Interview with a Successful Crowd Funder

Nick Bain has been an entrepreneur for most of his life.  He’s had different businesses and ideas, but the most recent one, the Switchport, really took off recently.  In fall 2014, Nick decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to promote the Switchport.  The attempt was wildly successful, and Nick became the first minor in Kickstarter history to have his project fully funded.  Here’s his take on the crowd-funding process.

Nick Bain, creator of the Switchport

Nick Bain, creator of the Switchport

Tell us a quick overview of Switchport in your own words.

Switchport is a dry erase light switch so you can write messages and reminders or draw.  When you flip the lights and walk out of the room, you always see your notes. You just unscrew your light switch and put in the new one.

How did you decide that you wanted to try a Kickstarter campaign?

I think Kickstarter is the best way to go if you’re just starting a product to launch.  It’s safe.  The way it works is you only have to build your products if you get enough money, but you don’t have to fulfill orders if you don’t get enough  money.  If you don’t know how many orders you’ll get, you can just plan for, say, 50 of them.  If more people than that want them, you have the funding, so you can still make them.  But if you get way more orders than you expected, you’ll need to optimize construction.

Did you get more orders than you expected?

Yes! I did a Kickstarter a few summers ago that didn’t work and I’m glad I did that.  I didn’t get as many orders as needed, so I didn’t have to start production.  It didn’t reach the goal, but this time I got more than I needed and I was ready to make those.

How did you plan for it?

Manufacturing is all about scale and if you can do something once, you need to find a way to do it efficiently a lot of times. For example, if I needed to make a ton of Switports, I would make a batch of say, 12, and if I can successfully make a batch of 12, then I can do that several times over to fulfill all the orders.

My advice is to start with some a small batch.  It’s so much harder to build about 100 all at once.  It’s so much more than it sounds like!  Make sure you know you can build a lot of your product.  It’s harder than you imagine.  If you work in batches, and work on ways to optimize the manufacturing, it will be easier.

What was the biggest lesson you learned?

How important it is to tell people you know about what you’re doing, and to ask for help.  When I did this 18 months ago I didn’t tell anyone about it.  I didn’t have media or anything.  I assumed if it was on Kickstarter, people would see it and buy it.  That wasn’t true.  The really important thing is to tell people and get press.  If no one knows about your campaign, it will be hard to raise money.  Your friends are always the first people to help you, so talk to them first.

What was the hardest part of running a Kickstarter campaign?

Getting ready for it.  Actually running the Kickstarter in the 30-day campaign wasn’t nearly as much work as the 30 days before.  The hardest part was the time before, getting ready.  You have to pull together a list of people to contact when it launches, the press you’re going to reach out to, and make sure you have the supplies you’ll need.  You just need to go through a checklist to make sure you’re ready for it when it starts, and the logistics and planning are the hardest part.

What advice would you offer to other young entrepreneurs who are interested in getting crowd funding?

It’s super important to ask for feedback all the time while you’re making a product.  A lot of times it’s easy to say “I would want this”.  But sometimes you start making something that has features that people don’t really care about.  There are other things they do care about that you’re not focusing on.  So make sure to show people your product all the time and ask all sorts of questions, like “what would pay,” and “what if I got rid of this feature?”  Then see what people would use and what they wouldn’t use.  It’s important to ask people about how they would use it and how they change it.  At the end of the day you’re really making something for other people.

What’s next for Switchport?

I don’t even know!  There are a few options.  I could just stop altogether, which you can do because crowd funding is a push to get your product used by the real world, and now Switchport is out there.  I’ve put a link on the Kickstarter page that links to our website, so people can still buy it.

Another possibility for me is to sell to retail stores.  I would need to go around and ask which stores would be best suited for a light switch and get meetings with them.  I can also check online retail stores that sell home décor or light switches, and contact them to see if they’ll sell.

I could also sell the company to a place that makes light switches, which would mean relinquishing control.  But the most realistic option for me is getting Switchport into stores and online.

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