Interview with NOMAD
NOMAD ran its first crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in August 2012, raising $161K of its $50K goal to manufacture ChargeCard. A year later, it ran a campaign on Indiegogo, raising $172K of its $50K goal to manufacture the ChargeKey. Both are portablee devices that charge your phone without an outlet. Visit NOMAD’s homepage here.
Shopify spoke with Noah Dentzel, CEO of NOMAD.
You’ve run two crowdfunding campaigns. Can you describe each of them?
We launched our first campaign, ChargeCard, on Kickstarter in 2012. That was a big year for crowdfunding. It was when we saw Pebble and the launch of these million-dollar campaigns. It convinced a lot of people that this is an amazing platform for the arts as well as for creative projects, and that it’s a substitute to traditional angel funding.
It was a good time. There was a lot of energy and a lot of press. Again, crowdfunding was just beginning then, and we got a lot of attention.
In 2013 we came out with our second product ChargeKey. There had been a lot of changes since our first campaign. We had a brand, we had an office, we moved from L.A. to San Francisco, and had become a real company. We were a hardware company in an internet startup hub, and it was amazing to be in that environment.
Why did you try to finance your second big project with crowdfunding and not angel funding or through cashflow?
We had a big debate about this. The two big plusses for us were that we’d get a lot more exposure and that this would help a lot with financing. But we also did consider that it’s a great deal of energy and work to optimize a landing page and to email thousands of backers.
But then we figured out that there are new pieces of software that just make the crowdfunding campaign super easy. We used BackerKit to communicate with our funders and also to upsell, and then used ShipStation to manage the shipping process.
This was a lot easier this time around. We learned a lot, and it took one-tenth of the effort of our first campaign, in part because of the software that we used.
Why did you choose Indiegogo the second time around?
We got to know the people behind Indiegogo, which is based in San Francisco. We were really impressed with them, and decided to make Indiegogo our next platform for crowdfunding.
It was a lot of factors. We’d already succeeded on Kickstarter, we wanted to try Indiegogo, and Indiegogo was a local company. We also knew that Indiegogo is a lot more hands-on with its projects; Kickstarter is hands-off, but we would have liked a little more attention.
Both of the platforms worked well, and we weren’t unhappy with either of them.
Why did you decide to crowdfund at all?
I had wanted a portable charger for a while. I just wanted to go to a store and buy it, but couldn’t find anything. Amazingly no one had done it. I thought that it was simple: it was just a USB cable and a jumper cable for your phone. Why had no one invented this yet?
At the time I was working for my brother’s company in Spain. It was a tech company and I was reading a lot of tech news. There were a lot of Kickstarter stories then. I thought it was really cool. When I got back to the States I tried to put together a little team to get this going.
This was definitely a lot of work, but you can’t pretend that the angel circuit wouldn’t be. Getting to talk to a lot of people so that you can get a few tens of thousands isn’t by any means easy. So we decided to crowdfund instead.
Was the $50,000 a good amount to ask for, or did you need more?
We thought that we were prepared with our funding goal of $50,000. We had quotes from manufacturers on hand. But we were lucky to have reached about $160,000 in funding.
Our tooling cost way more than expected. We had a quote in hand from a manufacturer and everything. But the manufacturer was still delayed; he didn’t account for air-freight shipping; there’s going to be a lot of problems with inputs; and a lot of other complications. The real bill was much higher than the quote.
Things added up. As much as we had things spec’d out, there’s just so much that we didn’t account for. We ended up having to rely on cashflow of the sales from our website to try fund everything.
Thank goodness it worked out, but we had to be resourceful. If you’re a small company then you need to be using every tool and resource you can to help you out. Try to get your hands on every tool and app that you can get your hands on. We added discount code apps, responder apps, abandoned cart recover apps, all sorts of things. We were able to launch as a two-man team.
You also have to keep in mind that when you raise more money that you also have to fulfill a lot of obligations. And things like shipping costs can really creep up on you.
How did you transition from a campaign to a business?
We started selling online just when we were finishing up our campaign. We knew early on that we needed to figure out cashflow. Even if your campaign goes super well, what do you do on the day it ends? Do you have a store? Where’s your storefront? How do people visit you? Are you building an infrastructure?
We tried to figure this out early and made a pretty seamless transition inviting people to go on our website. As we kept getting press, we were able to get people on our own website and not to Kickstarter’s page. We knew that we had to be durable, and we got the processes going right. That included figuring out taxes, incorporation, putting a brand behind everything, and thinking about the long term generally.
