In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Graham Ripple, COO of OYO Fitness, makers of the full-body, portable gyms. Weighing under 3 lbs, yet providing up to 40 lbs of resistance, OYO NOVA Gym and OYO Personal Gym are the 1st and 2nd most funded fitness products in Kickstarter history, respectively. Listen in and learn about OYO Fitness’ product development journeys and how it obtained enormous success on Kickstarter.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

    • The development of SpiraFlex technology used by NASA and the inspiration behind OYO Fitness
    • Why they used crowdfunding as a means of market validation
    • The marketing preparation techniques they used for both Kickstarter campaigns and how they differed
    • The importance of omnichannel ecommerce and crowdfunding storytelling
    • Their operational plan for fulfilling such a large number of backers

    Links

    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 a hundred 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 Gadget Flow. 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 cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now let’s get on with the show.
    Roy Morejon:
    Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today we’ve got an exciting episode for you. We are talking with Graham Ripple, the COO of OYO Fitness. Yes, that OYO Fitness. The most funded fitness product in the history of Kickstarter. Graham, really excited to have you on the show today.
    Graham Ripple:
    Thank you so much. Glad to be here.
    Roy Morejon:
    So, the original product that launched, the OYO Fitness product back in 2018, you guys launched that pretty much right after the New Year. Over 4,000 backers raised $660,000 roughly on the first launch, which is absolutely amazing. And now you guys are back with over 15,000 backers and over 2.4 million dollars raised for the OYO NOVA Gym. So, I’m really excited to dive in and talk about how this has become not only one of the fastest growing fitness companies in the world but now the most funded fitness product on Kickstarter.
    Roy Morejon:
    So, take us back to the beginning. How did you get started with OYO Fitness, and where did Paul Francis, the guy who created this technology, where did that all begin?
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. Well, I got pulled into OYO in late 2016, and our Kickstarter launched in 2017. And I was hired to launch that first product. I had worked with Paul, OYO CEO, with another company. I had a prepared meal company here in Kansas City, and they used our meals for the 10-week challenge that OYO did where participants lost, I think, 17 pounds over 10 weeks, a huge success there. So I was brought in to launch that first product. And since then, I’ve helped bring on the OYO Personal Gym, which was that first Kickstarter project, helped develop the Pro, which was integrated to an app, and then have been running operations and strategy for OYO since then.
    Graham Ripple:
    But the story of OYO actually goes way back to the late ’90s. Paul is a serial inventor and has created so many different things. And at the time, he was working on developing fitness devices, and so he had developed a concept that was called SpiraFlex technology. It’s a rotational technology using a rubber polymer. So he developed this concept, and then he literally was sitting at a coffee shop that’s underneath our offices in Kansas City, Missouri, was reading the newspaper about the International Space Station and how they needed a resistive exercise device there on the space station. He literally called up NASA and said, “Hey, I’m working on something. I think that this would be a great fit.” They said, “Why don’t you come down to Houston?” I think he went down a week or two later, and he has this amazing story of pitching to NASA doctors, and then the next day it was pitching to like 50 people. And they said, “Yeah, we want to develop this.”
    Graham Ripple:
    So, SpiraFlex first launched in the International Space Station in the early 2000s. It was used for over a decade by astronauts to stay in shape in space. He then licensed the technology to Bowflex. Bowflex put it into the Bowflex Revolution home gym, which sold $250 million in sales in the last 10 or 15 years. And then about five years ago, he started OYO and miniaturized the technology, put it into a product called the DoubleFlex, which has now become the OYO Personal Gym, which we currently sell. And then that then iterated into the OYO NOVA Gym, which is what’s on Kickstarter.
    Roy Morejon:
    What’s amazing to me is this SpiraFlex technology now was recently inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame, which, one, I had no idea existed, but just the fact that astronauts were able to stay fit on the International Space Station with this technology, and now it’s bringing that to our terrestrial homes right now is absolutely amazing. So really excited to hear more of the technology itself that Paul was able to create and patent and build upon. What was that process like in terms of the features that were decided on going into it as well as designing it for just the individual to be able to use on their own?
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. I wasn’t with SpiraFlex at the time and Paul, so I really only have secondhand knowledge. I know that it was a really iterative process. I think it took them over a year to develop the SpiraFlex. It turned into something called the iRED device, and I think it took them a year and I think over a million dollars just to develop that technology. They went through multiple iterations. I mean, the NOVA, it weighs less than three pounds and it puts out 40 pounds of resistance. What was in the space station had two cylinders to it that was stacked with these SpiraFlex disks, and it put out over 300 pounds of resistance. I mean, it’s taking this technology that’s been used at scale and then really miniaturizing it and creating this ultra portable personal gym in the OYO NOVA.
