In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed founder and chief product tester of Amabilis, Brian Abrams. For the past 25 years, Brian has been designing premium apparel and gear for the men and women of our most elite military forces and those that respond first. Fully funded in six hours, the Responder Lite Tactical Chore Jacket and the Primaloft Shirt-Jac Kickstarter campaign is Brian’s fourth successful Kickstarter campaign. Learn how Brian surpassed his funding goal by over 249% with 217 backers.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • What Kickstarter changes Brian has noticed since the launch of AMABILIS’ first product, the Dave Jr. Duffel Bag
  • How Brian applied his 25-years of experience designing special operations products to creating AMABILIS’ two tactical inspired jackets
  • The opportunities available for international crowdfunding, along with advice for international shipping
  • How AMABILIS has achieved a very high repeat customer buy rate
  • What, according to Brian, is the most important factor in having a successful Kickstarter campaign

Links

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Transcript

View this episode's transcript

 

Roy Morejon:
Welcome Entrepreneurs and Startups to Art of the Kickstart, the podcast that every entrepreneur needs to listen to before you launch. I’m your host, Roy Morejon president and founder of Inventus Partners. The world’s only Turnkey Product Launch Company that has helped over 2000 innovations successfully raise over $400 million in capital since 2010. Each week, I interview a crowdfunding success story, in inspirational entrepreneur or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level. This show would not be possible without our main sponsor ProductHype, a 300,000 member crowdfunding media site and newsletter that’s generated millions of dollars in sales for over a thousand top tier projects since 2017. Check out ProductHype.co to subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Now let’s get on with the show.

Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition “Art of the Kickstart”. Today I am honored to be joined by Brian Abrams, founder and chief product tester of Amabilis. Brian, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Brian Abrams:
My pleasure, Roy, thank you so much for the invitation.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So Brian, you’re a well accomplished man, 25 year veteran, you’ve been designing premium apparel and gear for men and women and you know, for the elite military forces and those that respond first. So really honored to have you on the show and talk about your fourth Kickstarter launch. That’s active today. The two tactical inspired jackets that are out there, the chore jacket, which I think is a personal favorite of mine because I’ve never seen a chore jacket before in my life, but also this shirt Jack, which is this new puppy, and I love your tagline in terms of it being built for work play and every day.

Roy Morejon:
So super excited to have you on the show. Let’s dive in, in terms of talking about one you’re in the elite category, just for running for Kickstarter campaigns now, but let’s talk about the campaign that’s active right now in terms of the tactical chore jacket and the PrimaLoft Shirt Jack, what was the inspiration behind those products to launch? Now your fourth campaign on Kickstarter.

Brian Abrams:
Well, they were a little bit different for each product, the Responder Light. When you hear the word Responder Light, you think maybe there’s a Responder Heavy. Well, we don’t call it the Responder Heavy, but one of our previous campaigns was for the Responder Jacket and the Responder Jacket was a very heavily tactical influence design that we launched for our second Kickstarter campaign. And it’s been our number one product for the past two years. We’ve had a lot of success with it and people have loved the tactical inspiration, they’ve loved the US made military mil-spec fabric we used.

Brian Abrams:
And after thinking a lot about that product and getting feedback from customers, so many of them like it, but it’s a very tactical looking jacket. So we started thinking about… We know the customers love the fabric. It has tremendous heritage and history behind it as it’s the chosen fabric for all military to use in their Garrison wear and on the battlefield. And we thought, how do… If we could keep the design aesthetic of the tactical inspiration and lighten it, meaning lighten it in terms of feature set, actual weight and cost. It might make a lot of sense for us. So we started talking to customers about that. It actually almost right at the end of the campaign a year and a half ago, and had a lot of people that really thought that would be great.

