You’ve been waiting a long time for an update and here it is: The first production-grade units have arrived! We’ve received the first set of units back from our manufacturer last week and they look awesome. It’s been a long trip for them, both in physical distance traveled and number of tests survived. These devices has been put through the wringer. With the devices in house, our engineers are busy marrying the devices with the newest firmware and software. It’s great to see all of the devices functioning as described. In the coming weeks, we’ll move beyond pictures and show you some short videos of everything working together in tandem. We think you’ll be happy with what you see.
There are two big takeaways from the pictures you see below. First, we’ve delivered on what we promised in terms of the look and feel of the devices. It’s always disappointing to back a crowdfunding campaign, only to find out that, when the product ships, it barely resembles the sparkling renderings of the early days. We’ve been relentless in making sure that the devices not only look the way that we promised, but function as promised, as well. The wait has been painful, but you’re going to get what you pre-ordered, plain and simple.
Second, notice size difference between the first round of devices pictured over the summer and where we are today. For anyone that has been wondering what happens during the long slog towards mass production, this is the most tangible example. In the case of the base station, the size has been reduced over 40%. Every sensor is smaller and sleeker. It looks great in person and it is going to look great in your home. In a previous post, we mentioned that there isn’t much change day-to-day in the circuit boards. All of the incremental tweaks that happen to the boards are negligible as you see them happening, but add up to a sizable difference over the course of months.
Speaking of day-to-day changes, we’ve received a number of e-mails thanking us for going into detail in our last post about the process we’re going through on a daily basis. In addition to the pictures below, we wanted to give you a quick glimpse of what we’ve been up to the past five weeks.
A day in the life…
Some of the things that our team views as roadblocks, or mundane tests, are actually quite interesting for people outside of the office and we want to bubble more of that type of content to the surface in our posts. This past month has been a perfect example of that. Our team has been working extremely long hours and testing ad nauseum. Each step, individually, is not all that interesting. But, when combined, the effort is pretty amazing.
It starts with the entire team adjusting their work schedule. During the engineering validation (EV) phase, we switched everyone over so that our schedule overlapped half days with our manufacturing team in Asia. This meant that we were at the office from 10 am - 7 pm and then back online from 10 pm - 3 am. (give or take a few hours, mostly give) We use Skype extensively, almost exclusively, to coordinate the day-to-day activities with the project managers. Being able to coordinate over video from thousands of miles away is extremely powerful.
As we progressed from printed circuit boards coming off the line, to the enclosures being created, it was time to start gearing up for in-person work in Asia during assembly. Our electrical engineer, Daniel, flew out to Taiwan for a week and a half as everything was assembled and he worked out as many issues as possible in-person. Almost all of the electrical engineering issues were minor, which was great news and helped us avoid further delays. During the time that Daniel was in Taiwan, the hours got even crazier. Our firmware developer, James, matched his hours in Asia and spent most days and nights covering both timezones.
Every day we received updates as the assembled units were put through various tests to validate each component’s functionality. With Daniel in Taiwan, we were able to fix most issues in real-time, which was invaluable. The end result is that we walked away with a 57 page PDF of issues that were fixed in the process, or changes that will be made to the EE before the next run of units. In most cases, these issues were about moving tiny components minuscule distances (portions of a millimeter). Again, we didn’t come across anything during our tests that made us miss a beat in the manufacturing process.
That’s the real difference between polished prototypes and mass production, though. The initial boards that have been pictured on our blog were always functional. That doesn’t mean they were the product that should end up in your home for the next 20 years. The difference is the 57 pages of tweaks between the functional prototypes and mass production circuit boards. It’s Daniel and James executing on those 57 points that make the difference. That’s why hardware takes so long. But, once the wait is over, it’s also the steps that you’ll appreciate when you have working devices in your home.
Now that we’ve got everything up and running, our focus in these posts is going to be moving from pictures to video. We want to show you Scout in action. We also have the packaging comps in hand, so we’ll be putting details out on that front soon, as well. Stay tuned! These are exciting days at Scout.
