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.