For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we spoke with Paul and Julian of Ace Marks about what they’ve learned from running two successful Kickstarter campaigns – including one that raised over $1.2 million. Listen to learn more about how to create the perfect crowdfunding video and how to handle backer comments and feedback, along with their top advice for other fashion and shoe campaigns hoping to break that million-dollar mark.

Handcrafted Dress Shoes Reinvented for the Modern Gentleman

Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How to use crowdfunding to narrow down your product line’s focus
  • How long it takes to prepare for a successful crowdfunding product
  • How to make the perfect Kickstarter video
  • How to reach those who have never backed a crowdfunding project before
  • Why transparency is key to a successful crowdfunding campaign
  • How to respond to Kickstarter comments and handle backer feedback
  • How to use Kickstarter to create a global community surrounding your product
  • How to decide what to offer as Kickstarter stretch goals

Links

Connect with Ace Marks

Sponsors

FIN 2000X2000Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by The Gadget Flow, a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. The Gadget Flow is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Click here to learn more and list your product – use coupon code ATOKK16 for 25% off!

backerkitArt of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, raise additional funds with add-ons and manage orders for fulfillment, saving creators hundreds of hours. To learn more and get started, click here.

Transcript

View this episode's transcript

Roy Morejon:

Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host Roy Morejon, President of Enventys Partners, the top full-service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over 100 million dollars for our clients since 2010. Each week I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding.

Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Backer Kit and The Gadget Flow. Backer Kit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping you print and ship faster. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now let’s get on with the show.

Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am excited because I am joined by Paul and Julian with Ace Marks. Paul, Julian, thank you so much for joining us on Art of the Kickstart.

Paul:

Thanks for having us Roy.

Julian:

Yeah, thank you. Pleasure.

Roy Morejon:

You guys just crushed your second campaign, raised over 1.2 million dollars for your killer Italian hand-crafted dress shoes. Please tell our audience where this all began. What’s the backstory?

Paul:

Sure. I’ve actually been making shoes for a very long time. My family’s been in the business for about 30 or so years right now. Luxury shoes is kind of what we’ve always done. A few years ago I decided to move away from our traditional wholesale model and go into men’s shoes because I saw that there was a real lack in the market in terms of quality and value for what you’re getting at especially that two to $300 price point.

I chose to go the direct to consumer model. It came time to actually make that first order to our factory to buy that inventory and I realized that I have absolutely no data, no information as to what to buy. I made a beautiful big collection, had lots of colors, lots of styles. Actually it was much bigger than I originally intended for it to be. I didn’t know where to put my money.

I decided, and it was a very limited amount of money, so I decided that after a lot of research that Kickstarter was probably a good way to get that information, that data of what to do because I’m going to get a good feel for what styles the market’s going to react to, what colors people are going to react to, what sizes I should buy over other sizes. That’s really how we ended up on Kickstarter. That’s how we decided to launch Ace Marks.

Roy Morejon:

What ultimately led you to the path of wanting to crowdfund your shoes and become the most successful and most backed shoe campaign ever? What was the path to the crowdfunding market

Paul:

Again, it came down to doing that research and that lack of data that we had initially and just wanting to get more information before we purchased an inventory, before we really went to market. In terms of making it the best, being the most successful footwear Kickstarter campaign, that’s just something I think came with a lot of hard work. We studied other successful campaigns. We literally did about a year of legwork before we even launched that initial Kickstarter campaign.

We spent a lot of time, a lot of hours getting all of our ducks in a row and we actually made three different versions of that original video, maybe even four. We went through 100 script rewrites. We were ready to launch four times in 2016 until we actually … I’m sorry, in 2015 before we actually ended up launching in 2016.

Roy Morejon:

You bring up a really good point there in terms of just doing your homework, which a lot of campaigns are doing more of that, but obviously early on a few years ago many people were launch it, see if it fails or if it succeeds try and make multiple iterations to it thereafter. Talk to our audience because a lot of people don’t necessarily create multiple versions of their video. How did you guys go about deciding which one to ultimately put onto the campaign?