Brian Abrams:
And basically with the emphasis being on a more everyday wear piece, something that can be worn as you say in our tagline for workplace or every day. So there are similarities in the materials in this design aesthetic, but there are some differences that make it more suitable for a more versatile piece. So that’s how the Responder Light came about and the Shirt Jack was a little bit different, we all are familiar with today’s puffer jackets and we see them everywhere and 99% of them look exactly the same. I think if you were to remove the logos off the jackets, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference from one brand to another. So we had a… We had a vacancy in our product line for an insulated piece, and we’ve been talking about, what would our first insulated piece look like, for quite some time actually, from the very beginning of the company we knew that it would come at some point.

Brian Abrams:
So we thought a lot about our quilting lines in the insulation itself and the shell material and the warmth level. And how could we differentiate that jacket from today’s everyday puffy so that if you’re walking down the street, you could feel like you’re walking in something a bit more distinctive. So that’s really how our design came about. It used some of our design influence out there. Some of the things that we seem to carry across a number of products, and we infuse that into a piece that could be considered a Shirt Jack or Over Shirt. And that’s how it was born.

Roy Morejon:
Let’s talk about the birth, because I definitely jumped over that. I mean, you’ve been running campaigns now for five years I think let’s talk about the start of the company, like what led you to begin this product line in this company?

Brian Abrams:
Well, our first campaign, we started the company really with the Kickstarter launch. And we did that with our number one selling product, our Dave Jr Duffel bag. And that was our… That’s when our company launched, it was our first Kickstarter and we chose Kickstarter to basically launch the company with, because we were trying to think about how do we start our company? How do we get some customers on a more or less bootstrap basis? How can we do that? And I had been a personally, a fan of Kickstarter and had followed other Kickstarter campaigns and backed other campaigns on a personal level.

Brian Abrams:
So I had a pretty good feeling of how Kickstarter worked and as it turned out, it was a great move for us. Everything about it was really great. And the ultimate goal was that we walked away with much more than some production funding, but we walked away with some customers, and we did that.

Brian Abrams:
And that really helped us because then we had some people to get, not only feedback on the current product, we had people to talk to about the next products. We had people to continue our marketing efforts towards and… I still feel the exact same way today as I did the very first day when we launched our Kickstarter.

Roy Morejon:
So what led you to know that Kickstarter was the right path to launch your first product?

Brian Abrams:
Well, I wasn’t sure if it was exactly the right path, but it was seemed really logical to me based on its premise. And fundamentally what Kickstarter is there to do and how it works and all that. And it made us be able to launch a product much easier than I think, than we would’ve been able to do otherwise, because we would have had to have all that funding in place to go into production and product development and all the things that go along with it. So that really did help us. And the whole inspiration behind the company, really was dovetailed off of my background as 20 some years of strictly designing products for special operations forces of the military. And I had never sold to consumers before. It was strictly to these elite forces, Tier 1 operators. And when I sold my company and thought I was going to be done and retired, that didn’t really work out, it lasted about 15 minutes.

Brian Abrams:
I was thinking, what could be next? What could I do next? And I wanted to take all that, all that history and all that heritage and authenticity behind us, and what we learned through all those years of the making products for probably the hardest core users you could possibly find. And we learned a lot about making products in that way. And I thought won’t that be really cool if we can spin up a company and provide those same things, those same philosophies, and do it for consumers. And I never had the experience of doing that before. We’d always sold two units and teams and tactical operators. So that’s how Amabilis was actually… That was the foundation of our inspiration for the brand. There was a few other things that tipped it over the edge to become a company, but that was where it started.

Roy Morejon:
So let’s talk about that first campaign. If you can put your self back in those shoes, back in the day, the prep work leading up to that campaign. And now the prep work leading up to this campaign, what’s changed over the years in terms of running multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns now that you can bestow onto our listeners in terms of a few nuggets that you’ve changed, you’re seeing with great success continuing to raise and engage the crowd.

Speaker 3:
That’s really a great question. And it has changed a lot. And even those few short years, I think that when we did the first campaign, it was somewhat homegrown. We did most of it and we shot a video. We didn’t shoot it on an iPhone, like some of the very early Kickstarter campaigns. I think that’s how a lot of the early campaigns were started with people sitting at their desk with their phone and talking a bit, we did have a regular video, but we did a lot more of that our ourselves.

