chapter 18

Interview with Hickies

Hickies raised $159K of its $25K goal on Kickstarter to create special straps to replace shoelaces. In Spring 2014 it completed its second Kickstarter campaign: PUNGAS, specialty 3D-printed laces. Visit its site here.

Shopify spoke to Mariquel Waingarten, one of the two original founders of Hickies, and Collin Willardson, director of marketing for Hickies.

Why Kickstarter and not Indiegogo?

Honestly, both platforms are excellent. I just found Kickstarter to be better designed; Indiegogo is just a little bit more messy. Of course, we were a little bit worried about the all-or-nothing model. We were scared to get nothing at all.

We also knew that Kickstarter has a bit of a larger audience.

But we do like Indiegogo. Indiegogo does a lot to support your project since it offers project managers to help support you and to spread the word and create success. They give you a more personal treatment.

How did you know that there would be an audience for Hickies on Kickstarter?

We didn’t! That’s one of the things that we wanted to check.

We personally don’t like shoelaces, and we thought that the technology should have evolved. So Gaston, my husband and co-founder, thought of this a few years ago when he was in college. And finally one day he wanted to give this a try. Nobody has yet done this. And so we wanted to try this out with crowdfunding.

How much time did you spend on the campaign?

We spent almost three to four months preparing it. We considered a lot of things, and wanted to prepare for marketing something that is radically new. At the time we had fairly basic prototypes, and we wanted to re-create the truest experience possible of what our product is like.

Which part of the campaign took the most time?

The video, definitely. We had quite a few shots and taped a lot of sessions.

I’m a photographer, and so I photographed all our creative assets. Otherwise, we wrote up the campaign pitch by ourselves.

Did you receive any professional help to launch the campaign?

Yes, we hired a company in Argentina. It was fairly informal because they were friends, but they were a digital agency who helped us with a script and a video.

But we just launched a new Kickstarter campaign, and this time we’ve done nearly everything ourselves to design the page.

How did you decide on $25,000 as your goal?
That was the initial cost of our mold to make our product. It was one of our biggest expenses. We were really surprised that we reached our goal so quickly. We were super happy, but we have to attribute some of that to luck.

Your final amount raised was $160,000. How did you feel when you found that you had lot more money than you expected to raise?

We were really glad. We were undershooting earlier because we hadn’t expected all the expenses that would result. Every dollar over $25,000 was welcome, and we felt that we had to use it all.

The extra money was useful in a very important way. We ended up producing four, not one, molds. We found that the first mold we produced wasn’t working correctly, and so we used the rest of money on a different mold. If we didn’t raise more, it would have been a lot more difficult for us.

What was most of the $160,000 spent on?

We spent most of it on the molds. Next was the raw materials and the packaging. Unfortunately we didn’t have quite enough left over to fulfill every single order, and we had to put in a bit of our own money. We had a round of investment as well to start the company properly, and that’s how we fulfilled everything.

Describe the fulfilment process.

We used a company called Shipwire. They helped us fulfill everything and worked really well. Thankfully this wasn’t too much of a challenge.

What did you do to make this a durable company instead of just a successful campaign?

We always thought of Hickies as a company and not just a product. We started getting sales early on, and a lot of retail stores were interested in our product. So we were very responsive with the stores that engaged with us, and that’s how we were able to keep the momentum. We went to a lot of brick-and-mortar stores and we also sold through our website.

How did you network and generate buzz?

First we reached out to friends and family, and other people with whom we had a lot of social equity.

Then we made a list of blogs that may be interested in Hickies. We reached out to them and tried to get them to feature us.

Of course we had social media ready to spread the word. Since we created a site before we launched, we got a lot of traffic from the Kickstarter page.

We also made a list of media outlets that may be interested in our product and went after them. We looked through a lot of outlets to find ones with a right fit.

Did you experience delays in production?

Yes, the first mold didn’t quite work, and it made us late. We were about three months late in our fulfilment.

But we were really transparent with our backers. We explained everything to our backers, and we told them that quality has to come first when there has to be delays.

What was unexpected about the campaign?

We were definitely surprised at the level of enthusiasm we received. A lot of people were excited about our product, and we reached our goal really quickly.

We were caught unaware that we couldn’t really change the page once we launched. So it’s important to anticipate a few concerns on the, because you can’t fix stuff once people start visiting.

We finally had a few difficulties merging Amazon Payments to Kickstarter. That’s another technical issue that we didn’t really anticipate since we were abroad at the time. So we definitely recommend you solve these little technical things before you launch.

Describe the manufacturing process.

The manufacturing process was a challenge.

We chose to manufacture in China, and Gaston did a lot of intensive research on the best manufacturers there. Still, we had difficulty communicating across different time zones and in different languages. It was very hard explaining small details that we wanted to change.

We totally encourage people to use local manufacturers, or at least people who are in the same time zone and who speak the same language. It’s much easier, even if it’s more expensive.

We’ve now begun work with an American manufacturer whose facilities are in Mexico. It’s been a lot easier since the transition.

What is Gaston’s background, and how did he start designing?

He was actually an investment banker, with no prior design experience.

But Gaston’s always been passionate about design, and he’s always had a lot of crazy ideas, and he wanted to get into this.

Did he take any courses and consult any resources to get the experience he needed?

He learned everything by himself. He learned how to apply for a patent all by himself by reading a lot of patent law. He also read a lot of books about product design and new technologies. For the final product, though, he did hire an agency to make sure that his design was sound.

How frequently do you update your supporters?

After the campaign we kept in touch with our supporters by email marketing and social media engagement. We realize that it’s super important to be transparent and honest with our community. We always want to share everything new that’s going on.

We’ve sort of figured out that updating once a week is a pretty good frequency. People want to hear what’s going on with your company. If you leave them alone for too long, they start to worry whether you’re hiding something or whether they’ll see anything happen with the money they put in.

If you get delays or problems, you should give the update really soon. Your supporters know that they’re backing an idea, and they feel especially attached. You should give them stuff to read, because they will read it.

What other tactics of engagement have you found really useful?

We follow up individually with all of our backers. Every single one. We think that’s a good idea, even if you have hundreds of backers. Sending them a personal message and really being heartfelt is really helpful.

Going that extra mile makes them feel more attached to the campaign, and it also makes more likely to share the campaign with their own networks. It doesn’t matter if their funding in the single digits. You should thank them personally.

Also, we try to give our backers an extra sense of reward. For example, we’ve created unique t-shirts to give to the people who backed our original Kickstarter campaign and then back our new Kickstarter campaign. You know that this isn’t going to be available after the campaign. That makes them feel special.

What is the most important lesson that you can offer to people who want to run a successful campaign?

Try to put yourself on the other side of the screen. Be really honest, and see if you would back the project. If the answer is yes, then it’s great. If not, then you need to change. This is a useful exercise.

Next chapter

19. Case Study: NOMAD

7 min

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