Uberpong Kickstarter funded campaign success

How To Run A Successful Kickstarter Campaign

I had my lightbulb moment while I was working in a startup in London. Uberpong was going to combine ping pong with great graphic design. The aim was to make table tennis more fun and make it the most played sport in the US. I moved to Austin, TX from London, England at the end of February 2012 and promptly launched my first Kickstarter project in July. 30 days later, we had reached our goal and ended up on $10,390.

Here are a few things that worked for me:

1. Have a truly remarkable idea
There is so much noise on the web and a lot of excellent projects on Kickstarter. You will hear a lot of people telling you it is not the idea but rather the execution that will make you successful. This is true in some cases but I really believe on Kickstarter it is all about the idea. Go beyond your friends or family for opinions of your product or service. Ask complete strangers in your industry for their critical feedback. On Kickstarter, you can tell pretty quickly if your idea is a remarkable one or not.

2). Make a great video
As the bar rises on Kickstarter and more people add projects on the site, you have to stand out. A shaky iPhone video is not going to cut it. Viewers need to trust you and your message in less than 30 seconds. If the video is well made, edited with good music and has a clear message, it will be easier for people to decide whether they should back you. We used Moth to Flame and they did a great job.

3). Collaboration means more exposure
Kickstarter and Amazon payments don’t offer this service for nothing. They want to get paid. Between them, they take nearly 10% of the overall amount you raise. So if you can encourage collaboration in your project, this means more people will be talking about it, pledging and therefore your chance of being successfully funded goes up. We built a small design community for the Uberpong project and incentivized the designers by offering them 20% of the sales of their designs. It meant that most of them promoted this within their networks to ensure we hit our target and in doing so, they made revenue.

4). Solve a problem or change the world
When selling anything, you have to make the product exciting and satisfy a need or solve a problem. Alternatively, do something that changes the world. With Uberpong, we wanted to show people that what they had now was boring and colorless. The game of table tennis lacked aesthetics and we wanted to change this. We got a lot of support from the ping pong community and bloggers who identified with this.

5). Go for an achievable target
I have seen many campaigns fail on Kickstarter because the company asked for too much money. If you only need $5k, then ask for $5k. Remember, if you don’t hit the target, you get nothing so it is better to go slightly lower and exceed your target rather than the other way round.

6). Offer enticing rewards
Nobody wants a reward description to read: “One ping pong paddle”. They know that Kickstarter is the birthplace of many cool ideas so make it sound exclusive. “A first edition Uberpong ping pong paddle with the design of your choice (from 20 different designs from international artists)” sounds a little more intriguing.

7). Have an existing community
As Seth Godin proved when he launched a book on Kickstarter, if you have an existing community when you launch your Kickstarter, you can immediately turn to them as early adopters of your product. This community alone can help you hit your target and any other pledges you get from the Kickstarter community is a bonus.

8). Use Kickstarter’s Analytics
Within a few days of launching Uberpong, I could see that Facebook was giving us the most pledges. After 30 days, the same was true. This is priceless information to have at your fingertips because you can identify which channels are working on focus on these. As a result of this approach, we got 51 pledges and a total of $2045 pledged.

9). Get into the local media
When you pitch to your local press, make it clear you are also local. They will typically get behind local businesses and help get your story out. We got into CultureMap and got four pledges in a day after the article went live.

10). Have good photos of your product
I was lucky enough to have a friend who was a photographer (Ryan Pollack) who took some great photos. We sent these out with press releases and these images were published in Australia, The Netherlands, Spain, England and Japan.

If you have any more questions about my experiences with Kickstarter, catch me at a EuroCircle Austin event or connect with me on twitter @davidjlowe.
Uberpong Kickstarter funded campaign success

leather boots dirty bootsrapping laces

WTF Is Bootstrapping?

There are two paths entrepreneurs typically take when starting a business:

1). The X-Factor path.
With no proof that your business can actually make a dime, you pitch your heart out X-Factor style to get VC (venture capital) funding, almost lose control of the company, and have your balls in a vice until the VC firm gets its 10x return. Your napkin business plan and straight-As co-founding team is what gets you the funding but if you don’t give an ROI (return on investment), good retrieving your soul and getting funding for any future projects. Play with dragons and be prepared to play with fire.

2). The FFFs (Friends, Family and Fools) Path. 
This direction is reserved for people who have a belief that their idea can become a self-sustainable venture by growing it in an organic way. This process is called “Bootstrapping”. Cash flow is the focus and actually generating revenue from day one. This is more of a mindset and requires a disciplined approach to all facets of the business. You spend money, like it is your own, negotiate everything hard and take pride in keeping the overheads as low as possible. Once you have done this, you know you have a solid foundation to build a business on top of. The Bootstrap Austin movement is run by a friend of mine Bijoy Goswami and in a city that is trying too hard to be the next Silicon Valley (people call it “Silicon Hills”), it is refreshing to see the bootstrapping movement alive and well.

