3D printing is an emerging market that not everyone knows a lot about.
That means there's ample white space for an entrepreneur to take over if he or she can figure out how to cut through the noise long enough to interest consumers.
On this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from Braydon Moreno of Robo, a company that empowers creation with a growing line of 3D printers, materials, and content.
Find out how they leveraged video ads to power their $4.7 million business.
”It’s a noisy world and you're no longer competing only with direct competitors.”
Tune in to learn
- How to run surveys using social media advertising.
- How to use samples to promote your crowdfunding campaign with PR and influencers.
- How to create hyper targeted ads on Facebook.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
Download Shopify Masters on Google Play and iTunes!
- Store: Robo
- Social Profiles: Facebook , Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Udemy, First Kickstarter campaign, Second Kickstarter campaign
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Felix: Today I’m joined by Braydon Moreno from Robo3D.com. That’s R-O-B-O–3-D.com. Robo3D empowers creation with a growing line of 3d printers, materials, and content and was started in 2012 and based out of San Diego, California. Welcome Bradyon.
Braydon: Hey thanks a lot for having me, I’m excited to be here.
Felix: Nice, yes. Tell us a little bit more about your store and the printing products that you sell through your store.
Braydon: Yeah, interesting story actually. We started this in college, we went to San Diego State University and my business partner was, his mechanical engineering class was to build a prosthetic leg, that was his project, using a 3D printer. He was using a big expensive machine and it sort of segwayed into him building his own 3D printer from scratch and when I found out about it I had another company at the time but I could of used 3D printing to help build some of my proto-types early on. I realized, wow this technology’s pretty phenomenal. It could help a lot of people with building businesses and ideas. I immediately just gravitated towards it and we started building our first product from there.
Felix: Nice, so you guys met through your other company or how did you guys meet?
Braydon: We met through college. We’re actually in the same fraternity at San Diego State, we knew … Hung out a lot and knew each other and knew what we were working on. Actually had tried to work together on some other things in the past that didn’t work out very well. When we came across 3D printing we knew we were on to something big.
Felix: Nice, you mentioned that you already a company at the time while your co-founder/ business partner was working on this 3D printing thing that he was working on. What was it that you were working on at the time?
Braydon: This was my third business endeavor, my first one was a watch business and it actually took me about a year and close to 8,500 dollars to get my first prototypes together. I knew how expensive and how time consuming the process was to get prototypes. When I saw the 3D printing site I was like, wow, I could have literally developed this from scratch, printed it for less than a hundred dollars and maybe a couple weeks of my time. It just opened my eyes quite a bit and I had one of those light bulb moments and I said, hey, this is something that if I can help other people, especially because entrepreneurship is so big now. If I can help other people diminish the process of prototyping quickly and easily then I think I can have a bigger impact then just trying to start multiple companies myself.
Felix: You had this watch business going already and you realized that what he was working on was the future of prototyping to help create new products for entrepreneurs. Did you jump right into working with him then or how did you transition or were you running both companies? How did you transition into working together with your business partner?
Braydon: Yeah, he was doing it for his senior project and wasn’t really going down the road of it being a business and I obviously saw what he was doing. I always like to say I had that Steve Jobs moment, if you’ve seen the movie, where you see it and you just, you go woa, this is crazy. When I saw that and when I communicated with him I said we should turn this into a business. We kind of came together and decided to make our first machine together. I pretty close to just left the other business, gave it to my business partner. Left it because I really just saw an opportunity that was going to be much bigger in front of me.
Felix: When you were making this decision did you have any second thoughts at all about … Because you already had something going, right? I’m not sure how successful it was but often times we hold on to things that are already making progress. It’s kind of scary jumping into something brand new. What was going through your mind when you were making this decision?
Braydon: Yeah, most definitely it was is something you always think about, right? You always are wondering, hey I am leaving something that could potentially be the best route for me but at that time when I saw this technology I knew. There was something missing in what I was doing. I liked the watch business, I like selling watches, I like designing them. It had a cool element to it but for me when I saw 3D printing I was like, “I can have a much bigger global impact with this technology.” This is something that’s growing exponentially, this is something that’s going to really help in multiple areas including manufacturing prototyping but other areas as well. It just was a no brainer decision for me. I didn’t really have to think that much about it. I just knew. I was like, “Let’s try this out and see what happens.”
Felix: Okay. Your business partner back at the beginning, he was already developing the product already and you were more kind of the sales and marketing side. What was the breakdown between your partnership?
Braydon: Yeah, there was three of us that originally started, it was him and another guy. Now there’s only two of us that own the business. They were both working on the functionality behind the machine. I came in and worked a lot on the design of the machine and the name of the company and really put the business together. That’s how we all played it out. They were working on the development side and I was more turning it into a company.
Felix: Makes sense. I think there’s this, not necessarily issue, but there’s this when you have a company where you have the people that are developing it, working on it, and then there the other side of the company that’s working on building the business up and maybe working on the marketing and sales. That part almost comes in a little bit later, right? The actual sales and [crosstalk 00:06:34].
Felix: It kicks in later. Were you able to do a lot at the beginning or what was the … How do you balance that when there’s people that are like you’re saying developing the actual product and then you were putting the business together. What were you focused on early on?