    Roy Morejon:
    So in terms of the first campaign that launched back in 2018, what was the deciding factor of bringing this new technology to market using crowdfunding as a means to further validate the technology itself?
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. Prior to the DoubleFlex, which is what we launched in that campaign, and that’s now turned into the OYO Personal Gym. We did a little bit of a rebrand. There was a prior product called the DoubleFlex Silver, and that had gone into market and it had saturated the market a little bit. But I think the idea of the DoubleFlex was really to leverage what Kickstarter offers. I mean, Kickstarter is a great way to, of course, validate your idea and to really see market validation. And so rather than just dive into production and marketing and advertising, Kickstarter really just afforded us to take a product that we knew was already market viable, because we’d had a previous version. We iterated on it, we created more resistance, we had longer extension with it. And then Kickstarter afforded us the opportunity to really get it out in the market and see how people would respond, which I think is really what Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general really allows.
    Roy Morejon:
    Absolutely. So in terms of preparation leading up to the first campaign back in 2018 and this campaign that’s currently running on Kickstarter, what are some of the preparation tips or techniques that you guys have continued to utilize or stop utilizing or have found to be more effective on this launch?
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. The first launch, you’re out there. We had good guesses of what to do, but you don’t know. Right? I felt like, for me, I was brand new in the company, and I felt like, honestly, I was constructing. I had all of this raw material, and I just was constructing it together. And so there was great technology that had been validated, there was great collateral and storytelling behind it, there was a great brand. OYO actually stands for On Your Own, so O-Y-O, On Your Own Fitness. So there was a great brand behind it, there was the NASA validation, and so really a lot of it then comes down to, I think, a couple things.
    Graham Ripple:
    I think one is storytelling, and storytelling via your video and storytelling on your page. So we have a great partner that does our video for us. He did the video in the earlier campaign. He’s done this video. It’s the same graphic designer that’s on our team that did all the storytelling. And then it’s a very collaborative process with Paul and the rest of the team. And then, honestly, from there, it’s making sure your costs work and getting some great partners with advertising. I feel like crowdfunding has really changed as a platform where it started as a very organic platform, and now I think it’s more of a paid platform. And so when I’m talking with people about it, one of the things that I’m informing them on is basically saying, “You’re going to need to have an advertising budget, especially if you don’t already have a following or if you don’t have a way that you can get organic movement.”
    Graham Ripple:
    As I advise businesses and I get pulled into conversations talking about crowdfunding, I really try to coach people that crowdfunding is its own channel, and you need to think of it as a business within a larger business, or you need to think of it as a phase of a product launch. Right? And so you just need to think about it differently than you’re thinking about a general rollout strategy.
    Roy Morejon:
    Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, we talk a lot about how important that month or two or six leading up to the launch is in terms of the overall success of the campaign. What did you guys do to put yourself in such a position to have so much over-funding on the campaign on this go-around?
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. I mean, we are honestly blown away by the success. I mean, with everything happening right now with the coronavirus with people shelter in place, we had some of our external partners say, “Maybe you should wait on the launch.” I mean, we pressed play on this campaign, and we were not certain how it was going to go, but in terms of preparation, I think we had a couple things going for us. I think one is we were a known entity within Kickstarter. We had already done a successful campaign. I think number two was in addition to the previous Kickstarter and Indiegogo backers, we also had an additional three years of customers that we could leverage and reach out to. We, of course, have the NASA technology. I think price point matters a lot.
    Graham Ripple:
    I mean, a lot of it for us was just reactivating our customers. And, frankly, the other big thing that’s key is the NOVO was built as a response to customers’ feedback, right? So we had the DoubleFlex Silver, right? Which was the product previous to the DoubleFlex of the earlier Kickstarter campaign. And out of getting that in market, customers came back and they said, “We want more resistance, and we want more extension.” And so we doubled the resistance, and we went from 15 pounds to 25 pounds. We get that out into the market, and customers said, “Well, extension’s great, but can you even add a little bit more resistance to it?”
    Graham Ripple:
    And we said, “No problem.” And so we actually added a little bit more extension for some of our taller customers, and then we added, again, more resistance. And so continuing to have a dialogue with your customers so that you’re responding to them, I think that really set us up for success. And then being able to have great partners, such as Enventys Partners, such as some of our other advertisers where we just were able to scale that much quicker.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah. I mean, you’ve been working with us here at Enventys Partners for a while now on both projects. What are some of those considerations that you guys were looking at when choosing an agency to partner with?
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. One is track record and reputability in the market. I mean, I feel like we basically got the band back together, if you will. I mean, essentially we called up our partners from the previous campaign, and the ones that really worked well, we definitely reached out to. The ones that were fine, we looked at other partners. And so I think for us in terms of considerations, one, we had the benefit of already having known entities. And then, for us, it’s lots of interviews.
