Kickstarting The Belll: episode #4 NOW!

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Kickstarting The Belll is a series of blog posts that documents the process of crowdfunding a product design project by Dutch product design firm Veeel. This fourth and final post is all about “Now!” and tells you about behind the scenes insights and our plans, now that the project is successfully funded.

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We made it!

After 40 days in our 45 day campaigning period we reached our funding goal of 25000 GBP. What an amazing feeling! You feel so grateful towards all those people who you don’t actually know, but believe in your product. So, first thing you do is thanks them from the bottom of your heart. Next thing you do, is set up a meeting with the manufacturer, because it just got real.

Now what?

This is the moment when you realize that you now have to start living up to the dream. Of course, we planned out everything before launching the campaign, but there are always some details of which you thought “we’ll figure that out later”. Well, later is now! And a good meeting with your manufacturer helps smooth out the remaining wrinkles. Final decisions and advise on the material, the planning, the finishing. It’s really important to have discussed this before production starts, because changes now are a lot faster (and cheaper) than changes later.

Behind the scenes insights

Kickstarter is a great platform. As a project creator it is highly addictive. I’m not exaggerating if the entire Belll team got more addicted to ‘checking’ Kickstarter than let’s say, Facebook. They provide nice stats and charts and even better, they share this data. So, next to their own visualizations, other parties can chart it out in different formats and views. Here are some of the stats of our campaign.

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Some more fun facts & figures

  • Of the current 29K (=117% funding!) 17K originated directly from Kickstarter and the other 12K from external referrers, so spreading the word is very important!
  • We now have 719 Backers and our average pledge per person is 40 GBP, although the most popular reward (see chart above) is “the entry model”
  • Looking at were people that pledged came from (not Kickstarter or external referrers)
    • Google scored best (2,86% of traffic)
    • Our own website http://www.thebelll.com is next (1,96%)
    • Closely followed by our Facebook fan page (1,62%)
    • Combined blogs that wrote about us (0,48%)
    • We’re not very effective on Twitter (0,26%)
    • And neither on LinkedIn (0,05%)

The Belll is successfully funded and will go into production soon, but every form of support is still always welcomed!

Kickstarting The Belll: episode #3 HOW?

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Kickstarting The Belll is a series of blog posts that documents the process of crowdfunding a product design project by Dutch product design firm Veeel. This third post is all about “How?” we were  able to launch this project.

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The start

In order to be successful we knew we had to reach a lot of people, so promotion and building a community were our first steps. We shot a cool video to tell our story, created a websitesocial media accounts and actively went out into the world to tell our story. We approached the media and the people who had already indicated that they liked the product and we started preparing them for what was coming. By creating a buzz before launching our crowdfunding campaign we were off to a rolling start. Definitely recommended to start this way!

The secret

Since we are one of the first companies in The Netherlands to launch a project on Kickstarter we got and still get a lot of emails, messages and phone calls on how we managed to get on it. Because Kickstarter is only open for people that have a permanent address, bank account, and government-issued ID from either the US or the UK. Most of the people that contacted us thought that we found a way around these requirements. We had to disappoint them, we didn’t. The secret (and a lousy one at that) is that the only way to launch on Kickstarter is to have someone on your team that fulfills the requirements… How’s that for an anti-climax?

The actual secret

Campaigning for Kickstarter is a lot of work. There is no such thing as a free ride or a guarantee for success. Up to the launch you already did the hard work. At least that is what you think. But once your project is reviewed and approved by the Kickstarter staff and you press that nice green launch button in your email, you unleash a beast. First of all you have to get it out into the world. Here is where your pre-build community comes in. But then the world starts asking questions. And giving comments. And providing suggestions. That’s were you really start interacting with your future customers. You learn about their doubts, concerns and needs. So valuable that this alone is worth launching a crowdfunding project! How to manage this? Put in all the time and effort you can, because there is nothing as important as these people who believe in your product. No Oscar-contending video or picture perfect brochure can match a direct and personal relation with your backers.

The Belll is currently over 70% on its way, so things are looking good, but every form of support is always welcomed!

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Links

Our project on Kickstarter to support us directly by pre-ordering The Belll.

Our page on Facebook to support us by sharing it with your friends.

The next post in this series will be #4 NOW? and will show you some insightful behind-the-scenes facts & figures of our project.