Production-Grade Units & Chinese New Year
2014 kicked off with the continuation of our sprint to a Scout ship date. Since our last update, we’ve been working with our manufacturing partner to iron out the final design-for-manufacturing details and get our production schedule ramped up. We’re happy to say that our designs have been given the stamp of approval to move forward towards mass production and, from here on out, the glut of the work will shift from electrical and mechanical engineering work to managing the manufacturing process.
Leading up to this update, we’ve been purchasing the parts for our first production-grade unit run with the factory. This first run of units will be small, but serve as a critical part of getting Scout into mass production. Some of the units being produced will be shipped to Scout for internal testing and for putting some early systems out in the field. The other units will stay in Asia and be put through a bevy of testing.
Testing Early Systems
The testing phase of the manufacturing process is an interesting piece of the puzzle. Many of us don’t think about the testing that our devices undergo prior to them arriving to our doorsteps in a usable state. We thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the things the Scout system will be put through testing-wise, before it ends up at your door.
Circuit Testing: Optical testing, such as automated optical inspection (AOI), will determine if the right components are installed in the right location during board population.
Charge and Discharge Testing: This test charges and discharges the Scout backup battery to make sure the capacity lives up to expectations in the event of a power outage.
Electromagnetic Interference Testing (EMI): The Scout boards are locked in an emissions-free room and we measure the emitted radio waves. This also works in reverse. During this test, the Scout PCBs will be bombarded with radio waves and we then measure what has been received by the boards.
Thermal Testing: Thermal testing rapidly cycles the temperature that Scout devices are exposed to, from -20 degrees celsius to 80 degrees celsius, to measure the temperature stress created.
Electrostatic Discharge Testing (ESD): This test is kind of like shuffling your socks across a carpet floor and then electrostatically shocking a family member. We build up a charge and then emulate the Scout boards being shocked. Then, we note the performance of the boards after the shock.
Radio Frequency Testing (RF): In the RF test, we see how strong the Scout RF signal is that is generated, compared to the input frequency.
Antenna Testing: This test verifies the Scout signal strength around the 2.4 Ghz broadcast frequency. This is similar to adjusting the rabbit ears on an older TV to find the optimal arrangement.
This is just the first round of testing. Our internal testing procedures have to be extremely robust leading up to the official tests the units will undergo for FCC, CE and other official compliance testing.
Chinese New Year
This week kicked off the Chinese New Year holiday. In many cases, the production facilities in China shut down for 2-3 weeks during the CNY holiday. These few weeks always pose a special challenge in any production schedule. Even if the facility you’re producing at is not shut down, or is shut down for a shorter period of time, there is a good chance that a large number of your component suppliers and other vendors in Asia will be shut down. Our manufacturing partner was incredibly helpful in prepping for our current run of units to ensure that the CNY holiday had almost no impact on our production schedule. We haven’t slept much in January leading up to the holiday, but we’re very happy with the amount of progress we were able to achieve in such a short amount of time.
The first production-grade units that are in process should be arriving to Scout headquarters in mid-February. For the week following, the systems will undergo all of the testing procedures that we mentioned above. As we’ve discussed with some of you through our customer service channels, the results of these tests will ultimately determine the ship date. We expect that there will be a few minor tweaks and honing of the device between these first units and the next set. However, with all of the work we’ve done up front, we don’t expect to see any major issues arise. If that is the case, we’ll be announcing ship dates in late February.
We’re looking forward to getting Scout to each and every one of you. Thank you for your patience and we wish you all of the best in 2014!
Sprinting on all Fronts
Here’s the latest update from team Scout:
Visual Design Update
Scout’s original website was created in just a few weeks leading up to our crowdfunding campaign. The speed with which we needed to produce the site meant we needed to make decisions quickly on the look and feel of the site. Now that we’ve had a some time to reflect on and refine the Scout brand, we’re overhauling the visual design for version 2.0 of the website and the software you’ll use to run Scout. The first thing to change is our logo. It’s not good when your logo gets confused for “a parrot in a 76ers jersey.” We think the new visual design is going to better complement the standard we’ve set with our industrial design and we’re excited to get it in front of you.
