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Editor's Note: This editorial is part of a series of interviews with the most successful crowd-funded campaigns on Kickstarter. The full series will feature experience and insider tips from top 20 campaign founders. Check out the first installment with Freaker USA.
My walkaway impression after my interview with Kent Frankovich, Jim Houk and Adam Pettler of the Revolights team was one of pure warmth and authenticity. This is a team that replied to every single email sent to them--over 4,000 messages during their active Kickstarter campaign. They’re budding startup rockstars--engineers and business majors with full-time jobs, devoting every spare hour to their Revolights bicycle lighting technology. The crowd loves what they’ve created: they raised $215,621--way over their goal of $43,500. I asked them about the Revolights story and what insights and advice they had to offer:
Crowdsourcing.org: How did the idea of Revolights come into being?
Revolights: Kent came up with the idea one day while riding home from grad school at Stanford. He wondered why his headlight, meant to light the ground in front of him, was so far from the ground. He worked on the idea up through prototype version 3 (of 6) until we all teamed up in Oct. 2010 while Jim and Adam were still in business school. From here we began to really further develop the product concept. We started thinking about how to get funding, and heard from a friend about Kickstarter. We had not heard of it prior to his recommendation. We started to line out our Kickstarter plan of attack in July 2011 and spent a month working on it to go over best practices and strategy; by then we had already created our business plan.
Why did you decide to use Kickstarter?
The key benefits of Kickstarter were two-fold. First, it was an exchange of goods, so no loss of equity. When it comes to funding, it’s impossible to take on VCs where there’s no way to value your idea. So secondly, crowdfunding allows you to test the market--will it go viral? It’s a product-validation tool for an early conceptual idea that is relatively far from being a finalized product.
Did you explore other platforms besides Kickstarter?
No, although we did have an interesting experience with Indiegogo… during our campaign, someone contacted us to say they saw an exact copycat of our project on Indiegogo. He also sent a message to Indiegogo, because when we checked, the page was already down. It’s the power of the crowd community in action, self-reinforcing.
What advice do you have for social media strategy for potential crowdfunders?
Be as honest as possible. Sound like yourself and have a unified voice—have one single person responsible for social media coordination. For our campaign, this was Jim. All of our social media—Vimeo, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook—was all redirected towards our Kickstarter page. Towards the end of the campaign, we opened communication back up in the opposite direction, leading our Kickstarter community back to the social media pages.
You had a product that was not complete when you put it on Kickstarter, it was an in-progress design. So how did you get reviews on magazines and blogs?
We created our own design blog that tracked our progress. By the time we put our Kickstarter campaign together, we were already on prototype 4. We tried to convey absolute honesty through our blog, and we submitted to design blogs from Core77 to larger publications. That’s how we got publicity without sending any samples out. The publications then begin to build one after the next, and before we knew it we were on CNN & the BBC.
What percentage of funding would you estimate came from your personal social networks?
This is unusual, but probably 5%.
What advice do you wish someone had told you before you started your campaign?
We walked into this absolutely blind, here’s our advice for future crowdfunders:
1. Do the pre-work. Know your customer market and what the customer problem is.
2. Clearly define roles within the team. We didn’t anticipate how much time it would take to respond to inquiries (basically all of our time outside of our full-time jobs).
3. Be flexible and modify.You have no idea what managing a campaign is like until you do it.
4. Clearly understand your costs. Don’t make assumptions! We had shipping issues because we didn’t understand the logistics of international shipping—that we would have clients from South Africa. Maybe we should’ve focused on domestic sales at first, but we were hoping to get as large a support base as possible and make the most of our campaign.
5. Respect the Kickstarter market and community. Make thoughtful updates. We’ve seen projects fail because they didn’t respect the community enough to provide marketing up-front. Show appreciation for your supporters, this is very important.
So when you are you going to quit your full-time jobs?
[Laughs from Jim and Adam] It’s less a question of if, and more a question of when. We’ve got a strong legal foundation, and an amazing team of people working on this; 5-6 core team members and a few peripheral engineers, business individuals, and legal team.
Got ideas and feedback for the Revolights team? Contact them at @apet1234 or via email at email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com. Don't forget to check out the Revolights video below as well: