Daniel Cowen (left) and Max Bogue (right) showing off 3Doodler 2.0 and products made by the 3D printing pen
I had the opportunity to sit down with Daniel Cowen and Max Bogue, two of the Hong Kong-based co-founders of 3Doodler, a 3D printing pen which allows you to draw in the air to produce 3D shapes and patterns. More than 26K people contributed to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013; and another 10K backers in a second fully-funded project for their second-generation device in 2015 — all before the crowdfunding platform was available in Hong Kong and started gaining traction among local consumers.
Having been able to expand vertically through distribution in local retail stores like Log-On, as well as a global presence online and in offline Maker exhibitions, I was interested to know what they have learnt from their Kickstarter experience and their tips on running a successful crowdfunding campaign.
1. The Wow factor
“The beauty of crowdfunding is that, you can present a product concept or a product to the world, and see whether or not consumers actually want it,” says Bogue.
But there’s a “catch”, so to speak.
“You really need something that’s engaging, and tech-sexy, or artistically interesting,” says Bogue. “If it’s a pre-existing thing that doesn’t have much variation like a coffee cup, that is somehow not that different and that crazy, I think it’s less inclined to be a Kickstart-able item.”
“It’s got to be new,” Cowen chimed in. “[Any campaign] that is going to one million dollars plus has represented a shift or something very unique, and I think that’s the way it should be, because now hundreds of projects go up every day. It’s very hard to get noticed.”
2. Crafting the perfect campaign video
Screenshot from 3Doodler’s Kickstarter page
The promotion video is one of the first things prospective backers will see on the front page of a campaign. It is also usually the only place where they can see a product demo in action, and to also get to know the people behind the project. So how do you make sure you get your message across?
“If you look at the statistics of the video, there’s a huge drop-off—very few people finish the video. If you can present your concept concisely within the first 10 to 15 seconds, you can get them to watch 10 more seconds, and then maybe you can get them to watch 10 more seconds,” says Bogue. “A lot of people throw the interview section at the beginning—that is the worst mistake that you can possibly make.”
“No one cares about you; they care about what you are trying to present—the project, the concept.” -Max Bogue
3. Be concise and clear with your pledge levels
The good thing about Kickstarter campaigns, or with any startup, is the flexibility founders have in showing off the brand’s personality. It doesn’t hurt to add a bit of lighthearted banter when it comes to pledge levels and rewards.</p>
While you can put a twist on a traditional “thank you” to backers who have shown their gesture of support at the USD $1 pledge level (a Kickstarter-equivalent of the “Like” button), a ridiculously high pledge level may bring about some unexpected consequences, according to the fathers of the handy 3D printing pen.
“We did on our first campaign a 10,000 dollar pledge level that was more meant as a joke — joke’s a strong term — it was more just like, ‘Oh who would ever do this’. And then someone did. And then we had to be like, ‘Can you please reject, can you not do this? We will give you a free pen, this is a silly thing. You are paying money to have dinner with us. 10,000 US dollars to have dinner with us is not reasonable. Please, please, please don’t.’”
“So be careful, because you never know—the project can take off and all of a sudden you have this obligation you never thought anyone would really go for.” -Max Bogue
4. Communication is ALWAYS key
With crowdfunding, where members of the general public are forgoing interest to invest in a product that is not guaranteed to go into production (see: Kickstarter scams), it is without a doubt that transparency is essential during the campaign.
“For the first campaign, we ended up creating a list of 15 FAQs, so they could educate themselves and each other. We gave frequent updates, we are very open—our updates are never private, which is really important. “ says Cowen.
Max: “If you look at the Pebble campaign—their first one—they were a year late. But because they were constantly communicating, apologizing, and offering refunds to people who didn’t want to wait. They came out okay, more than ok, came out as a more than strong brand.”
So it’s not the end of the world if your product is late. What you do have to do though, is explain to people why. And if you are not communicating, then you have a real problem.
5. Pitching your project to the right reporter
Getting “Techcrunch-ed” or major media exposure is a milestone that many, if not all, tech startups desire. Even TechCrunch has come out with a guide on getting their attention, but to avoid any mismatch of demand and supply of press, the key is really to find the right reporter for your project.
“We called up TechCrunch and asked, ‘Who is interested in 3D printing and Kickstarter / crowdfunded campaigns? ‘Oh you should talk to this person and that person. ‘” Bogue recalled. “We didn’t call them up and say, “I got a story for you because that just doesn’t resonate because everyone tries to do that and it’s just a mistaken way to do that.’
6. The perks of running a globally-minded hardware startup in Hong Kong
3Doodler’s office in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Neighbouring the Shenzhen electronics market and factories up north, Cowen and Bogue both see a competitive edge in basing their hardware business in Hong Kong.
“The best thing for us, is that we can get to a factory within an hour. I could hop across the border and check if things are going okay on the same day, and still be back to Hong Kong,” said Cowen. “It means we can innovate and prototype a lot of quicker than we could if we were living in the US, or living in the UK.”
The city’s entrepot past also seem to have stuck with the pair. To Bogue, who refers to e-commerce personnel as “more Western roles”, Hong Kong, on the other hand, is “fantastic” for administrative roles in manufacturing, shipping, logistics.
“For tens of years, hundreds of years, companies have been shipping globally and merchandising their operations in Hong Kong,” said Bogue. “You can get a package sent across town, across the world within hours, within a couple of days. Because Hong Kong is a place where people ship stuff.”