Transitioning from a Crowdfunding Website
Now that we’ve moved into the production process in full force, we’ll also be transitioning the website into more than a crowdfunding site. Soon, we’ll be rolling out the full version 2.0 of the website. In preparation for that, we’ll be phasing out the current system for processing pre-orders and the crowdfunding pricing. Now that shipping product is in sight, it’s time to move to a more traditional pre-ordering process. If you know anyone that was considering a Scout system, now is the time. Moving forward, we’ll be moving to taking payment up front for pre-orders and setting pricing accordingly.
As an early backer, you took a chance on us and we appreciate that more than anything. Your pricing is locked in and anything you add to your order will be honored at the pre-order pricing. The same goes for monitoring. As a result of bearing with us during the ups and downs of the project, you’re one of only 1400 people that won’t have to pay for Scout until it ships. Also, by getting in early, you’re going to have saved about 25% off of the final pricing. It’s a small thank you, but we’re excited to be able to reward our backers in any way that we can.
Hardware Update / Optimization
Since the last update, our engineers have been heads down honing the Scout firmware and working with our factory to iron out final design-for-manufacturing details. As a result of their efforts, the Scout hardware has shrunk by over 30% for each component. It’s sleeker, lighter and more efficient than ever.
Before we handed off all of the final docs to the folks in China, we were working and reworking boards here in the USA. One of the steps we hadn’t previously highlighted was the way in which we approached finalizing the Scout design. Below, you’ll find a picture of the “omnibus” board, on which the entire Scout system was contained. Our engineers were able to run through testing and tweaking the full system on these boards before splitting them off into the boards for each individual component. Though we’ve moved on from these boards, it’s pretty cool to see all of Scout on one board.
Ship Date & Bottlenecks
Finally, let’s talk about the ship date for Scout. Despite our best efforts, we’re not going to be able to ship product by the end of this month. We’d love nothing more than to have Scout ready for the December holidays, but it just isn’t in the cards. We ran into battery life issues with our Arm Disarm Panel that had to be taken care of and needed to re-work some of the internal setup. It took a while to balance the combination of battery-saving adjustments, while not hindering the user experience. In the end, it’s a better system for it and you’ll experience less pain over the long term by not having to change Arm Disarm batteries regularly. That said, it did involve pausing on multiple fronts temporarily to get everything worked out. As we previously mentioned, the first batch pre-orders are ending. So, this initial group is going to be the first to receive Scout. But, the ship date is going to be pushed into the early part of 2014.
Thank you for your patience. We truly appreciate your support.
Chicago to California to China and Back
The Scout team is finally back in Chicago after an extended stint away from home base. As we mentioned in our last post, we’re trying to keep everyone updated, while not being too repetitive. We’ve been traveling a lot, making progress and want to get you up to speed.
First things first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. No, we unfortunately do not have a finalized ship date yet. If you’re wondering why, you’ll find full details below. We appreciate everyone that has reached out and asked us for updates. We know it’s frustrating not to know when to expect the product and we appreciate your patience. We’re doing our best to pin it down for you.
What’s the deal with the ship date?
One of the things that is tough to judge from the outside looking in is how much variability there is in the manufacturing process. This is especially pronounced when you are producing a security system. Our first product can’t be mediocre. You’ve entrusted us with the safety of your family and we take that responsibility seriously. Our product has to be great. The biggest unknown is the process, and a big reason for the ambiguity, is a period of time in production allocated for engineering pilots.
