Entrepreneurship in a digital era presents a unique lifestyle choice for today's business owners: the opportunity to work from anywhere.
All you need is a laptop and an internet connection to run your online business on the go.
On this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from an entrepreneur who started a completely remote business that lets him travel the world.
Doug Barber is the co-founder of Minaal, a company that makes durable, professional travel gear that gets you where you want to be.
And he runs it anywhere he pleases.
- How they invested $100,000 creating their product.
- How to overcome the challenges of starting a business while traveling.
- What kind of prep you need to do before launching your first Kickstarter campaign.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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Felix: Today I’m joined by Doug Barber from Minaal.com as M-I-N-A-A-L.com. Minaal produces this durable professional travel gear that gets you where you want to be, faster, happier and more productive and was started in 2013, and is a completely remote business. Welcome Doug.
Doug: Hello Felix, happy to be here.
Felix: Excited to have you on, so tell us a little bit more about your store, and some of the popular products that you carry.
Doug: We I guess a few years ago we identified a gap in the market for sort of a really good quality ragged travel gear that you could also take into a professional setting. For the people who want to … In the morning they might have to present to the board, they want to take that same gear and climb a volcano or something and they want to travel pretty light. That’s kind of the stuff in the market that we focus on.
Felix: You found this gap in the market, was this based on personal experience, and how did you stumble across this … I get what you’re saying this gap in the market where you couldn’t find a product that also worked in a professional setting, but also for just every day travel.
Doug: Just from lots of traveling. My co-founder and I we went on exchange, we met because we went on exchange, to university in Vancouver Canada, many years ago. That was … We’ve both been pretty obsessed with travel, I mean probably before that, but that really kicked it into gear. From that point dealing with these bags out there and quality and in the end getting really frustrated with what was out there. Even though we didn’t have experience in the industry, just trying to make something ourselves that worked.
Felix: Very cool, you say you didn’t have the experience in the industry, but was this your first entrepreneurial venture or have you tried starting businesses or launching products in the past?
Doug: Yeah, I think it was the first serious one. It was all under Minaal, we did try some other products in the general area for travels, and it was more the case of manufacturers bailing on us just because our … Even back then, we had some pretty ridiculous standards that we needed them to made in and it was too hard for many of them and that’s when we … By that point we had become pretty passionate about the making a really high quality backpack and we got some quick traction on that and found a really amazing manufacturer and things moved pretty quickly from there for us.
Felix: You mentioned that it was your first serious business. Was this … There was a first one that seriously took off, or one that you seriously devoted or committed to, in a more intense way. What made it more of a serious business for you?
Doug: To get between kind of I think anything that either of us had done before this that was entrepreneurial. It was pretty huge, so I would say basically it was the first … We stuck with the same theme. I guess you could almost say we pivoted over the years and it was … We had always intended making backpacks but that was … We always thought that as maybe a more advanced stage. When the other apparel stuff didn’t work out for us, that’s what we launched into, so it ended up being the kind of first part of it for us, and now we have more than enough to do on the backpack side with new products over the next while … It will probably be a little while before we move into anything else.
Felix: I think this is a stage that a lot of entrepreneurs go through where they … Want to launch a business and they go through different phases with different products, different ideas. Then they find one that either has some little more traction, or something about it just helps them or something about a particular product or a particular idea, they just gravitate towards. What was it about your situation? What made this particular, the backpack specifically, what made that one become successful? What made that one the one that you guys decided to essentially go all in on?
Doug: I think it was just people’s general reaction. We had a pretty strong hunch that this had potential to be pretty big early on. From having our first prototype made and just having that kind of change, the travel experience for us, and then comments we were getting from people. This was an early prototype, this was the very first one. We’ve come a long way since then, but even with that early one, people were just super excited and were kind of willing to throw money at us at that stage. We had some pretty strong hands there that we may have been on to a good thing.
Felix: I’ve heard this before from other entrepreneurs where they start a business … You guys obviously started a business intentionally, but a lot of entrepreneurs start businesses unintentionally where they create something for themselves and all of a sudden everyone’s asking them where can I buy that? Can I buy it off of you, are you selling these, whatever product that is. Was it that kind of situation where people were coming up to you in person asking you about your travel gear, or did you guys have some kind of online way to collect this feedback?