Speaker 3:
And I think the biggest contrast that I can see from today to our first Kickstarter is the level of professionalism, professional marketing that today is become standard practice versus even then, and there’s many as you know, there’s certainly many… The success of the Kickstarter platform has spawned countless people with so-called expertises, whether they’d be in marketing or graphic design or video, or any of those fields.

Speaker 3:
And I really feel that today, the professionalism that has developed, there are a number of companies that specialize in Kickstarter in their marketing and have that in-house, and that’s been a big difference today’s campaign when you look at it. And if you were to search back on the old ones, they just look much more polished and pro than the early campaigns. And I think because so many of them have professional marketing and graphic design assistance.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So, I mean, you’ve been working with us here at Inventus Partners for a while now. What were some of those considerations when you were choosing an agency to partner with?

Brian Abrams:
Yeah, another good question. And I talked to a number of agencies, when you run a successful Kickstarter, you get bombarded with people who are the best at everything. Every day you’re getting digital marketers and everybody who can tell you how you can convert this and sell that and blow up this. And when you distill that all down, I think there’s a handful of companies that really seem to stand above the rest.

Brian Abrams:
And I spoke to those companies, all of them we’ve had a little experience with a few and we did a little bit of work with Inventus on one of their campaigns. And I had a really good feeling about it. It was comfortable. They were really knowledgeable. They helped me in areas that I certainly didn’t know. And I really felt a… And really feel this now with the last month or so of working with Inventus, I feel a strong partnership commitment and trust, most importantly a trust factor that I know they’ve got my back, they’ve got stuff handled, and I only have so much bandwidth.

Brian Abrams:
And when you’re running a campaign, if you are participating in all the questions and answers and all that, which I do myself, it’s hard to do everything. And knowing you have somebody there that is taking care of all the dotting, all the I’s and crossing the T’s and a lot of the details.

Brian Abrams:
And there’s probably more of that today than there was four or five years ago. Because there’s other opportunities, there’s cross promotional opportunities and there’s third party promotion and there’s media and PR, and there’s all these things. And it’s very difficult for one person to keep a pulse on all of that. So having a partner that is there, dialing things in for you, everything still crosses your desk and it’s still your voice in your approval, but a lot of legwork is done. So there’s no question having a quality partner like Inventus is key, and I would never consider it any other way.

Roy Morejon:
I appreciate that. Is it fair to say we’ve got your Six.

Brian Abrams:
I’d say it’s very fair to say that in a matter of fact, I was… a couple of minutes late to the phone call today, because one of the people at the Venice was screaming for an approval on something before publish today. So they are honored. Sometimes.

Roy Morejon:
Beautiful.

Brian Abrams:
Sometimes like intensely on it, like they are on it. They want that response right now, because they have a very strict schedule and template that they follow for success.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So you’ve run three now, four successful Kickstarter campaigns. You’ve got a thousands of happy customers from all over the world using your apparel and gear. How have you gone about consistently engaging that community, that crowd, right? Your tribe in terms of coming up with new products and actively engaging them to make whatever the newest product that they’re demanding

Brian Abrams:
Well, as you probably know, we’re not… I like to think there are two kinds of brands. There’s a Kickstarter brand. And then there’s non Kickstarter brand. And although we started on Kickstarter, we quickly became a brand and we have our own E-commerce and we have an Amazon store. And that first campaign is what enabled that to happen? And we continue to design and develop products. It’s an ongoing process, and we’ve continued to build our non Kickstarter business. And for us, our thought process and our distribution model is to have a more or less direct to consumer directive. And that’s accomplished by, as I said, our E-commerce store and Amazon. And in addition to that, we’d like to see one Kickstarter maybe one and a half or somewhere like a crossover almost to a second.

Brian Abrams:
But I think I would like to continue to have at least one Kickstarter per year, because it does some different things. It allows you to launch a product on a more or less a pre-order basis that gives you insight and visibility into your production. And how that may look because production is a whole separate science and quite challenging, particularly in these times. So it does that. And as I mentioned earlier, what we really love about is in a short, fairly short period of time, 30, 45 days, something like that, we are able to add a bunch of new customers into our portfolio to learn from, to market to, and to vet new products and designs.