Paul:

I just hated the other ones. It wasn’t, obviously it was an intention we created multiple versions. We filmed many, many hours of video and we went to edit and I guess the best way to say it, the first couple versions sounded more like infomercials. Again, I guess it’s important to say I have no experience before Kickstarter in creating videos, selling stuff online. This was my first time doing it so it just really came down to seeing the final product of what we had and just not liking it three times before we actually got to the final product.

Julian:

Right, and feedback. Feedback is really the key because you show it to people and you show how does this make you feel? What do you think? Does it communicate all the things that you want to communicate? When someone comes back and finally gives you the, “Wow, this is a really good video,” that’s when you know, okay, you know what? I think I’m actually on the right track.

Paul:

Yeah, that was also very helpful, yeah.

Roy Morejon:

You guys got nearly 1,000 people to back this second campaign that had never before bought anything on Kickstarter. How do you think you accomplished that?

Paul:

I think that has a lot to do with our marketing. We really tried to put together a comprehensive campaign when it comes to that. I think that our reach goes beyond the Kickstarter community in lots of different ways. I think that Julian can speak a little bit more towards that. He’s the brains behind the marketing part of it.

Julian:

Yeah, so one of the things that we wanted to do was obviously go a little bit outside the Kickstarter realm because the last time we had done the Kickstarter a year ago we were already the number one funded shoe campaign in Kickstarter history so we knew that we were pushing new boundaries as far as what the potential cap on Kickstarter could be. We knew in order to continue to grow this we would have to go outside of people that were native to Kickstarter so we had to develop a pitch that was going to be able to draw people in to Kickstarter and feel comfortable with Kickstarter.

Now in the second campaign that became a lot easier because we were already proving  that we could deliver and the community from the last time really helped us with that with those reviews. They came on real strong right away and were very adamant about these guys are great. Their shoes are great. They were really happy with that first experience, which alleviates a lot of that stress of having to worry about whether these people are going to deliver or not.

When we had to transition into how are we going to get people outside of Kickstarter, when we were bringing them in we could allow people to come in and see those reviews which allowed us to convert those people outside a lot better than we would have if this was our first Kickstarter. Which I knew was a hard obstacle for people to overcome in their first Kickstarter campaign, but that was definitely something that helped us a lot in this second one.

Roy Morejon:

Was there anything that you guys learned from your first campaign that you guys were able to implement on the second one that you ran? What were some of the lessons learned?

Julian:

Yeah, absolutely. Some lessons were obviously the community engagement and the way Paul talks to the community. The amount of updates given, the of just responding to every single person’s question, being as transparent as possible just made a huge difference with the trust and the backing that people have with your campaign.

It was really incredible to see our Kickstarter community and the comments, it kind of took on a life of its own where other backers were answering the other people’s backers. We wouldn’t even have to answer it ourselves. They would ask a question and they would just jump right in. It almost became like a forum in a sense. In creating that engagement, which is something that Paul really did, he did it in the first one, but especially in the second one where by constantly no matter, every single comment was answered by Paul individualized answers. It just became almost a fluid conversation and got that going, which I think really made a huge, huge difference.

Obviously in helping new customers that wanted that, that saw that community and were like wow, this is really, really a great community of people that really love this brand. I think this is actually something I’m willing to give a shot of trying. I think that that really helped. It really helped even if you want to take it to an analytical part. Like we could see it in our conversion rates. Our conversion rate on this one was much higher than the last one. I think that that was a big part of it.

Paul:

I think even going, I’ll tell you that when I launched Ace Marks, in the back of my head I thought wouldn’t it be great if there was a global community of like real Ace Marks aficionados, fans. I didn’t realize really in the beginning the power of Kickstarter to actually start creating that community and to start creating those brand enthusiasts.

Once in the first campaign I saw the reactions and I saw that I got to communicate directly with so many people all over the world and kind of have almost like a one on one with thousands of people that were interested in our shoes, I think that was a really cool thing. It’s probably one of my favorite parts about actually even being on Kickstarter just to have that interaction with the backers and potential Ace Marks fans.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, I think that’s the true nature of crowdfunding, right, is that level of authenticity and transparency from the founders of the company and the community that’s backing this project because I’m sure there’s a huge gap to overcome, especially in the shoe market of how is this going to feel on my foot when I finally receive the product? You guys certainly incentivized those with your buy back option of getting a $60 credit towards new shoes and then donating those shoes, which I think is an awesome obviously a marketing play, but certainly great to get people back into the world in terms of the workforce side of things.