Braydon: Felix, I got to be honest with you here. The cool … I kind of [get 00:06:51] crazy thing when I speak to entrepreneurs and entrepreneur classes and things like that is that none of us were really by trade engineers. One of my partners was a bio-engineer but not the mechanical engineer that you would think of when you think of 3D printer. We didn’t have these big backgrounds of engineering. We all had to pitch in to help this thing come to fruition.
We used a ton, people always think you got to go get a big degree or have a bunch of schooling or something, some type of background that leads you down this path but we were just really passionate about building a product. We just went to Google, we went to YouTube, we went on forums about people building kits and 3D printers. We really just did it all ourselves from scratch. It was a fun collaborative effort by all of us. Even in those early days I was putting together a lot of the linear motion sensors of the machine and figuring out about all different types of stuff around engineering as well.
Felix: For a highly technical product like this, I don’t know anything about 3D printing, especially not the mechanics behind building a 3D printer but it seems like a very technical problem. It’s hardware you have to build, software you have to build as well. Like you were saying you guys didn’t have a background and have a formal education and all of this. It wasn’t daunting at any point where you were thinking, man somebody could come along, some company could come along that knows way more by the technical details of this and just crush us. You guys didn’t have that fear?
Braydon: Not at all. It’s such an emerging tech category and it was really a wild wild west of opportunity. We looked at it, we looked at the other companies that were out there. A lot of machines that were out there at the time honestly were erector set looking styles of machines and these kit builds and just very open. What we tried to do is we looked at the [marketing 00:08:35], we said there’s an opportunity to create some, it’s called some “sex appeal” in this market just because no one had really created this fully out of the box nice looking ready to go machine. That’s what we were building. We were building the consumer 3D printer for everyone, if you will. At an affordable price point because a lot of the machines at the time were thousands of dollars. We had a tough mission on our hands and we just worked on it every single day. It was just non stop perseverance to get this thing working. We avoided our friends trying to get us to go out and party with them and do all this just because we were so manically focused on finishing this first prototype.
Felix: Right. It is an emerging market and there’s not much competition out there. There’s also not that much data about what people actually want. The pro of being in an emerging market is that you can be first to market and then reap all the benefits of that but then like I was saying, you don’t have the data that you need to guide the design, guide the market behind it. How did you deal with this? How did you find the guidance necessary when it’s such a new market?
Braydon: Yeah, I think you just look at other markets that are in similar parallels, if you will. We looked at smart electronics, even smart home type products and followed a similar path along that in terms of design and things like that. Now what’s interesting is some of the stuff we’re doing with our new smart machines is we’re starting to be able to collect data. What we’re be able to do with this data is make a lot of different decisions like what are people 3D printing. Using that data we can then deliver content to consumers and get a better idea and project what we’re building and why we’re building it. Do we need to make a printer that’s faster? Do we need to make one that’s bigger? We could start determining these different feature sets based on the use cases of our actual customer.
One of the cool things we did early on too was we actually did surveys to a bunch of people that were in the industry using social media advertising. We would do these surveys and give gift cards away, like 50 dollar gift card. We had a list of questions about features that they wanted, do they already own one, are they looking at one? We targeted people that were somewhat familiar with 3D printing. We used that data to build our first machine. We build a feature set based off that initial data.
Felix: That’s awesome that you were able to do all the surveying, target surveying. Talk a little bit more about this, I think that this is data that a lot of people would need to where they would like to survey people but maybe they either don’t have the time or they don’t have the access to reach the right demographic in person that is. Talk to us a little bit more about how you did this surveying using social media advertising.
Braydon: Yeah you can do it, actually it’s a lot easier nowadays too. I would always recommend people if they want to get data if they’re building a product to do something as simple as if you want to do Face Book advertising that’s probably the best route. Build a simple video because viewing videos you get a lot better click through and viewing rate and cost. You can get video views for a cent a view. I always recommend do the video.
We set up something as simple as a survey monkey at survey for free and we said we’re going to basically choose someone to win a 50 dollar Amazon gift card. We got hundreds of applicants just filling out this quick survey and gave us all that data for a 50 dollar gift card which can be a lot less expensive than it would be if you went in to a company that actually does surveys or anything like that. For the cost of 50 dollars we were able to generate huge amounts of information for us that allowed us to make certain decisions early on. That ended up helping us launch a successful Kickstarter campaign and build our first product.
Felix: Nice. How did you know what kind of questions to ask in this survey?
Braydon: We were … This was about, I don’t know, this was probably four or five months into us even working on the product and doing a ton of research online and just looking at every 3D printer under the sun. We bought one industry report where we ended up getting a discount on this industry report and we bought that. We were really reading up, researching and looking at the industry. We knew quite a bit about it so for us making the questions were fairly easy at that point. We saw what feature sets, we put them side by side and built grass and we’re like, “Wow, there’s opportunities here.” No one’s built a bigger build platform for example at a price point of X. We’re able to create these relations that then helped us with our questioning and lead us to actually building our product.
Felix: Nice. Did you do this multiple times or did you just do this once, survey once and it was good enough to go?
Braydon: This one survey we did one time. I think we got close to 500 people that ended up filling this out. That was enough for us, we were on the right path in what we’re building now.
Felix: Very cool. Now I want to take it back to beginning where you recognized that there’s opportunity here, that there is a market, that it was growing, that there was a business potential based on what you saw that your business partner’s already working on. What were the next steps of actually turning it into a business? What did you want to focus on, let’s say the first six months of the business?
