The team behind LastObject is on a mission to eliminate single-use plastic by designing items that can replace everyday disposable household items. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Isabel Aagaard shares LastObject’s journey of product development, finding a product-marketing fit and life after crowdfunding success.
The team’s mission to eliminate single-use plastic
Felix Thea: Where did the idea behind the sustainability focus business come from?
Isabel Aagaard: We're three designers, we'd done a lot of different designs throughout the years and we just really wanted to start focusing on different sustainable objects and things that we would use in our daily life. While we were researching, we found out that there was just this huge focus on single-use items that were coming up, but it hadn't really been put into light before now, and I think we were just very fascinated by the numbers and how we could design an object that could replace a single-use item would just make a huge difference for the environment.
Felix: Did you have experience launching products in the past or were you designers for someone else?
Isabel: All three of us have done a lot of different designs throughout the years, but we've done mainly furniture design and things for the kitchen. And I also worked in a medical industry where we were doing a lot of bags for chemo patients, so it's very different but we've all been working with products throughout the years.
Felix: What was the reason that you were embarking on doing this research?
Isabel: We were all working on different projects. The two other designers are my brother and his partner in crime. I think when we were just having lunch together in our office, we just kept talking about what we really wanted to design and what was really our passion in life. We really wanted to dive in and figure out what can really make a difference because we didn't want to make something that was either greenwashed or something that didn't really live up to the expectations of what we wanted to solve. So we were really looking at what kind of problems do we have with our environment and the impact that we put on it.
Felix: What kind of research are you doing? What kind of answers are you looking for?
Isabel: We're looking at what has a huge negative impact on the environment and this is where single-use items came up. So we saw that we could launch a collection of different things that would replace single-use items. So this was like the main thought, the big purpose for us. When we then went through the list: straws, but this is also something that a lot of people have tackled, you see cutlery, toilet paper, and then the Q-tip just came, it was actually on the top 10 list and we were just very surprised because it's such a little item. The Q-tip was our first idea, we could see we could solve this issue.
How to test ideas and find a product-market fit
Felix: How did you know though that there was a market, that there were people out that will be willing to buy a product like LastSwab's?
Isabel: We started testing and we did it with email collection. So we designed our product more or less finished and we knew not exactly what materials, but we were long in the design process, but we had no idea that this was going to blow up or that this was going to be big. We tested it out by putting some money in email marketing where we sent out, "Did you know this is coming on Kickstarter? If you sign up now, then we'll give you even more discounts." Two weeks into this campaign we saw how high the conversion rate was.
Felix: What did the email collection process look like?
Isabel: I think it's so crucial and we're going to do it with all our products because it's such an amazing and cheap way to validate if this is at all an interest for people. It's a landing page that we A/B tested every single day. I would put a new image up or a new text and then we would figure out when the day ended, which product picture, which text had done best. And I only changed one thing to really be able to track it. And this is how we slowly also could move our conversion rate up and we figured out how to actually explain this product, and we figured out how the imagery should be because we could see what people understood and what didn't work. And it wasn't about what we thought was nice. Rarely were the ones that we thought were nice pictures that won that day. So we were constantly changing this. And then we had a marketing agency that helped us do Facebook campaigns mainly and a little bit of Instagram. And this is how we reached out. And they also A/B tested so they figure it out, how we get people interested in a little frame of the image and if they click, how do we get them to sign up to this newsletter? So it was actually just growing this newsletter and try to figure out how we could communicate the product best.
Felix: When you look back on the A/B testing you've done, what kind of changes did you find made the biggest difference in a conversion rate?
Isabel: I think that we changed everything but color, how you signal everything and also being very concrete with your words. So when we did text where they were more, "We're just helping the world," or, "Cleaning the oceans." But when we got really specific to actually how this is a problem, how many cotton swabs end up in the oceans, this was really where we got people engaged. We ended up doing a banner where we did actually use the imagery, so was our product, which was the solution. And then you saw the problem and then you saw trash in the ocean. So it was really like figuring out how to explain this very simple thing in words and in imagery.
Felix: Was it important to have photos of your finished product for a high converting landing page?
