system, and they had raised $100,000 within the first 10 days of their campaign. The guy that headed it up, gave out a lot of his secrets and his tips on how he did that. That was one thing that we followed closely when we did our campaign as well.
I’m sure you’re referring to the blog post that I mentioned without giving the name on Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week blog, Soma?
Yep, that’s it!
Did you have any mentors or a personal network that you could consult with, people that you could turn to for advice prior to your campaign or during your campaign? How would you rate the importance of such a network?
We really didn’t. Like I said with our first campaign, we went in pretty blindly, but we also learned a lot from it too about what to do and what not to do with this campaign. I think a lot of it was just kind of self taught for us. Sure, we kind of networked with people here and there, but it was really after the fact, after we gained that knowledge on our own. I guess for some people it would be important. But for us we had been in the business for long enough to know who we were trying to target and how we were going to go about it.
How exactly did you structure your campaign, and how did you decide on which stories to tell, both in the video as well as the description on your campaign page. Which elements of your story do you believe pulled people in the most?
I’d say the tech side of it really was what intrigued most people. For us, we really wanted that to be the hit home selling point, but we really also wanted to focus on the design of the pack for us and the integration of the technology. The technology is great, but there’s an aspect of it that a lot of companies haven’t utilized or haven’t tried yet. The way that we integrated it and thought of how pretty much any user would possibly want to do it was one way that we tried to separate ourselves from the rest. The tech side of it definitely got a lot of attention on our campaign, just with questions of how it’s used and how it could be used. Especially now that Kickstarter is opened internationally, it raises a lot of questions that we hadn’t really thought of before.
Are there any elements to the story that you believe are important like showing the two of you as the founders or authenticity with showing you and the outdoors? Are there any of those elements where you believed that this was really it?
Definitely, I think that being personable throughout your whole campaign. Every message that we responded to, whether it was Jeff or I, you sign it. You say this is Casey or this is Jeff, or whoever it is. It starts with the video I think. Really, hammering that across is who you are, and what you’re about is super important because it connects you to your customer and to your potential backers. If they don’t think you’re genuine, they’re not going to donate any money to you. It is super important.
How did you calculate and decide on which rewards you were going to offer for backers?
That was something we messed around with a lot, we knew which basic ones we wanted to do, but after starting the campaign we realized that there were more rewards that we could offer within the pack itself. We offered basically just from the bag only with no technology to the power version that has the power supply all the way up to the PHD which has the power supply and the wireless hard drive. Then within that, there are different sizes of the hard drive, anywhere from 500 gigabytes to 2 terabytes. The pack itself kind of laid out our rewards pretty easily for us, and then we added a few others on our own.
Did you have any thoughts on the price structure of your rewards that you can share?
That was another thing that we went back and forth with, and they vary. It’s an expensive product, this pack is, so we really wanted to incentivize backers with a good price point with it, whether it is $70.00 less than what it would retail for to $120.00 less than what the pack would retail for. Just depending on where our margins sat with the pack and what we could offer for the campaign. We definitely wanted to come across with a good price that people saw value in and were able to back.
How did you create awareness when you started and what did you build your marketing strategy on? What kind of media coverage or what kind of channels worked best for you?
For us it really started with our own personal networks and within that a lot of social media – just getting the word out there that we started this new company and we’re going to have a Kickstarter launching in a few weeks. That was one way we started. We did a lot of PR stuff with a friend of ours that specializes in that. She helped us out a ton, and just kind of targeting media that we thought would be good to cover it. Aside from that, we did little things here and there. We did a couple radio spots that we were invited to. In the end, it wasn’t a whole lot of money that we put towards it. It was mostly just a lot of gorilla marketing and us just grinding it out and working pretty hard at it. Really the social media aspect of it was huge for us, in our own personal network I would say were the two keys.
In the area of online media, how would you compare traditional online media magazines such as TechCrunch with personal blogs or smaller online magazines? Did you have any special focus towards one of those groups? What would you in retrospect recommend to other people?
