For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Erica Rosen, Director of Marketing for BioLite Energy. Tune in to learn more about how they put their own spin on the BioLite FirePit campaign and raised over $2 million on Kickstarter.

BioLite FirePit: See Fire, Not Smoke

Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How Kickstarter Live can help you connect with your backers
  • How to successfully demo your product at an event
  • Why stretch goals can be dangerous and how to avoid common stretch goal problems
  • Why a high-quality video is key to a successful Kickstarter campaign
  • How to make sure your PR outreach is effective
  • How to earn your Kickstarter community’s trust
  • Why it’s important to have multiple working prototypes – and samples for journalists, if possible – before launching a Kickstarter campaign
  • How to tell your Kickstarter campaign’s story

Links

Connect With BioLite

Sponsors

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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 BackerKit and the Gadget Flow. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping your 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 to be joined with Erica Rosen with the BioLite campaign. Erica, thank you so much for joining us today.

Erica Rosen:

Thank you for having me here.

Roy Morejon:

So you are officially the Director of Marketing over at BioLite. You’ve been there half of a decade now, which is awesome. You guys have an active campaign which is absolutely crushing it. I think currently over 1.8 million raised. You guys are trending well over two million right now. This is your third campaign that you’ve now launched on Kickstarter. Tell our audience all about where kind of this project started and how you guys got involved with Kickstarter.

Erica Rosen:

Definitely. So BioLite, just as a quick background, we make personal scale energy products for outdoor lovers and also families living in energy poverty across India and sub-Saharan Africa. So we’ve been in the business of making stoves, lights and solar panels for close to half a decade, as you mentioned. We’ve been working with Kickstarter since 2012 with the launch of our base camp stove.

One of the reasons that we love Kickstarter so much is it’s an incredibly vibrant and engaged community. BioLite makes technical products that come with a long backstory. We like talking about how the physics behind our products work, we like talking about the benefits of it, and we also just like nerding out on the science of it. Kickstarter really fosters an environment where people frankly just have a longer attention span. So it really allows you to tell a deep, robust, comprehensive story and a really honest story.

Yeah, we’ve been doing that since 2012 on Kickstarter and our most recent project is the BioLite fire pit which we’re working on right now. It is a smokeless wood burning campfire that also doubles as a hibachi grill. It’s our first product that is dual fuel so you can burn both charcoal and firewood and it really kind of reimagines the way you spend your time around a traditional campfire.

Roy Morejon:

You guys have put some serious engineering into this product. Talk about kind of the backstory of how this product came to life.

Erica Rosen:

Yeah, so the backstory is twofold. So BioLite has been in the business of fire since the inception of the company. We were founded by two guys, Alec and Jonathon, who are out to make a better camping stove. They were frustrated that they were using traditional gas canisters and they were like, “Well, I want to burn wood. Wood is what belongs in the outdoors. I want a tiny portable campfire.”

So that’s how our first flagship product, the BioLite camp stove was born. Then they actually took a prototype to a combustion conference out west in Seattle, because such a thing exists, and they went to this combustion conference and all the people there were like, “You realize your applications, your physics and the science behind your products have applications on the other side of the world where people are cooking over smoky wood fires every day.”

Alec and Jonathon at the time did not know that, but that’s where they went from having a cool idea to having an actual business and having a reason for being and starting a company. So we have been dedicated to clean combustion since the beginning and really about cleaning up wood fires. So the way that we do that is through carefully calibrated air injections. So we better mix the particles inside of the fire, which creates a more uniform temperature, which improves combustion and we took that same technology and brought it into the fire pit.

The reason that we made a fire pit, so the two previous products we’ve made, the camp stove in outdoor markets and then the base camp and home stove which is a larger format, those are designed to be more of like a burner. You kind of light it up and you get this concentrated flame and it’s meant for cooking with like pots and pans and that sort of thing.

That’s what we were doing, we were making cook stoves. That’s kind of, that’s where we started. Every year the BioLite team goes on an annual off-grid trip. We kind of call it our honesty trip where we take all of our gear with us and we go stay on a remote island for four days and we put our products to the test. We make sure that we can live off-grid because that’s the promise that we want to make to our community.

We go off-grid every year and we every year build a campfire. We have all of our stuff, sure, we have our cookstove, we have our lights, we have our solar panels, but we always wanted a campfire to go along with it because of the ambience, the natural glow and pull and warmth of a campfire.

What we found was that we were always playing musical chairs. Somebody was always getting up and moving around because a huge plume of smoke was wafting in their direction, and so finally two years ago we were sitting around the campfire and somebody was like, “You know, we should really do something about this. Could we make a better campfire? Could we do that?”