Braydon: Yeah, the first six months was honestly us building our product. It was just trying to get … We got the concept, we got the ideas, we knew what we wanted to do. We started working on a logo and just trying to build the most simplistic process at the least amount of money to get us our initial prototype of the product. Once we got that, I would say that was about a six to seven month process of doing that. Obviously if you’re building different types of products it’s a lot easier now with out sourcing and things like that. For us we had to build it from scratch. Once we got that first prototype together it was obviously a great achievement for us at that time. We were like, “Cool, we got our first product. What do we do with it?” We got to raise money and it just lead us down the path to Kickstarter.
There was other products in 3D printing that had done extremely well on Kickstarter. We knew the market was hot for it and excited about. We were looking at analyst reports and they were under predicting the market in terms of they probably almost, we talked about this today, they would have been fired under predicting it that much. It was severely under predicting the market growth, which is not something you have to do early on. I would say just spend the least amount of money to get your first product together and test it in any way possible. Our test was crowdfunding.
Felix: Nice, let’s talk about the crowdfunding then. You launched from Kickstarter, your goal was 100,000 dollars, ended up raising almost four times that at 382,000 dollars from almost-
Braydon: That was our second one.
Felix: Oh, it was your second one.
Braydon: Yeah, first one was 49,000 was our goal and we raised 649,000.
Felix: Wow, nice. Okay, let’s talk about that one first then. What kind of preparation went into that Kickstarter campaign? Did you guys do any kind of prepping or just launched it and waited to see what happened?
Braydon: No, we did … It was funny, we always shoot for the stars. We knew we didn’t have a big budget to spend on creating a really professional video. Luckily at that time Kickstarter was relatively new. There was some products that had done extremely well and it was getting some recognition but you could get away with building a home grown video. It’s a little bit different now but depending on the product you could still do that. We just had a blast filming this video. We set up these scenes and I remember the funniest thing we did was, if you watch product videos you see these beautiful 360 shots of the product kind of spinning super slow and beautiful and the light hitting it perfectly. We wanted to get one of those shots of our products so we went and got one of these cheap stools from IKEA and I sat the product on the top of it. If you can imagine this in your head, if you can close your eyes and imagine this. I’m literally under the stool while we have the camera just slightly above me so you can’t see me and I’m slowly rotating the stool to get that 360 shot. If you go back and watch these first videos it’s hilarious but we actually did. It ended up turning out pretty well.
We built a really homegrown video, we got a lot of cool pictures, built our campaign page out, I would say that took about another month to do that. We pressed the launch button I think in late December of 2012.
Braydon: If you want me to go in-
Felix: Yeah, let’s say you launched it in … Did you have to promote any way. I’m looking at this now the first Kickstarter and 650,000 dollars practically. Did it require any push from you or how did you guys get this thing rolling so much?
Braydon: We started to do some small things. We started to build a social media page and things like that and were getting some interest from people. We had that going but we didn’t really do much pre-launching. Like I said, nowadays I would recommend completely the opposite if people are wanting to build products. I always recommend if you have a small product and you’re starting and you’re not either selling it on Amazon or you don’t have a ton of funds to bring it to market. Crowdfunding is the best possible route, you don’t have to give away equity and you really prove your concept. That’s why I use it as far as a proof of concept platform. Nowadays I always recommend spend a little time building your page, build your audience, build some excitement around your product. Get feedback early on and build a really good page.
The minute you click launch you want to have a huge upside, you want people buying that product kicking it off, continuing to get momentum from early on. When we did it, it was so new. There was not a ton of projects on or campaigns on Kickstarter so we knew we were going to leverage the Kickstarter community that was already excited about 3D printing.
Felix: Yeah, the demographic is definitely there already. These are people that want to be the first beta testers of everything. I think it was a perfect market for you guys.
Braydon: They wanted cool new tech products, that what they were looking for and that was what Kickstarter was about early on. They’ve sense gone to a ton of different categories but we were a cool new tech product and a cool new category. They were really good time to launch a Kickstarter campaign. That helped a lot.
Felix: Yeah, like you were saying the [alias 00:19:04] changed from, back when you launched, looks probably 4 or 5 years ago and you launched a new Kickstarter not too long ago as well. What did you find that changed the most between the many years between those two Kickstarter campaigns?
Braydon: Yeah, I launched four for the watch business and I’ve launched two for this business and this most recent one was the most difficult to understand. We already had built a huge community. We had tens of thousands of social media fans and followers and people interested in our products. We’re able to build a really big excitement for the new products because we had talked about them for a year. When we were talking about doing the Kickstarter campaign everyone was really excited and kind of chomping at the bit to get access to it early on. We kicked it off extremely fast. We got to 150,000 within hours.
Felix: This is your second campaign for Robo 3D?
Braydon: Our second campaign, yeah. It went extremely fast. A lot of our previous customers had bought … We did some things on the strategy side. I don’t know if … I probably would have redone, we set I think two small early access rewards because you can set how many people, you call them early birds for people that are the first people to get your product, I think we set too low. Those amounts we set more and given people bigger discounts. It just went really fast and then it extremely slowed down and we had to do a lot to reach out to press and get people to talk about our products. Fortunately at the time it’s always a good thing if you’re doing a Kickstarter campaign, for anyone out there listening, to have some extra products to send out to people, PR people, influencers.