I would love to hear how you have bootstrapped your business to success. Leave comments below and tweet me @davidjlowe
leather boots dirty bootsrapping laces

blank canvas billboard white businessman

The Art Of The Start

When people talk about startups, they often pigeon hole them in the broad category of business. I categorize them as art. Sure, “creating multiple revenue streams”, “watching the bottom line” and “maximizing the ROI” are important, but it really it starts with a blank canvas. As the artist, you want to paint beautiful things onto this canvas and then sell it to the world. The capital generated is a bi-product of the art you and your team created. There is no coincidence that the word “art” is in stARTup.

Ai Weiwei is a great example of a entrepreneur who just happens to be an actual artist. He uses his work as a channel to make a statement on the state of society. Most people thought Steve Jobs was in the technology industry. But he wasn’t. He was in design and with Apple, wanted people to “think different”. That was the way he changed the world.

How are you bringing the art into your startup? Comments welcome below and tweets to @davidjlowe
Jackson Pollock convergence art canvas

mr happy smile mr men beach

How To Keep Your Customers Satisfied

When I used to live in England, Americans were hailed as the ambassadors of customer service. “The customer is always right.” Well, that is what I remembered.
I visited the US for the first time when I was 13 years old and I can remember feeling like royalty. Well, I don’t know what changed but having noticed a trend online and having lived in Austin for 3 years, I can say that the standard seems to be slipping. So what is customer service? Well, I define it as any interaction with your customers. If like me, you are selling a product to your user base, there will be a moment when a connection is made between you as the seller and the customer as the buyer. These are the most common ways I have seen:

1). They contact you through your email form on your website or over the phone. This is usually a quick question regarding your product or the typical turnaround time. This is the pre-purchase stage and even though you know that they are showing buying signals, your positive response can secure a sale.

2). They contact you asking for an update. The order has been shipped out but they don’t know where the email is that you sent them with the tracking number. This is the hand-holding stage where you want to reassure your customers that everything is under control and the product will be with them shortly.

3). They reach out with a complaint about the product. It was either broken in transit or wasn’t what they were expecting. This is the post-purchase stage and you have to make the call whether to offer a full refund, replace the product or hold your ground. It is crucial that you have terms and conditions in place on your site before you begin selling any products so your customers know exactly what your policy is.

Here are couple of examples of bad customer service I have experienced recently (the names have been removed to protect the innocent and I will add a suggested improved approach):

1). Problem company: one of the world’s biggest coffee brands – the location I was in was freezing and I asked one of the baristas if he could turn the heat up. His response: “We don’t control the temperature. It is controlled by management.” Incidentally, the same company makes you go back and wait in line if you forget to order a cup of water because “they have their system”.
Solution: He could have empathized and said “I know how you feel” and then told me he was going to try to turn it up. If he had then told me he couldn’t I would have appreciated his efforts. The coffee chain should definitely allow the interior temperature to be adjustable especially with the revenue they are generating from a single cup of coffee. If you are a global brand with massive profits, people expect more from you. That’s just how it is. Deal with it.

2). Problem company: A new Indian restaurant that had opened in Austin – I waited with my wife and two friends for over 2 hours for a table. At first they told me about an hour and then it just kept going. We never got a table and walked.
Solution: They should have offered us a round of drinks when we went of the hour mark. I had to use my best British accent and push hard to get them to see sense. They should have told me early on that they were short of wait staff and the weather had meant more people were eating inside rather than out. I found this out after the 2nd hour had passed. Not cool amigos.

I think the moral of this post is that in today’s America and indeed the world, to stand out from your competitors, you’ve got to go the extra mile. Take a leaf out of Zappos book and offer a full refund on products any time within a year.
I’d love to hear about your customer service experiences from the business side and see what measures you are taking to improve it. Also, if you are a customer and were either shocked or amazed by a company, I would love to hear about that as well. Tweet me @davidjlowe and use #dloweplaybook or leave comments after this blog post.

Like the Simon & Garfunkel song goes, “Just trying to keep my customers satisfied…satisfied.”

[Image: Happyologist]

start investing in people gary vaynerchuk

Start Investing In People

I saw an illustration from Gary Vaynerchuk the other day that really made me think. It is so easy to think of external factors that can benefit your business. Examples include advertising, social media and international markets. But the thing that very few companies look at is internal factors like their own team. Invest in your own team members, give them the tools to succeed and empower them and suddenly the sky is literally the limit.

There is an initiative in England called “Investors In People“. I only worked for two companies who were embraced this scheme (they had certificates hung up on the wall in the lobby) but I can safely say that they used this as a marketing tool to attract new recruits. It was a façade that masked the fact they only cared about the bottom line and you were effectively a cog in the machine. I don’t want to generalize as there a probably a lot of companies who are investors in people and get it right. Just be aware of any companies that sell this hard when you are interviewing.