Brian Abrams:
And for us, in our particular company, we have a very high repeat customer buy rate. And, and we know that if we gain a customer, wherever they come from, whether they discover us organically or through some ad we’re running on Facebook, we know that beyond Kickstarter, we know they’re going to get a product that is high quality, premium level, and that presumably they’re going to really love and they will be back for more and that’s proved out campaign after campaign. And I’m certain it will do the same on this campaign.

Roy Morejon:
So in talking about campaigns, you’ve run several international crowdfunding campaigns. Talk a little bit about the experience there to the entrepreneurs and startups listening.

Brian Abrams:
Yeah. You know, I didn’t really know much about international crowdfunding when we did our first campaign. I don’t think I knew anything about it at the time, but through the last few years, I’ve become a fan of crowdfunding and started being curious. What else may be available out there in the world and what other countries may offer those? And if so, which ones seem to be more in line with the way we like to do things in our products and such. So we did discover in Asia, some thriving, international opportunities with crowdfunding on a couple of different platforms. And we have run several campaigns internationally, all of which were successful. And it gave us further insight into that because our Kickstarter campaigns, has customers from all over the world. And although the majority of them are from the US we ship a lot of products to Asia, and we make a bunch of our products in Asia.

Brian Abrams:
So it started to seem to be a really good opportunity if we were building product. And if we were going to be doing a production run of a product in Asia, while the product is still sitting there in our factory, before we ship it over to the US, maybe we can have an outlet of fulfillment in Asia with our product being close. So it’s more efficient and effective and faster to get into the customer’s hands. So at first it wasn’t… it was… When we were thinking about, okay, we’re going to make products in Asia. And how do we increase our customer base there? So we can ship some of those products.

Brian Abrams:
And we thought about a Amazon store in Japan, and we thought about a few different things we thought about, maybe we can connect with a distributor in Asia and importer, and we’ve looked at all those things. And that’s in the crowdfunding was just one of those opportunities. And in that same feeling we had about our first Kickstarter here for those same reasons, we felt it was a good path for us there. And we will continue to do some other ones when we have the right product in Asia again.

Brian Abrams:
I’m certain we will run more campaigns there. So it’s been… It’s actually worked really well. Smooth. There is been no problems, no hiccups, no unexpected issues. It actually… Very similar to the process of Kickstarter felt very similar.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Since you’ve run four campaigns, I know you’ve got a breadth of experience shipping internationally and all over the world. Any insight’s you can share with our audience because shipping always, typically seems to be an after thought, especially for the first time campaign runner, but there’s definitely a lot of attention that needs to be paid to it. Any nuggets of wisdom there you want to share?

Brian Abrams:
Shipping is gigantic. And I think it’s really a key component of your campaign on the front end and making sure, as you said to fully understand it, because I’m sure you’ve seen this a lot, many campaigns, particularly on smaller companies that aren’t filled with a lot of resources behind them. I think their campaign could easily be made or broke in the fulfillment process.

Brian Abrams:
Like everything the crowdfunding has, There become fulfillment companies, shipping companies that have focused and really looked at crowdfunding is an important component with their business. So there are a number of companies out there that are very familiar with the crowdfunding process, but like campaigns in general, like Kickstarter in general, we saw last year things changed just dramatically because of the pandemic. And when it’s still with us, shipping has become much more difficult.

Brian Abrams:
There’s a lot less shipping going on. So the positioning in these, whether it be by ocean, on a vessel or on an aircraft is become more difficult in because there is less of a moving in with that, the prices of sword, and that has been challenging. And regardless of whether you’re on a Kickstarter campaign or in any other kind of business, it affects you. So to minimize that and to think, wow, shipping it was probably just a couple of bucks a piece.