Doug: No, it was all very in person. At that point I think we had a … I’m not sure at what point we kind of set up a landing page, but even that was pretty basic and didn’t have a lot of details about the bag. It was very much the in-person reaction to people, because of course we were traveling all round the place and they were a lot of interactions day-to-day to with other people. Just that the reaction was really positive.
Felix: Yeah, that’s great that you were able to I guess look at it objectively because you had launched other products in the past and I think whenever we do launch something on our own, there are 2 potential paths. You can go down way as being hyper-critical and never think it’s good enough or never like it, or the other path which is you look at it from rose, tinted glasses wear. You only listen to the good feedback, you don’t listen to the bad feedback and you tend to over exaggerate the potential success of a particular product, were you able to … How were you able to look at your businesses, or look at your products that you were launching objectively to know that this was the one versus the apparel or whatever you guys were trying to sell previously? How come you didn’t think, maybe someone might be interested in this even though you weren’t getting the same type of feedback?
Doug: Any of the stuff that we had done before was recently small scale so it was like this stuff we were doing was just sent to better customers and actually people were very happy with that. It was more I guess if it hadn’t been for manufacturers not being able to produce to the standard we expected, we might have continued with that. In terms of the feedback stuff, we’ve always surrounded ourselves with people who will tell us straight-up what they think of it, and I think that’s pretty important. Any of your early feedback, we got some strong and critical feedback and I think you kind of … It’s a good skill to learn to be able to just take that all on board without trying to explain it away, because it’s very easy to take that stuff on board personally and be hurt. I think if you just, no matter what the feedback if you just kind of hear it out, and write everything down. Ask Christians only to clarify it and then take that all away and kind of process it. That’s kind of the stuff that worked well for us.
Felix: I like that you say only ask questions to clarify rather than trying to explain it or try to convince the person giving you the feedback, to believe what you want them to believe, important skill. You mentioned this a couple of times already now about the work of these manufacturers. You guys have particular standards, sounds like very high standards or at least maybe the product has some technology on it that you wanted to make sure that these manufacturers were able to produce. Tell us about your experience, what …. Maybe we’ll start with the very first experience of you trying to launch previous products. What were they and what manufacturer issues were you running into?
Doug: If we’re talking about on the apparel side, it was just that we … Almost everything we do, seems to be different to the way other businesses do it. That’s always been a struggle and right back then it was the same that it took a really long time to explain to the manufacturers like the way we wanted them to do it. It required kind of changing their process. I can understand why they would bail out after while because we’re quite demanding. That certainly hasn’t changed but on the backpack side, it took us … While the apparel stuff was going on, we were searching for backpack manufacturers around the world, because we had been sketching our plans at that point and it was something we thought we would eventually do.
It took us 2 years to find the right manufacturer that we’ve got a lot of boxes that we need to tick around, effects and environmental concerns and quality, and we want to be working with people that we enjoy working with as well. It took a really long time and a worldwide search to find the right place. Once we selected that factory we’ve continued with them to the present day.
Felix: It’s interesting you look back on your business and see the stepping stones that you took to get to where you guys are today. Was that intention, was that on purpose to start with apparel and then move to backpacks because I’m hearing it sounds like you’re saying, that you always had the goal of eventually producing backpacks. Why take these steps along the way rather just go straight for the backpacks right off the bat.
Doug: We always had the idea that eventually they would be an ecosystem of products under the brand, but it was initially on traveling around before as a tourist. We’d both had some exposure to the apparel side of things. We saw that as a less complex product to start with. Which I think is still the case, while we were learning … There’s obviously a lot to learn in manufacturing, and textiles which is important for both of those products, and high end backpacks is a pretty complex area. I guess we didn’t feel like we could launch into that straight away.
Felix: I think that makes a lot of sense. If you have this ultimate goal of multiple products and I think you said an ecosystem of products that you wanted to create underneath this brand, did you any point, did you feel overwhelmed by this kind of mission, because I think a lot of times when entrepreneurs are at the starting point, they are looking at the finish line, and they say they want 10 different products underneath this particular brand and it just becomes like an overwhelming beast for you to achieve that goal. How were you able to have this big vision of having an ecosystem of different products, which sounds like you guys are still building out, but make sure that you’re not being too overwhelmed that you’re actually able to do the job I guess on a day-to-days basis?