It’s a lot easier to get them to write about you when they get to test your product because especially now there’s been so many crowdfunding campaigns that have failed. Having a prototype of your product there that you can send to someone that they can try out and use says a lot about it. More press will want to write about it if you had that. We didn’t have that at the time so that didn’t help in our favor very much. We ended up still doing really well, super happy with the campaign. We’ve been able to raise over a million dollars for the company on Kickstarter. It’s been good for us. Moving forward we might not go to crowdfunding anymore for new products but definitely good to go back to the platform that helped us start our business.
Felix: Makes sense. You mention that one of the things that you would go back and do differently even for the second campaign was that you set too small of an early access award. Can you say a little bit more about this? What is an early access award and why did you feel like you, I guess did it … Why do you feel like you should have done it differently?
Braydon: When we launched a campaign again it wasn’t for us to raise money to fund manufacturing, we were already beginning to manufacture our products. For us it was to give the people that helped us start our initial company the best pricing possible on the new products. We wanted to give them early access to get the products before everyone else at a phenomenal price point. You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know if it’s going to go really well or if it’s not going to go extremely well. We had an idea it was going to go well but you get to set what’s called, most people do these early bird rewards which is like the very first people that buy your product get the best possible discount you have. You usually cap it at a certain amount.
What ended up happening is we already had this big customer data base but we did our early birds at only at about 50 units and when that sold out and it went to our next tier which was a higher price, I think a lot of our customers that … That sold out in minutes. A lot of our customers that didn’t get in that early price were upset that they didn’t get that earlier price and then that ended up leading to potential issues of them not buying the product or them just being upset that they had to pay more money. It’s just it’s tough. You never really know, you just go with what you think is going to happen and we under predicted how early it was going to take off early on.
Felix: I’m looking at your, I think your first Kickstarter campaign here and you have a ton of pledging tiers on this one. Let me look at the other one too. You have a lot … You don’t as many on the second. Was this conscious decision? How do you decide what should go into … How many, I guess, tiers you have and at what price point for each tier?
Braydon: Yeah, the first campaign all the tiers we had were based further shipping dates out. We had tiers that were shipping within this two month time frame and then a tier that would ship a little bit later. We didn’t really change much on the prices. It was more a you’re just going to get your product later if you’re in this tier. For the new one we all talked about it and we said let’s cap the entire campaign off. We don’t want to overdo it in the beginning, we just want to give the people that want to come back that maybe backed our first campaign, our customers that own our product now. Let’s just give them access to the new machines at a certain capped, I guess, amount. We got through over what we were hoping to get in terms of unit sales. It worked out really well for us and we didn’t have any need to grow additional rewards or anything like that.
Felix: Okay, cool. Now I think what we hear all the time in the crowdfunding Kickstarter community is that it’s a saturated market now, it’s much harder to be successful. What kind of opportunities do you think have come out of this? Are there new opportunities that didn’t exist before? Where do you see the opportunities, what good opportunities do you see that people should go after in this, I guess stage of the crowdfunding space?
Braydon: Yeah. I totally agree. I think it is over saturated now. I think what ended up happening is Indiegogo and Kickstarter got into this battle and they all started unlocking their platform to the public. I think Kickstarter started to, which I like about them, is they kind stepped back and said, hey we’re going to be a little more focused on making sure we’re only getting the highest quality products launching on our site. I think that helps the community that’s following all the new products feel a little bit more like they’re getting the best quality stuff. Hopefully that’ll shift back into Kickstarer’s favor and if you get on that platform you’re going to have much better success just utilizing the people that are already on there buying products.
I don’t know, it’s an interesting game. You have to market a lot more. I think there’s many ways to do that now. I think social media advertising has been heavily underutilized. Like I said, we’re doing video advertising and getting one cent views on videos, which is just astronomical conversions at that rate. You can do some unique things to drive traffic to your page. If you have a good product ad you portray it well and you’re excited about it and the video is entertaining and it keeps the attention of people, then you have a huge chance of it being shared and the ability to go viral is right there.
Felix: Got it. In the first campaign after raising the 650,000 dollars were you guys blown away by this? Were you shocked? What was the emotion going on within the founding team after such a successful Kickstarter?
Braydon: Yeah, it was funny. I got to tell you we launched a few days after Christmas and when we pressed the live button we were all obviously had tremendous of anxiety about it. We’re like, okay let’s press it. We were kind of all sitting there and all of a sudden within less than a minute, I think it was 30 seconds into it we got a backer. It was 599 dollars or something. We all called each other because we had this funny thing where if no one backs us early on, let’s get on here and spend our own money to start getting some rewards in there. Someone backed us and we called each other and we said, hey was that you? Was that you? No one actually did so we were like, wow, someone actually just bought one of our products early on. It just kept going from there, it was just this … Within I think the first night we were up to close to 40,000 dollars in unit sales on there.
Braydon: Yeah, it just kept rolling and we were just … I couldn’t even sleep. It was the most addicting feeling to get a notification or a ping on your phone that another backer, you get these things called backer alerts if you launch a campaign so many times, someone backs your project you get a little email that says backer alert, so and so backed your project for X amount of dollars. We just kept getting these alerts and it was such a cool addicting feeling that let us know that all this hard work that we put into building this new product was actually going to turn into something, turn into a business. We knew we were going to be able to build this product out. A lot of excitement around it.
Felix: Yeah, that’s awesome. I think that that first sale, that first backer I bet is one of those rushes that you can maybe never achieve again because it’s so amazing that some stranger in the internet trusts you. Especially with such a high price point like your product. Must of been exhilarating.