Kickstarting The Belll: episode #2 WHAT?

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Kickstarting The Belll is a series of blog posts that documents the process of crowdfunding a product design project by Dutch product design firm Veeel. This second post is all about “What?” 

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Since we launched our product – The Belll – on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter we have been getting a lot of attention. People from all around the world contacted us to get to know more. Most of them had specific questions about our product itself, but we also received a load of requests to explain what choices we made up to the point of launching.

At Veeel we start each and every project by asking “Why?”. And we keep on asking this simple question until we are at the very core of the situation. So, for The Belll we started with “Why?” as well. See my previous post for the answers to that question. Next up is setting the “What?” of our project.

What do we need to know?

What are the most important aspects of The Belll? Our main goal was to see if people who said that they liked The Belll would actually like it enough to pre-order it. We realized that by asking people to support us, we should be able to turn their trust into satisfaction as fast as possible. A perfect production of The Belll would therefor be our first priority after successful funding. So before launching our campaign on Kickstarter we already put everything into place with our Dutch manufacturing partner. We also wanted it to sound superb. We talked to experts in the field and came to the conclusion that brass would be the only suitable material for the inside. What did we wanted The Belll to be? High quality in the first place.

What will be the USP?

What was the unique feature of our product that we wanted to highlight? We had to finalize the proposition for our product. Our product is a bicycle bell. And we had to be honest: it would not save our planet. It would keep you safe(r) in traffic, but every bike bell does that. The Belll caters to a different need. In urban areas around the world people start to see more and more advantages for cycling. For instance New York showed an increase of 289% of people riding bicycles and that makes sense. Cycling is healthy, it’s fun, and it makes you feel free. And, people started to care for their bike because it became increasingly important part of their life. We wanted The Belll to ooze that same feeling. It wasn’t just a bell; it was The Belll. With an extra L to celebrate your fun and healthy life!

What will be the market?

What would be the ideal customer for The Belll? We knew there was interest from different industries, like the bicycle and fashion industry. Even before actually thinking about it, the gadget people were knocking on our doors. We were honoured, but decided that this was not the way we wanted to go at the moment. We were starting a company in the celebrating life business, not a hype. Of course, the numbers in this industry are appealing, but we wanted to make a product that made a connection with people. A product they would anticipate and would feel connected to. So what was important to us? That The Belll could be customized to anyone’s wish.

The Belll is currently over 50% on its way to making people celebrate life from Australia to the USA, so things are looking good, but every form of support is always welcomed!

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Links

Our project on Kickstarter to support us directly by pre-ordering The Belll.

Our page on Facebook to support us by sharing it with your friends.

The next post in this series will be #3 HOW? and will tell you how we turned the WHY and WHAT into essential parts of our campaign.

Kickstarting The Belll: episode #1 WHY?

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Kickstarting The Belll is a series of blog posts that documents the process of crowdfunding a product design project by Dutch product design firm Veeel. This first post gives answers to our reasons “Why?”

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Having been in the product design business for years we have seen a fair share of designs leave our office in the hands of others. That is what we do. We provide our clients with a blueprint of everything they need to fulfil their vision or solve their problem. Not only beautiful visuals and detailed production files, but also essential market knowledge and suitable business strategies. Fully prepared our clients head out to put their newly designed product on the market. That is what they do.

However, as entrepreneurs we have always had the urge to take that next step as well. We had the desire to be our own client and bring our own products to the market. Over the years we learned that if you are going to do something, you should better do it good. So, to be able to put our design –The Belll – on the market we had to make a solid start.

We decided that crowdfunding platform Kickstarter would be the perfect place to launch The Belll and give us that solid start. For those who haven’t heard about crowdfunding here is the concept in a nutshell: instead of convincing a single investor to invest a large amount in your project, you look for a large group of investors who each invest a small amount.

So why crowdfunding?

Over the years we have followed the development of the crowdfunding industry with interest. We attended multiple seminars and meetings and researched the possibilities of the different platforms with forerunners in the industry. The funny thing was that the main message conveyed on these events was mostly about how much work it would be to successfully fund your project. All attendees should be warned! There is no such thing as easy money. That didn’t surprise us.

What we missed in all these seminars and meet-ups was the notion that crowdfunding is an ideal tool to do preliminary market research. You can reach your future customers before your product is available in stores. You get confronted with their questions, preferences and needs before you even produced a single product. It basically tells you whether the product you came up with actually has a market.