What was your background, and how did it help your business?
I’ve studied what could generally be referred to as the liberal arts. That means history, economics, human geography, math, all sorts of stuff. It’s all about perspective, and I tried to get as much perspective as possible. When I was in college I went to Kenya to work for two months. I spent some time in the Dominican Republic, and in Northern Quebec, all for the sake of getting perspective.
As you get all of these ways to think about things, it gets you better at coming up with solutions. And that’s made me pre-disposed to be more active in thinking about making something new.
I got to hacking things up, cutting up cables, and experimenting a lot to produce a Minimum Viable Product. A lot of it was MacGyver-esque. Really you can do a lot with very little resources.
We certainly consulted with a few electrical engineers who were our friends, but basically we figured everything out for ourselves. We had instead a huge amount of commitment to try to figure everything out.
Steve Jobs wasn’t an electrical engineer, and Richard Branson’s not an aeronautical engineer. They figured this stuff out.
How did you figure out the manufacturing process? How did you find your manufacturers?
This was one of the scarier parts. I managed to talk to a friend of a friend who was able to connect me with people who know of factories in China and in L.A.
We decided to to manufacture in L.A. because we could just drive over there and monitor the process. But the process wasn’t smooth, and we still made mistakes.
My advice here is just to get the process started early. Always start early. Do anything you can now to get the ball rolling.
How much professional help did you get with the original Kickstarter campaign?
None. We did it all ourselves.
My co-founder Brian had some experience in the movie industry, and he was good at throwing stuff together. All of it was DIY.
One thing about using outside services is that it’s pretty expensive getting something really good from a creative agency that can execute what you want. Otherwise, you should own it all yourselves. The result may be worse, but your vision wouldn’t be compromised.
Anything you see big companies do you can probably do yourself, and maybe even better because your technology is newer.
How much time did you spend putting together the campaign?
About a month, full-time. We quit our jobs so that we can work on this exclusively. We put a lot of effort into this.
Why did you choose 40 days for our campaign?
We knew that when we put up the page that we’d have 39 days left. Psychologically it was useful for us to be in the 30-day range, and we found that useful.
How did you determine your rewards?
That was relatively easy given our products. We know that most people just want our products. We just gave out 1 to 5 of our products.
We made an early mistake by introducing colors too early on. Most people care about getting the product, not which color it was in. We should have just have chosen 1 color instead of 4.
We also found that offering more rewards made things increasingly turn into a logistical nightmare. That’s something that we wanted to avoid.
Make it easy, make it scalable, and get your products out to people.
What was the most important to the success of your campaign?
Press outreach. No question.
There’s two parts to getting good press. First, you have to have an amazing product. If you don’t have a cool product, no one will write about you. Second, you have to have a good reach-out campaign.
We found that the better the publication, the easier it was to make contact with them. The top publications are on their game, and they want to be covering the most important news out there. It wasn’t super hard to find their emails. Most of that is readily available, on their Twitter or website.
We didn’t want to give the game away too early, and we sent pretty cryptic emails to people. Amazingly a lot of reporters responded and we got interest.
We reached out early to a reporter on CNET and offered to give him the exclusive to our launch. On our first day we had a lot of media interest, and we launched properly. That’s something that you should do. Don’t wait until you launch to try to get press. Start way before, and try to get press on the day that you launch. Tell them exactly when you’ll launch a month ahead of time, not the last minute, and you’ll get more interest.
We took press really, really seriously, and knew how important it was.
Another tool we used was Streak.com. We managed our press lists with it and it helped out a lot to process everything.
Besides press, what else is important?
The video. Make sure that you do something good and authentic. It’s the best way to connect with people.
Use a microphone. Audio recordings sound really bad if you just use the camera. We bought a really good mic on Craigslist for $40, and it was a great investment. There was no mumbling or noise in the background. We had quality.
What’s the most important piece of advice you can offer to other entrepreneurs?
Just go for it. A lot of things that seem scary really shouldn’t be. You just need to dive in and start doing it. The mental hump is big, but really a lot of things are easier than it seems.
It’s 2014. You can whip up a prototype and get a site going in a day. Be resourceful; it might take a lot of work, but not everything is super hard.
Still, don’t expect everything to be easy. Money’s not free, and crowdfunding takes a lot of commitment. You’ll need to work really hard.