How my Kickstarter blew up my life

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Venture Beat |

Stories from the Edge - Gareth from Rockwell Razors

In October 2014, I raised nearly $150,000 on my first crowdfunding campaign (Rockwell Razrors - Shaving Reinvited). Three months later, when I was in my final year of college and 21 years old, I wished I’d never heard of Kickstarter. I’d committed the cardinal sin of crowdfunding by shipping a shit product to over 2,500 people who’d backed my campaign.

It’s now March 2016, and my backers are back to being huge supporters. I’ve built a thriving business and somehow managed to graduate from school. I have emerged from the crucible of crowdfunding a vastly improved entrepreneur and (I believe) a better person. The following is my story. I hope it provides lessons for aspiring crowdfunders/entrepreneurs and entertainment for everyone else.

I launched my product’s campaign on a Tuesday night with a $12,000 goal. I woke up the next morning to pledges of $18,000 from hundreds of people around the world I didn’t know. Encouraging comments flooded my inbox. I was immediately hooked on crowdfunding.

I knew nothing about marketing, but my cofounder and I had put a few months’ work into innovating a useful product, making (what is obvious to me now) a terrible video, and putting together a passable informational page for our campaign. Through posts on niche blogs, awkward local TV appearances, and dumb luck, the campaign closed at about $148,000 after one month. The thing is, we were totally unprepared to ship thousands of products. To be clear, these weren’t items that already existed from an overseas supplier, rebranded for Kickstarter. Every component would have to be manufactured from scratch in a method that had never been used for this kind of product. We had precisely zero manufacturing experience but, thanks to Kickstarter and post-campaign pre-orders, over 2,500 people in some 70 counties eagerly and (mostly) impatiently awaiting delivery. We needed a new plan for fulfillment.

See: Crowdfunding fuels startup innovation at CES

We approached an American investment casting manufacturer who, prior to our campaign, had given us a phenomenally-priced quote to make our product. Their manufactured prototype, meant to represent the quality of the full run, looked incredible. We were psyched to move forward, and we ordered a production run of thousands of units. We didn’t once visit the manufacturing facility during production — we were fully trusting, like gullible children.The finished units were sent directly to a nearby third-party logistics (3PL) facility to be shipped to our backers. A few weeks earlier, we’d taken two days off classes to show the 3PL how to assemble and pack the products. We’d then gone back to school, congratulating ourselves on our brilliant outsourcing and delegation skills. We wrote our exams and went home for the holidays.

We’d originally announced our intention to ship in December 2014, but due to small manufacturing delays and the fact the 3PL didn’t retain staff during the holidays (who woulda thunk it?), most of our North American backers received their rewards in January 2015, successfully ruining several hundred people’s Christmases. It was at this time that we discovered the error of our ways: Having not visited the factory during production, and having not assembled, quality controlled, and shipped the razors ourselves, we’d never taken a close look at the full production product — we’d just assumed everything would be great. So we deserved every moment of Kickstarter fury that was about to follow.

Event Wrap-up: 2nd Annual 2016 Canadian Crowdfunding Summit on March 3 (Toronto)

Feedback on the product began spreading like wildfire on our Kickstarter comments page, as well as on subreddits and forums relevant to our niche — and almost none of it was positive. Some of the comments bordered on hateful. When it was clear the quality issues weren’t isolated incidents but a consistent problem, I think I spent six hours staring listlessly out my apartment window like a character from a Sofia Coppola movie. I felt terrible. We quickly recalled all the unshipped products from the 3PL to my parents’ house to see what went wrong.

It’s hard to describe the experience of receiving dozens of emails and comments a day telling you some variation of what a bad person you are or claiming you’re running a scam, and having to respond to every single one of those emails with nothing more to say than “I’m sorry, I’m trying to fix it. I’m so sorry.” I’ve heard there are some Kickstarter project creators who have walked away from their campaigns without a trace due to the feedback they get from backers who are angry at product quality and/or delays. For a few days, at least, I understood those campaign-creator-deserters’ perspectives.

Seeing my new Eeyore-like temperament as I responded to hundreds of emails and comments from angry customers, a friend recommended the book, “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. I took away a key lesson from that book: When you come face to face with a challenge, it is your choice whether you let it paralyze you or leverage it as motivation to learn from and overcome the challenge.

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The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada non-profit actively engaged with both social and investment crowdfunding stakeholders across the country. NCFA Canada provides education, research, leadership, support and networking opportunities to over 1300+ members and works closely with industry, government, academia, community and eco-system partners and affiliates to create a strong and vibrant crowdfunding industry in Canada. Learn more About Us or visit www.ncfacanada.org.

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