For us, this formed the great advantage of crowdfunding over more traditional forms of funding. It was something that – next to launching our product – provided a way to see whether this product would fulfil our company’s mission and people would actually love The Belll.

Why Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is currently the biggest and most well-known crowdfunding platform. There are many other forms, but I don’t have the time and space to go into those now. If you want to know more about the many forms of crowdfunding than www.douwenkoren.nl is a great place to start. (Fun fact: Gijsbert, one of the founders of that company was actually one of the first designers in the Veeel community.)

We figured that we would need the biggest platform available since we were looking to launch a relatively small and low-cost product. In order to achieve our funding goal of 25K we decided we would need the platform with a global reach. The more people we could reach, the bigger the chance of success. Simple as that.

Second reason to choose Kickstarter is that it is reward-based. That means that you allow people to make a reservation on one of your future products and you make a reservation on some of their money. If enough people make a reservation, these reservations turn into orders and the exchange of products and money takes place. That provides an ideal set-up for a product design project. You could say that you are looking for people to pre-order your product.

Other platforms provided (a lot less) administrative hassle and – geographically speaking – a much more centralized target audience, but we chose to follow our calculation, intuition and ambition to launch on this global juggernaut of crowdfunding platforms. The Belll is currently over 30% on its way to world domination, so things are looking good, but every form of support is always welcomed!

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Links

Our project on Kickstarter to support us directly by pre-ordering The Belll.

Our page on Facebook to support us by sharing it with your friends.

The next post in this series will be #2 WHAT? and will tell you what we did to be able to launch our project.

The birth of a prototype, isn’t she lovely?

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Product development has parallels with parenting, at least to a certain extent. Designers somehow experience the same stages as parents. It is creation after all. And it is not for no reason that the word baby is misused so often, referring to a project instead of an infantile human being. Being a facilitator of both the creative process and the parental one, I understand where this comes from. But is it a valid comparison?

Certainly not when you look at the physical challenges. Giving birth to a project has nothing to do with the physical misery a mother-to-be has to cope with. Sleepless nights? For designers this can just as well be considered as bad planning… Nevertheless, seeing a project – or product – come to life and witnessing its first steps, will wake up emotions shared by young parents. And even designers enter the phase where they have to let go their creation to let it live a life of its own. But not before it is perfect. And perfect it will be, because designers have prototyping. Now here’s something you’d wish for when you have kids.

Oh yes, a prototype. The stage where you take it from the sketchbook to the workshop, it is the moment when the parenting begins. In this phase that means extensive testing of your prototype. When you have a child, you feel like you are the one being tested. The nice thing of prototypes is that you can show it to your potential buyer. See if they like it, if they can use it and if they understand it. If not, no problem; you simply change its character at bit. Try that with your child!

Last week I was present at the maiden voyage of the first prototype of a new motorcycle design my firm is responsible for. It was the first moment our concept was made tangible. And could even be driven. Our design team was there, a bunch of critical motorcycle experts and of course the client. It was exciting. Our creation had to show what it’s worth, although it had just come alive. Before the testing began, I heard myself explain that this was just the first prototype of possibly many, making sure expectations were well managed. And then the first expert started the engine and drove off. All the rides went very smooth, and the funny thing is that I really felt proud. I felt proud of the efforts of our team, but especially of the prototype.

Of course now we have to change details to make it even better. And of course it will get better. I’m sure the next prototype will be an even smoother ride and the one after that one will have fewer components so it can be produced in a more efficient way. And then I thought of parenting, designing and the role a prototype has. The designer makes his baby perfect for a large crowd of different people, while the parent doesn’t need to do that. There will be moments when your kid doesn’t function in a way you’d wish for. And that you have to manage expectations, maybe even say sorry for your kid’s behaviour. But damn, you’ll always feel proud.

The consumer knows nothing – that’s why we love working with them

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A few months ago I read an article on fastcodesign.com how useless focus groups are in innovation trajectories. Yesterday, I read another article on the same site; a reaction on the earlier article. Reason worth mentioning: both articles come from the same author, a designer named Gianfranco Zaccai. He is the man behind the Reebok Pump and the Swiffer.

