Show notes for this episode:
Get in touch with Khierstyn Ross: Khierstyn.com
Hey, everyone. Very warm welcome to the eCommerce Freedom Podcast. It’s Ollie here and I'm here with a very exciting guest this week by the name of Khierstyn Ross.
Now, the reason I wanted to speak with Khierstyn on this podcast is because she's an expert at launching products on Kickstarter, and Kickstarter is something I've always seen in the background.
In fact, I've actually paid for a lot and backed a lot of projects on Kickstarter myself. From video games to, I think there was a pen at one point, I backed. And I really like it as a platform. In fact, a pair of headphones I have on me right now were launched on Kickstarter.
So it's a platform that I've always been aware of, but I never really understood how to tap into its power. So Khierstyn is somebody who really understands how to launch, how to really make a big bang on the platform. And so we're going to talk today about how she does that, her story, and everything else.
So Khierstyn, it's really awesome to have you on the show. How are things with you?
Yeah. Things are really good. I joke like just another day in quarantine, but, no overall things are like really, really busy and I'm kind of, I don't know, I'm just, I'm enjoying the time and the amount of focus that we've been able to have from eliminating outside distractions, I guess if that makes sense.
Oh, I'm the same. Yeah. I don't know why but I've been so… I think because I know I can't really go out and just meander about and waste time. It's like now, okay, well I have to work, I might as well work. It's kind of, it's kind of a blessing, right? So, no, I'm totally with you.
So let's start by going through how you got into helping people with Kickstarter launches. Why did you choose that area and why not do something else?
Yeah, it's funny because I actually.. I joke that it chose me - like up until I was about 18 months in and two, three projects and successes into being the Kickstarter chick or crowdfunding queen or whatever you want to call me.
I really resisted niching down and focusing on helping people with Kickstarter launches because at the time I was totally bought into thinking that my business is going to boom and I'm going to get success by helping all kinds of businesses do all kinds of different things.
So really my growth as a development entrepreneur really resisted niching and specializing in Kickstarter, but I did. And that's really what made the difference. So now I'm a believer in niching down and focusing on serving a very specific audience with a specific skillset.
But how I got into Kickstarter launches itself is, at the time, it was about five years ago, I went to a networking event and met the founder of a physical product company who was just getting started and he had an idea for this vest that helped you lose weight through cold temperature.
And at the time it sounded like a ridiculous idea, but there were a couple of other projects on Kickstarter that he had kind of got the idea from because there were at the time, there was a vest that you put ice packs in, and as long as you wear the vest, it was scientifically proven that you burn calories just by wearing this vest for a couple of hours a day.
So this campaign went and did 300,000. So Adam at the time was like, well, I think we can make a better version of this, but we can make a tech version of this. So instead of ice packs, we're going to use technology and engineering expertise to really build something that acts as like a rechargeable battery that cools your system down versus ice.
And so he got this idea and he needed a way to bring it to the market. And Kickstarter was very attractive model for him because he's like, all right, well, we've priced it out. We need at least 50,000, which turned out to be a gross under estimation of the amount of money actually required to bring a tech hardware product like this to market.
But he's like, okay, well I need 50 grand to get started. So I can either go and get traditional investment from angel investors or whatever, or go to Kickstarter, pitch the idea and get people to help me raise $50,000 through preorders.
So he wanted to get on Kickstarter. He wanted to do a Kickstarter. And at the time I knew a little bit about online and online marketing. So we became friends and partnered up and did the launch. And at the time I knew literally nothing about crowdfunding. I was like, sure, I'm open, I'm open to this new opportunity. This sounds like a cool product, whatever, let's do it.
And so we made all the mistakes in the book, we did like a two and a half month ramp up. We had two full time interns. To this day I don't even remember what they were doing, but we ended up launching… we chose to go to Indiegogo after all that’s said and done.
So we launched the campaign on Indiegogo and it was an epic fail. Out of a $50,000 goal, we only raised about 16 or 17K, which was like pennies compared to what we really needed.
So that failure hurt. It was public. And at the end of the campaign, we just kind of looked at each other like, hey, well, what now? Do we give up on the product? Or is it the product that people don't want? Or is it that the strategy and the marketing that we put behind that campaign just failed? So maybe that was it.
So we decided to go back to the drawing board and we chose to relaunch the campaign, really fixing, I say, “fixing” our mistakes that second time around. And when we launched on Indiegogo the second time a couple of months later, the thing exploded. So we ended up that second campaign raising just about 598,000 US dollars from that.