Braydon: Yeah. It was cool.
Felix: One of the other benefits of launching a Kickstarter I’ve heard from a lot of campaign creators is that the feedback that they get is invaluable as well. People were just commenting on their project. Did you guys get any, I see a lot of comments here in the first one, I think over 1,200 comments. Did you get any feedback during this process that actually altered the design or your marketing that made you make changes in your business?
Braydon: We did … I would say the first campaign, as it was a success on paper, it was a … We had a very tough time bringing that product to market. We said we were going to bring it in three months and it ended up taking nine to ten months to get our first ones out. When you look back at the campaigns threads and the comments, a lot of them were negative about people being upset that they weren’t getting their product and it was really hard to manage all the people that are upset. Obviously we offered, hey we’ll give you discounts and things like that.
Early on there’s a ton of people that come to the forefront that are total advocates of what you’re doing and what you stand for and your company and your product and no question, a ton. We actually hired people that backed our project that work with us now from the Kickstarter campaign. Tons of amazing influence happened early on with people that helped us with building out. For example we wanted to build out this heated platform so we have people that are helping build out a heated platform so we can deliver it to all our Kickstarter backers. Yeah, amazing community especially in this industry. There’s just a lot of people that are willing to share and give free advice and design things for free and just to participate in growing this industry.
Felix: Awesome. After raising the 650,000 dollars, did you guys try to get into production mode right away? What did you guys use those funds for?
Braydon: Yeah, we went overseas, we flew overseas. I was talking to 50 different manufactures of products and components and everyone’s wearing a million different hats and we’re trying to put this whole thing together. We spent quite a bit of time overseas building out our manufacturing. We worked with a partner that we found and I’m sure everyone’s families with Alibaba if you’re listening, if you’re not Alibaba’s a great place to go and find products and outsource them. If you wt to sell them what I would always suggest is to go there with your concept and idea, find something similar and utilize. Find the manufacturer that makes a product similar to what your idea is and utilize them to design your own custom product from there. We worked with a [tenant 00:31:05] for manufacturing from Alibaba early on.
Ended up meeting a guy that wanted to do manufacturing for us that saw our Kickstarter campaign so we flew over there and set up the whole process. We really didn’t have a clue what we were doing per se. We just knew we were going to get these products made because we knew we had to deliver them to our Kickstarter backers. It was sort of like we’ll do anything, I won’t sleep for months if I don’t have to. We’re going to get these things down and we’re going to deliver to these people because we made a promise to them to do that. The idea of not delivering was not even fathomable by us. We knew we were going to do it. We just went over there, built a manufacturing with this guy pretty much from scratch and started getting these machines into production within about four to five months after that.
Felix: Awesome. After the Kickstarter campaign, after you guys got these initial orders out the way, what was the goal to continue to actually build a business around it? What was the traffic and the sales, I guess strategy that you wanted to put in place?
Braydon: Yeah, we heavily under estimated how much money we would need. It’s a classic example of people that start crowdfunding campaigns. The one thing I would always say and suggest to everyone is think about the amount of time that it’s going to take you to build the product because if that takes nine months to a year, the only thing you’re selling is a slight margin on your product, you’re not building in the run rate of costs it’s going to take to hire some people if you need them, to pay yourself if you’re going full time just enough to eat top ramen, whatever it may be. We had to spend a lot of time actually, once we finished Kickstarter campaign, launching our website and starting to pre-sell our product with eight month lead times. We spent a lot of time doing that and that gave us enough cash flow to actually get the product finally to market. It was interesting. We had a lot of issues early on just from a financial standpoint bringing this product to market. Like I said, we were just non-stop making sure we were going to get this thing going.
Felix: Awesome. You mentioned I think in our pre-interview questions that Facebook advertising has been a big sales channel for you. You mentioned you use a lot of social media advertising and preparation for the company and everything. What kind of strategy do you have on Facebook? What kind of ads are you running?
Braydon: I think the most exciting thing, and I feel like a lot of people that do social media advertising or Facebook advertising don’t utilized it the best possible way, I think what’s really interesting about it if no one has gone in there and tested it and looked at it, you really should. Anyone that wants to learn anything I always recommend going to Udemy.com. It’s U-D-E-M-Y.com. Really great platform to purchase pretty inexpensive courses to teach you about a multitude of subjects. I remember doing that early on, buying courses to teach me about Facebook advertising. It just gave me a lot of that knowledge that then I grew upon.
You can go in there and you can filter to people that … Essentially at the end of the day if you filtered down to a guy that’s an engineering student at San Diego State University and you can keep going further than that, and then I create content for the ad that says, check out our 3D printer built for engineering students and then I say, you get 10% off using discount code SDSU engineer. What ends up happening is this SDSU engineer is looking on my ad, he doesn’t know I know about him really. It’s almost like I’m speaking to him personally and that ability to influence people because you know more information than they know you know has really been the art and creativity and exciting part to me about this advertising.
Felix: Yeah, I like that approach a lot. I’ve started to see it a little bit more on Facebook where people will try to sell things like merchandise based on your first name or sell you merchandise based on your birth month and try to make it seem like they know a lot about you like you were saying. I think one of the difficult things about this approach is scaling it up. How do you get this to scale when you’re trying to create such a personalized advertising? How have you handled this issue?