We had been so focused on just cookstove, cookstove, cookstove and we took a moment and we were like, “Yeah, I think we can.” So that’s how it got born. It was born out of sort of this kind of passion side project where we just wanted a better campfire and so we’ve been prototyping for the last two years and then finally launched this fall.

Roy Morejon:

That is awesome. So let’s talk to our audience a little bit about some of the challenges that you guys have encountered when designing this product. I’m sure that there’s been a lot of learnings gone on along the way in terms of making it as efficient as it is.

Erica Rosen:

Totally. Yeah, I think that one of the biggest, two of the biggest challenges was how big the fire pit should be. I think a lot of people are used to big giant campfires with 10 logs at a time and that sort of thing. The fire pit is actually pretty portable. We wanted it to be portable because A, we want you to be able to take it with you if you’re going to the beach or you’re just hanging out in your backyard.

We wanted it to be able to move with you, but we still want it to have the experience and draw of a large campfire. But one of the things that we found that was interesting is that a lot of the time campfires are so big because they’re overbuilt. The reason that they’re overbuilt is because A, the fuel is being burned really inefficiently so you need more fuel to kind of get the feel of that big fire. Then secondly a lot of campfires have a pit.

They kind of either go down into an ash ring or you’ve got a big basin or something like that so you’re actually using a ton of wood to just be able to see the firewood that’s resting on top of it. So the way that we solved for that, for both of those issues, was that one, we are dramatically improving the combustion. So what that does is it allows you to use far less fuel, but you still get a really big fire because what we’re doing is we’re burning the smoke before it has a chance to escape the fire.

That does two things. One, no smoke so you’re just having a better experience, but two, you’re getting more mileage out of the firewood that you’re burning. Even though you’re only burning four logs at a time, which is kind of what the capacity of the fire pit body is, you’re actually getting the feel of a very large campfire because we’re cranking out every last ounce of energy from those logs.

Then the second thing that we’re able to do to combat the idea of overbuilding a fire is the body of the fire pit is made of perforated metal. It’s something that we call x-ray mesh, and it allows you to literally see what’s going on inside of your fire. By being able to have that kind of front row seat into the complete combustion of your fire, you’re not overbuilding because you can see everything. You’re not wasting a bunch of logs on the bottom so that you can put a bunch of logs on top.

Through our design process we were basically able to help you create better control over the size of your fire, which has actually led to a third benefit that we didn’t even fully realize until after the fact, which is so many people are asking us how do you put out the campfire, and what’s cool about it is that because it’s only four logs it actually, if you put the fan on high it will burn itself out pretty quickly if you want it.

So it gives you a ton of control over the longevity of your fire so that you don’t have to do that inevitable oh, I’ve got to douse it with a ton of water and I have to wait for it to go out. It’s really easy to just toss a log in and keep it going, but if you want it to go out you actually can expedite it pretty quickly.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, really cool. We always love talking to creators that make products out of fulfilling needs that they had, so it’s awesome that your off-sites basically created this product and now you guys are able to bring it to fruition. Let’s talk about the crowdfunding campaign itself now. Given that you guys have done three of these campaigns, what have you done differently when launching this campaign than the others?

Erica Rosen:

It’s a great question. This time around one of the biggest things that we didn’t differently was incorporated a Kickstarter Live into the campaign. So one of the things that happens is you’ll launch a Kickstarter campaign, you’ll brainstorm all of the assets and videos and FAQs you can imagine, and then your community is inevitably going to ask really smart and interesting questions that you wouldn’t have thought about either because you already know the answer and so you kind of have too much information or they’re just, they’re giving you really valuable insight into how they plan to use the product.

So it helps you become more aware of what the user experience is going to be. So what we did is we launched this campaign. The campaign itself has a lead video, but also some smaller videos inside of it and kind of what we would call proof videos. So we have this one, spark to smokeless video where you actually get to see the smoke disappear from the fire because we think it’s really important for you to see it for yourself.

We did all of that, but then what we made sure that we did was about 10 days into the campaign we did a Kickstarter Live that we had a loose kind of script and run through of what we wanted to cover, but what it allowed was that during the first 10 days of the campaign we were able to pool all of these really thoughtful questions from the community and marry that with a live demo of the product.

