The Kickstarter community might be patient when your product launch gets delayed. But they're not so forgiving when your launch goes horribly wrong.
On this Shopify Masters podcast, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who disappointed 2,500 Kickstarter backers and the story of how he made it all right.
Find out how Gareth Everard salvaged his Kickstarter campaign for Rockwell Razors, adjustable and super affordable shaving razors.
In this episode, you'll learn:
- How to find out what product features your customers care about.
- How to use Reddit for feedback and as a sales channel (it’s this entrepreneur’s #1 sales channel).
- The tough lesson this entrepreneur learned when he blindly trusted professionals.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
- Stores: Rockwell Razors
- Social Profiles: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
- Recommended: New Kickstarter Campaign, The Obstacle is the Only Way (by Ryan Holiday)
How Rockwell Razors Used Kickstarter to Shave Away Startup Costs
After the podcast interview, we caught up with Rockwell Razors for a more in-depth Q&A to learn more about their Kickstarter campaign and get a behind-the-scenes look at their product launch.
Can you give us a bit of background on Rockwell Razors and how it started?
In October 2014, I raised nearly $150,000 on my first crowdfunding campaign. I launched my product’s campaign on a Tuesday night with a $12,000 goal. I woke up the next morning to pledges totalling $18,000 from hundreds of people around the world I didn’t know.
I knew nothing about marketing, but my cofounder and I had put a few months’ work into producing a useful product, making (what is obvious to me now) a terrible video, and putting together a passable informational page for our campaign.
Through posts on niche blogs, awkward local TV appearances, and dumb luck, the campaign closed at about $148,000 after one month.
How did you manage to get early attention to your Kickstarter campaign?
Rockwell makes very niche products, that actually falls within a space called "classic shaving" or "wet shaving".
On Reddit, there’s a subreddit called /r/wicked_edge that is dedicated to classic shaving, and has over 75,000 subscribers. I was active there and was sure to add as much value as possible on that subreddit. People now frequently post about Rockwell on that subreddit, and were quick to share both of our Kickstarters campaigns, and has already directed a ton of traffic to our still-young Rockwell Model T campaign.
Contributing and focusing on adding value on Reddit is an activity that doesn’t scale. However, for a business is just getting off the ground, especially if that business is in a niche that has a dedicated subreddit, Reddit is a phenomenal platform to find early adopters, entirely for free.
You just have to be sure that you give more than you take.
Consider this: how to earn your first $1,000 using Reddit ads.
How did you get your product manufactured after your successful Kickstarter campaign?
We were totally unprepared to ship thousands of products. To be clear, these weren’t items that already existed from an overseas supplier, rebranded for Kickstarter. Every component would have to be manufactured from scratch in a method that had never been used for this kind of product.
We approached an American investment casting manufacturer who, prior to our campaign, had given us a phenomenally priced quote to make our product. Their manufactured prototype, meant to represent the quality of the full run, looked incredible.
We were psyched to move forward and we ordered a production run of thousands of units. We didn’t once visit the manufacturing facility during production – we were fully trusting, like gullible children. The finished units were sent directly to a nearby third party logistics (3PL) facility to be shipped to our backers. A few weeks earlier, we’d taken two days off classes to show the 3PL how to assemble and pack the products. We’d then gone back to school, congratulating ourselves on our brilliant outsourcing and delegation skills.
Shipping all of those orders must have been pretty difficult, even with the help of 3PL. How did you facilitate that?
We’d originally announced our intention to ship in December 2014, but due to small manufacturing delays and the fact the 3PL didn’t retain staff during the holidays (who woulda thunk it?), most of our North American backers received their rewards in January 2015, successfully ruining several hundred people’s Christmases.
It was at this time that we discovered the error of our ways: having not visited the factory during production, and having not assembled, quality controlled and shipped the razors ourselves, we’d never taken a close look at the full production product we’d just assumed everything would be great.
So we deserved every moment of Kickstarter fury that was about to follow.
What happened after all of the orders had been shipped? What was the initial reaction like?
Feedback on the product began spreading like wildfire on our Kickstarter comments page, as well as subreddits and forums relevant to our niche and almost none of it was positive.
When it was clear the quality issues weren’t isolated incidents, but a consistent problem, I think I spent six hours staring listlessly out my apartment window like a character from a Sofia Coppola movie. I felt terrible. We quickly recalled all the unshipped products from the 3PL to my parents’ house to see what went wrong.
It’s hard to describe the experience of receiving dozens of emails and comments a day telling you some variation of what a bad person you are, or claiming you’re running a scam, and having to respond to every single one of those emails with nothing more to say than “I’m sorry, I’m trying to fix it. I’m so sorry”.
I’ve heard there are some Kickstarter project creators who have walked away from their campaigns without a trace due to the feedback they get from backers who are angry at product quality and/or delays. For a few days, at least, I understood those campaigncreator deserter’s perspectives.