The engineering pilots happen after the first units start coming off the line. If all goes well, and the first units perform in the same way as your final prototypes, you can get out of the engineering pilots phase quickly. If, however, the first units don’t perform entirely as expected, that is where things get more complicated. Not only do you have to diagnose and fix the problem, but then you have to go into an engineering pilot for the tweaked design. With each engineering pilot taking 2-3 weeks, this introduces lots of variability. If it takes you 2-3 more engineering pilots than you planned to nail everything down, you could be looking at baking in a fair amount of extra time. When we say we don’t know when the units are shipping, it is because we don’t know how the engineering pilots are going to shake out. Giving you a ship date would be disingenuous. We could guess, but we prefer to be up front about the reality of this process.
The Scout team was recently out in California for the better part of two months participating in an accelerator program at Plug and Play Tech Center. The program focused on the insurance aspect of the business and we’re excited about what we were able to accomplish. Working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week tends to propel things forward pretty quickly. The program culminated in a demo day, called Expo, in which Scout participated. We were voted as one of the top three winners out of the 40 companies pitching, which has led to a lot of exciting connections and opportunities for Scout. We’re looking forward to seeing where those opportunities lead us and hopefully the win will translate into some benefits for you, our backers.
Fresh off of our time in California, the Scout team headed straight to China for 8 days. This gave us the chance to meet with some of the folks in the factories, the project management team and to discuss project details in person. Not only did we accomplish a lot, but we also made it through our first typhoon experience.
We’re making progress on all fronts these days. We’re honing in on packaging for Scout. Scout is actively working on the licensing and permitting that we need to operate in all of the locales where we have backers. The software is coming together nicely and we’re heading into a design sprint at the end of the month to refine the installation process and graphic design. We think you’ll be excited about these aspects of our progress and we look forward to sharing more details on all of these fronts in the coming weeks.
Wires and Green Boards
In our last post, you saw the the hand-built prototypes come to life and there was something particularly inspiring about that stage of the process. Everything about Scout became more tangible in an instant. As promised, we’re going to continue to walk you through the process of where we’ve been since then, step-by-step. This update isn’t about visual progress, though, in the way that our last post was. The progress in this update is more about perfecting the bits and bytes.
Walking through our hardware lab, you can’t help but be captured by a sense of creation happening all around you. It is a hive of maker goodness. But, translating that feeling into pictures is tricky. Once the 3D printed prototypes have been whisked off to meetings, it’s back to business in the lab. The plastic casings are peeled off and the guts are the focus of attention. At that point, it’s on to the important tasks of iterating schematic designs, creating final board layouts and debugging software. That is what this post is all about. A series of pictures over a few weeks, while interesting, would be a repetitive display of colorful wires connecting various green boards.
The pictures below are a fairly representative set of said combinations of wires and green boards. So, what’s going on here? Well, a lot. The green board on the left (the STK600) is an evaluation board from Atmel. This board allowed the team to test different processors quickly and easily for the Scout base station. The silver box (a JTAGICE) allows us to pause code that is running on the processor for debugging and programming. The board on the bottom right is the evaluation kit for the GSM modem from Ublox that handles the cellular connection. And, finally, the board on the top right is the Zigbee module. It is through this module that the base station is able to communicate with the network of Scout sensors. These pieces combined represent the core functionality of the Scout base station.
Using this setup, the Scout team was able to hone in on final schematic designs and board layouts. Getting to that point set the stage for the next steps: board population and antenna matching. We’ll be covering that, and some non-hardware updates, in our next post.
It’s been a while, let’s catch up…
Well, we ripped off the band-aid a couple of weeks ago and announced the delay. That was rough. It’s an e-mail you never plan on writing. Many of you reached out to us and expressed your support over the past few weeks and, for that, we are extremely grateful. It was amazing to hear from everyone that wants Scout to deliver on the promise of the system and not cut corners for the sake of time. It is a home security system, after all.
Our radio silence between updates was a lot like what I imagine it would like to go “off the grid.” We still existed, we were still working, people still cared about what we were up to, but our situation made it tough to communicate. To get the company back on track, staying silent was necessary. It streamlined the process, though it felt like years.
But, now we’re moving full-speed ahead and we want to get you up to speed.