So that massive turnaround from a $17,000 failure to a viral sensation within the span of three months, that got some attention around Toronto from local meetup groups where they were asking me to come and speak to their entrepreneurs about what we did differently. and so one of the talks they did, I met the founder of Tapplock, my second campaign, at that point. Or, I guess, technically, third.
We then launched the padlock on Indiegogo a few months after that. And we raised about $350,000. Then I got another campaign. It was another multi six figure launch and things just kind of like, that's just what happened. I became the person who had multiple six figure launches with physical products.
And so to this day, I've raised millions using Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I've worked with both established brands to launch a new product and beginner brands who are launching their first product and want to use Kickstarter for the exposure, for the ability to fund preorders for inventory, or even just for market validation. And then here we are today.
Love it. That's such a cool introduction into the world of Kickstarter. It's so funny that you failed first off and then straight after had a massive success. So that's really exciting. I'm so glad you didn't give up after that initial failure, you know, ‘cause who knows what would have happened.
So one thing I wanted to ask you just for the benefit of the listeners is, you've touched on it, but how would you describe Kickstarter to somebody who's never heard of it or doesn't have any idea what we're talking about?
Yeah. So I like to look at Kickstarter like Amazon sort of, but very different. Amazon is a marketplace, so you have different products, you have different people selling products on Amazon. And then you have consumers that go to amazon.com to find products and then transact on Amazon, right? So it's a marketplace that matches products with people that want to buy the product.
Kickstarter is a marketplace that matches products with customers, but there's a huge difference in that Kickstarter has become the most popular go-to product launch platform because people, when they buy your product on Kickstarter, are not buying it and getting it in two days, they're actually people like you and I that want to be involved in helping a startup get going.
And so when you buy these products on Kickstarter, you are pre-ordering the product. So how that benefits me as a creator is if I have a planner that I know I need about $15,000 for an initial run of planners, right? There's two things I can do.
I can pull that $15,000 out of my own pocket, go and manufacture, or start to get like 500 printed for an MOQ, and then start to sell them after I've already sunk 15 grand of my own money into something. That is risky because if you have a new product, you haven't actually proven that people want your product. Best case – sell them. Worst case - you're out of pocket 15 grand. Right?
So the other way, and what has made Kickstarter so popular is that it really helps to create or mitigate risk. So if I were to do a Kickstarter launch for my planner, I'm going to set a goal on Kickstarter of raising $15,000. And I have, say, 30 days to raise $15,000.
Then what happens is I will put my product up on Kickstarter with a nice video, a good sales page, and I'll create a marketing campaign to generate awareness and interest to get people to actually buy my product within that 30 days.
And if I raised 15,000 in preorders from people actually pre-ordering my product on Kickstarter, then the project is successful, I walk away from Kickstarter with the money raised and with enough money to cover inventory and manufacturing and a few hundred customers, then really essentially you leave Kickstarter with the proof of concept, with a validated idea, with cash in hand, to cover inventory and a pool of customers that you can now start to build your audience, start to build your brand online.
That's so powerful. This is like doing everything backwards in a way, because quite often, you know, when you're looking to launch a product, you need to find the money first, then spend the money on the stock and then just pray that it sells. You know, that's why I'm always saying to my students that don't order a thousand units from day one - start small and then see, and then grow.
But with Kickstarter, you can start by already having a customer base of several thousand people, and all the money from day one. So it's very, very exciting. And yeah, I think a lot more people should be aware of it.
So, let's say I have a product. I dunno, let's say I want to create like what I bought.. I bought pair of headphones. Let's say I have a new design for headphones and I'm thinking, you know, maybe Kickstarter is a good place to launch it. How would I go about that? What would be like the first thing I need to do?
The first thing you need to do is figure out if people actually want your headphones. Right? So the thing with Kickstarter is that you will be successful on there if you have a product that you have proven market interest and it solves a big problem or desire in someone's life.
So with these headphones, that could be a product that's easily commoditized, meaning you have two options, you either have it so that your headphones are literally like every other pair of headphones and there's nothing special about it. Or you've designed these headphones to have some unique ability that is a step up or an improvement on a current existing product, so that you have a unique offer around these headphones.
So assuming you have a unique offer, like for example, what kind of headphones will we be talking about? Are these like in-ear or are these overhead or…
That’s a really great point actually. ‘Cause the ones that I bought, their unique ability was the fact that they were very soft and so you could sleep with them on when you’re traveling and stuff like that. So that was their unique...