Braydon: Yeah, I’ve had at one point running 260 different ads.
Braydon: You have to focus a lot and set smaller scale budgets and just make sure you’re on top of it. I would say early on just going to niche areas to just get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work is really the route to take. You start scaling down into smaller audiences, 10,000 people audiences. For those of you that have never used Facebook this may be confusing but if you get in there and start looking at how you can filter people down and how you can choose different types of demographics, you’ll start to see the audience size decrease. I would always say start with these small scale audiences and then once you find something that works then scale it up. Facebook has a lot of tools that allow you to do this. You can create things like look alike audiences based off ones that have already worked and you can do some cool stuff.
Felix: Nice. You also mentioned that you were running videos ads at least during the Kickstarter and the initial phases. Are you guys still using video ads a lot?
Braydon: Yeah. We’re actually building a whole video content strategy for advertising this year. Which is going to be really exciting. We’re in a industry, 3D printing is still somewhat confusing to the masses on what they would use it for. What we’re trying to do is really focus on approachable ways for people to understand how they would fit 3D printing into their lives and build video content around that. Follow a lot of the trends, I’m sure you guys have seen the Buzzfeed style videos and these really trendy videos that end up going viral. Kind of follow along these trends, the look and feel, the big text overlays and things like that and just building content that helps people understand how to use our product.
Felix: Yeah especially a product like this that is technical I think it is important to show it in action. When you run these video ads do you focus on trying to get the customer, the viewer to convert right away? To come over to your site or do you have to typically follow up with more conversion focused ads to drive them to check out the product?
Braydon: Yeah, I think I do a little bit of both. I do ads to … Now that I’ve done so many of them I’ve accumulated so much data on them so there’s groups that I target that do convert very well. When we have sales and things like that I send that to that group, like certain specials we have going on or I give them discount codes and target them. There’s also some ads, I do video ads where I just want people to start talking. I ask questions in the ad like, tell me what you’re 3D printing this week, and I target people that own 3D printers of multitude of different categories just because I want to create this dialog and I want to start accumulating some level of data and engagement with our brand. I think I use a multitude of approaches there.
I really just want to get people to see who we are, talk about what we’re doing, talk about the industry in general and what 3D printing … It’s amazing I just did this ad, I have 80 something comments and pictures of people that are literally uploading pictures of things they’re 3D printing right now. It’s just this huge thread that’s going. It’s just really cool. It’s growing the industry itself. I think there’s a side of me that wants to grow the industry also and a side that obviously wants to grow our business.
Felix: Yeah, when you look at videos, a product video specifically there is two different approaches to it. One is more the educational route where you show how it works, you show about the features and everything. Then there’s the other angle which I think is more like entertainment related, how to get it to go viral, get a lot of people to talk about it. How do you decide which kind of content to create? How do you know which one works better?
Braydon: A lot of it was just trial and error early on. Like I said, I was able to … A lot of it started out being sales focused so I was able to build audiences that worked from a sales standpoint. You have to set up these pixels on your Shopify site, which we have, that allow you to track sales from ads. I’m able to see which ads have generated the most revenue and what groups have generated the most revenue now. It started out really with nothing. I had blank slate, I was just targeted people that followed my competitors and targeted people that were interested in 3D printing that followed different 3D blogs and things like that. That was giving me some data that was working and then I just kept building from there.
Now that I’m becoming more sophisticated in it, I’m realizing I can use this in a multitude of ways to just help gain awareness of the industry as a whole because I want that to grow because I know how cool the technology is and I can do it just to create sharing and engagement and excitement. I guess it just … It all started out with zero and I just kept track of all my data in there and Facebook does a good job of allowing you to do that. They allow you to filter it out, they allow you to see all the data. You can change what metrics you want to see. It’s really fun when you dive into it and start seeing that.
Felix: Now if you were to launch a new product into the marketplace using Facebook and especially if a product that is like yours as a hardware and technical product, would you focus more on the educational or the entertainment angle? What kind of, I guess theme would you say you’d want to focus on when you’re creating a video ad?
Braydon: Yeah, I think it really depends on the product. Ours has to have such a high level of education to actually get people that aren’t in the industry looking at it and understanding what it is and why they would want it. When I’m currently targeted people that, from an educational perspective it’s to get … It’s people that may not necessarily know that they want a 3D printer yet. That’s where a lot of my targeting goes to.
If I was to start a new product, honestly I think about this a lot. I’m like, what would I do next? What am I going to do next beyond this? I almost have this weird strategy that I would, and I hate to say this per se, but I would think about something obviously that excites, that I’m passionate about but also what level of targeting I can do and what product could I potentially be really successful at with my knowledge of targeting. I think there’s certain things … This back door approach can even have a lot of success.
Felix: Yeah, I totally agree. I think a lot of times we go the more typical route which is what you described, what am I passionate about? What am I interested in most? We, I think, to make sometimes your job easier you look at what distribution is available. Not just distribution of the product but how can you easily get the word out about the product that you’re going after? If it’s easy to do, if it’s targetable like you’re saying then it’s going to make your job a lot easier. A lot of times we don’t think about that until much later after the product already exists and then you start thinking about how do I get people to learn about this? Sometimes when you figure it out right from the beginning or maybe have a filter criteria in your mind about how easily you want it to be distributed then I think it makes your job a lot easier when you’re launching a new product.