It’s great that Paul, that you’re able to engage every single backer that was out there asking for that feedback of the product and that certainly led to the trust of your brand obviously not only delivering a product, but a superior one that you’ve promised to all your backers.

Paul:

Absolutely. You touched on that buy back program, and that’s I’ll tell you, that is one part that when I started thinking of Ace Marks and getting into men’s shoes, that’s something that I did want to put in from the beginning and I wasn’t sure in the very early stages of how I was going to put that social aspect into our brand and to this company, but the buy back program started coming into play and I just thought it was a really cool way to give back to the community.

Being in the shoe business, I have to admit that there are some great leaders in this industry that have done it before me, and so that was very inspiring and I just wanted to make sure that we were able to give back like many other companies in our industry have.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah. No, I think that’s great. In terms of your campaign, all of your backers unlocked I think it was eight stretch goals. Can you talk to us about how you decided on what to offer your community as stretch goals throughout the campaign?

Paul:

Yeah. We had a live stream a couple of weeks ago and that kind of came up. I was very honest on there where I said that I kind of have an idea going into the campaign as to what we’re going to offer, but I never know how the campaign’s going to go. I don’t know what we’re going to get to so a lot of it is kind of done on the fly.

I wish I could tell you that there’s some huge science to it, so that there’s a lot of planning to it, but I just kind of get a feel for what people are looking for, what they want. I also within the comments section of direct messages I start talking to our backers and just see what would make them happy and I try to deliver on that.

Roy Morejon:

I definitely think you did deliver. What do you think was the number one factor in helping you guys raise over a million dollars on this campaign?

Julian:

That’s a million dollar question I guess. To try to put it into the number one factor, I’d have to say it’s trust and transparency in our operations and in what we’re trying to do. It’s being able to communicate very clearly to the backers what we’re trying to do. Like how we make the product, showing every single step in the factory, not trying to hide anything.

Explaining every step even when something doesn’t go exactly according to plan, explaining what happened, showing why what’s happening is happening. It formulates this trust and then again, in that trust comes a whole bunch of positive influences in your comment boards, in social media sharing amongst your backers. Again, it’s a community in a sense and reputation that goes out there and people start to feel like you know what? I can trust these people because they’re honest. No matter what happens, whether it’s something bad happened …

Hiccups happen all the time in business. The important thing is we let you know when they happen, why they happen and you know exactly that we’re trying to fix it along the way if they do happen. Having that kind of honesty has really translated into people wanting to back us.

Paul:

Yeah, I think it comes down to that credibility and people know that we have the capability to deliver and everything that we promised from the last campaign was delivered. I think we had a couple weeks delay, a little bit of a delay but that was all communicated and everyone was very happy with what they received. Again, that all just comes together and for the second time around I think that was all very helpful.

Roy Morejon:

Trust, transparency and credibility, definitely some solid tactics. Obviously you guys have delivered on all of that. What advice would you give to another startup or entrepreneur looking to kickstart their fashion product?

Julian:

Yeah, that’s a great one. I feel like a lot of people, they tend to put the product too much first. Now the product obviously, everything starts with making a great product of course, but in Kickstarter I feel like people, they’re not just buying a product. It’s not an eBay. It’s not an Amazon. It’s you’re starting a business and people want to know as much about you and the business and how you plan to operate this business as much as they want to see and learn about your product.

They want to back you because they believe in what you’re trying to do. You know what? They want to back you to help you get your business going and as a benefit they’re going to get a product out of it. I think a lot of people, too many people, they kind of take it as this is what I’m selling, please buy it, as opposed to I’m trying to run a business. I’m trying to create this business that I want to get off the ground to offer this great product. Can you guys help me? In exchange of course you’re going to get a product out of it.

I think that’s something that I’ve seen a lot of Kickstarter campaigns slowly transitioning away from trying to actually do crowdfunding to start a business and trying to just sell product.

Paul:

Yeah. One other thing there. I think lots of, we’ve seen and we get reached out to literally on a daily basis by other people trying to start shoe brands, clothing brands, just about any product that they’re trying to put out on Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms, there seems to be they feel like, some of them that have a project out on there that aren’t working so well. I think that lots of them just put something on expecting for Kickstarter to do all the work for them and they just don’t go into it as prepared as they should be. That advice again would also be to really prepare and do your homework before going on there.