Doug: Yes, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and I think if you’re trying something that is difficult, I think it’s inevitable but you have to … You have to find some sort of mental fortitude within yourself and stick at it, and that’s how we approached it. It would be very easy to give up at multiple points. You’ve just got to really want it which we did and just keep sticking at it.
Felix: You mentioned earlier too, that everything, one of the reasons that you had difficulties with manufacturing efforts was because everything you guys wanted to do was different than other businesses. I think this is an important question not just for manufacturing but in general when it comes to marketing, when it comes to branding. If everything you’re doing you notice that you’re running into these road blocks or it was an uphill battle because it was different than the way others were doing it, did you ever question and ask yourself why not just do it the way other businesses are doing it and how did you answer that question?
Doug: I guess we just looked at what … The other businesses that we were doing it this other way just looked at what they’d become and asked ourselves if that was what we wanted to become, and the answer was always no. Yes for us there was always … While it can be frustrating at times, we could always reassure ourselves. Is like, “Yeah we are different and this is worth persevering with even if it takes a lot more explanation and time. Overall that would be beneficial for us, because we will be a truly unique brand.
Felix: I think this is an important topic because especially when it comes to entrepreneurs that want to create let’s say like a lifestyle business where they want a particular lifestyle for themselves. Maybe that’s what you guys are going for but it maybe sounds more like you guys have particular vision for the brand, for the products itself, but let’s say you wanted to curve out your own, essentially your own path. You want to get to a certain point that others are not at or are thinking, the other businesses are thinking differently about a particular goal that you have. When you are going down this path, and these are uphill battles. There’s a lot of bumps along the way, what do you do to stay resilient to make sure that it is … Like you were saying, it was worth it, but I’m sure you had days where maybe it didn’t feel that way.
Where it felt like today is going to be a really … Today feels like a really bad day because we are trying to do things our own way. What did you do on a day-to-day basis or how did you consistently make sure that you weren’t losing hope essentially in the ways that you guys are approaching the business?
Doug: If you let yourself step outside of whatever particular situation you are and you go one step out. Think well, where am I today, I’m in some random part of the world. I maybe working on some difficult problem but then I’m going to walk down to some really crazy little restaurant by the sea and compare that against what you could have been doing in a former life stuck in a cubicle somewhere. I have first-hand experience of that cubicle life. I have something to look back on and think, no matter how bad this day is, like overall it’s so much better than that style of life, for me anyway. It’s all about what speaks to you personally and that will be a life that some people will want but for me it’s not, and I much prefer this even with the ups and downs.
Felix: That sounds like you practice a lot of gratitude, making sure that you are grateful for what you have already … I think that’s a big part of it, as an entrepreneur is that we’re very ambitious, we’re intense as well, wanting to get things done, but it could also be a gift and curse because you could go down a path where you’re never satisfied no matter where you are, no matter what you achieve. I think is important what you’re saying is I should know what speaks to you, and don’t waver from that because you always end up in a place that you’re not happy unless you stick to what you … Like I said speaks to you the most. Was there a moment in your, “Past life” where you realized that this is not what I want to do, or was it something that built up over time. Like what was the thought process that you went through to determine what you’re really about?
Doug: I think probably I knew that before I even started in the corporate world, but I guess maybe … I can’t remember my exact thinking but I guess part of me maybe saw into the future and thought maybe it’s useful for me to experience what a lot of people do in the world and at least go and do this for a little while and see what it’s like and I’m glad that I did. I have that benchmark to look back on now, and that certainly helps with the gratitude element that you’re talking about. I guess I had always from a relatively early age I thought that that entrepreneurs would be the way for me but I still wanted to have … I did still want to have the traditional university experience at least.
Felix: Speaking of staying true to who are, I think once you become successfully and I want to get to this in a bit about your Kickstarter campaigns. You had 2 very successful Kickstarter campaigns and obviously once that happens, you get a lot of publicity. A lot of people hear about you and your business starts becoming more successful, the brand becomes bigger and then all of a sudden there’s all these opportunities that start popping up. Right people will start reaching out to you, wanting to work with you. They want to sell you things. When that happens, it’s easier to start to say, “I’m going to stick to my roots and stick to what I believe in.” When no one is trying to … Essentially taught you or bring you these opportunities, is easy for you to stick to that but once you get the exposure and all of a sudden everybody wants to work with you.