His first article is named ‘Why Focus Groups Kill Innovation’; the second is titled ‘Focus Groups Are Dangerous’. For your explanation, a focus group is a group of people, who are asked about their perceptions, opinions and attitudes towards a (new) product or idea. It is as a form of qualitative research. Focus groups are applied in the creative industry. Some designers clearly have problems with focus groups. They question their role in the innovation process. Do they have a point?

The first article explains that focus groups are basically useless in the design process. They only slow down innovation, or kill it in the end anyway. Reason: the user doesn’t know what he or she wants or needs. In his second article he polishes his harsh initial opinion a bit, saying they DO have an interesting say, but as a designer you should be VERY CAREFULL working with focus groups. You should only use them when they have literally NOTHING more to contribute: “Focus groups are about fine-tuning for mass appeal”.

I think these designer-opinions are based on the fear that the consumer will replace them in the design process. I dare to say that this is just a typical designer-related generation and/or ego issue. Well, please say hi to the next generation designers. We do not see consumers and our end-user as the enemy. We will not use words as “Kill” and “Dangerous” when we talk about focus groups. These people are buying our products, for crying out loud!

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In my company, we work with focus groups in every step of the design trajectory (the picture is taken in Nairobi, a focus group for a new motorcycle). Sure, we rely on the designers bringing in the real innovations, but all our innovations are in the end still based on insights, needs, problems and wishes from consumers, which we generate in…focus group sessions. We listen to understand consumers with the aim of making product with meaning for them. We don’t expect them to come with real innovations, let the real designers with good ears do that.

And yes, I also make jokes about the crazy ideas consumers come with. I believe and agree with the articles that since we are the designers, we know how to innovate. But take it from me, without consumers we would just be people who can’t write articles in the first place.

Learning on the job

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Today I will write a bit about the design profession. As a designer, you develop new products and services for people”, is what I usually say to people I just met and explain what I do. The question that is asked in reaction to that is mostly something like “oh, so you are really creative then?” Based on that, I guess that a quality of a designer should be that he or she has to be creative and the more creative you are, the better designer you will be. But after my experiences from working at Veeel, is that really the thing that qualifies a product designer? I actually think different.

In the first years of studying Industrial Design Engineering in Delft, drawing skills were the thing. I remember my first year drawing classes were always on a Friday morning, which was for me not the finest moments of the week. And it is very hard to draw straight lines with a shaky hand. So I passed those classes, but not with much glory…  The ones that did pass drawing classes with high grades got a lot of respect from the other students. Drawing is a way to convey your ideas and with a slick picture, your idea immediately looks better than it actually is.  So without good drawing skills you would always feel a bit inferior towards the drawing kings.

Don’t worry, the fact that I could not draw so good did not make me depressive. I just had to look for something that I could improve more than my sketching skills. Creativity seemed a logical next step for me. A creative idea or concept has a character of originality and freshness. So as long as I was creative, it didn’t matter how I conveyed my ideas. With this in mind, I also began to assess the ideas of the mad-sketching fellow student. I found out that most of the ideas behind the sketches were actually not brilliant at all, and this only reinforced my personal creativity-crusade. This is what got me through my studies, as well as a bunch of common sense and some skills that are needed to generally graduate from university.

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And then I started working at Veeel and suddenly I became a real life designer. Products became real and clients became more important, since they are the ones that pay for the project. I noticed that creativity is something that is helpful in specific situations but not throughout the whole process. With the recent user sessions in Kenya, we did not only learn a lot about the products over there, we especially got to know the user. And for me it became clear that it is essential in designing products to see and hear things with your own eyes and ears. In order to do this, empathy is needed. The moment that you are open for people’s stories and that you can really connect with the user, that is when you can gain the essential insights that are needed for product innovation and design. And the user insights will become highly valuable for the client in order to create a competitive advantage in its market.

During the development of ideas and concepts, it is very valuable to be able to validate your thoughts with users. Through creative sessions with user, this can be done in such a way that you validate your own progress and create input for further steps and gradually make a translation of what you think the user needs into tangible product characteristics. So answering my initial thought on the qualities of a designer, I do think sketching skills and creativity are important, however I believe that these skills can be learned. More important for a designer, is to be empathic. This is something that is a lot harder to learn but it will a big advantage when you can connect to the user and process that connection into input for your final design. Only then, the mad sketching can start…  

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