Isabel: We didn't actually have real photos until after the Kickstarter. So everything was rendered, that means that we've drawn the products in a program on a computer and then we've got it so well-made so that it actually looks real. So we'd put some shadows in there and we made it a little bit open, a little bit crooked so it didn't look not real, but actually none of the product pictures, in the beginning, were real.
Felix: What’s the best approach if someone doesn't have the expertise of designing the product right off the bat?
Isabel: I would say, you can find help. We use freelancers and Upwork a lot to try to tackle a lot of the problems or the assignments that we're not good at or that takes us too long. I think designing, of course, is something that we really love and something that we want to be a part of but you can find a lot of different amazing people out there that will do a lot of things for not that much money.
How to generate traffic and collect email subscribers
Felix: What are some of the different ways to drive traffic during the launch?
Isabel: We did a lot of different things actually. Because we had done a very sustainable product, we started up getting into all the groups on Facebook that were talking about sustainability or zero waste. And we talked in those groups also while we were actually designing it to figure out how people use, and how they reuse things, and how we can meet the customers. But we also launched our product there and told them what we were doing and a lot of the pages would close it down because it was too salesy. But there were also a lot of people who are not very aware of how you can become sustainable or really want to dive into this, but these were really hardcore people that had changed their lives to better their impact on the environment. So it was an amazing group to actually also work with.
We also contacted 2,000 Instagram accounts that were sustainable, they were micro-influencers with 1,000 to 2,000 followers and to ask them like, "Hey, if you get a product, would you then want to share what you think about it? And please give us feedback." So it didn't become too salesy. And this also generated a lot of interest and a lot of shares before we had even launched our Kickstarter.
Felix: How do you position a product that doesn't exist yet on a landing page?
Isabel: The final version was a banner that had the product and then it had a squid that was holding a Q-tip underwater. So it was looking at the solution and the problem. And then we went into depths to say that, you can have it in different colors, it's reusable, you just wash it with soap. And the third thing was the materials and they were made of.
Felix: What's that call to action?
Isabel: We're asking for an email to get notified when we launch the Kickstarter campaign, and then with this pre-bird subscription, you will get the email first, so you'll get access to pre-bird offers. Only a thousand products that are with this huge discount. And then when that's sold out, then you have one that's also a really good discount but not that good.
Felix: What were you looking at to determine that this is something that is validated and let's continue pursuing it?
Isabel: We were looking at the conversion rate and then we're of course looking at the... which is also how many emails we got in. I think we ran for a month, and we had 40,000 subscribers and that's where we were like, "Wow, this could get huge."
Felix: So to get the 40,000 subscribers, do you remember how much it costs in terms of driving that paid traffic to the landing page?
Isabel: We ended up paying a bit under but around 20,000 U.S. dollars.
Kickstarter and the learnings from crowdfunding
Felix: LastObject raised over $700,000 from over 19,000 backers. What did you include on that Kickstarter page that you felt like really resonated with the backers?
Isabel: Doing actual product pictures, this converted really well. Explaining the story, we talked about the solution, the problem and then going directly to how you can use this in your daily life. Why a single-use is a problem and how is this a solution. Then we went into how it works, and then in-depth like these are all the colors that we're doing, this is how it's
Felix: How quickly did you break through your goal?
Isabel: 22 minutes.
Felix: Was it most of the contributions came like on that first day or was it spread out through the entire campaign?
Isabel: There was definitely a really huge spike in the beginning. And then it went down, but it was pretty steady. And then it spiked a little bit in the end. And I think this is very common.
Life after Kickstarter for LastObject
Felix: When you are pitching PR to publications as a sustainability-focused company, what is the story that you find resonates the most with the media?
Isabel: I would say animals in the ocean choking on or dying from all of this plastic debris. I think that is something that everybody can resonate with, and it's so simple and inhumane, and just pointing to a lot of I think very deep feelings in people.
Felix: When you are creating messaging and marketing for a sustainability-focus customer resonates better?