I think what that did is it showed the community that we were listening to them, that we really valued their questions and their input, which is why we’re on Kickstarter in the first place, and then thirdly it kind of, no pun intended, held our feet to the fire. We had to show you that this product worked over a live stream. You can’t doctor that. You can’t fake that or do a clever cutaway. It is just a stationary camera with a live stream and so it really puts the product to the test. I think that that created a lot of confidence for our backers and our community.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. You guys had I think over 3,400 people watching your Kickstarter campaign live, so that’s the beauty of live video on Kickstarter now is yeah, you can’t lie. There’s nothing to hide, especially when you’re doing a product demo like yours, right?

Erica Rosen:

Yeah, totally. I think we really stand behind our product and I think we considered that day to be a great success. The only thing that was hard for us is that it was during this really gnarly heat streak and so it was like 85 degrees out and we were like, “The last thing we want is a campfire,” but we found some shade and we were doing okay.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, so you guys did, the mid-campaign demo with s’mores at Maker Space in Brooklyn, right?

Erica Rosen:

Yeah. This past weekend on October 7th we were at this facility called New Lab. It’s this really awesome maker space that provides resources and workspace to the local startup community in New York City. They were celebrating their one year birthday and so we showed up and hung out in their parking lot with three fire pits and we fed s’mores to 3,000 people.

Roy Morejon:
That’s a lot of s’mores, but did you get a good response out of that?

Erica Rosen:

Yeah. I think that one of the coolest reactions to it was people couldn’t figure out what was different. They were like, “Oh, it’s a fire pit. Oh, what’s different about it? I just see a big giant fire.” It took them like 10 or 20 seconds to be like, “Oh my God, there’s no smoke. Oh my God, there’s no smoke.” You know.

I think to us that’s such a cool reaction because it means that the technology is doing its job well. Your experience with the fire pit shouldn’t be the experience of using technology. It should be that technology is enabling your experience of having a great fire. So for us, that reaction of, “What’s different about it,” and then taking a minute to be like, “Oh my God, I’m not coughing on smoke,” that’s exactly the response that we want.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, that was killer. So one of the other awesome things that you guys have done during your campaign is actually partnered with three other campaigns to offer your fireside friends. Can you talk to all of our listeners about that?

Erica Rosen:

Totally. So I will be totally honest with you about this one. We have a love/hate relationship with stretch goals. The reason that we have a love/hate relationship with stretch goals is I think that it is a really great way to get excited and get people rooting for you and that you want to hit different goals and thresholds, but stretch goals can also be a really dangerous distraction if you’re not properly resourced to meet them.

I think that for us we’ve done stretch goals in the past and they always become a thorn in our side. They always become something that was not central to the campaign from the get-go and we fulfilled them and we’ve done them, but so for us coming this time around to our third campaign, we were like, “Look, we definitely want news to share throughout the campaign. We want stuff that people are excited about. We want stuff that helps maintain interest and momentum, but doing a stretch goal could really put the success of delivering on time at risk.”

What we don’t want to do is just do a stretch goal for stretch goal’s sake and mess up our production timelines, because what we want to do is give you the best fire pit possible and we want to give it to you on time. So with that in mind we were thinking well, what can we do? Well, part of a stretch goal is always about how do you enhance the experience that you’re having with this product?

So for us, instead of promising a stretch goal that would put pressure on delivering the product, what we decided to do was think about what we want around a campfire. What are the things that you want that make for a really, really great experience around a campfire? We went back to being off our annual off-grid trip and we thought about what do we do when we’re around a campfire? Number one, we want to be comfy. We always want a good beer and we want to be comfortable.

So we reached out to our friends at Rumpl and they make really, really cool throws and blankets that are made of sleeping bag material. So we partnered with them to create a throw and then these really awesome beer koozies, so they’re basically like tiny little sleeping bags for your beer. Then the next thing we thought was we always do a jam session. We always sing around the campfire. So we partnered with our friends over at Kala to feature a waterproof ukulele that I’ve actually been using for the last two and a half years and I’m obsessed with it.

Then the last one was actually partnering with a small artisan out in Illinois who makes handmade axes and hatchets. So for us the third thing was the key to a campfire is you want to keep it going, which means you need a reliable fuel supply, which means you need to know how to chop wood. Hence the hatchet and Justin from Manmade Co. who is the guy who makes the hatchets is this great individual artisan who’s just hand making all of these hatchets so it feels really special and a really one of a kind experience.

We’ve had just a tremendous response to these fireside friends. People really look forward to them. I think it also in my mind, it’s a nice departure from stretch goals because for us not only are these cool enhancements that already exist, we get to put a twist on them so we have custom color ways, we’re doing a digital songbook with Kala, that kind of stuff. I think it really reinforces the kind of ethos of community and collaboration, which is such a core tenet of Kickstarter.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. Is this something that you cleared with Kickstarter beforehand in terms of creating rewards with other people’s products in them?