How did you deal with all of the negative feedback?
A friend recommended the book, “The Obstacle is The Way” by Ryan Holiday. I took away a key lesson from this book: when you come face to face with a challenge, it is your choice whether you let it paralyze you, or leverage it as motivation to learn from and overcome the challenge.
This lesson caught me at a fantastic time. School had not been going well, I was way behind on my undergraduate thesis, and I hadn’t interviewed for a “normal” job, like my fellow graduating friends.
I’d gone all in on my now sinking ship. I realized I could wallow in self-pity, or I could take ownership of my mistakes. I promised myself then to make it right with every single backer. I had no idea that it would be more than a calendar year, and the hardest year of my life, before I’d fulfill that promise.
How did you end up making things right with all of the backers that had received a faulty product?
Once the products were back in Toronto, I took the three hour bus ride back from college every weekend and any day I didn’t have class for several weeks, doing detailed quality control on every one of several thousand pieces.
We learned later that the first article the manufacturer had sent us was heavily machined using a precision tool called a CNC. This resulted in incredible sample quality, but was not representative of the results we’d get in the full investment casting manufacturing run. They’d known this, but they also knew we’d raised a ton of money on Kickstarter, had no experience, and wouldn’t know better.
We also never bothered to check on their work.
I ended up finding a local machinist who could adjust the part of the product that our investment casting manufacturers had botched. I assumed this would fix the problem, everyone would be happy again, and the angry emails would stop.
The machinist was a friendly, experienced engineer, who ground down a few components while I was in his shop, expertly achieving the measurements the original design models had called for.
I was so confident in this solution that upon receiving the products back from his shop, I happily assembled and shipped out everything to 2500 backers, including free replacements for the several hundred problem products we’d sent out in January.
Wow, that's pretty courageous of you. What happened after you sent free replacements?
Strike two. It turned out that the local machinist was an accomplished craftsman, but the task of grinding down thousands of razor parts was handed over to what I can only assume was an employee with two feet for hands.
I’d blindly trusted a professional for the second time, and this time it really cost me. Having failed to check every unit shipped out, I didn’t notice that the grinding had resulted in a significant modification to the measurements of a critical, but not obvious, part of the product.
If the emails and comments I’d received back in January were heated, the next emails flamed.
So you were on strike two. What did you do to make things right, and to avoid striking out?
I was fortunate to be introduced to an incredible team of engineers in Toronto, who quickly led me to several key conclusions.
First, investment casting was not an appropriate manufacturing technique for a precision instrument. Second, with a more precise manufacturing method, some design tweaks would massively improve aspects of the product our backers had complained about. We’d originally chosen investment casting due to the relatively low upfront investment required to mass produce parts in stainless steel. There’d been another option, called metal injection moulding (MIM), that was more precise, but the upfront investment was high, so we’d dismissed it back in 2014.
Now, with what little remained from our Kickstarter funds, and by investing all my personal savings we went forward with MIM manufacturing.
There are a lot of different videos on YouTube reviewing the razors. Did you pay for these reviews, or were they totally organic?
We’ve never paid for a single one of those reviews. This is an example of where having a business in a niche can really play into the hands of entrepreneurs.
People with specific interests love sharing reviews of products with their “tribe” - and YouTube is unparalleled as a medium for that kind of sharing.
I suggest entrepreneurs considering launching a business run the “subreddit test” - if there’s a subreddit dedicated to the niche you operate in, then there’s almost certainly an online community that could rally around your business if you create something that adds value.
How do you continue to promote Rockwell Razors now that the Kickstarter campaign is over?
The Kickstarter for our first product, the Rockwell 6S, ended in October 2014, so it’s actually been over for quite some time now! Because we ran into early production issues that took us quite some time and effort to ultimately correct, we actually haven’t consistently had a product to market in the traditional sense.
That being said, the lengths we went to to produce an incredible product for the backers of the Rockwell 6S produced a lot of word-of-mouth advertising for us. This commitment to make the best product possible drove the continued pre-orders for the Rockwell 6S that ultimately kept the business afloat between the Rockwell 6S Kickstarter campaign and January 2016, when Rockwell really began getting traction.
What’s next for Rockwell Razors?
We actually just launched our new Kickstarter campaign for the Rockwell Model T and it got funded in under 6 hours - it’s really encouraging to see that adjustable shaving with ten cent razor blades is resonating with so many people! I think everyone’s pretty sick of overpaying for cartridges with all sort of marketing gimmicks (extra lube strips, pivoting balls on your face), or paying the postal service and shaving startups to ration those same cartridges to you a month at a time.
Other than the Model T, we’ll be building our wholesale accounts over the coming months. We're also releasing a line of soaps and other shave products to complement our razors!
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About The Author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, and founder of TrafficAndSales.com where you can get actionable tips to grow your store’s traffic and sales.