Wants to give you an opinion or wants to tell you about how you should run your business, but how do you come back though? How do you make sure that you aren’t being dragged down? Someone else is kind of goes in staying on track with yours when there are so many opportunities that just start popping up?
Doug: It’s a good question, I just think we’re very strongly minded and have a clear idea about what is us and what isn’t. I guess we don’t have too much trouble of saying no and we do have to say no a lot. If you are really clear on your vision and what you’re trying to achieve, and why you’re doing this all in the first place. If you keep coming back to that, then usually you’ve got a pretty clear answer on whether you’re going to say yes or no to something.
Felix: Was there like a formal sit-down that you and your team, or you and your partner had to do to determine the vision. How did you come up with it I guess, because I think this is the foundation that needs to be established if you want to start a business is that you start a business that’s going to be sustainable and won’t burn you out, wont drag you down a wrong path. Is that you need to have a vision to begin with, the vision that can stick to, but how do you even come up with a vision actually, point to it and say, This is what we believe in?”
Doug: Sometimes you can figure it out based on what you don’t want and I’m sure there was an element of that for us but it was really … For us it was as guys who were passionate about travel and really want to do that as much as possible. That’s kind of it. We needed to be doing something that would give us the freedom and flexibility to keep traveling and where we wouldn’t be tied to any one location and built it up from there. As co-founders we sit down … We have quarterly catch-ups and then annually we have a kind of more very sort of long kind of look and check that what we’re still doing matches back to what our original goal was. Just check that we’re both still on the same page with that, and that that has always been the case each year, we’ve caught up.
Felix: I like that approach of figuring out what you don’t want and then trying to design a life, or design a business to not necessary avoid it, but to not put yourself in that situation where you have to work a corporate job or whatever it is that you don’t want. I think a lot of listeners out there that are trying to go down this path, they’re going to run into obstacles, or they’re going to run into situations where it’s very hard for them to get away from what they don’t want. Was there ever a point where you came across this and you almost decided to go back to the lifestyle you had before? What were some of the time where it wasn’t as easy to stay on the path of doing of what you actually do want to do?
Doug: I think I can probably honestly say that there was no point where I decided that I decided that I should go back to doing what I was doing. I don’t think I’ve ever asked Jimmy that directly, but I suspect that he’s answer would be the same.
Felix: Let’s talk about the backpack then, because like you were saying earlier, there were some manufacturing issues with the first line of products, the apparel line. What changed about the backpack, what was the situation of the backpack and the manufacturers that made it? At least a lot more feasible than with apparel?
Doug: I think we were talking to a really high end manufacturer that just understood what we were trying to achieve very early on, and everything just clicked there. Whereas with the early apparel, manufacturers it was all a real struggle. Essentially that was the major difference just having someone on board that you feel understand what you’re trying to do I think is pretty important.
Felix: Do you remember how many manufacturers you had to approach before you found the right one.
Doug: 50, 60, 70 I guess.
Felix: Was there like a good process that you followed to reach out to them, because if you had to talk to 50 or 60 manufactures before you can even begin going down a path of producing this product. Is there a way to make it easier? Let’s say you were to launch the business again and you had to find a manufacturer … You had high standards, is there a better approach that you would take this time around to make sure that you were able to identify the right manufactures without spending too much time in that stage?
Doug: I think if I was in the same situation I was back then, I don’t think there were any real good shortcuts to that. It was just being on the ground traveling round, visiting these places, asking lots of questions. It’s all a way to learn more about the industry. The more you visit, the questions that you ask get better each time, and I guess if me in my position was doing it now, then I have a huge amount of contacts in various manufacturing industries, so things would be faster there. If you don’t know anything, I think you still need to … There’s still a lot to be gained from doing it the slow and hard way.
Felix: You were visiting all of these manufacturers in person?
Felix: I’m starting to think about a question that’s going to come up in a lot of listener’s heads is how did you fund all of this, this entire trip? How did you quit your job it sounds like and travel and didn’t try to start a business? How were you able to fund all of this?
Doug: Out of university I worked 18 months in my first corporate job before I quit to go traveling and that was the beginnings of the business. What actually happened in there was during most of those 18 months I’d kind of decided that before I went in I wasn’t going to get caught in the trap of paying high rent and buying lots of things and buying expensive food. It was a case of just continuing to live like a student while having a job. Jimmy my co-founder and I actually, before we were in business together, we shared this lower level of a place for many, many months together … Kind of roughing it down there on a … It was a nicest part of town but splitting basically a basement together.