Cool. So that’s a differentiator with Kickstarter - you don't want to bring in a white labeled product or a product that is really no different from what I can go and buy on Amazon. So it has to have some uniqueness to it. And if the uniqueness is that it's soft and you could sleep in it, that's a unique advantage - a spin on an existing solution, right?
And so if you were the guy launching these in-ear soft buds that allowed you to sleep in them, if that's like, your hypothesis, you're assuming that this is a feature or a unique ability that people will pay for, but before you even think of going to Kickstarter or building a list or whatever, you need to test and validate with your market to see if this is a feature people care enough about to pay for.
So you need to validate the idea by identifying who your customer is, talking to people in your network, and just really validating the concept itself as good enough to be a product that is going to sell.
That's a great point. What I was going to ask, actually, I think you started on it a little bit, but how do you validate? I mean, do you have to buy some products and see if they sell, or is it a case of doing surveys? Like, do you have any good tips for that part of the process?
Yeah, there's a lot of ways you can validate. The tried and true way that agencies and people pre-Kickstarter validate is they will get you to put up a landing page and spend say, 500 to a thousand dollars sending traffic to that page to see if people opt in.
So essentially you can validate your idea by building a small email list and then looking at the numbers and seeing if your cost per lead is under $2.50. And your click through rate is whatever. Then it shows the market is interested to put their name on a wait list.
Yeah. So it's basically a bit like dry testing, right?
Yeah, but the there's no true.. like there's no better way of validating until you get people to take money out of their wallets and pay for your product. So the more aggressive way to validate is you can do either where you put up a… and this is not ethical, but you could put up a fake sales page with information on your product and actually take an order. Right?
Okay, so there was a bone broth subscription company that's now an eight figure brand. Years ago, they used this idea of putting up a fake sales page and they spent about $300 on Bing traffic, off of Bing, to collect orders.
And out of say, $300 spent, he got about six or seven customers. He looked at the acquisition cost of it and then assessed that, okay, this bone broth subscription is definitely something people want. So now I'm going to refund these customers’ money, and then I'm going to go manufacture and actually launch this product.
So he tested through ads to get people to actually buy his product. And there's no better test than asking someone to buy your product.
That's the thing, right? Because there's the difference between somebody saying, yeah, you know, I would definitely buy this, but then sometimes you can pull out the order form and say, okay, well, here you go and then the excuses come. Right?
But if you say, buy it and then you've got the money, people vote with their wallets basically. Right. So that's fascinating. So I'm curious then. Are there certain types of products that you can sell on Kickstarter? Types of products that wouldn't work?
Yeah. So when I look to see if something will sell on Kickstarter, the first question I ask is who is your target customer? Because if your product serves a B2B market, like a business is the end user, Kickstarter's not the platform for you. Kickstarter’s for consumer-facing products. So if you would sell it on Amazon, it's most likely going to be a Kickstarter launch. Okay?
The other thing with Kickstarter, it's not limited to certain kinds of products do really well, like sure there are trends and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, if I'm looking at how well this product will do, it has to serve a unique ability.
There has to be something different and novel about it. It doesn't have to be like a never before seen product, but it should be like a spin on an existing product. Like you talked about with the headphones. I've seen a lot of really great ideas come from like… there are some Amazon sellers that are already selling and then they use Kickstarter to just look at past projects to see if there's any ideas or whatever.
There's one project I'm working with today who three years ago, they saw a competing product raise multiple six figures. And then that product ended up failing because they couldn't deliver what was promised. There was huge defect in the product that they discovered after they rolled it out.
And so this new company I'm working with identified what that defect is. They actually solved the problem. And now they're going to launch a new version of a product that was validated a couple of years ago from a Kickstarter launch.
That raises a really good idea for product research, actually. Looking at previous successful products on Kickstarter and seeing how you can adapt them, see how you can improve on them. That's really exciting. Really interesting.
So I'm curious, you mentioned Amazon sellers using Kickstarter. So obviously most of the people who are listening to this episode are interested in Amazon. So let's say you did have an Amazon business and you've got a couple products. How could you use Kickstarter to grow?
Yeah, so it depends what you're selling on Amazon. Kickstarter is meant for new products or new versions of products. So I've worked with sellers in the past that have white labeled everything. And because that's just how they got into ecom, there's nothing new or unique about their product. So they go to use Kickstarter to develop a proprietary product. Okay. So that's one way to do it.
Or, some sellers will choose to validate their product on Amazon and then get market feedback, kind of do a soft launch on Amazon, and then they'll pull back. And with that product, if you have any adjustments or improvements that you're making on that, you can go to Kickstarter to launch your version two.