So what happened while we were off the grid? In a series of posts over the course of the next few weeks, we’re going to walk you through where we’ve been. Today’s post is not where we are right now, rather, it is the first major milestone that you missed: fully functional, hand-built prototypes.
Below, you will find a series of pictures that show our final, hand-built prototypes. Given the nature of hand-built products, these final prototypes are about 20%-30% larger than the production products will be. (depending on which component we are talking about) The prototypes were created by 3D printing the casings, sanding them and painting them. The faceplates were laser cut and then everything was assembled.
These prototypes have been traveling around the country with us for demos and were used for early testing. Our time with these prototypes lead to some interesting observations:
1) TSA agents are generally not keen on home-made, uncertified electronics being carried onto a plane. But, a modern design is surprisingly convincing that we weren’t carrying something dangerous. Though we did get screened on two out of four flights, we made a sale on one encounter.
2) Having a home security with you while traveling gives you a surprisingly accurate log of when your hotel room gets cleaned.
Thank you again for your support! Stay tuned for our next Scout update.
Scout Backer Update
Dear Scout Backers,
First, we want to apologize for not having updated you on Scout in months. Our team has been on a roller coaster ride since our last update and we weren’t sure exactly how everything was going to play out. We didn’t want to misrepresent the progress of Scout until everything was sorted out. Unfortunately, that took longer than we had hoped. This e-mail lays out what happened, but it certainly doesn’t excuse our absence. Moving forward, we won’t hesitate to update you with both the ups and the downs of the project. Now that the path is clear, we’ll be updating you regularly.
The truth is that, in the first few months following our pre-order campaign, we lost access to resources that were allowing for the ongoing development of Scout. Since we aren’t charging credit cards until we ship the Scout system to you, we had to find a way to replace those resources. We knew that the demand for Scout was high, but replacing the resources we needed to bring Scout to market took time. It took way longer than we had hoped. For that, we truly apologize. Know that no one wanted this to happen faster than our team.
The good news is that we are back on track for further development and are moving full steam ahead. The bad news is that we are delayed on our initial timeline. We’re aren’t announcing a new definitive ship date at this time, but are working to get that information ironed out as soon as possible. The delay will be measured in months, not weeks, unfortunately.
For those of you who are willing to wait, know that this entrepreneurial journey would not have been possible without your support. You have been the lifeblood of the project. We’ve got a lot in store for the Scout system that will make it well worth the wait. You’re going to be the first to have the system in your hands and we’re going to do everything we can to make this delay up to you.
For those of you that are in need of a security system right now, we certainly understand that you may not be able to wait for Scout. We appreciate your support and stand by your ability to cancel your order at any time. We hope you won’t, but we certainly understand. We’ve got a lot of exciting news coming in the months ahead and would love to have you as a part of our community.
The decision not to charge anyone’s card until we ship was rooted in seeing this exact scenario play out with other crowdfunding campaigns. No one intends for delays to happen, but they do happen. Though arranging other resources has taken time, we take comfort in knowing that we haven’t put any of our backers’ money at risk in the process.
Please do contact us if you have any questions or comments. We’d love to talk to you.
Thank you again for your support! We’ll be in touch soon.
We Hit $180K in Pre-Orders!!
We did it! At 5:10 pm CDT Scout hit its goal of reaching $180,000 in pre-orders. It took 677 backers and 29 days to reach that goal! Thank you so much to everyone who has supported us throughout this campaign.
If you haven’t pre-ordered your Scout system, there is still 1 day remaining. Head over to http://www.scoutalarm.com/preorder/details to reserve yours before it’s too late!
Want to Roll Your Own Crowdfunding Site? Here’s What You Need to Know (Pt. 2)
It’s been three weeks since we launched the Scout pre-order site to the world. Scout is a hassle-free, do-it-yourself home security system - you can check it out here: www.scoutalarm.com. As we mentioned in our last post, we “rolled our own” crowdfunding site. Following in the footsteps of Lockitron - and having forked their Self Starter project - we made the decision to forgo Kickstarter. If you haven’t read Part I of this post, you can check it out here.