We didn’t pay much rent, and we had a very simple, simple meals. I guess there are kind of sacrifices to be made but we were happy to do that because we … It was kind of a travel/future business fund I would say. You’re eating your crap food but you know the money you’re spending can go towards something really exciting in the future. I think it’s something that you can manage
Felix: Definitely, I think that’s very I guess you thought very forward and very early on, which helped you set up yourself to had not the debt or not have the essentially golden handcuffs of being stuck in a salary job, and do all this. I think a lot of listeners out there might be in that situation. I wonder if someone wanted to do the same thing, maybe not travel but essentially quit their job and focus full-time on building a business, I think that’s maybe slightly a better middle ground. Do you remember any points where you felt like you were going to run out of cash during this entire thing? Did it ever get scary that this might not all work out?
Doug: Yeah, there was a period in there where … because it was the case of Jimmy and I like when one was traveling around visiting the factories, the other would be back in New Zealand working. We’d swipe over at times. That was the thing that we needed to do to refill the fund a little bit and that worked. Once we felt like we were really getting traction on the product side, we knew that we could move things a lot faster if we both went full time and that’s what we did and just went through. That makes a massive difference when you can focus all your energy on something.
Felix: We were talking a bit before the call, before we have recording, I asked you where you guys based out of and you said nowhere particular, you are traveling all the time. I want to talk about the pros and cons of this? What is it like to start a business without a physical home base that you come back to, but you’re essentially just traveling all around the world while running the business?
Doug: It definitely has its challenges, but I think yeah, maybe weird to say that I almost feel more at home traveling when I don’t have a home. I know that’s definitely not going to be the case for everyone and that’s probably even a pretty small minority. This entrepreneurship does allow you to a certain extend to design the life that works for you and that’s what we’ve achieved. The business has been set up in a way that enables that, but it’s also it would work I guess just fine if one or both of us decided to stay in one place for a while, but it’s just we are so passionate about travel that just seems to happen that way anyway.
Felix: What are some of the challenges that you encounter that you did not expect when you first started off … Started the business while traveling?
Doug: I guess as the team grows, you get to the point where … and everyone else is essentially as well. You do have meetings at all hours of the day and sometimes night, and that’s I guess that can cause problems sometimes, but not really. I think that’s a pretty small tradeoff for the life that comes out of that. I guess particularly for us as a travel company, no one can accuse us of not being travelers. We are both doing it pretty much full-time. Sometimes you do need to … productivity can take a hit sometimes depending on the style of travel, but I think we both have doing that for long enough now that we can still do some work on the road, but we still give ourselves some solid blocks of time in one place as well for things that are more difficult to do when we are physically moving.
Felix: One of the things I’ve heard from other digital nomads is that because they are traveling so frequently and then they are going to cities, there are places in the world that are just essentially teasing them to come out of their work mode and explore. One of the biggest difficulties I’ve had is that the productivity point that you are bringing up, which is as hard as settle into work mode when you could be out and exploring the new environment that you’re in. how do you combat that and actually be able to get down and get work done when you are traveling so frequently?
Doug: I think for me I’ve just gotten to a point where I get enough stimulation like going between the spots that I’m going to be working from. I don’t feel the need that when I arrive in a new place, I need to go and see all the tourist hot spots or anything like that. I’m just happy to live like everyday life in that place. Going out for meals or if you need to pick up something random, like go and pick up some electrical type or something as those little tasks that you feel like more of a local. Just doing regular things, going to the supermarket to get food and that kind of thing.
Yeah, for me it’s once you treat yourself as not a tourist and someone who is at least going to be reason and therefore whatever period of time you are there even if it’s just a day. It takes away the former element of “Oh, I’m in the city for 2 days and if I looked at the travel guide, there’ll be these things that I have to do.” Once you get past that, it’s really not too much of a problem I think.
Felix: I guess give yourself the time, that’s why you are now rushed in one particular location so that you don’t feel like you have to head out. You can settle into it, makes sense. For anyone out there that is thinking about taking their business on the road or just signing up the business for the first time to be completely remote. Following you footsteps, what are some things to keep in mind or start preparing today before making that leap into running or starting a completely remote business?