For our product, our marketing kind of spread across the board from men’s interests to tech blogs, to fashion. There were a lot of different industries that it covered so we kind of hit on all of them. For someone else who is trying to do it, I recommend to really target the ones that really would specialize with your product and really resonate with them. One thing too for us was we did a lot of cold calling with e-mails and just putting our name out there and saying “hey, this is what we have going on.” A lot of times it was with total strangers that we didn’t know and I think if we had a little bit more time to try to prep for it, maybe we would have tried to build relationships with the bloggers, and the writers. I think getting those connections is key because the ones that we had the best return from were the ones that we either had a relationship with from before or we built one either through e-mailing or on the phone conversations. I think really focusing on which ones you want to target and not just generalizing it so much would have helped us out more.
How far in advance before you launched your campaign did you start spreading the word through marketing? If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
With some aspects of it, I think I would have tried to prepare earlier, like I was saying with trying to identify key relationships with writers, bloggers and certain media, I think it would have started earlier. Just so they wouldn’t be blind sided with it when the campaign went life, and then they wouldn’t have time to cover it. Then again, I think with some aspects we did it right, as far as our social networking. You don’t want to come out too soon and say “we’re going to have a campaign in 4 months” because by the time it comes out, people already have forgotten about it. There definitely is a lot of strategy with it. There are things I would have done differently and there are things I would have done exactly the same.
Can you describe what a usual day throughout your campaign looked like?
Before we started the campaign, we downloaded the Kickstarter app for our phones and enabled the notifications. That was always fun seeing “you have a new backer” pop-ups come up on your screen. That was always fun because then you can go and check it out, see what’s happening with it in real time. It was different this time around especially, because the first time we did a campaign it was only open to the U.S. backers, now it was international. We saw a lot of success with this campaign; a lot of our backers would come in the middle of the night. We’d be asleep, then you would wake up to a list of new backers. During the day the day, it’s a lot of upkeep. It’s a lot of responding to messages and comments. Updating our meeting lists, where we were getting covered, checking out other secondary sites like kicktrack and kickspy because those are good resources as well because they help you. It’s definitely a lot of work when you’re doing it, but in the end it’s all worth it.
Apart from the US, is there any other region in the world where you got a lot of backers from for your crossover product between outdoors and tech?
Yes, we had so many different backers from so many different countries this time around that we created a map to show where in the world we would be sending this pack because it was pretty diverse. Aside from South American, which I’m kind of surprised we didn’t get a lot of orders from, Africa, which wasn’t really that surprising. Europe was a big one for us, Southeast Asia was as well.
What was your biggest struggle during the campaign?
One of them is response time with our backers or with questions that we got. Like I said, there’s only two of us working on this campaign. It is our second company that we’ve launched. In the mean time we’re running another company on the side. So to be able to respond to those people as quickly as we’d like to, sometimes we weren’t able to. It was frustrating on both ends, for the customers and for us as well. We didn’t get to focus on it as much as we’d like, because with Kickstarter, we only have 30 days with our campaign to get our point across. That was probably the most frustrating part.
Is there anything you would consider a main tipping point over your campaign?
It was really within the first 3 days I’d say. We were fully funded between days 2 and 3. After that, it was kind of smooth sailing. Our campaign surprisingly stayed steady the whole time. Really for the first 3 days, we were kind of surprised at the outcome that we got. The tipping point is definitely when you reach your 100%.
What was the biggest mistake or waste of money in the product development process or during the crowd funding process?
Within the product development, we didn’t really waste a whole lot of money, because we were pretty well versed in the product development and sourcing all of the materials for it. We kind of knew long before our campaign what exactly we were going to do with it. In the crowd funding, it’s hard to say because we didn’t really dump a whole lot of money into it. It was just a lot of gorilla tactics, leg work on our own, sending e-mails, and getting in touch with people that could potentially help us out and get our campaign out there. It’s tough for me to answer that, because we really didn’t have to waste a whole lot of money.