Scout is currently ahead of pace to hit our campaign goal. We’ve learned a lot in the last two weeks and wanted to build on the first post. Once the press hits start to dry up, you have to get creative. (Read: hustle like crazy.) Some of the things we’ve learned, we wish we would have learned BEFORE the campaign started. Our hope is that this post better prepares the next startup to follow in our path.
Here’s what we’ve learned from weeks two and three:
Talk to Your Backers Early and Often
When you launch a crowdfunding site, you’ll probably plan on checking in with your backers mid-campaign and during the last week, but you can be much more aggressive than that. We had backers asking for press pieces to share within days of launching. We should have been better prepared to leverage their interest and the excitement about their recent purchases. At minimum, talk to your backers once a week and give them simple ways to share your news.
Have a Second Angle on Press
If you’re lucky, you’ll get press hits through the first two weeks. After that, things are going to dry up. You’ll go from selling 100 units in a day to fewer than five. Instead of fretting that you’ll never reach your campaign goal, know in advance that you’ll need another angle on your story for the press to cover it in weeks three and four. Find the unique thing about your product or your journey that is pressworthy, beyond what you said in the initial release. When you email your contacts, have a simple, well-thought-out angle that helps them pick up the story.
Get a Retargeting Campaign Setup from Day One
Without Kickstarter’s built-in platform, you need to figure out how to reach the same eyeballs a few times throughout the month. For a variety of reasons, interested visitors may not have purchased their first time on site. Retargeting is perfect for this. We knew at the outset of our project that we wanted to use Adroll to retarget visitors to our site. Don’t worry about creating the ads at first, but you’ll want to have it set up so that every visitor who comes to your site is “cookied” right away. Then, when the press starts to dry up, create a few ads and ramp up your retargeting. It’s cheap, too. We’ve spent $340 to get 43K impressions and 81 clicks in two weeks.
Incentivize Your Evangelists
Lots of people will talk about your project just because they want to help. This is great! However, you can reach a whole new subset of your backers and motivate them to evangelize about your product if you incentivize their efforts - something we should have learned earlier. In the third week of our campaign, we offered a referral program to backers and it was a big success. We created unique URLs for each backer willing to send referrals through their networks and pitched it as a competition. The person who sends the most referrals gets a $100 gift certificate and a free product. You should do this, every week.
People Don’t Read. Help Them Not Read.
People love demo videos. They’ll love your pictures and renderings. They’ll love your diagrams. But people do not take time to read. Half of the e-mails you receive will be questions about things that you covered on your site in text. Everyone is in a hurry and, as maddening as it is, you need to accept that they will not read most of what is on your site. So, help them not read by making information more visual, doing more product demo videos, and keeping copy at a minimum.
Entrepreneurs Want to Help Other Entrepreneurs
No matter how successful an entrepreneur has become, they remember what it is like to be at square one, and most of them love getting the chance to help another entrepreneur out. Reach out to them for help, but don’t just ask for shameless plugs. The platform they worked long and hard to build is not an advertising channel for you. Give other entrepreneurs an actionable way to help that helps every entrepreneur. We’ve had an amazing response rate from other entrepreneurs when we reached out because, through these posts, we can help the whole community.
Create a “Surround Sound Effect” Through Social Media
Tim Ferriss has an excellent article about running a successful Kickstarter campaign in which he talks about creating a “surround sound effect” through the social media sharing of your backers. Basically, his team sent out a super simple sharing template with each of their update e-mails that allowed backers to “like” their press coverage on Facebook. Instead of asking people to copy and paste links, their templates only require a click. In doing so, you will help your message reach a whole new audience who will also share and comment. The sharing templates are open-source. Use them.
Don’t Just Talk to Backers, Talk to “Almost-Backers” Too
You’re going to have a few unique groups of people that have interacted with your site: visitors you will reach through retargeting, backers you will reach through email, and remind-me-laters who you will reach through email as well. There is a fourth, unique group that we call “almost backers.” These are people who started the checkout process (gave their email), but didn’t finish when they were sent to Amazon. Now that you have their emails, figure out how you can help them finish the order. The intent is there, now seal the deal.