Doug: I think there are a lot of … just for traveling, if you are going to be permanently on the road, I guess there are a lot for things to … In terms of getting your own affairs in order. There is a lot of stuff that you need to figure out at home. All the little things like getting your bank to stop sending physical statements to you and maybe if you are going to be away for a year, getting an international drivers license at home, because that’s something you can’t get once you are abroad. Yeah, there is a lot of little things that you can get in order before you go. I guess at the wider business level, you just have to be … Especially if we are talking about a remote team, you just have to be really good at turning things into systems all the time and you need to improve your communications skills I think.
As a remote team, something that’s really important is essentially all the communicating, because if you had a team in one physical place, it’s not so important, you are always getting a sense of how people are doing, whether they’re struggling or whatever but … If it’s remote, you often can’t see their face and you don’t know what their general demeanor is. Making sure you’re really, really clear and communicate any of their own communications is pretty important. That doesn’t come naturally to I’d say most people, so it’s something to work on.
Felix: Let’s talk about the Kickstarter Campaigns, because I think this is where your business really took off. You launched 2 campaigns, we’ll talk about the first one first, the first campaign which I think was launched in 2013. Had a goal of $30,000, ended up raising 10 times that, $341,000 from over 6000 backers. Before we get to the actual campaign itself, what stage was the basis prior to launching the Kickstarter Campaigns? Did you have prototypes ready, what did you have ready or what did you have already developed before launching the campaign?
Doug: At the point we launched, we’d actually done pretty serious amount of preparation. We had gone through 13 or 14 like different duration of the bag and each one we’d take a new sample, take it out to the people nearby and let them just tell us everything they thought of it. That process I was describing before about just letting that feedback come to you and write everything down. We’d also planned for every sort of scenario, right from we’re really struggling to get close to the goal, what are we going to do and where we are completely overwhelmed. It was a making sure we had a factory who could handle that demand, making sure we’d time-lined everything out and had a little bit of slag, because there’s always no matter how prepared you are, if you are talking about physical manufacturing, there is going to be things that you couldn’t have possibly have know that’s going to push things out a little bit, so just being very prepared.
I think I’ve seen it probably a lot of times with some of these products that end up on Kickstarter where it becomes apparent that the creators hadn’t actually checked … they hadn’t even found their factory at that point, so they didn’t know whether it could be produced at scale or how much that was going cost and that can definitely get you into problems later on. For us, it was a mantra, it was like, “Yeah, prepare and over prepare before we press launch on the campaign.
Felix: 13 or 14 iterations prior to launching is definitely on the high end of preparedness for a Kickstarter Campaign, because I hear all the time from that are launching on Kickstarter where they are treating it as the starting point, like it’s their first iteration or maybe first couple. They are putting it out there and hoping to learn along the way and improve and change the product along the way before it ends and they have to start manufacturing it. Whereas starters start sending out to manufacturers. How did you know that you landed on the right iteration before launching your Kickstarter especially since you went through 13 or 14 already, how did you say “Okay, the 13, this is the 13th one or 14th one.” This one, I don’t want to say good enough, but it’s ready to go on Kickstarter?
Doug: Yeah, just a sense of these are pretty damn good at this point. From just trying to be as objective as possible and when the negative feedback starts drying up from these people who have been pretty loudly telling you what they think is wrong with it, when that starts to disappear. We’d gone through a stage at that point of sending bags out to a small data crew so they could actually use it over a period of time and see if there’s anything else wrong. Would fix any of the little issues from that, yeah by that point we were pretty confident that it was a ready product. Even then, we wanted to leave ourselves open to and provide sometime in the timeline to slightly change the product based on feedback that we received during the campaign. That was something that valuable as well, so we’ve done that in both campaigns and changed little things.
Felix: I think ideally any entrepreneur that has launched their business, if they had all the time in world, all the funds in the world they would love to continue testing and creating the perfect product before putting it out. I want to talk about your process, because I don’t think that much time has elapsed between the very first prototypes and launching your Kickstarters. Tell us about the cycle of going from a new prototype iteration into a bit of tester, to getting their feedback. Now back to the manufacturer that’s producing a prototype. How do that entire cycle work and how did you work it so that it could be done for 13, 14 prototypes?
