Time to pivot

Our crowdfunding campaign ended yesterday for our Stray No More pet barrier, and unfortunately it didn’t go the way I had hoped. It would be easy to quit right now, but when your mission is strong enough you don’t. Instead, it’s time to pivot.

Time to Pivot

The launch is over, now the work begins

The big launch night has come and gone, and I am so thankful for the many people and businesses that made it possible to get to that point including friends that provided moral support. And now the real work begins.

Dogs from the Launch Party
Dogs from the Launch Party

The toughest thing about making a new product is to know if the market is happy to buy it. Using a crowdfunding campaign to market-test the concept before significant investment was a good way to see if people would truly put their money where their mouth is.

When doing market research, it’s one thing for people to say that they have a problem and will spend $X on the product. It’s another thing – the only real thing that matters is whether or not they are willing to actually pay for the product when it comes time.

So far, the results are less then stellar for the pet barrier. Enough people have seen the product now with plenty of shares and publicity. And yet, we’re nowhere near where we should be in terms of pledges at this point. Plus the surveys were pretty average meaning that only a handful of the people at the launch really loved the product. Others were sitting on an ‘okay.’

I still have a couple of major media things happening over the next week or so. So, we’ll see if it gains anymore traction then.

In the meantime, I had so many people asking about the digging prevention product for pets at the launch that I contacted my manufacturer to ask that we go back to the design work for that product. I’ll go ahead and push the button to get the prototype made now to see how the market responds to that. It will unlikely be through a crowd-funding campaign though.

Such is life as an entrepreneur. I have to pivot until I find the sweet spot now. It happens all the time for other businesses like in tech. So, I shouldn’t be too surprise for this to happen with my business too. Now the real work begins – first with the right mental attitude, and then to make this pivot happen if the first product is not selling to the first target market.

Sweat, Tears and actual Blood

The last week has been pretty stressful getting ready for my product launch and crowdfunding kick-off. I’m way behind schedule with a mile long list of tasks that can’t be delegated to anyone. Nevertheless it’s getting done, and after testing about a dozen ideas, I finally found a work-around for the prototype issue – but not before shedding some sweat, tears and actual blood.

Bloody injury
A little blood from attempted Fix #9 for the prototype

The most stressful part has been putting myself out there to invite people to the crowdfunding kick-off. If this business fails, I will be going down in massive flames along with the savings I’ve already put into this business, my reputation and perhaps a few relationships.

This self-doubt has probably caused me to procrastinate a few times. I suppose, it’s not necessarily self-doubt, but also concerns about the public’s reaction to my product ideas.

Will the product solve some of their pet problems as I had imagined? Can they overlook any deficits in the prototype knowing that these issues will be be fixed in the manufacturing process? Do they think it’s value for money? Will there be enough interest to meet the funding goal so that I can buy the moulds?

I’m at the pointy end of what I call milestone 1A. If we fail to get through this check-point, the entire business concept collapses, and I will be looking for a job sooner rather than later. Maybe the potential loss of a dream is actually what I’m more afraid of – the inability to see this business idea with an environmental mission through to fruition.

I can only hope that the potential customers can see what I can see – products that can help keep pets safe while protecting the environment at the same time.

Workaround for Prototype

After speaking with my manufacturer, I think that we might have a new workaround to properly test and show the functionality of my prototype. This problem will be obviously fixed once the product is manufactured, it’s just a pain right now due to my time constraints.

In some ways, this issue has likely resulted in a better outcome. Because I was concerned about how hard it was to properly show the product working within a normal home, I’ve hired a carpenter to build a portable display so that I can demonstrate this product live at the launch, as well as for the video.

It seems like everything I touch these days requires me to draw something, and God didn’t give me that gift. I hope my carpenter understood.

Rough sketch of product display for carpenter
Another rough sketch

I also have a meeting this afternoon with a company that will edit my videos for the crowdfunding campaign, and it will be good to hear what they think of my revised storyboard idea.

This is just proving to me once again that a roadblock on this entrepreneurial journey might actually be a detour to a better route in the end!

3 Important Questions before Crowdfunding

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the best practices in crowdfunding. With so many platforms out there, it’s hard sometimes to decide which one is best for your campaign, as well as, what can you do to put yourself in the best position for success. From that research, I’ve decided that these are 3 important questions to ask before crowdfunding.