Braydon: Yeah, most definitely I agree. 100% yeah.
Felix: Any thoughts or any tips on … I think this whole video ad thing is awesome. I think it’s a new grounds like you’re talking about. A lot of people are maybe just trying out for the first time. Any thoughts on the length of a video ad?
Braydon: Speaking on this too just to categorize all, it’s already changing, right? When I first started doing video ads I already am seeing more people doing it now and what’s going to end up happening, it’s going to cost a lot more, it’s going to be less effective, is anyone that’s starting a company. You’re competing for attention of people in general. It’s not that … It’s a noisy world, it’s no longer just, hey I’m competing with my direct competitors, you’re just competing to capture the attention of someone long enough to tell them what you’re doing. If it’s not exciting enough.
People have a million things to do and now they’re tied to their phones and their connecting with their friends. It’s got to be something that grabs them. I always suggest, in terms of length of video, to keep it short and sweet, high energy and extremely great visuals, something that can pull them in very quickly right from the start. Don’t lag. It’s amazing how even the smallest lag in a video can cause someone just to scroll. It’s so easy just to scroll, right? We can just do it in a second. You got to look at your video, put yourself to the side, the video that you’re creating even when you’re talking about Kickstarter and crowdfunding videos. Put yourself to the side or ask people and be like, is there even a half a second or a couple seconds where this lags and is boring? That’s going to severely effect people watching the entirety of your video. You may have some great information you want them to get to that they won’t make it to because the video isn’t engaging enough.
Felix: Yeah, I’ve never run a Facebook video ad but are you able to see how long people are watching your video for? How many seconds into the video before they I guess leave?
Braydon: Yeah, you can see three second, fifteen second, thirty, you can see all the way to they finishing entirety of the video. You can see where people started dropping off and if you actually do this a lot you can actually go into your video and go, wow I understand. You can see why people dropped it off in certain spots. You can do a quick re-edit of your video and re-launch it under those same or to those same people and see if that changes at all. It’s really an art to get this working and to find avenues that end up creating sales or creating leads or whatever you want it to be.
Felix: Definitely. Now do you hire out for these videos or is it all done in house?
Braydon: This year we’re going to be hiring out some of it because we actually have some funding. Early on we did some in house. We created these, I hired some guys, some videographers students and we created some cool fun videos early on. That’s always a way to do it if you’re low or limited on resources. I just went back to my college, I said, hey there’s a cool summer internship program, we’re going to create some badass videos around 3D printing. Who wants to be a part of that? I got a couple of guys that wanted to come and do that. We built some fun videos. This year we’ll create some more professional videos.
Also I’m going to start testing some really raw videos. Some done on a smart phone with me talking to the camera and showing the 3D printer in action. I want to see how those convert. I think people like that real personal feel and vibe too when they’re watching these video ads.
Felix: Yeah, I think there’s definitely some value in making an ad look as native or as organic as possible. Sometimes when someone does it really well and I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and then all of a sudden I’m watching this entire video of them, like damn it they got me. This is an ad but it was so organic that it sucked me right in. I think that there is definitely a value in making it as raw, like you’re saying, as possible.
Now I want to talk about something else that you mentioned in the pre-interview questions which is sales timers that are effective for you for, I guess, for sales. Tell me more about this. What are sale timers?
Braydon: Yeah, this has been extremely effective for us. Not in a way that we’re trying to deceive anyone. It’s really just we do a lot of these flash sales on our website and we always build out these timers at the top. These banners, sort of images at the top that says, bundle specials for 24 hours, with a timer for the next 24 hours. It just increases the level of interest in getting your products quicker than later. We’re able to convert a lot of sales around the times that we have these, these timers and these specials or these deals. For our product it works extremely well. For other products it might not work that well but it’s something definitely tested and tried. I think just looking at all the different stuff where you … All the apps we put on from our Shopify store and tried and tested, this is one that’s worked really well for us.
Felix: Yeah, I think urgency is something that a lot of people miss out on when they are designing their marketing because sometimes you have to force people to make a decision. It’s not like you’re making them buy something that they wouldn’t buy already but sometimes people take a while to make a decision. By having this countdown, like you’re talking about, it forces that decision making and that’s sometimes a difference between the buy now or buy later, maybe they’ll forget about buying it all together if they don’t buy immediately.
Braydon: A lot of them are done with products that either are new inventory’s coming in so we want to get rid of some of this inventory so we do this flash sales. We do it very strategic to get us into a point when our new inventory comes in. We’re released of our old inventory, we got our new stuff in and now we can continue to cycle them. Once we get low on that we push them through. It’s all based on the different products we have. The different supply we have at the time. We have a lot of fun with it. We do these really fun title bundles and things like that and people love it. They end up doing really well with those timers.
Felix: Are you always running some kind of timer?
Braydon: Not always. I test a lot of different things. Right now if you go on the Robo3D site you’ll see a thing at the top that we have a couple bundle deals. There’s no timer on that. I’m just running that through. I do a little bit of everything and see what works and what doesn’t work. I change colors of the banner a lot to see what color attracts more clicks. I spend a lot of time messing around with certain things to see what works and what doesn’t work. That’s a lot of fun for me. If that’s not something that people like to do, hire that out or find a freelancer that likes to do that because you can have a lot of success just finding what actually does work. A lot of people are literally a button away from something working ten times better than what they currently have.