Doug: It was case of us getting ourselves into a position where we didn’t have to focus on anything else, we weren’t trying to do any other jobs by that point and we were flexible in terms of where we could be. We could essentially just camp out by the factories for as long as it took, which is what we did. Is a case of just devoting all our efforts to that, so taking in the initial prototype which had it made and then … Already from that first travel, we had a bunch of things that we wanted to change for the next sample, take that out to our group of trusted feedback peeps and hear everything from them, write it all down.
We’d lock ourselves away as founders for a couple of days and process all that feedback and think about “Okay, we don’t want to end up with the Homer Simpson cast so we have to go through each piece of feedback in terms of whether people will think we should add something or change something on the bag and look at it as against like what’s our original vision for this product and would that change be in line with that. If so, note it down as something we wanted to change and other things you discard. Then write that all up and communicate that back to the manufacturer for the next round and just repeat that for months and months and months and months.
Felix: Do you, remember how much time and capital you had to invest to go through all of these iterations before it was ready for kick starter?
Doug: From that part of it, it was probably a year in sample stage I guess and in terms of capital, yeah, tens of thousands not less probably yeah. 100,000 plus potentially and plus our time as well.
Felix: Yeah, that’s definitely an investment that shows you are very committed to it and did you ever feel like maybe we’re getting too deep into this or let’s just launch with what we have? How did you combat those feelings of we’ve already invested a year of our lives, $100,000. Did you ever feel like let’s just go with what we have?
Doug: No, I think we’re both fairly perfectionists in the way we do things and we know that we are realistic in the sense that we know that nothing can be absolute … No product can ever be 100% perfect, but this is a level that we were comfortable enough with. Yeah, I think we both had a sense that we were going to basically fix anything that our feedback group were talking about at this point, because we still had the position to d. We hadn’t run out of money at that point, maybe we went too far from that conviction of thinking that is hard. It’s a good thing to have but it needs to be checked in some way, like otherwise, you’d never ever release anything. I guess we feel as though we’ve gotten to a good enough point in the way we think about these things. A good balance if we are looking to be a really, really high quality product company.
Felix: Campaign number 2, on Kickstarter, had a lower goal of only $10,000 but raised even more money than the first campaign. This one raised over $500 hundred thousand dollars from 2400 backers. Tell us about your promotion strategy for both of this. Did you guys do any preparation to market and promote the campaigns before they started? How were you able to hit your goal and then breakthrough so successfully for both of these campaigns?
Doug: I guess for the first one we got a bit of help from the people that we had involved in the process, so it was a little of their feedback that went into the bag and that bloody into that … there was a bag that they really wanted as well. The online community that we are part of, the DC, Dynamite Circle, I’ve a lot of guys in there. They gave us a lot of help in getting the word out. For the second one, what we didn’t really … we were basically yeah really focused on product right up until the time we launched and didn’t do so much in the promotion side of things. I guess at that point we’d had a lot of word of mouth marketing over the last couple of years and in a sizeable email list by that point. It was quite different to the way we approached it and we really didn’t actually do a lot. Just dropped it to the list and I guess had a few tease of videos, cut out from various parts our clip side of video and that was it. It started the title, yeah raised fairly quickly on that second one.
Felix: I can definitely see why a second campaign would be I wouldn’t say anything as easy, but at least easier than the first one because you have the PR essentially from the first campaign, you have the email list, you have customers already from that first campaign that you promote your new one too. You also … I was looking at your profile for Kickstarting, you guys have backed 28 campaigns. I think this is the most I’ve seen for any guest on the podcast as launched on Kickstarter. 20 campaigns that you guys backed on Kickstarter. I guess why did you feel like you had to back that and why did you figure how to back it? What made you guys decide to back 28 other Kickstarter Campaigns.
Doug: I’m not sure it was even a conscious decision. It’s just like we talk about stuff that we really love and we think should exist in the world and we are always happy to back it. Sometimes I’m always carrying round a few other like Kickstarter products and things that I’m testing for people. We just love it as a way to bring things into the world that a few years ago just might not have made it, it’s a really cool platform?
Felix: There’s definitely a tinier community of backers out there, so I can definitely see why you would want to get involved in that community. One thing that really stood out with your Kickstarter Campaigns is the videos. These are … were these produced by in-house or did you guys hire people to help you produce these product videos for your Kickstarter Campaigns?