Hire a Virtual Assistant
We didn’t and it has been painful. Some press hits generate as many as 200 emails on top of the dozens you are receiving anyways. You will develop canned responses, so it is irrelevant who sends them. Responding to emails can turn into a three-to-four hours per day task, if you let it - all time that you aren’t spending promoting your campaign. A virtual assistant can help you respond to the softball questions, while you focus on the business and the tougher, most promising emails
Ask for the Sale
You’ll get all kinds of questions and requests when you launch your crowdfunding campaign. People will ask for custom orders, to be a beta tester, to be an exclusive distributor, etc. If they’re serious, they should be willing to pre-order a unit (even if you comp it later). Don’t be afraid to ask for the sale. The only exception here is press - send press review units, if you have them, and they are ready for prime time.
Track Referral Sites and Conversions from Day One
You don’t want to have to back into your approximate conversions from each press hit or referring site. Make sure your analytics and tracking are up to par so that you can pinpoint who is having the biggest effects on your campaign. Tie each backer to a referral link to get exact results. We did an OK job of this, but not perfect. This is not only helpful for you in the moment, but is crucial for determining your long-term target demographic and the best ways to reach them.
That’s the latest from weeks two and three. Please ask us questions below and stop by to see how we’re doing at www.scoutalarm.com.
The Scout Team
Want to Roll Your Own Crowdfunding Site? Here’s What You Need to Know (Pt. 1)
Last week, we unveiled our Scout pre-order site to the world. Scout is a hassle-free, do-it-yourself home security system - you can check it out at www.scoutalarm.com. We took a gamble with the Scout project and “rolled our own” crowdfunding site. Similar to Lockitron, Scout would not be allowed on Kickstarter since our products haven’t been produced yet, so we had to forgo that avenue for fundraising and strike out on our own. Luckily, Lockitron made our path a little easier by open-sourcing its project.
The Scout project is, thus far, not wildly oversubscribed like Lockitron, but we’re doing well for being nine days in. What we’ve realized in the process is that there’s not a lot of information available on what it takes to roll your own crowdfunding site. We’re one of only a handful of companies that has taken a shot at it, so we want to pass along what we’re learning as we go. Hopefully, this post will make it a little easier for the next company that follows behind us.
Here’s what we have learned so far:
Forking Self-Starter is a Nice Start, but There is Plenty of Programming to be Done
The Lockitron guys have given everyone an awesome starting template with the open-source Self Starter site on Github. But, beyond the elements that every crowdfunding project needs, there is a lot of customization that you are going to want to do to make it suitable to your project’s needs. For instance, Self Starter doesn’t account for ordering more than one type of item from your site. The data structure is setup for ordering various quantities of one product. You probably shouldn’t tackle rolling your own crowdfunding page without a knowledgeable developer that has a week or two of time to devote to it.
Your Press Plan is Paramount, Treat it as Such
Without the luxury of a built-in platform of users that Kickstarter has, you are relying on press and your social media following to drive eyeballs. Start building your following yesterday. When it’s time, take the days or weeks necessary to build an exhaustive list of relevant press contacts. Be specific with why you chose them (did they cover a crowdfunding project? a similar startup?) and make your outreach to them as personal and relevant as possible.
A PR Person is Worth Her Weight in Gold, If You Can Swing It
Having someone in your camp that has done a big press push before is a huge plus. You may feel like your team can handle it, but once you get a few decent press hits, you’re going to start getting buried in emails. A quality PR person will keep you on track by keeping the outreach going, keeping you informed about press hits, routing your follow-up questions and, most importantly, alerting you when a journalist needs the story ASAP.