Felix: Right. Have you found that having a countdown timer too often, could that be a bad thing? How often do you think that … Do you think there’s threshold for that?
Braydon: No question. Yeah. Especially if we have a lot of repeat people on your site, if you always have a timer going on they’re going to probably lose interest in that pretty quickly or they’re not going to take it as seriously. We space ours out quite a bit when we do them. We always know when we’re coming in at the month’s end we have some inventory we need to push out. We know we have that backup plan. Hey, we can put this deal out, this flash deal with the timer, we know it’s going to generate a decent amount of sales, especially with some of the advertising groups that we have that we can reach out to to generate sales.
Felix: Nice. Can you give us the app or software that you use for this?
Braydon: We actually hard coded all those in. The ones we have on the site now, I’m trying to think which one, I know there is apps in Shopify that do timers and deals on the website but the one we have we actually hard coded in ourselves.
Felix: Cool. You mentioned something I think in maybe the email you sent over to me which was that this wasn’t always all fun and games. You ran out of money or almost ran out of money, I’m not sure which one was it, multiple times, had minor recalls of the product. What happened? What happened in these situations?
Braydon: Yeah. It hasn’t been obviously easy but I always say … People are like, you have done the American dream, I was like, this was the perseverance dream to get us through what we went through. We ran out of money quite a number of times actually. The first time I was in New York for a trade show I was attending by myself to promote our products. My business partner called me to talk about how we can’t pay payroll. I just spent probably all the way up until two or three in the morning contacting international distributes poaching from competitor sites reaching out to people tat were carrying 3D printing products and ended up getting an order that was able to pay payroll for two weeks. We worked through these issues early on and we raised some money to help finance inventory, which was huge for us early on because we didn’t want to give equity away in the early stages. We had to find ways to purchase our inventory. Our inventory costs a lot.
Then we had one minor recall where some of the wires that we were using were defective. We had to basically, it was about 100 machines we had to get back and replace and send back out, which cost us a lot of money. It’s just all these things that you go through and that’s why when I’m talking to people that want to start companies, entrepreneurs things like that, is if you’re not super passionate and excited about what you’re doing these are the things that will drive you down to the point of potentially leaving your, what could of been, a great business opportunity or idea.
Felix: You said the minor recall, what happened there?
Braydon: It was just honestly a … We had so many different manufacturers of supplies that were being sent to our assembly house. We got a batch of wires that were just defective. Those actual wires were not allowed … They basically weren’t … We had this thing called a heating pop where they weren’t heating up the [inaudible 00:53:22] and a lot of people bought the 3D printer because it did that. That way you could use certain materials. We got a lot of upset customers and we just handled it. With our customer service we said, listen if anyone responds to this, this is the process, send in a shipping label, have them ship it back. We’ll replace it and we’ll send it back to them with the quickest turnaround time possible. We just worked through that day by day and we were all pitching in and helping out. We just didn’t let those issues … We knew there was going to be issues and we just didn’t let those stop what we were trying to do.
Felix: Awesome. Can you give us an idea of how successful the business is today after going through all of these, almost running out of money and then this minor product recall, how successful is the business today?
Braydon: Yeah, we’re at a really good stage. We just actually launched our … We’ve only pretty much been selling one machine the past three years. A year to develop it and then two years and now during those two years we started developing our two new products. We just closed our year at about, I think it was about 4.7 million. That’s been amazing just on the one product and now we’re obviously expecting to grow so we have [inaudible 00:54:30] with our new products. We’re going to have a multitude of machines out in the market. We’re going to have new materials, we have a lot of stuff that are in the works and that we’re launching. It’s exciting.
Felix: Nice. New products coming out. Where else are you going to see the company be in the next year?
Braydon: I’m really fascinated around the accumulation of data, which sounds so nerdy and techy but I want to be able to capture what people are using the product for. I have this concept and this thought that we can build a product of customer service company as well which I think would be really cool if we can find out that machines are stopping at certain times. We can track that serial code and we can reach out to them and we can say, hey we notice your machine didn’t finish, is there an issue? I really want to have that level of productivity from a customer service side to help our customers. I also want to be able to see what they’re using the product for. Not by case by case basis, not from a privacy issue but just to accumulate data so we can understand and better serve content to people.
If a lot of people are making iPhone cases then we can have a team of people that are designing cool iPhone case designs and delivering that to people via their smart phone with our mobile app, or on our actual 3D printer we have basically a computer so we can send files and a update to people. We can do some fun stuff when we’ve actually accumulate what people are using the product for.
Felix: Nice, that sounds like a very exciting 2017 coming up. Thanks so much again for your time Braydon. Robo3D.com again is the website. Where else should listeners check out if they want to follow along with what you guys are up to, what you’re up to?
Braydon: Yeah, check us out Robo3D.com, you can follow me Braydon Moreno on all the Instagram channels. I post a lot about our company and what we’re doing. LinkedIn, any of those as well. We’re all over social media, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, all of it.
Felix: Awesome, thanks again so much for your time Braydon.
Braydon: Yeah, thanks so much appreciate it.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in store for the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: You have to help that retailer move products off the shelf. One of the big tactics that we use and where we spend most of our marketing budget is on specific demographic info of who is in that community, where is a Wal Mart store or a Target store. Based on demographic info this person is more likely or less likely to go to a Target or a Wal Mart and we’re going to show them adds that drive them in store. We can actually track it.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today visit Shopify.com/Masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial.
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