Isabel: It's so different and it's also what kind of group you want to get into. I would say the real hardcore sustainable target group is they want to have facts. Do they want to figure out where this is produced? How is this better? Why are you trying to sell me this? They're very hardcore where I think a larger group, which is more just they want to be part of doing something good. I think 90% of them want something that's nice, that's fashionable, and something that they're going to use. So I think you have degrees on how sustainable you are and how easy this product also has to be to use. And this is also why we did a lot of different colors. We wanted really to have this become something personal, becomes something that you want to carry with you and that it can mark who you are, but it's also just a really convenient and nice object.
Felix: How do you know where or when to target a customer basis?
Isabel: There are some visions that you have for your company and your product and what you want to do with it, so I think that this should just be kind of the backbone of what you are, and what you stand for, and what your product then stands for.
There are some things, so, for example, our product is made of plastic, the boxes are corn-based plastic, but this is something that a lot of eco people are like, "Why is it not bamboo?" So in that sense, it's very different to target somebody if they think that your product should be different, and that's where I think that you should just have a vision and know what you do and have the right, I know why it is more sustainable in plastic than in bamboo and bamboo is not something that we could use. It's not something that would be sanitary or sustainable in any way. But this is a hard story to tell, so I think that you have to tell your story in many ways and you have to figure out how you want to explain this and how in-depth you want to go with people. But bottom line, you've made some decisions and your target or what you want to pursue with your product is up to you.
Felix: So after this Kickstarter campaign, what was the next?
Isabel: After the Kickstarter, we moved directly to Indiegogo, which is also similar to Kickstarter, so it's also a pre-order platform and we raised more or less the same amount. And then we moved from there directly to WebShop.
Felix: Interesting. You did a Kickstarter and then you're talking about how soon after that ended did you move over to Indiegogo?
Yes because you can't go the other way if you do on Indiegogo, Kickstarter won't allow you to do a Kickstarter. So-
Felix: How do you make sure you transition that media buzz over?
Isabel: You do a link where you say, "We're now live on Indiegogo but we're finished on this campaign." And then we redirected... The landing page that we were talking about in the beginning also changed throughout the months, so when we were on Kickstarter, there was a direct link to Kickstarter. So when you Google LastSwab, you'll come to the landing page that we had throughout the whole before and after the campaign.
Optimizing operations and creating a business after crowdfunding
Felix: What are some of the things that you've been able to simplify with the business?
Isabel: In the beginning, we started to simplify everything about shipping. We needed to be able to supply this huge demand, but we also needed to make sure that it was eco-friendly and that it made sense. So we ended up doing three different locations for drop shipping, one in the U.S., one in Europe, and one in China. And this is a system that is integrated directly into Shopify so that we could follow how much do we have in stock in the different warehouses? Where is it low? Where is it high? And when we had a new shipment from our factories, then we could divide this over the three shipping agencies.
Felix: What are some things that you find that other entrepreneurs might over-complicate that you think that they can try to simplify and make their life easier?
Isabel: I think we are very early in the process of finding out but I feel like by employing a lot of different people to tackle problems is not the way to simplify a really lean company. So what we've done is that we work with a lot of different freelancers and this takes a lot of time and dedication, but I think it's just a really amazing way for us to have control over everything that we're doing in the company and we're taking everything up through a funnel that my brother created, which is do we have to do this? And then if it's yes or no, then okay, can we get someone else to do it freelance based? Yes or no? Is it expensive? So it's like going through and it's like the last resort is to actually hire somebody. Because it's a lot of work to have people on board and to make sure that you're being productive and you're actually creating what you want to create in a sense in your company.
Felix: What has been the most important part of the website in terms of getting conversions on your site?
Isabel: The front image is always very important. What do you want to show and what is the most important thing you want to explain to people? And then we have on our new website built in the shop on the page, so if you go in and you look at LastSwab, you can change through the colors, but you're still on the front page. So everything seems more seamless in a way. So I think this was very important for our shop to have this built-in.
Felix: How do you think about what product to focus on next as you're expanding your catalog?
Isabel: Yes. In the beginning, we did a whole list of things that we wanted to tackle and we started off with LastSwab, but LastTissue was always going to be the second one. I think the next line of products will be tackling the bathroom because we feel like this is also where we've gotten into a lot of chains and a lot of bigger stores that are more focused on the bathroom.