Friday, June 5, 2020

Chapter 01: The Voice of the People


From crowdfunding to a community


By Kevin Johan Wong, CEO and Co-Founder, Origami Labs


The journey from Kickstarter to fully launching the ORII smart ring has been a long, winding, and arduous one. Almost two years after the launch of our Kickstarter campaign, we’re finally just a few days away from the ORII ring e-commerce store going live. I certainly didn’t anticipate that it would take so long to launch, but in the process of planning new marketing assets for the commercial launch of ORII, we’ve had a chance to reflect on many of the issues we faced years ago.


ORII has always had an identity crisis. Our smart ring was originally designed for the visually impaired, but we fundamentally believed that there was a broader appeal behind screen-free devices beyond this market. And yet, we struggled to describe ORII in a succinct way. Does it help you take calls faster? Does it help you read text messages more discreetly? Does it make you feel like Ironman as an IoT controller?


It would be meaningless if all we did was strategy talk. Instead, we turned to the market to test our positioning hypotheses, first through the accumulation of our own support community, and then by growing this community into a Kickstarter campaign.


There is a common misconception that crowdfunding is a quick way to raise millions of dollars. We can say from experience that it’s not. Our success on the platform came through our own sweat and blood. There is also another less common misconception that crowdfunding will help you test the market for your product. We didn’t find this out until after the campaign, but now we know the value of listening to our community.


There were many challenges during the campaign, from dealing with angry netizens on Reddit, to validating our weird product, to quality control at Kickstarter, to the endless nights responding to questions from every time zone in the world. But through this experience, we learned lots of things – from testing our perseverance, to learning how to provide good and speedy customer service, to becoming experts at PR and community management.


To be sure, these were all useful skills, but as a company, we had yet to learn about our branding, positioning, or target customers. All we knew was that we had been innovative and created a cool product that early adopters purchased. However, as a by-product, we created a community that believed in us and our vision of this screen-free revolution. Listening to this community ultimately helped us understand our own product’s value proposition. It’s as if something was always there, subtly helping us drive the product forward, and all it took was for us was to discover the original intention from our community.


This brings us back to today. It took us two years and many iterations, and we are finally starting to understand the product that we created. For out of the box projects, for entrepreneurs that are on the frontier, it takes time and humility to make sense of the unknown and unexplored. We’ve tested hundreds of product positioning statements and experimented with lots of additional features. We even talked about having a Morse Code mode for ORII! We’ve struck upon the ‘right’ answer more than once through our testing and discussions, contrary to the belief that good ideas only come at the right time.


Kickstarter was only the beginning of our product exploration. For us, the answer was to position ORII as more than an accessibility product: a private voice assistant ring. It’s not a mass-market product yet, but a large, targeted market of users appreciate and understand the potential of voice assistants. It was never about the calls, or the notifications, or even the messages per se, but the fabric that ties it all together. All of our features were in fact distractions from the core of our device. The hints were always there: from our community, from our Kickstarter backers, and from the voice assistant users that were most excited about the ring. It only took us two years and the new ORII launch to realize it.


As we write the next chapter of our journey to bring ORII into the world, our relationship with the community will play an even more vital role. The days ahead will represent a true test of our product, and we’re all fired up about the unknown challenges that will be coming our way as we mark our next milestone.


About the Author
Kevin’s experience as the General Manager of a luxury watch distributor and manufacturer has translated over to the design, development, branding, and marketing of the ORII ring. It’s also via Kevin’s luxury watch network that the company has secured key hardware partners and angel investors. On the technical side, Kevin has lead wearable/IOT market research and product development of modular smart watches. Finally, Kevin has experience launching and marketing a luxury e-commerce platform.

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