Questions for Crowdfunding

1. Is your service, product or program best funded through a crowdfunding marketing campaign?

As I’ve shared before in this blog, I’m personally gone this route because I was concerned that if I brought in private investors for the initial cost of production (over $200k), that I’d have to give up too much equity at this point. This puts my company’s social purpose at risk as the more equity I lose, the less likely I can control how we make the products (i.e. recycled plastic in Australia which costs more to do).

Furthermore, from the three products that I have designed, I chose to Product #3 – my Escape No More product for the campaign. This product creates a temporary barrier to prevent a pet from escaping through a door or passageway.

Even though it’s most expensive product for me to manufacturer, I specifically picked this product for this campaign because I thought that it was the easiest one to explain with the most potential uses for a pet owner.

For me, the crowdfunding platform is a way to pre-sell and market-test my product idea before investing anymore into it. If it succeeds, I could also be building great marketing momentum for the next order, as well as investor interest.

2. Do you have enough financial backers willing to support the campaign to at least start it properly?

I’ve probably browsed hundreds of unsuccessful campaigns in my research that didn’t even have $100 in pledges when they ended. Some of them had obviously spent a lot of money in creating the videos and product/service ideas though. How could they fail if they had a great product prototype and video?

Well, nobody will support a product they haven’t heard about. Furthermore, it makes you wonder if the product actually solved their problem or fulfill a need?

Too many times I’ve spoken with inventors, idea people or techies that don’t want to do the work to sell the product. They only want to make it. Therefore, I suspect that these particular campaigns with few or no backers are either bad ideas or the products were made by those that expected the platform to do the working of selling for them. In reality, the platform is only a tool.

3. Which crowdfunding platform best meets your needs?

This has been the most time consuming question for me. I know that I have the right kind of product, and I believe that I have a lot of people that are interested in backing it – at least I have a really large network that say they are interested at this point.

However, picking the right platform required a lot more research. If I think about a crowdfunding site as only a tool, then the bigger, more popular sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have the best set of tools as far as I can tell.

This includes the way you initially set up the campaign with embedded videos, pictures and links. Furthermore, they tend to have more ways to communicate with your donors. I especially like the extra set of tools that Indiegogo has to place add-ons during the checkout process, as well as a referral system that might be useful mid-way through my campaign.

One of the areas that I think is quite important is the way that it shows currency and shipping costs – especially if you plan to open the campaign to more than just your home country. A lot of people are turned-off of buying something that doesn’t easily translate into their local currency on the homepage, and even more will back away during the check-out process if the shipping cost comes as a surprise.

I’ve also found at least one site where there wasn’t a way to add shipping easily to the check-out process. The owner of that campaign will have to contact each backer individually afterwards if it’s successful. Seems too painful to me especially when it’s built into other platforms.

While I’m still a month away from launching my own campaign, I still think these early insights and 3 questions before crowdfunding are worth sharing now.

Stray No More product line launching soon!

I’m very excited that I’ll finally be launching our first product line for the The Refoundry in October. We’ll be introducing our first product of the ‘Stray No More” line to be pre-sold via the crowdfunding campaign. These are essentially products created to prevent a pet from escaping a home or yard – an issue I knew well as the former CEO of RSPCA ACT.

Stray No More logo

Technically I could launch later in the year on a different date than all of the other social enterprises in this round, but I don’t see a point in pushing out the deadline as everyone just works to deadlines anyway.

However, we are still waiting for the prototype to arrive in Australia, and if it doesn’t get here next week, we’re really pushing the amount of time we have to film it in use. I know that my manufacturer would love more time to assemble and test it, but each time we push the date, the closer we get to Christmas.

Furthermore, I just submitted my package for another grant, and those were the milestones that I gave them. So, really I’m committed to the date at this stage.

Stay tuned for more info about our Stray No More product line launch soon!

Need a bit of help from my friends

I was informally notified last week that I was successful in winning a small grant to help pay for some of the marketing for a crowdfunding campaign. How much? I’m not completely sure yet, but it’s unlikely to pay for much more than the editing for a documentary I plan to make for the campaign.

It don’t have a lot of time to film this, and neither do I have any real film making experience or skills. In fact, I’m still working through the script and the scenes in my head which makes it hard to start scheduling the necessary interviews to make this story full and complete.

I actually love all of this creative work, but I am getting a bit stressed over the amount of stuff to do over the next few weeks. Furthermore, even if I make a great documentary, I also need to create an awesome marketing campaign to support it and ensure that it’s seen by as many people as possible.

Right now, I’m trying to raise $200k – likely the most money this particularly crowd funding platform has ever raised before. I admit that I’m incredibly nervous about the ability to achieve this goal, and I also know that there’s absolutely no way that I will be successful if I don’t get support from a good chunk of friends and contacts.