What key marketing lesson did you learn?
More of the actual leg work before the campaign started. With the first one we did, we launched it, then we tried to keep up with it at that point. By then it was too little, too late. With this one we definitely learned to start out earlier. That’s a huge part of it, if you can get coverage in websites, magazines, and whatever else, then the more the better.
In your opinion, does it take a team to run a successful campaign, or can one do it on one’s own? In a team if you were looking for talent, what kind of talent would you be looking for?
It would really depend on the project, the scope of it and how big you think you can take it. For us, we would likely look for well rounded individuals. We would look for people that can “wear a lot of hats.” That’s how we base both of our businesses on is, we’re not really specialized in one product. People that can help you out in any aspect of your business is key, especially if you’ve got a limited budget to work with and a lot to get done.
It’s only been 2 days since you wrapped up your campaign, but is there anything you can share about how you moved on after your campaign or how you plan to move on?
At this point, it has hit home that this thing’s funded and we’ve got to move forward with it. We sat down and evaluated what our next steps are and what we need to do to hit our timeline. Obviously the packs are the major part of it, but there’s a lot of logistic stuff that goes on in between shipping, packaging, labels, and everything that comes along with it. Those are the things that we’re working on next because we really want to deliver the best product we can in the full package.
With your experience from wrapping up a campaign just recently but also having launched other products before, what do you think is most crucial for other Kickstarter project owners to prepare for the time after their campaign? What should they get ready for (things people most likely don’t think about)?
For us it was shipping. For a campaign like this, we have hundreds of backers and that’s a lot of logistics. It’s each individual box going out to a different address, a different shipping label, and everything that goes into that. The last time we did our campaign that was the thing that kind of caught us by surprise. Especially when it becomes time to deliver your product, we’ve got a timeline to ship in late November, early December. It’s a lot of product to get out in a couple weeks. At that time, they will have been waiting a couple of months, so at that point, we really need to stay tight on that timeline and deliver. Once you start getting past that, people don’t like that too much. I’ve seen some campaigns where they were a year out past their delivery day. You get people that start demanding refunds, and you get a lot of really nasty comments on your board, etc. So for us, that’s a big factor in planning, and getting the packs out.
How far into the future did you or do you plan your business? Do you have any plans that you can share for into the next year or maybe into the next 2 or 3 years?
Kickstarter was a huge boost for our company in general. For us, it’s a groundbreaking thing in that no big players are doing what we’re doing. So for us, we’ve got a lot of ideas on how to make it better, how to change it, new pack designs, different uses, so there’s really a lot that we can do with this. The sky is really the limit for us. In the next year, we’re really going to focus on getting a few more products out there to kind of round out our line. We’re working on developing our website that will be really user friendly that people can go onto and really kind of build their pack. We’re going to make it a really nice interface that is really user friendly. There’s a lot in the works for us, so we’ll just keep going at it.
If you can only give one piece of advice to people who are planning their first Kickstarter campaign for their very first product ever, what would that piece of advice be?
I’d say to believe in your product and believe in what you’re doing. Have more drive behind it than just monetary. As long as you believe in what you’re doing and you’re doing it to the best of your abilities, you’re genuine about it in your delivery, people will see that. That’s what resonates to a lot of people. For us, with bulk brands, that’s kind of how we’ve always approached it. Being very transparent with what our pros and cons are with each product. Have passion with what you’re doing, not just looking to make a quick buck because there’s a lot of work that goes into it, it’s not just all the numbers that people see.
What are your parting words, if there are any, anything that comes to mind?
We’re still kind of in the growth stage, so there’s a lot that we’re working and that we’re doing with this. It’s always going to be evolving. You can learn more about packs either by searching for our Kickstarter using “Colfax”, it comes up. Otherwise, visit our website at www.co-alition.com. That’s got everything in there that people might want to learn more about if they’re interested in.