Roy Morejon:

Solid advice. Yeah, if I could tell you guys how many people approach us that think Kickstarter is going to do all the marketing support for them, I’m sure you guys wouldn’t be surprised, but there’s many people out there with that idea in their mind. So in terms of Ace Marks and the brand, what’s next? Where are you guys headed next after this campaign and you guys ship and deliver?
Paul:
Well, we’re planning to be a real company. Right after that first Kickstarter we started running our regular eCommerce business and the plan is to just continue to grow that. Continue launching new products, continue engaging our backers, treating them, we kind of treat our backers as part of our team. We get lots of ideas for them, from them, giving them … In exchange we plan to give them lots of extra special benefits that aren’t going to be available to anyone else.

Yeah, just building this company to compete with really the best footwear and accessory brands out there. Just continuing to increase our product lines.

Roy Morejon:

Now that you guys have this passionate community of fans wearing your shoes all around the world, do you think that you would ever open up the opportunity for an equity crowdfunding campaign for this passionate community you’ve built?

Paul:

We actually have been approached by multiple equity crowdfunding platforms to launch on there and we haven’t said no to them yet, so it’s definitely a possibility, but we really have to study it a lot more before we dive into that. That’s pretty new right now and there have been a few success stories, but we’d have to see how it would work for us.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome.

Paul:

The answer’s maybe.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah. No, fair enough. This is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a few questions at you Paul. Are you good to go?

Paul:

I’m always good to go.

Roy Morejon:

All right. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Paul:

Watching my parents do it before me.

Roy Morejon:

If you could have a shoe shine with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Paul:

Richard Branson.

Roy Morejon:

What would be your first question for Richard?

Paul:

How do you manage so many different companies in so many different industries and still have a life?

Roy Morejon:

What’s the last book you read?

Paul:

The Alchemist.

Roy Morejon:

What’s your favorite Italian food?

Paul:

Pasta, but I try not to eat it too much

Roy Morejon:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Paul:

Hopefully running a really, really large Ace Marks business.

Roy Morejon:

What big thing do you want to accomplish?

Paul:

Making Ace Marks as successful as possible.

Roy Morejon:

Last question in the launch round, what does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Paul:

I think it looks pretty bright right now. I think that over the next few years it’s going to become more and more efficient and a great way for new brands and companies to disrupt the status quo.

Roy Morejon:

Paul and Julian, you guys have been awesome on this interview. Please give our audience your pitch. Tell them what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should go buy a pair of Ace Marks shoes today.

Julian:

Yeah, absolutely. Obviously AceMarks.com, you can go there. I strongly suggest signing up to our newsletter. It’s a community that you’re going to feel very at home with. It’s a great community of backers that it’s not just a place to buy shoes. We have things that you’re going to be able to talk to other guys about style tips and new ways to dress in different situations. It’s a great community to be a part of and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

Paul:

Again, we try to give back as much as possible, so if you take advantage of that buy back program. Right now it’s open to just about any brand of shoe. We’ll give you a $50 credit for any old shoe that you send back to us. You’ll get $50 towards a new pair of Ace Marks shoes and we’ll donate that shoe to men in need. We have a video up on our site that you can check out. It’s also on our Kickstarter campaign page of our first donation which we made a couple months ago of about $15,000 worth of shoes. You’re getting great shoes and giving back.

Roy Morejon:

Sounds like a win-win for everyone. Paul, Julian, thank you so much for being on the show. Audience, thank you again for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for all of the show notes, a full transcript, links to everything we talked about today and of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow and Backer Kit. Paul and Julian, thank you so much for being on Art of the Kickstart.

Paul:

Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Julian:

Thank you very much.

Roy Morejon:

Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a better business, world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode be sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com and tell us about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes and our Kickstarter Guide to Crushing It. If you love this episode leave us a review at ArtoftheKickstar.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors and entrepreneurs find the show and helps us get better guests on here to help build your business. If you need a more hands-on crowdfunding strategy, please feel free to request a quote on CommandPartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in. We’ll see you soon.