I hate asking for help. In fact, I usually try to pay for help rather than asking friends to do something for me. However, in this one chance, it will be make or break for the business. So, I don’t have a choice. I simply cannot go this alone.

Thankfully, I’ve already had a number of friends that have offered to help. I need more though, and that means putting myself in a position of asking more people and likely being rejected or ignored too which will hurt. Still, I know I have no other choice. Right now to be successful, I can’t be ashamed to say that I need a little bit of help from my friends.

How much do I need to raise for my first product?

From the beginning of this adventure, the most asked question has been, “What are you making? The second most asked question has been, “How much do I need to raise?” If I tried to answer the money question back in April when the ideas first came to me, my estimate would have been off by a mile.

The answer now that I have real info as of today? About $200k for Product #3!!

Yes, that’s a lot of money! The moulds will be made in China. If they were done in Australia, it would have been three times the price.

However, the manufacturing will be done here in Australia with Australian recycled plastic. We are currently trying to see if we can do it mostly out of milk jugs. Wouldn’t that be a great story where we can say that X number of milk jugs are used in every product?

Today, I just signed off on $7500 in prototype costs. That too is a lot of money out of my pocket personally. My manufacturer asked me if I wanted to sleep on it ,and I told him that I have been waiting to make this decision for 4 months.

It’s essentially all or nothing at this point. How much of the $200k do I need to raise? All of it.

If the crowdfunding is not successful, then I’ll need to look for a job and pursue this business as a side hustle. So, I might as well and go all in now.

Moving forward…

Raising funds via video

In a new business, there are lots of little things to prepare for big milestones. Fundraising is usually one of the more dreaded tasks for a start-up. However, it can also be one of the most creative if you’re raising funds via video.

I have two funding opportunities due in the next month. One is a grant that requires a 60 second video pitch to get past the first round. The other one is for a crowdfunding opportunity.

For the 60 second video, I’ve really struggled to write a script that covers the most important points in that short time period. That’s basically about 175 words with my speaking pace – hardly 2-3 short paragraphs.

However, when I started to storyboard the scenes, I realised that I could actually reduce my script by adding subtitles to the video with that info. What can I say in pictures so that words are unnecessary? By writing it this way, I managed to get the spoken narrative down to just 120 words which allows more time for cut-away scenes.

I just have to make sure I capture compelling video. This is not an easy task unless you know what you’re doing. And I don’t – at least not from a technical point of view. I reckon that I could easily spend 2 days or more on capturing the video and editing alone for the 60 seconds of content.

This is going to be even more critical to do well with the crowdfunding campaign. There, I have to make an entertaining movie to capture my audience’s attention and dollars. To do the video professionally might require it’s own fundraising effort! Luckily, I think I’ll have some sponsors to help with that one.

It’s the 60 second video that will have to be done completely on my own due to budget. I’ve never made a real movie before, but I have written short scripts for a cartoon series. The cinematography is going to have to be amazing to tell the story well which makes this a bigger challenge for me since I have very little experience here.

Still, it actually sounds like fun. I’ve been playing with the two storyboards in my head. I don’t have a lot of time left to get this sorted, but if I have to do fundraising, I might as well make it as fun and creative as possible.

After all, I can’t control whether or not the funding is successful. However, I can give the audience the best show possible within my abilities and budget.

Spoke with a patent attorney

Today I spoke with a patent attorney to protect my first product before I start the crowdfunding campaign. Apparently there are dodgy people that troll these sites to steal popular ideas and get the products to market before the campaign is even over. Therefore, it’s even more important that I apply for my patents before the launch.

I did hours of research back in June to see if there were other products like mine already out there. Fortunately, the answer was no for two of the products as far as I can tell. For the last one, I can’t be sure as there is an US patent that might conflict, but I need a lawyer to look at that one harder.

This research also made me realise that it’s far too complex for me to apply directly – hence why I spoke with a patent attorney today.

After that teleconference, I decided to go ahead and apply for provisional patents in both Australia and the US for Product #3. These are my two target markets in the short to medium term. Hopefully, this will deter any scammers from trying to replicate my ideas, and further help my marketing campaign.

Unfortunately, the legal fees will be as much as the design costs. I can’t see another way around this though because the documents are so technically complex.

The only good thing is that this firm agreed to work with me on a deferred payment plan since I had worked with them before in previous jobs. If I’m successful in obtaining the grant next month, I’ll use part of that money to pay them. If not, I’ll have to pull that money out of my dwindling savings account.