Successful Kickstarters: Interview with Decadent Minimalist, raised $519K from 4,000 Backers

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DM1 Wallet 1. Tell us how DM1 came about, what inspired it?

I was a student at Stanford Graduate School of Business and had the opportunity to take a few engineering classes as electives. I always wanted to learn how to use CNC milling machines, so I took a mechanical engineering class that emphasized problem solving, CAD design, and CAM / CNC machining. We were given a final assignment to think of a problem we wanted to solve. Many years ago, I had experienced unexplainable back pain – I asked my doctor about it and he immediately asked me if I carried my wallet in my back pocket – he suggested to only carry it in my front pocket. I didn't believe that this could make such a difference, but after trying his suggestion for a couple weeks, it clearly improved my back. But I was still carrying an uncomfortable, thick leather wallet, just now in my front pocket. The mechanical engineering class gave me the skills and access to tools to create my first working prototype. Several months any many iterations later, I had designed an improved version that was ready for sale on Kickstarter.

2. How did you design and manufacture DM1?

I designed the wallet in SolidWorks CAD – this is by far the most accepted design software in industry. There are good alternatives, but SolidWorks seems to be the most widely used. I attempted to learn SolidWorks before my Stanford University class, but found it totally unintuitive and very difficult to use. Unfortunately, I think it is simply a difficult tool to learn the basics. Once you get over the initial difficulty, it becomes fairly natural to use – but there is a very steep initial learning curve.

As for manufacturing: My initial goal was to raise enough money on Kickstarter to purchase a CNC machine and manufacture these parts myself. However, during my prototyping efforts, I began to realize that I am not a skilled machinist. At my best, it took me nearly 3 hours to make a single wallet. I found a small local machine shop in California to help manufacture my parts – in their FIRST run, they were able to make my wallets in 14 minutes. They have continued to optimize since then.

One thing we did differently for this campaign that will help a lot – since this was our second campaign, we used all the profits from our first campaign to pay for all the prototyping and to place early orders for final product for the second campaign. This allowed us to receive the first shipments of product while the campaign was still running. We were able to promise to ship early bird rewards within 30 days of the campaign end. This is very unusual on Kickstarter and really helps with customer excitement. Ultimately, I believe any campaign that can afford to run this way owes it to their Backers to do this if possible.

3. Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign. Did anything surprise you with Kickstarter campaign? Any anecdotes to share in creating and running the Kickstarter campaign?

This is my second Kickstarter campaign, so didn't have too many surprises. I think these are the 3 most important tips I can share:

  • Just do it. Waiting for the perfect time is just going to delay you forever. Once you start working on launching the campaign, you realize how much work there is to prepare – prototyping the product, creating the campaign video, deciding on reward levels – it is surprising amount of work. But you need to START! If you keep delaying, you will never be successful. Spend a lot of time making a great campaign video – if you don't have a lot of money to spend, that's fine – make the video yourself, but do a good job. Have at least 20 people watch your video and give you feedback – then improve your video.
  • Don't expect Kickstarter to do the work for you. A lot of people wrongfully believe that all they need to do is create the campaign and "press go". It doesn't work that way. Kickstarter is simply a platform to help you generate trust and rapport with your prospective backers. You still need to draw people to your campaign – that means MARKETING. Expect to spend a lot of time with outreach to bloggers, journalists, friends, family – basically ANYBODY that will help you spread word of your campaign. Don't ask them to pledge or give you money – ask them to help you spread the word. If they believe in you or your product, maybe they will pledge, but it is more important that they help you raise awareness and get the next group of backers.
  • Communication is key. If you launch your campaign and start to see the Backers pledging, you need to keep communicating. Answer their questions WITH VIGOR! I tried to answer every question in less than an hour. Often my response would be within minutes. Once a campaign stops answering questions, it doesn't take long for the comments to turn negative. If you lose control of the "mood" in your comments, your campaign will start to go downhill. That is when minor issues turn into distrust and simply venomous comments. I've seen comment threads turn from friendly to nasty in less than 10 consecutive comments. Very important to keep communicating with your Backers. It is also ok to explain when you run into problems – just make sure you keep the conversation positive. Don't make excuses or whine – Backers hate that. Don't disappear – often when comments turn negative, project creators will disappear. This is the worst thing you can do as you will lose control of he conversation. You might have to answer some unpleasant questions, but this is far better than venomous chaos.

4. How did you create the video for your Kickstarter campaign?

While I was in design and development, I suspected I wanted to launch a Kickstarter campaign. So I was constantly shooting GoPro and iPhone video. A lot of the machining video is shot on GoPro. Some of it is shot with a Canon 6D DSLR. Having a library of footage like this is really helpful later when you realize that it would be a major pain or huge expense to recreate a scene that you could have captured for free early in the process.

Once I started planning the campaign, I looked into professional video houses that specialize in campaign and crowd-funding video. It shocked me how much they charge. You should expect to pay anywhere from $2500 - $10,000 PER MINUTE of finished video. Most Kickstarter campaign videos are between 2-3 minutes. For even successful campaigns, this kind of expense could mean the difference between a profitable campaign or losing a lot of money.

So rather than pay someone, I learned Final Cut Pro (video editing software) and made my own video. There are countless guides out there, it is is easy to find training resources for free. Don't set your expectations unrealistically – for someone who has never done this before, it could easily take a week to produce a 1 minute video. Start your video production by writing a script – this is very important... Record the script (audio only) and listen to it – make sure you cover everything a Backer needs to know before they give you money. Decide on the mood you want to set – go find the right music that matches the mood and the length of your video. Keep an open mind – be flexible enough to change anything – but be anchored by the greater objective of your campaign.

5. What’s the most challenging part of creating/running a Kickstarter?

Everything. As the creator, you are a 1 person company – product design, manufacturing, marketing, accounting, purchasing, shipping, customer service, sales, janitorial – you get the idea. Before you start, do yourself a favor and figure out if you have the drive to complete the project. It is easy to create/run the campaign is doing well. Will you have the drive and fortitude to push through to the finish when things are not going so well? You need to know this up front because EVERY campaign will hit a snag – some will hit many...

7. Did you consider or use other crowdfunding platforms? If so, how did they perform?

Yes, I definitely considered using Indiegogo and generally prefer their terms and restrictions. However, after doing some very cursory research, it became obvious that wallet campaigns live on Kickstarter. There hasn't been a huge wallet campaign on Indiegogo – not sure why, but that's just how it is. So you need to know your audience – don't fight your Backers and try to take them to a platform that they don't use. Find them where they are comfortable.

8. How did this campaign compare to the first one you ran last year?

  • 3x number of backers
  • 5.7x $$s pledged
  • ~10% repeat backers (we got over 200 repeat backers on DAY ONE!)

9. What’s next for DM1?

Much like our previous campaign, we wanted to quickly make our product available outside the Kickstarter campaign. In February / March of this year, we started selling on Amazon and Etsy with great success. In July we opened our own e-commerce web store. We'll do the same with the products from our latest campaign and start adding international e-commerce and retailers where appropriate. In parallel, we'll need to decide what product to launch next!


Interview with Erik Moon, DM1 creator