The First Few Hours are Anti-Climactic
After a few weeks of sleepless nights preparing for launch, you’ll be more than ready to unveil your project to the world. The morning of, you’ll be scrambling to get your press release to everyone on your list. Then, you wait…and wait. Be prepared to sit around for a few hours or the better part of the day staring at a goose egg on your Google Analytics dashboard. It will happen and it’s nerve-wracking. Be ready for it.
You’ll Need More Manpower Than You Think
Building on what we said earlier about a PR rep, you will keep a team of five to six people very busy in the first few days if the outreach is going well. You will likely get hundreds of customer service emails. We have spent hours, daily, responding to everyone. If you use oLark, you will have a fair amount of live chats going at once, too. Then, you have social media you’ll need to attend to. Then, you may have site issues. Make sure you have the manpower (even if it’s your buddies and you pay them in beer) to support your launch.
Make Sure You Load Test Your Site
If you are managing the hosting on your app, be sure to load test it prior to launch. You want to have a sense of what your site can handle and how you will need to scale if you get a sudden rush. We are hosted on heroku and used Blitz (free add-on) to see how the site reacted with 250 or less concurrent users. Plus, it’s a good indicator of where you can start to cache. We optimized the site to use memcached with dalli_store, and created a Cloudfront distribution for serving up our assets. (many tutorials exist, but something to be aware of is Cloudfront mirroring static versions of your site https://forums.aws.amazon.com/thread.jspa?messageID=420936񦱈)
Figure out Your Position on International Shipping and Rates in Advance
You will be asked if you ship internationally and whether your products (if they’re electronics) will work abroad. Figure it out where you will be shipping and where you won’t. People will ask and they will want details.
Have a Plan for People Who Want to Distribute Your Product
If your launch is going well, lots of emails from around the globe are going to flow in asking if you have a distributor yet in X country. Ideally, you will have some documentation detailing what a potential distributor arrangement would look like. However, at the very least, be ready to log their information and find a kind way to tell them that you will get back to them.
Turn On Amazon FPS Payments Well in Advance
We had a testing account for Amazon FPS before we switched over to the real deal. In our hurry to get the site live, we overlooked that Amazon takes one to three business days to verify each aspect of corporate bank account information. Turn on payments a week in advance, minimum. Be prepared with a company bank statement and you IRS EIN letter. Send them both in at the same time. Trust us, it will save you hours of headache.
Don’t Let YouTube Eat Up an Afternoon
Unless you have a Vimeo Pro account ($199), you will likely upload your demo video to YouTube. What you may not know is that, depending on your status on YouTube, you may not have the option to select the thumbnail image for the starting screen of your video. If you want a product shot at the beginning, that is a problem. YouTube randomly selects three frames from your video for you to choose from. Don’t get roped into trying to do a workaround. You will waste hours. Instead, find someone to recreate their play button in Photoshop and overlay it on a product shot. Then, when someone clicks on the picture, have the picture disappear and have the Youtube video start playing behind it. example
Don’t Forget a “Remind Me Later” Button
Lockitron’s self-starter template doesn’t come with a “Remind Me Later” button (yet). This button is crucial. We currently have 200+ people signed up to be reminded later. It is worth investing a couple hours of developement time to get that feature. People are busy and will want to come back to your site when it is more convenient for them, or towards the end of the campaign. Give them that option.
Get a Live Chat Window on Your Site
If someone is confused about an aspect of your product, live chat is often the difference between them abandoning the site and eventually placing an order. You should have one - it’ll definitely bring you more pre-orders.
Watching Google Analytics and Refreshing Your Splash Page Will Become an Addiction
There is no way around it. Just be prepared. You will soon understand the true nature of addiction, if you haven’t experienced it yet in your life.
Don’t Just Roll Your Own Crowdfunding Site Just for the Sake of Doing It
There is a reason that Lockitron applied to Kickstarter before they rolled their own site (and why we would have loved to join, too). Kickstarter has a ton of benefits that have been mentioned elsewhere on the net exhaustively. Don’t overlook them just for the sake of going it alone.
Please feel free to ask us any questions below. Also, stop by and see how we’re doing at www.scoutalarm.com.