Kickstarter will only have a problem with it if you are already selling an existing product, and then you try to go to Kickstarter with that identical product to sell.
I'm with you. So there has to be a reason why you need the crowdfunding. It can't just be like, oh, we just want some more cash. Right?
Yeah. And even if you need more cash, that's not what you lead with. You need a story as to why you need that version two. Right?
Yeah. Absolutely. In fact, a lot of the launches I've seen do seem to be centered around stories. Is that quite a big, is that quite a big part of it then?
It is. Yeah.
Awesome. That makes a lot of sense. So you've obviously been working with a lot of eCommerce brands and entrepreneurs on Kickstarter. I'm curious, what are some of the biggest mistakes, most common pitfalls that you've seen happen when people are trying to get successful campaigns?
Yeah. So we've already talked about one of them, which is, Kickstarter used to be used to pitch your idea to world and then get validation. But Kickstarter is… the game has changed so that there's two main reasons people use it. They use it for funding and they also use it for marketing.
I believe now that Kickstarter should not be used exclusively because you need money. I think it's amazing as a marketing campaign because it could really blow up a brand.
But the landscape has become so competitive on Kickstarter that one misconception is that because it's such a big marketplace and it's a global community, all you need to do is just kind of launch your product. And suddenly you're going to have thousands of orders.
A lot of people don't know what goes into having a successful launch on Kickstarter, that it takes months of time to build up an audience, and it takes thousands of dollars to build a wait list if you're looking at doing a six figure launch.
So I think the big mistake I see people making is they virtually misunderstand how Kickstarter will work for them and how to build up awareness to set yourself up for a strong launch. So what I mean by that is Kickstarter and Indiegogo have an algorithm that helps them determine which campaigns are popular and which ones their users like.
It's very similar to getting that front page on Amazon or just getting the traffic right, or Amazon’s choice. So Kickstarter, you really have to earn your spot and the true gold and value in Kickstarter is their ability to introduce you to thousands of new potential customers around the planet. But you need to prove yourself first.
The way to tap into the Kickstarter community and to start going viral on their platform is you need, as soon as you launch a product, you need to have momentum and sales come in on that very first day, when you launch from an audience that you've built up, and when you have those sales come in on the first day, that is what the algorithm is going to pick you up as a popular project and something that their users like.
They'll start to.. all of a sudden, you become easier to find on the site, you get more visibility, you start to hit the trending section, you get staff pick, you just get visibility and more traction on the site, which will then snowball into additional sales. Right?
And that's like the most misunderstood thing about the platform is. Okay, well, if I need this audience, how do I actually build up that audience? And what does that process look like? And so I think like that's a big mistake people make - is the algorithm.
But the second mistake people make is like every, I swear, every person that comes to me with an idea for a product that they like, they don't come to me saying, I want to raise 25,000. They come to me saying, I want to do multiple six figure campaign. Right. And then when I break down what goes into that, suddenly people are like, oh, okay, there's more to this than I thought.
So going into a six figure launch, I love it. But the reality is that you need to build up an email list of like 5,000 or 7,500 people, which costs money to do that. You need a few months of buildup and you need to build this waitlist and you need to make sure that your product message is on point and then you launch a product, right? So understanding that process people will need to do.
And it's also, I think the third thing, the third mistake people make is trying to go too big, too fast. So you mentioned this to me, either offline or earlier in this call, where you're like, I prefer that people start small, get that proof of concept and then go for a bigger launch.
And I think for Kickstarter, because of the amount of money and time that has to go into getting you a big launch, it can actually cause some people to spend more money than they budgeted for and get into trouble when it comes time to delivering their product.
So what I prefer people do is instead of using that first six figure Kickstarter campaign for your very, very first product launch, I actually think that you should be doing a small 20-$25,000 soft launch on your website for that version one proof of concept. In that point you have money coming in sooner, you get a validated product.
You then work with that first run of inventory and customers to make adjustments. And then you go to Kickstarter for the big marketing campaign. That's how I think it should be used because people just get into…
Of course, I'm not saying that you shouldn't go in for six figure launches, but what I'm saying is like, if you are a first time creator with a really good idea and you want to get to market fast and you don't want to risk a lot of your capital on a risky six figure launch, there's a smarter way to take it to market.
That's awesome. That makes a lot of sense. There's obviously a right way of doing this. And you obviously found out pretty quickly when you had your initial, I think you said $16,000 kind of failed launch. And then immediately after that you had a wildly successful launch. So what was the key difference between those two launches?