Erica Rosen:

Yes. Yeah. To be fair and clear, obviously we know that Kickstarter isn’t a store, we know that it’s not a place where you’re just going to hack a bunch of other products together. So what we did is we brought this up to Kickstarter beforehand. One of the things that we made sure was that there is a collaborative element to each one of these partnerships, so with Rumpl we’re trying to get to 500 backers because if we get to do that we, the community gets to design what that blanket looks like.

So it’s not just that we’re grabbing blankets off the shelf. It’s that we get to pick what the colorway is and it will be a one of a kind production run and so there is that element of collaboration. With Kala, we’re working on a really fun digital songbook that accompanies the ukulele so that if you’ve never played in your life you’ll be an expert in no time and there’s really good tips for how to get everybody singing around a campfire.

Then with Manmade we’ve been working with them on developing custom colorways for the handles of the hatchets so that there is a really unique element that our BioLite flagship colors. Again, really making sure that these aren’t people that we’re just cutting an invoice and calling it a day. These are longstanding relationships that we have with these folks and really collaborating on creating something special for our community.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, I think it’s awesome. So with all of the marketing efforts that you guys have put forth so far into this project, where have you seen the biggest return on your investment?

Erica Rosen:

Oh, it’s a good questions. I think that one thing that we did a little bit differently this year is we really upped the production value of our video. The lead video that kind of kicks off the campaign is, I think it’s the video to date that we’re the proudest of. We worked with some, we worked with a production studio based out in the northwest and we shot in Washington. We shot in Index, Washington and in Seattle, Washington and we just, we were like, “Let’s make this as bad ass as we can. What can we do to really get people excited?”

So we picked some really beautiful locations. They brought some really high quality equipment. They helped us edit with a really kind of exciting pace and clip and the way that we’re using the motion graphics. I think that the “oh shit” factor is higher than any other video that we’ve done.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. It certainly captivates the audience and we’ll make sure to include that in the links on the website. That’s great to hear that. We see a lot of campaigners sometimes want to cut some corners on the video, but it truly is one of those assets that really needs to be nailed to showcase the product.

Erica Rosen:

Totally, and because I paused before I answered that because it was kind of, my answer was going to be neck and neck between that and PR and making sure that you’re reaching out to media beforehand. I ran around the country doing demos, doing in-person demos with a prototype for PR. That’s also really, really important, but the way that you get their interest in the first place was by showing them the video.

So I really do think a really high quality video is really key, especially with something like a hard good product. I think that on Kickstarter there are some creative products or music products or other things where you might be able to have a slightly different style. I don’t know if you saw this, but there’s a Kickstarter video or a Kickstarter campaign right now called You Suck At Piano and it’s just like a beginners guide to learning piano.

Their video is so funny and it’s so low-fi. It’s just a guy talking to a camera and it’s so dramatically different from ours, but it’s successful as well. I would say that my advice speaks very, very directly to those who are looking to make technology products or hard good products.

Roy Morejon:

Nice. What’s the biggest thing that you’ve learned throughout this entire process of launching three campaigns now?

Erica Rosen:

Biggest thing that I’ve learned. I think that one of the biggest things that we’ve learned is trust your community and the community will trust you back. I think being transparent with people and upfront with people and honest with people, so for example we’ve had some folks write to us on this campaign being like, “Why aren’t you doing stretch goals? What the hell?”

I’ve been really honest with them. We’ve been like, “Hey, this is taking off beyond anything we could have expected. Rather than tripping and falling over a stretch goal, we’d much rather produce as many fire pits as we can as on time as we can.” I think being honest and direct in explaining some of the things that are going on behind the scenes, the community’s really receptive and welcoming to that honesty.

Roy Morejon:

I’m really glad you bring that up. We see kind of a lot of entrepreneurs get caught up in all of those stretch goals and then when they’re not able to fill all of those add-ons if you will into the product and they kind of get caught up in that, it’s great that you guys have a central focus and know exactly one, what your consumers want and two, that you’ve incorporated all of these other things in there to obviously add value to the campaign, but the product should be good enough for everyone, right?

Erica Rosen:

Totally. Totally.

Roy Morejon:

What advice given your experience in running multiple Kickstarter campaigns would you give to someone else looking to kickstart their outdoor gear campaign?

