Whenever I’m asked about my company and why I started it, I begin by sharing a statistic: more than 85% of consumer purchasing decisions (including tech and auto) are made by women, but women make control only a tiny fraction of product design decisions. That’s why we’re unsatisfied with many products we purchase. In my case, it’s literally why the shoe didn’t fit. Equipt for Play, was built from equal parts dream and necessity. When I took up golf some years back, I couldn’t find a single pair of shoes I could stand to wear (much less look at) for eighteen holes. The fit was wrong and style was none-existent. I decided to create and produce the shoes I wanted myself and bring them to market.
Like a lot of female entrepreneurs, I self-funded the early stages of my golf shoe business. It afforded me creative freedom and allowed me to test my products without compromising my vision. When it came time to expand my line and grow my business, I needed to raise additional capital and decided to go to Kickstarter to do that. Necessity was the mother.
The same bias that influences consumer product design also controls the money spigots. These act as financial gateways and determine the potential Next Big Thing – or stop a lot of great ideas, many by women, dead in their tracks. Without financing, good ideas are just that, barely worth the paper they’re sketched on. That’s why Kickstarter is so important to women-owned businesses like mine and why I launched a campaign in October, to raise funds for the tooling for my new street shoe.
Crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter have democratized project finance by turning the controls over to the end-user (you) and neutralizing the gender bias in funding that commonly plagues companies creating products targeted at women. It has leveled the playing field for new ideas like my street shoes. I am able to enter into a direct dialogue with the end user of my product and leave it to you to determine if it’s a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
The reception to my original collection of golf shoes told me I also had something of value to offer women for their every day lives – like a leisure shoe that had the same combination of comfort and style as my golf shoes – but was designed for street life. I created one and am happy to say that just thirteen days into our Kickstarter, we reached 100% of our funding goal and have what we need to make the production tooling for our new shoe. The campaign ended last night at midnight, as we hit 120% of our original goal (wow!), and every bit of the extra capital will go toward new products and additional inventory.
There are plenty of online articles and blogs offering advice on how to run a Kickstarter. I’ve read most of them and if you’re planning a campaign, I encourage you to do the same. Bottom line, there’s never any guarantee of success, even if you’ve ticked off all the recommended boxes. The crowd, and only the crowd, will render its verdict.
Running a Kickstarter delivered insights about things like planning, preconceptions – and myself – that you may find useful, if not amusing. Here are highlights from Kickstarter bootcamp!
1. Bar none, presenting a new product to the world for crowd-funding and awaiting judgment, will be one of the most vulnerable things you will ever do. You’ll stand naked in the arena, awaiting applause or indifference. My advice is to gird your loins and meditate, frequently, on the importance of detaching your self-worth from the outcome. There are a million reasons why projects succeed or fail. Some may have to do with you. Some not. Be as objective as possible – despite the trigger to your temple.
2. Hire consultants, assistants, creative thinkers and good writers. Don’t even think about going this alone! This is a boatload of work, way more than you think, and fatigue will dull your wits. It’s not only good, but essential, to have a solid team to keep you sane – and the ship moving in the right direction. It takes a village with heart and stamina and good judgment.
3. Social media is not all it’s cracked up to be. Beware of the seduction of all those perky thumbs-up and congratulatory posts. The only metric that counts is conversion to pledge. Period. You can count thumbs and sing kumbaya with ‘friends’ after the campaign is funded. Keep your eye on the conversions till it is.
4. No matter what, maintain your integrity and skip the click bait. People will suggest it and it can be tempting to indulge, but remember that if it annoys you, you can be sure it annoys your customers and potential backers more. It makes you look desperate (and at certain stages of the campaign you will be, I guarantee it), but you have to do that thing that Deepak tells us all to do: set the intention and let go of the outcome. (But only after you’ve done a s-ton of preparation.)
5. If you have Kardashians dancing in your head and delusions of PR coverage across the known blogosphere – dream on. You’ll only have a shot at that if the product already exists – long before your campaign launches – so the writers can try it, wear it or eat it before they deign to feature it. If you’re presenting a prototype (like we are), no one will be interested in it (or you) till you reach your goal (which we have) – and even then, not if they can’t try the product. If it sounds like an infinity loop, that’s exactly what it is. And disregard the hundred emails you’ll receive from self-styled PR experts guaranteeing you exposure on a massive scale for a small fee. The majority of them are scam artists.
6. Unlike the universe, Facebook is not rigged in your favor. Don’t waste a lot of dollars there boosting and promoting your idea to those multi-million eyeballs they promise – the ones you segmented with such precision and care. Buy a good bottle of red wine, maybe two, and soothe your brain with resveratrol instead. At least you’ll enjoy yourself and get what you paid for. And there will be health benefits.
7. A very wise person told me that it’s all about the List. Your email list. And from my experience that’s totally, utterly, undeniably true. People who know you and know your project (and products) are the most likely to back you. Investing in building your list will return dividends that Facebook and Twitter will not (unless you have thousands to spend on advertising, and I’m guessing you don’t, or you wouldn’t be on Kickstarter to begin with).
8. To a large degree, the success of your first crowd-funding effort will pivot on friends and family, which makes sense if you read the previous lesson. Don’t forget to reach out to old friends, too (college roommates, old boyfriends, etc.). Let them know what you’re doing and persuade (or guilt) them into backing you and watch your momentum gather pace. One of my favorite exes dropped an awesome pledge on me for old time’s sake. (I should have married him instead of heading off to India to weave rugs.)
9. There are things you will find out about yourself and your friends that will arrive as unexpected gifts (taking the cup-half-full perspective). Like realizing you have the guts of a lioness stalking her elusive prey, fatigue be damned, unwilling to quit or say die. Like finding out who really wishes you well and wants to see you succeed. Remember that these are your People. Give thanks for them, and to them. They’ll be the first ones there at the opening bell, and the last ones there to raise a glass. There will also be those who’ve supped at your trough, and drunk your wine too many times to count, but are now too busy or uninterested to offer a hand – or dare I say – reciprocate for past acts of generosity (yours). This isn’t about the amount or the quid pro quo; it’s about the solidarity. Know dead wood when you see it, do your best not to take it personally, and prune that chaff away.
10. Meeting your goal is validating, uplifting and deeply emotional. At least it was for me. I will admit that I cried, (no, sobbed) before the champagne corks blew. The relief was overwhelming. The sense of accomplishment for myself and the people who contributed to this massive effort, was beyond description – all the sweeter because I couldn’t have done it without my amazing friggin’ village!
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have reached 120% of my funding goal, but like with all Kickstarter campaigns, the goal is only the first hurdle. In the next few weeks, as I await the funds, I’ll begin mapping out my plan for Mexico and working with our mold-makers to start the fabrication process. This is what the whole effort was about and I can’t wait to get started!
As I reflect on the outcome of this demanding experience, I know one thing for certain: it has stretched me in ways I could not have anticipated. I’m more realistic, definitely bolder, deeply grateful, and seriously done with all-nighters. At least till next time.