Imagine if there was a way to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from interested customers and ‘backers’ before you even launch your product. For many entrepreneurs, using crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter to raise money is almost too good to be true: you get to pre-sell the concept, gauge the market demand, and collect money to develop your product before you even open the doors!
On the flip side, many crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter and other platforms end up falling flat on their face. We caught up with the founders of Orbitkey, Charles Ng and Rex Kuo, to find out how they raised an incredible $210,793 using Kickstarter, and the lessons they can share with other entrepreneurs looking to do the same.
1. What was your background prior to starting your business?
Charles grew up in Indonesia and received his BA in industrial design at RMIT University. He spent his early career working at a product design consultancy and was involved in the design development of various products ranging from medical, consumer and hardware design.
Rex stems from three places. He was born in Taiwan, raised in NZ and now calls Australia his home. He worked as a legal drug dealer by day (pharmacist) and a serial entrepreneur by night.
2. Tell us a bit about your product – how did you get started and how long have you been in business?
The Orbitkey is an elegant and practical way to carry your keys, it stops key rattling, prevents scratched phones and wallets, keeps your keys organized and can be customized with different bands and accessories.
The idea started from our own frustration with rattling keys. Charles built a simple prototype from some leftover screws at home to stop his keys from rattling when jogging. It was not until one year later when Charles shared the idea with Rex did we decide to make a business out of it. We looked at what needed improvement (rattling, unorganized, bulky, key scratches etc.), what was available already on the market and set out to design something that people can be proud to carry.
We decided to introduce the product via crowdfunding (Kickstarter) late last year and we’ve been in business for just under a year.
3. For those who are unfamiliar with Kickstarter, can you briefly explain what Kickstarter is and why you decided it would be the right vehicle to help you raise money for your business? What were the results of your campaign?
Kickstarter and crowdfunding is a new way to fund projects. Project creators set a funding goal and deadline, if people like a project, they can pledge money to make it happen. The creators keep 100% ownership of their work but in exchange for contributing towards the campaign, the “backers” of a project are often rewarded with something in return. In our case it was an Orbitkey of their choice once the first production run was complete.
Kickstarter was the perfect platform for Orbitkey to test the waters. We loved our design but we needed to know if others did too.
The main advantage of funding Orbitkey on Kickstarter instead of approaching investors is that you’re more likely to get a more accurate response in terms of how successful the product is before you mass produce it. This is because you’re pitching your design to your real customers and less relying on the very few people with lots of money – who decide whether or not a product should be funded.
For our 30-day campaign, we set a funding goal of $10,000AUD, we ended up raising $210,793AUD by the time the campaign finished!
Check out Orbitkey’s explainer video below:
4. A lot of people have tried to run Kickstarter campaigns but many haven’t had anywhere near the level of success as you’ve had with the platform – can you run us through 2-3 key things you did differently which you could attribute your success to?
We spent just under a year preparing for our Kickstarter launch. We wanted to make sure everything was perfect before the launch, however we eventually found out that it was never going to be perfect. There wasn’t anything that we did differently but the 3 things that helped us a lot were:
i) We kicked off the campaign with a really good start, reaching our $10k funding goal within the first 24 hours. We noticed that most of our early backers were friends and family and their immediate connections. During the lead up to the campaign, we made a conscious effort to involve as many people as possible during the preparation so come the day of the launch, people were more likely to share our project. Due to successful launch, we were lucky enough to be featured on the front page of Kickstarter under “most popular projects” category. A large portion of our backers actually found us from that category.
ii) Understanding that the Kickstarter community is very unique, it’s very different from a standard e-commerce store. “Backers” support your project because they want to help it come to life, not to profit financially, it was important for us to keep our backers updated; during our 30-day campaign, we sent out updates almost every second day.
iii) We try to always think from the supporters’ perspective when putting together the presentation of our idea. This can be done by showing how your product would benefit them and what incentive they would get by supporting your project early on.
Way too often we see projects that raise a lot of money but do not deliver as promised. To run a “successful campaign” for us is to achieve a few key things, such as:
– Raising enough money.
– Keeping backers informed of the progress.
– Delivering a high quality product on time.
– Getting positive feedback from your backers.
We tried our best to follow the points above and were pleasantly surprised at what we managed to accomplish in the end.
5. What lessons did you learn throughout the course of your campaign that you could share with those who are planning their first Kickstarter campaign or having another crack at it?
It’s important to set a modest timeline and try to think of all the factors that can affect the viability of your project no matter how small it is.
We promised to deliver products 4 months after the campaign finished. Having our manufacturing done in China with Chinese New Year just around the corner didn’t do us any favours. We knew it was coming but didn’t think it would affect us as much. With such a tight timeline, we had to fly over to China and spent almost 3 months there to oversee the production of the Orbitkey.
Also, don’t try to make too much profit from the campaign if you can help it. Instead, reward your supporters for backing your project early on.
Additionally, what we find is that the supporters you get from a crowdfunding platform can be quite different from your everyday consumers. They generally have an understanding that with new companies and products, unexpected problems often arise. When we have setbacks that are going to affect the product we’re delivering or the delivery date, we always make sure to tell them as soon as we can. Of course, if you have already figured out how you’re going to solve the problem, that’s even better!
Through this transparency, you find that respect and trust will grow. It will in turn get you loyal supporters who value your effort and will go out of their way to share how awesome your project / product is.
6. What have you put the funding towards and what has it allowed you to do that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do?
The majority of the funding went towards the first production run – we had almost 8,000 Orbitkeys to deliver!
We had initially planned to oversee the production from afar, but after the success of the campaign and with a really tight timeline, we decided to fly over to China and spent 3 months there overseeing the first production run. Having said this, it was actually a good thing as we were able to control the quality of the Orbitkey to make sure it was up to the standard we were happy with.
Having the extra funds also allow us to produce extra stock which could be sold to our customers sooner rather than later.
7. What other marketing methods are you using to promote your product and why are you focusing on those?
Social media – No one likes to feel like they’re being sold something, but when you see your friends acknowledging a brand on your Facebook or Instagram feed, it breaks down all the barriers.
Digital Magazines – We’ve been lucky enough to be featured by quite a few digital magazines (Cool Material, Gear Hungry, Hypebeast, Everyday Carry, etc.), but more importantly, magazines with relevance to our target market.
8. What would be your advice to other entrepreneurs who have came up with a novel product and are trying to get it to market?
Launch it on Kickstarter! Besides from raising the funds needed for production, you can also use the crowdfunding platform to test market acceptance. It’s better to find out that your product may not be as popular as you think before wasting thousands of dollars on production. Lastly, Kickstarter is also an excellent way to define your target audience and connect with your customers.
Having said that, make sure you test, test, and test some more! There’s a big difference between coming up with a concept and actually making it work, especially for the end users. When you think you’ve got it figured out, another problem would arise that needs to be addressed. We spent many months’ trialling different designs and refining them until we came up with something that we were truly happy with.
9. What have you learned from a product design perspective throughout the course of enhancing and improving your Orbitkey product?
As designers, we always believe in prototyping as a crucial part of the design process. We have seen a lot of projects that were purely at concept stage when it was released. While some of them turned out to be successful, there were quite a few which failed to take off. We look at Orbitkey as a long-term business and for that reason; we really wanted to mitigate the risk of failing on our first campaign.
There were a few engineering challenges we needed to overcome and we would not have been able to do it without prototyping. While we wanted to make sure that the concept we came up with actually works, it also helps us create a more convincing pitch to the backers. Having a prototype that shows how the product looks and is used definitely makes it easier for supporters to relate to.
Another thing we really appreciate was the interaction with the customers and how it influences your decision making in the design process. It wasn’t until the project was live and people were throwing ideas in the comment section that we know the power of crowd sourcing. We tried to use it to our advantage by showing the supporters what we’re planning to release, and to keep them up to date with the refinement of our ideas and allow them to tell us what they think of it.
Post-Kickstarter campaign, we received a lot of feedback which influenced how we refined the product for second-batch production. Kickstarter allows us to build a core group of open-minded supporters who want to be part of the process.
10. How long have you been in the Scalable & Saleable Program and what have you learned in the program that has helped you in building your business?
We signed up to the program in September and attended our first S&S workshop in October, it has been an eye-opening experience for the both of us.
There were a lot of points that we wanted to take away from the workshop but 2 things that we have started to implement are:
Branding – We’ve taken a step back and looked at the “why” for our business and revisited our brand promise.
Press – Jack’s talk on building the brand through the media has inspired us to reconnect with journalists that we’ve encountered in the past and also work on building new relationships.
11. What are the plans for your business in the next 6-12 months?
Our plan is to expand the Orbitkey range overseas and develop our corporate branding packages. We’re looking to take onboard the advice we’ve learnt from S&S and outsource wherever possible in order to free up our time to work on developing the business.
Lastly, we’re also looking to expand our range of products and maybe even start another Kickstarter project!
To find out more about Orbitkey, check out their website.
Do you have a question for Charles and Rex about how to build a successful Kickstarter project? Ask them in the comments!