Brian Abrams:
I would really encourage any creator, anybody considering crowdfunding at all to really dive very deeply into that and do the best they can to get accurate information.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, Brian, this is going to get us into our launch round, where I’m going to, rapid-fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go?

Brian Abrams:
I am, I’m fired up and ready.

Roy Morejon:
Let’s do this.So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur

Brian Abrams:
By College education I’m an Accountant. And somehow after I graduated college, I never quite felt that was going to be my, the right path. I’m not even today, quite sure how I wound up in that. So actually other than two years in my entire career, I’ve never worked for anybody.

Brian Abrams:
I’ve always found my way from the time I was 21, after I got out of college and was in a business from the first day, the day after I graduated college on a Saturday, on a Monday, I started a business with somebody. So I… And other than a two year span where I worked for a company I’ve never worked for anybody. So it’s just all I’ve ever known.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. If you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to go on a hike with?

Brian Abrams:
Steve Jobs.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. What would have been your first question for him?

Brian Abrams:
How did he get everybody to drink the Kool-Aid.

Roy Morejon:
Interesting. That’s a good one. What are your top…

Brian Abrams:
I loved, I mean, I’d loved his marketing genius. I… Fascinated by it.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah no, Absolutely. I mean, in terms of marketing genius, I’ll follow up on that. What do you think are the top three skills that every entrepreneur needs to be

Brian Abrams:
Tenacity, Patience, and Tenacity.

Roy Morejon:
I love it. Any books you’d recommend to our listeners?

Brian Abrams:
I’ve read a couple books that I really like. One of them was… One by Steve Jobs that I really enjoyed. And another one is by a Seattle executive. I actually, I keep it on the corner of my desk. It’s almost like something refer to a lot. It’s called Ironclad Branding. And it’s by a woman, who’s a branding genius here in Seattle.

Brian Abrams:
And, I think it’s one thing to start a company. And it’s very difficult when you start to think about long range, three, four years down the road, but I would encourage people to start a company to be able to think about them. And if you could fast forward a couple of years, what do you want your company to look like?

Brian Abrams:
How do you want it to be presented? How do you want customers to see it and feel it? So I think branding is a real interesting topic for an entrepreneur or something it goes and extends just so far beyond a logo design.

Roy Morejon:
Oh absolutely, Alright, Brian, last question in the rapid fire, and since you’ve run four campaigns successfully now, really interested to hear your take on what does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Brian Abrams:
[inaudible 00:26:05] is another million dollar question. I think the future of crowdfunding, it looks like it’s really solid. I think, still many new companies, as well as companies like me who have been there before continue to patronize crowdfunding. I think the big challenge for success today certainly is a great product. It’s still no matter what, no matter who your marketing teams are, no matter how great your video is, no matter how good your Facebook ads are or whatever. I think at the end of the day, it still is about the product. And does that product resonate.

Brian Abrams:
But the Challenge today is, if you can is to have proper funding behind you because Kickstart… Going to crowdfunding is not a cheap endeavor.

Roy Morejon:
Indeed it’s not, great insights there Brian, this is your opportunity to give the audience your pitch, tell them what you’re all about, where you should go and why people should check you out.

Brian Abrams:
Yeah. We would love for people to visit our website at amabilisgear.com, we make some really cool products, super emphasis on premium level, a lot of tactical design inspiration behind it. Things that give you the opportunity to look and feel different than the status quo. And we feel strongly that we have products, both on the gear side and the apparel side that are well-suited for work, play and your every day. So check us out, take a look. And if you have any questions, shoot them on over. We’d love to talk to you.

Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Well, audience, thanks again for tuning in make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to all the campaigns and everything else we talked about today. And of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast, sponsors the Gadget Flow and ProductHype. Brian, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Brian Abrams:
Roy, thank you so much for having me it was a real pleasure.

Roy Morejon:
Indeed. Thanks for tuning into another amazing 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, show us some love by giving us a great rating on your favorite listening station. And of course, make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for all the previous episodes. And if you need some help, that’s what we’re here for. Make sure to send me an email to info@artofthekickstart.com. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll see you on the next episode.