With HoboRoll Chez Brungraber pitched to raise funds for a new product added to GobiGear’s portfolio. The product seems simple and targets a very precise niche. Many will be able to relate to the scope of the HoboRoll campaign and learn from it. Chez and her team pledged for $20,000 USD and wrapped their campaign with staggering $86,072 USD. Meet Chez:
Me: Describe your product in 1-3 sentences.
Chez: The HOBOROLL™ is an essential stuff sack for every adventure, keeping items internally separated while on the go. Items can be accessed easily and quickly from either end, and then compressed to save space via two compression straps.
Where can people find your website and your campaign?
Month / Year you started working on your project?
2010 [Note from Philipp: Chez started her company in 2010. She ran the HOBOROLL campaign in May of 2014.]
Size of your current team?
Current monthly revenue?
Crowdfunding platform you used?
Your location (City / Country)?
Bend, Oregon, USA
Describe your product development process from the first idea to the working prototype to the ready-to-ship product.
The first product was crafted on my sewing machine, as I looked for a better way to keep gear organized for a trip to Asia. For the next 3 months my bag was organized. Returning home I worked furiously to make the invention better than ever. The design got real when I sent away samples to a manufacturer. When factory-made samples were returned to me and in hand, I tweaked the design one last time, and we hit the market in Fall of 2010.
What was your biggest struggle during product development and how did you overcome it?
Sourcing materials and knowing what to choose. Its easy to get a book of 100 fabrics – it’s a lot harder to assume you know what customers want. Choosing the right fabrics, buckles, stitching – its all a bit of a gamble, as market research only tells you so much. Just putting the product out there and testing the market, letting real people tell you what they actually like, that was hard, to make that leap and make a decision. I asked several friends and we chose what we thought we would like best.
How much did you know about your niche and the market you were about to enter?
A decent amount. I am an avid traveler and spent a lot of time and energy researching gear for various uses and, therefore, I know at least what is on the market. I also have researched companies similar to mine and what they offer their customers in terms of pricing, warranty, quality, and materials. There is always more to learn, however, and thus, I probably don’t know all that much after all!
Why did you opt for crowdfunding vs more traditional ways to raise capital?
Crowdfunding is an excellent way to test the market. It raises money at the same or better percentage rate that a loan would get you, but you are also pre-selling your product. With a backed and funded campaign, you at least know that people are excited about your product. It’s real. It is not a venture capitalist looking at numbers to estimate how well your business might do. Instead, it’s real people in real time.
How much did you know about crowdfunding? Did you have prior experience?
Not much. I have pledged to other campaigns and watched closely how other folks managed their campaigns, but this was my first. I have learned quite a bit.
How did you choose your crowdfunding platform?
Popularity as well as statistical data. Because Kickstarter is so popular, it casts a wider net of possible supporters. Also, since so many projects use Kickstarter, there are numerous professional articles on what makes campaigns a success, what to include, how to reach your potential backers, and so on – all very helpful for a first time campaigner such as myself.
In what way did you protect your idea, if at all, and why?
We have provisional patents and are in the process of filing full patents with an attorney.
How did you prepare for your campaign?
Lots of sleep. Only partly kidding. We got together a pretty serious list of bloggers and publications to reach out to once the campaign started, and had our ducks in a row. We also had a strategy in place regarding the order in which social outreach would occur. Knowing how you are going to spread the word of your campaign I believe is essential. We had that in place before we launched.
Which books, websites or other resources did you find most useful and would you recommend?
The Kickstarter website itself was pretty helpful, as were some TedTalks on marketing and reaching your customer. In general, google searches for Kickstarter data and stats was helpful, as well as just watching other campaigns.
Did you have mentors or a personal network to consult with? How would you rate the importance of such contacts?
I have a network of friends and family who have been kind enough to give advice on the product and the company. I also have linked up with small business development centers, but not for help with this campaign.
How far were you into creating your business structure when you launched your campaign?
Most of the way through since, again, we are an established business. We are lucky enough to know how our company runs and what works best for us. We are, of course, always improving upon the way we do things around the office, so, it’s a work in progress.