Erica Rosen:

Uh huh (affirmative), what advice would I give? Well, I would say get your story together. Understand what you’re improving in somebody’s life and how you’re making it better, and figure out what are all the ways that you can show that to them instead of tell that to them. I think that campaigns that are really dense and just kind of shout at you lose a lot of interest quickly. It also helps you understand what your visual needs are going to be, whether they’re photos or gifts or video, so figuring out how you can show that to the community as much as possible.

I think having some working prototypes is really important and I think that’s a difference that I’ve had between this campaign and previous campaigns. In previous campaigns I’ve had one single prototype that I’ve had to guard with my life. This time around I was able to have access to five prototypes. That might not sound like a huge difference, but that enabled me to travel around the country with a fire pit. It enabled me to send one to an editor who’s going to review it and report back on it.

It enabled me to make sure that one was out at a photo shoot. It enabled us to have one at, three of them at the New Lab birthday party. I think having multiple prototypes is really helpful, especially for press and media because Kickstarter has a history of really amazing products, but it also has a history of some vaporware. A lot of press is really hesitant to cover ideas. They want to cover products.

I think that being able to get a working prototype in front of folks is a way to create some confidence and therefore create some coverage. Then I think the last thing, this one, it’s not particularly sexy, but you need to ask yourself if you’re willing to fulfill to the entire world and you need to figure out your shipping strategy. I have seen a lot of campaigns actually lose money on their campaign because they didn’t factor in what it would actually take to ship the products let alone what it would take to ship the products to remote locations. So I think that that is a very boring logistical one, but I think that it makes a huge difference between a successful campaign and a campaign that looks successful on the outside but you actually are going broke on the inside.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. So where are you guys headed next after this project ends? What’s the next kind of category of product that you guys are going to come out with?

Erica Rosen:

Well, after this campaign ends I am going to sit around a fire pit with a beer in a Rumpl koozie and relax for a few days, but then after that we’re going to head straight into the holiday season here at BioLite. We have a full website at BioLiteEnergy.com and so we’ll be ramping up for the holiday season where our holiday is going to really revolve around the power of home and being home. We’re going to do a limited edition sneak preview of a product that’s going to fit into that theme quite nicely.

Roy Morejon:

We will definitely be excited to see that when it comes out.

Erica Rosen:

Yeah.

Roy Morejon:

All right Erica, this has been awesome. Now we’re going to get into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a few questions at you. You good to go?

Erica Rosen:

Yeah, let’s do this.

Roy Morejon:

All right, so what inspired you to be an entrepreneur or work for a startup?

Erica Rosen:

Oh, I just love figuring shit out.

Roy Morejon:

Indeed. Don’t we all? So if you could go camping with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Erica Rosen:

Benjamin Franklin.

Roy Morejon:

Nice. All right, what would have been your first question for Mr. Franklin?

Erica Rosen:

Why a key to a kite?

Roy Morejon:

Interesting. Who did you look up to when you were growing up?

Erica Rosen:

Elizabeth I.

Roy Morejon:

What book or what book would you recommend to our listeners?

Erica Rosen:

Does it have to be entrepreneurial related?

Roy Morejon:

Not at all.

Erica Rosen:

Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Roy Morejon:

Nice. I don’t think we’ve had that one yet for the show. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Erica Rosen:

Sitting around a campfire.

Roy Morejon:

I knew that one was coming. All right, last question, Erica. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Erica Rosen:

Oh, the future of crowdfunding is shared by all of us and we’ve got to keep each other honest.

Roy Morejon:

Wise words, Erica. Well, this has been awesome. Please give your pitch. Tell our audience what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they need to go buy some BioLite products.

Erica Rosen:

All right, yeah. You should go until October 20th get the heck over to Kickstarter and checkout the BioLite fire pit. BioLite is spelled B-I-O-L-I-T-E. You can check out our fire pit, that as I said over until October 20th. The Kickstarter campaign does come with special rewards, so you’ll get our free solar carrying case if you come onto our Kickstarter campaign, but then after that you should check out our website, BioLiteEnergy.com.

That’s where we have a whole array of gear that will cook, charge, and light your life away from a grid and every product that you buy, a portion of that revenue gets reinvested into the work that we do in India and sub-Saharan Africa. You’re not just creating good energy for yourself, you’re creating good energy for the whole world.

Roy Morejon:

Indeed. Erica, this has been awesome. Audience, thank you again for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for all the show notes, the full transcript, links and videos to everything we talked about today and of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and BackerKit. Erica, thank you so much for being on the show today. You’ve been awesome.

Erica Rosen:

Thanks very much.

Roy Morejon:

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business, world, and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstar.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter Guide to Crushing It and of course if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at ArtoftheKickstart.com/iTunes.

It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on EnventysPartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.