Doug: In-house, both of the actually. The first one that was … Jimmy deserves much of the credit on the vast majority the creator on both of these videos. Yeah, it was the 2 of us and a photographer friend that we brought to help us for the first one. Then the second one, kind of a similar situation where is it was members of our team that helped us with editing on that one. Jimmy still wrote all the scripts. We had a game of we call it like editing, game of chicken with the editing where increasing the ridiculous things in and wait to see what I would edit out and I just left it all in there, so that’s how we ended up with that passage at the very beginning of us dancing on the beach in Peruvian mast.
Felix: I think it was a very hilarious video, anyone out there who is listening should check it out. I think it definitely caught my attention. From the first campaign to the second campaign, did you learn anything about what works with the video, what works with that landing page for a Kickstarter Campaign that you made sure to include in the second campaign?
Doug: Yes, I think we did change the way we went about things too much. I think we feel like it was … we had done a lot of research for the first one, so we felt that most of that could be continued on. I think we started with the cross promotions a little earlier than on the first one. That was when you’ve got the opportunity to tell your backers about some of the other awesome projects that are happening on Kickstarter at the same time, that’s always good. I think they were fairly similar in the way we went about that part of the process for both campaigns.
Felix: Can you talk a little bit more about this cross promotion? Is that something that’s done while you are running a campaign or is this after you are about to launch a campaign, you work with another past campaign traders to promote your product? What does cross promotion mean?
Doug: It doesn’t happen until you’ve launched really, because then … The only way usually that you would know about these other Kickstarter Campaigns is because you’ve both launched. One will send a message to the other and say, “Hey, we think we are both great products that should be helping each other out, how about we do a cross promotion?” We are very particular about that as well, so is actually only a small fraction of people who contact us that we would partner with them in that way. Yeah, when we find something we think is really good and there’s been a lot of thought and hard work gone into it from the creators and we will tell other backers about it as well.
Felix: Very cool, I didn’t know that there were these process for a cross promotion, but I think it’s definitely something that other campaign creators should consider exploring, because again the backers out there is a community of backers. Sometimes they just like backing projects, not necessarily because they are on Kickstarter looking for something specific, but they are looking to just back awesome campaigns, so definitely found ways to get in front of the group of folks. One thing I noticed in one of the campaigns you guys had run is that it says at the very top that a campaign is over but the journey is just getting started to stay in the loop, keep in touch below. Then you have basically a bunch of banners that are linked to your Instagram, your Facebook, to the actual site to buy right away. Basically a bunch of places that they can go to off the Kickstarter page. Do you guys get a lot traffic from people checking out a Kickstarter Campaign that has ended, that then comes to your site?
Doug: There is a reason and I don’t think it would be in our top list of referrals, but I guess maybe there is more just after the end of the campaign. It’s really a matter of … The Kickstarter Campaign freezes as soon as the campaign closes, so it’s just making it easy for anyone who drops on your page after that to find you in your current form. To have a link in there that you actually still control and can change as your main product page changes later on.
Felix: I do think that Kickstarter itself does have a lot essentially SEO juice. If you type in the name of your brand or searching or searching for a different product, sometimes the Kickstarter Campaign is one of the first ones to show up or at least on the first page, so you definitely want to find a way to take that traffic and direct them to like you’re saying your current form on your Shopify site or whatever site you are selling your product on. What do you guys have planned for next year? What are some things that the listeners can look out for from you guys?
Doug: As always we are very heavily in product development at the moment, so yes some stuff we are pretty damn excited about coming out at some point. I guess the thing with us is that pretty much everything we’ve done has been worked on for at least a couple of years and that hasn’t really changed. When we feel that it’s truly really … we release it. We don’t make any promises or even that the products will be released, so we keep pretty quiet about what we’re doing, because a lot of the products we’ve developed in the past, some of them we just don’t think they are good enough and we don’t release them. The current batch look like they are going to be pretty amazing.
Felix: Very cool, thanks so much Doug, Minaal.com is the website. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners to go and check out if they follow along with what you guys are up to?
Doug: No, it’s very much we found through that. It’s the only place we sell our products aside from Kickstarter for the launches. Yeah, it’s all at Minaal.com.
Felix: If anyone wants to be made aware of any Kickstarter launches, I’m sure you will broadcast it out to your email list, so if you want to sign up, I think that’s probably the best way to stay with you guys look out for any upcoming campaigns.
Felix: Cool, thanks again so much for your time Doug.
Doug: Great, thank you Felix.
Felix: Thank for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To store your story today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial.
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