How did you structure your campaign and decide what stories to tell? Which element of your campaign or of the story you told pulled people in the most?
We based our campaign structurally off what other successful campaigns had done. Present the product first, then address what it does and why it’s so much better than anything else out there. What problems does it solve, and how does it do it? We figured real life benefits would be the best selling points – what does our product DO for people, what is the benefit? As for what has brought the most people in so far, unknown at this point!
How did you calculate and decide on the rewards you would offer?
We have a rough idea what the products will retail for, and we wanted to give the Kickstarter community a discount for being early-supporters. Thus, we took about 20% off retail pricing. That is still enough money for us to reach our goals and fund what we need to make the factory order happen, but also to help the customer save. Our margins are tight, though, so we did not offer so much that it would set us back or make it harder to perform.
How did you create awareness, and what was the foundation of your marketing strategy? What worked best for you: traditional media, TV, radio, a personal network, content marketing, social media or any other channel?
Social media has been the best way so far. And not just our own channels and media, but reaching out to other influential people on the web. The faster the word can spread the better.
If at all, how far in advance of your campaign did you start spreading the word? When is the right time to start generating buzz?
We did not start until the day we launched. Not sure if that is the best strategy but we wanted to keep it a secret until the last minute.
What did your days throughout the campaign look like? What did you find yourself doing repeatedly and what led to the best results?
There are ups and downs. Some days there are lots of questions and comments, and other days it is quiet. I tried to always keep the interaction going with my supporters, with frequent updates, comments, and new content being added to the Kickstarter campaign page.
What was your biggest struggle before or during your campaign and how did you overcome that challenge?
Getting the campaign to flow. There is a lot of information that we could have included, but not all of it is necessary. Narrowing it down to only the essentials, and then cutting out sections that we worked so hard on, that was tough. But in the end, it has to flow and it has to be easy to read or you will lose people’s attention. We overcame those issues by printing the campaign (it was 20-feet long), cutting up all the sections, tossing them around, and re-arranging. Ones that didn’t make it into the new scotch-taped campaign got cut out completely.
What do you consider the main tipping point of your campaign?
Not sure; we are not quite there yet. Hitting our funding goal was great, but the momentum kept going after that. I think launch day is still the biggest day for us so far!
What was your biggest mistake or waste of money either in the product development process or during crowdfunding?
Spending money to have a developer enter all the images and text into the campaign. Turns out, it’s a really simple platform, and you either add an image or add text, not a lot to it. I could have done that myself instead of paying someone. Not a big deal in the end, however, and it does look pretty nice.
What key marketing lesson did you learn?
Being part of the Kickstarter community before launching your own campaign seems to be a big help. I would have become even more involved sooner if I had known.
What is the one thing you would do differently next time?
Ask me in a month – I am not sure yet.
In your opinion, does it take a team to run a successful campaign, and what kind of talent would you look for?
No, I think one person can handle it. You know your brand the best, and thus are the best person to market it. However, if you do want help – if this is a side project to a full time job, for example – then graphic design is a big help. Getting the campaign to look right. And a good video. If you are not hip to social media, hire someone to help blast out updates to the world.
At what point did you know your campaign would be successful?
I think the day after we launched, when we were 50% funded, I realized it was probably going to happen for us.
How did you move on after your campaign ended? What were the next big steps and challenges?
Hasn’t happened yet…
What stage is your business currently in?
Making prototypes and finishing off the design of the product and packaging.
What do you currently struggle with the most and how do you think you’ll tackle that challenge?
Marketing. I am not great at it so I have to work very hard at the marketing aspect. But it is a very important aspect – without it, people won’t know how to find your business or what it can do for them, or what products it offers. I think I will hire someone to do this for me.
What do you plan for your business within the next 1-3 years?
Satisfy my Kickstarter pledges, then launch a second campaign with our next product, and keep growing the company and maintaining an online retail presence. Perhaps expand into retail sales as well someday.
If you could give only one piece of advice to people in a similar situation to the one you were in, what would it be?
Do your research before launching. Be sure you know what you are doing, and don’t be afraid to tell everyone you know. These campaigns rely on media buzz, so generate your own if you cannot get professional bloggers or media into it right away. And just go for it!