By Serge Karnegie
Hating an inanimate object isn’t exactly the most rational way to feel, is it? Unless it’s your shower drain – then it’s perfectly acceptable. I used to loathe my shower drain, and how it had the audacity to clog whenever it wanted. So what if we had two daughters and multiple pets? It was disrupting the order in our house.
That’s when I came up with a plan to vanquish the disruptive drain once and for all. After a few visits the the hardware store – and even cutting a lock of my own hair off to test the device one 2 a.m. – I developed a rubber product that fit into my drain. And low and behold, the drain never clogged again. It had finally surrendered.
I used the device for years in my own bathroom before I finally considered marketing it. But fast-forward to today, and we’ve now sold more than 1 million units and have a dozen big-name retail partners. And yep, it all started in my bathroom. Here’s how I grew the company, and what I learned along the way.
Raise money on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, but don’t do it alone
I wanted to launch my product in the public sphere for years, but never had the funds – my wife and I worked full-time, and we have two young girls. That’s why I decided to try out Kickstarter and IndieGoGo – a good move, considering we ended up raising roughly $200,000 between the two platforms.
Kickstarter requires you to have a working prototype, so I got it 3D printed for demonstration purposes. I also filed for a provisional patent well before the campaign began. This type of patent was cheaper – under a thousand dollars – and protected our product while in the public light. However it would be expired after one year unless I upgraded it to a normal, non-provisional patent application – which I later did with the Kickstarter money. This was crucial. Because while in the past the first party to market was granted intellectual property rights, the system has now moved to favor a ‘first-to-file’ rule.
And while I’d like to take all the credit for the campaign’s success, I didn’t do it alone. I hired a marketing company to ensure the product appealed to potential backers. Funded Today and Command Partners are popular firms that work with crowdfunding campaigns. On Kickstarter’s back-end, you can easily see where backers are coming from – this helps to measure the marketing firm’s results. And better yet, many companies don’t charge upfront for their services. They take a small cut of the proceeds at the end of it all, which is helpful if you don’t have a huge amount of capital starting off.
Choose your manufacturer wisely
Founders beware: manufacturers email you like crazy once you have a successful crowdfunding campaign, and not all of them can be trusted with your product. Without the right experience, some might not be able to deliver on schedule – or at all – leaving backers waiting months for the product to be sent, or out of pocket altogether.
Remember Kreyos? While the smartwatch company raised $1.5 million on Indiegogo, backers received the product way behind schedule – and many didn’t even like it. In a Medium post, CEO Steve Tan blamed the manufacturer for not realizing its end of the bargain, and having limited staff working on the product. Kreyos closed its doors soon after.
So how do you not disappoint your backers ? Hire a US broker to communicate with manufacturing partners. These brokers have contacts China – where partners are usually located – and will visit numerous manufacturers to find the one that can deliver your product on schedule. You can hold brokers accountable if something goes wrong – and since they take care of all the communication, there’s no need for you to take multiple trips to Asia, or jump on 2 a.m. phone calls to put out any (figurative) manufacturing fires.
Amazon does wonders for growth
Thank goodness for Amazon; the tech giant provides some great tools for growing companies. Amazon Launchpad, for example, is designed for inventors of new products, and highlights what innovative solutions startups are selling. It even boasts two sections for Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects that’ve been backed by consumers.
We featured our product on Amazon Launchpad, and garnered traffic by asking Kickstarter backers to provide honest product reviews. We also ran sponsored ads on Amazon and Facebook, and sent a round of free products to Amazon Vine Reviewers – these are people invited by Amazon to provide quality, trusted reviews in the early stages. To date we’ve received more than 12,000 reviews from real customers around the globe, so it’s worked out pretty well.
But you can’t just feature your product on Amazon, ask people to review it, and expect success. Rather, you need to show consumers you care by providing excellent customer service. Invest in video and FAQ content to help customers understand how the product works. Don’t fight customers on reasonable returns. Also, reply to their emails and social media posts in a timely manner – 72 percent of people expect a response on Twitter within an hour.
When my company first launched, I was putting in 18 hour days and doing customer service all on my own. But that’s because I knew it was worth it. After all, Amazon’s own Jeff Bezos said it best: “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”
Don’t forget about copycats
There will always be copycats. You just need to make sure you stay one step ahead of them. Luckily, the ecommerce website on which your product is featured likely has a way to combat anyone trying to mimic you. For example, those that enroll in Amazon Brand Registry get access to proprietary text and image search, AI tools that catch intellectual property violations, and control over product listings with your own brand’s name. If a counterfeiter is kicked off Amazon, it’s difficult for them to reopen an account. eBay has VeRO for brand protection, but it takes longer to make a report and counterfeiters can open and close an account with relative ease.
If a specific copycat company becomes difficult, suing them is an option. It’s imperative to find a lawyer that concentrates on IP protection and is familiar with China – or wherever the counterfeiter manufactures its product. It can seem like a never-ending legal process, but keep fighting. At some point, many counterfeiters will call it quits and move on to lower hanging fruit.
So while I completely loathed my shower drain – for admittedly, many years – I’ve got to say: it has done me some big favors in life. Thanks to it – as well as Kickstarter, great manufacturers, terrific retail partners and business partners – I’ve been able to launch a pretty successful business. Who would have thought my bathroom headache would turn out like this?