It is very easy to focus solely on your customers and clients, shareholders or investors. But take your eye off your own people and your Empire will fall. Start investing in people today.

Listen to the podcast here.

start investing in people gary vaynerchuk

Jake Gyllenhaal Nightcrawler video camera

What Nightcrawler Teaches You About Starting A Business

I’m not sure if you’ve seen Jake Gyllenhaal in the gritty thriller Nightcrawler, but you need to see this movie. Shot almost entirely at night on the streets of LA, the film features Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a guy desperate to make it in any industry he can get into. He stumbles into a new career as a cameraman and begins filming increasingly shocking accidents throughout the City of Angels. But what I found really interesting is the way that Nightcrawler is a parallel for entrepreneurship. Here’s how, and a quick “Spoiler Alert” warning in case you haven’t seen it yet:

1). Lou observes the scene of an accident and learns about film crews who use police scanners to get to the location before the LAPD.
Startup parallel: You observe the business landscape and look for opportunities. This is the research phase where you hear about tools that your eventual competitors are using that can give you the edge.

2). Lou invests in a basic camera to film on location and drives there in his beat up car.
Startup parallel: this is the bootstrapping phase. No frills. Just using what you have and making minimal investments to make things happen.

3). Lou gets his first footage and blags his way into a TV network studio. He eventually meets Nina (played by Rene Russo) who agrees to air his film in the evening news.
Startup parallel: An enterprising approach together with a lot of luck gets you in positions you need to be in. Don’t take no for an answer.

4). Nina pays him a small amount for his film as the quality is low.
Startup parallel: Believe what you have is worth something then sell it hard to your target market. Remember that early on, you might not be able to command a premium for your product or service but work to increase the value after getting feedback from your customer or client.

5). Lou upgrades his camera and car.
Startup parallel: Initially you have to ride the break even line and invest back into the business to get it off the ground.

6). Lou negotiates with Nina for his subsequent footage and gets a higher payout. Startup parallel: Get a reputation in your industry and then command the price you deserve using the leverage you have earned.

7). Lou hires an assistant allowing him to cover two angles at the scenes and invests in a laptop to quickly edit and submit his footage to the network.
Startup parallel: in order to grow and beat your competitors, you have to bring people in and delegate responsibilities.

8). Lou negotiates with Nina to make him the exclusive cameraman for the network for a top fee.
Startup parallel: Make yourself indispensable to your clients and partners. If you can become the best in your industry, you can command the highest fees.

9). Lou shoots a groundbreaking pieces of footage that is aired. He agrees that the film can be used on this condition that his company name (his personal brand) can be mentioned as the source.
Startup parallel: Whether you are building a company or personal brand, there comes a moment when the hard work pays off and your name will be seen. This may be in the local newspaper or on the national TV news but make sure you capture this and use it on your Press page on your site. It will add credibility which will attract future clients.

10). Lou eventually hires a team, buys two vans and dominates his field.
Startup parallel: you build a team that can work in the business and give them the tools to succeed so you can work on the business.

Listen to the podcast here.
Jake Gyllenhaal Nightcrawler video camera

retail aisles shelves consumer products

Retail Me Not

I have spoken to my mentors a lot recently about where I could take Uberpong and always thought that retail was the answer. I mean, being in England, the American Dream is pretty much to start a business with the goal of getting into a store like Walmart or Lowe’s. The problem is that this is a minefield littered with challenges that could make you go under at any minute.

– Chargebacks if you don’t sell your merchandise. This basically means the store makes you pay for the stock that wasn’t sold. After all, they want products that are flying off the rails.
– You get into stores before you are known and because no-one has heard of you, the shelves remain full.
– Suddenly your early adopters and hardcore fans see that you are mainstream and have sold out. Cue, a mass exodus.
– The store wants a wholesale rate that is more than what it actually costs you to produce. You go overseas to China to get the rate you want but end up having high minimum order quantities and have a huge up front manufacturing cost.

There are many other reasons why retail just doesn’t seem to be worth the risk yet a few days ago, I was approached by one of the biggest French retailers. With my recent acquisition of knowledge, I was confident this was NOT going to happen. But then something funny happened. The store insisted we were the coolest brand they had seen for a long time. They wanted us in their cool Parisien pop-up shop. I resisted and told them that we produced our paddles in the US and that the wholesale rate would be higher. They bit. I told them that they would have to pay for shipping. They had their own international shipping account. I told them our turnaround times were longer than usual due to massive demand. They bit harder. The more I resisted, the more they wanted me. I have tried using reverse psychology in the past. My success rate is a pretty even 50/50. But on this occasion, here I was calling the shots with one of the biggest stores in the world.

One of the best things I have learned from fellow entrepreneurs is that sometimes you just gotta say no. If you say yes to everyone, you might get distracted from your main mission and vision. If anyone else has tried this simple strategy and come out winning, let me know by tweeting me @davidjlowe

Listen to the podcast here