Yeah, the key difference is that we didn't really value that algorithm I talked about and getting momentum on the first day of your launch. Like we, for the first launch, we knew about it, but we didn't know how to tap into it. And we didn't really respect how that will make or break your campaign.
So when we saw it literally break our campaign because we didn't focus on getting that momentum in within the first few hours of that campaign, that's something we absolutely took to heart and put so much emphasis on that second launch to get in as much traction and traffic in that first day with that.
Got ya. So yeah. How do you get sales on the first day then? So you mentioned building an email list. So is it just a case of getting those emails in and saying to your email list, you know, we're about to launch on Kickstarter and then sending the traffic there for day one? Is that it? Or is there more to it?
I mean, yeah, in very simple form, that's it. But there are things that when you build an email list, traditionally it's done over a few weeks, so you want to have a really well structured email marketing campaign that's happening in the weeks leading up to the launch to not only keep your list engaged, but you're educating them on your product and like really building that relationship and that trust factor.
That is like having the list, making sure it's engaged. It's about having an incentive strategy on the first day. So I create what's called a Black Friday effect on your launch on day one, where you're going to offer an early bird package for the first 100 people at a steep discount, because what you want to do is you want to get the most excited people to jump in on those savings early, which is then going to snowball that momentum.
So that's the second thing, but the third thing you need, which I see a lot of people not doing, is it's not just about having a list. It's not just about sending emails, it's also keeping an eye on making sure that the product offer is exactly what your customer base wants.
So you're validating things like the price, you're making sure they actually care about the soft earbuds. Anything like that or any barriers that's going to prevent someone from buying from you. That's really what you're doing in the prelaunch, you're looking to see what is going to prevent someone from buying and then building that into your communication strategy.
Got ya. So it's like almost a period of intense learning about your customer at the same time, building up all the anticipation.
Hundred percent. Yeah.
That's really interesting. I didn't know any of this stuff before we talked, so I'm really glad I got all these insights. So Khierstyn, tell me a little bit about how you help clients to launch projects and then what you offer. ‘Cause I'm really curious to know what you do on a day to day basis to make sure these Kickstarter campaigns are successful.
Yeah. So depending on the client and what they need, we have two levels of service. We have either a done for you, which we look for people that have a large marketing budget that want to do like six or multi six figure campaigns. So that's typically like the funded startup or the existing brand.
Then we also have a lower level, which is a.. it's a done with you program. So it's our online training program called the product launch pad, which actually works with you step by step. So you get access to me and my team for feedback as you go through our training program to help you actually implement the soft launch and then taking that through to Kickstarter.
Love it. Awesome. And so what types of products have you worked with? I'm curious to hear maybe a couple of examples. I don't know if you're allowed to share or not, but..
Oh yeah, yeah. Super public with my stuff. Yeah. I've worked with like all over the board. So I've worked with publishing campaigns like planners, I launched a coffee table book with foundr.com, I've launched a children's toy through Sago Mini, I have launched a guitar hardware product, I've launched a padlock that opens with your unique fingerprints, I've launched beach towels, I've launched travel maps. I've launched… what else have I launched?
It’s really very diverse. And I think my favorite one was Pavlok, which is a wearable that helps you break bad habits through electric shock.
So yeah, that was a news-worthy one. Yeah.
Love it. Awesome. Well, Khierstyn, it's been really fascinating hearing about your story and learning about the ins and outs of Kickstarter. Let's say someone's thinking, you know what, I've got an unbelievable product idea. I think it's going to rock Kickstarter's world and I want Khierstyn’s help with it. Where do we find you?
Yeah, so the best place is, I guess, the hub of all my universe is khierstyn.com. I'll spell that ‘cause my name is difficult at best, but it's K H I E R S T Y N .com. And on that website, you can find information about the product launch pad, you could find links to our YouTube channel, as well as our two podcasts.
Amazing. That's a strong domain name.
Yeah. It was only $8 because no one else on the planet spells their name like me.
That's a good thing about having a unique name. Right? That's awesome. Cool. All right, Khierstyn, thank you so much for today. Guys, by the way, in the show notes, I'm going to put all sorts of links and stuff to where you can find Khierstyn and some of her previous work and how to get in touch and everything.
So definitely go check that out on ecommercefreedom.com, just look for Khierstyn's episode and you'll find all the information. Khierstyn, it's been an absolute pleasure to have you on, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and I'm sure we'll speak soon.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for your time.