    Graham Ripple:
    Especially when you have people that you trust, you know the language that they’re using, and so then you can look over to the new partners and say, “Okay, are they in line? Is their strategy similar? Do we feel good about it?” And even as the campaign is going, I mean, with a campaign of this size, we have other partners that are wanting to reach out. And so part of what I’m doing is vetting them. And I look a lot to how our current partners work to make sure I feel comfortable with new partners to bring on board.
    Roy Morejon:
    Absolutely. So earlier you had mentioned that this product truly came out of the listening that you guys had done in terms of Amazon comments, backers from the previous campaign, selling through your website of needing more resistance. So I’m excited to hear what advice would you have for someone, let’s say, looking to then transition their product to Amazon after their crowdfunding campaign?
    Graham Ripple:
    Oh, absolutely. What advice do I have for that? I’m going to take it a little bit broader, Roy. We did a Kickstarter campaign and then immediately an Indiegogo InDemand campaign. And so I go there because that was so key to continue to get revenue while we were going through manufacturing for the first product, if you have product development time. Then, once you get the product in hand and you fulfill everything to your crowdfunding backers, we did exactly what you’re suggesting. Amazon, our own website. Some of the keys that we found with Amazon, we actually have some specialists that we’ve hired to help us because Amazon is its own beast.
    Graham Ripple:
    We’ve noticed just really engaging with an omni-channel approach is really key. When we were just on Amazon, we were having a hard time getting enough internal traffic because this is a very innovative product, and people look at it and they don’t quite understand it. The game changed for us when we actually went to our own website and started doing Facebook advertising there. And what we found was that essentially we’re doing top of funnel work with Facebook and Google and YouTube. Our customers would then, of course, be driven to our sites. They would check it out. But then I think everybody, or 75% of people, then go over to Amazon to do a price check.
    Graham Ripple:
    And so that external traffic from our own activity then boosted everything with Amazon. And so we did Amazon FBA for ease of fulfillment. So I think the big tricks for Amazon in specific are external marketing and advertising, which helps boost what’s happening internal to Amazon, and then specifically doing Amazon FBA because so many people are making decisions based on Prime, the ability to get things quickly, the ability to have no-hassle refunds, all of that.
    Roy Morejon:
    So, you guys happy with your performance on Amazon so far?
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. I mean, it’s been really fun to see the growth on Amazon and to see how we stack up against other portable gyms that are in our category. I do think that from a costing standpoint, you, of course, have to balance sales on your own website versus Amazon sales. I mean, there’s just very different fees that are associated there. Part of my job is to ever be looking at costing and making sure that we’re allocating inventory in the right places, that we’re putting sales in the right places so that we can really use each channel as a potent growth mechanism for us.
    Roy Morejon:
    So, what challenges do you think you guys foresee now that you’ve overfunded the campaign by so much? With over $2.4 million raised with three weeks to go, you guys are looking at probably a three or four million dollar campaign right now. I mean, what challenges is that going to put on the company going forward?
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. Well, this is beyond our expectations. I think that the challenges are probably more logistic than anything. We have a manufacturer. We manufacture out of Taiwan. We have a full-time staff member that’s there in Taiwan who basically is the liaison for manufacturing. We have distribution happening here in the U.S. as well as what’s happening in Taiwan. And so what’s interesting about success like this is like, for example, I’m having to change my operational game, where from a fulfillment standpoint, I were planning on fulfilling out of Taiwan and L.A., and we’re looking at then setting up a third warehouse in the E.U. to basically handle those backers. And part of that was because our backers basically came and said, “Hey, let’s have a more in-depth conversation about that and about shipping.” They’re in the E.U., right?
    Graham Ripple:
    And so with this campaign, 55% of backers are outside of the U.S., which is a way different number than our first campaign. I’m having calls even this week figuring out what should that warehouse be. So, operationally, that’s a thing. Manufacturing we’re really not concerned with. I mean, we have partners that we’ve worked with for now five years. They have manufactured tens of thousands of units for us. I think that we’ll need to do a little bit of pacing in terms of how quickly we can get units off of the assembly line into containers, so there’ll be a little bit of strategy there, but the volume doesn’t really concern us. But it would be if we didn’t have the history that we have.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah. No, absolutely. So I’m interested to hear your answer on this. I mean, besides hiring Enventys Partners, what would be your top tip for raising a million dollars in crowdfunding?
    Graham Ripple:
    Oh gosh. Great question. Top tip. I think success on Kickstarter comes down to a couple different things. Number one, hiring Enventys Partners, of course, but I think there’s a couple different things. I think one is making sure that your product fits the demographics of Kickstarter. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who have great product ideas, but their product doesn’t fit the demographic of Kickstarter. And so I basically say, “I think this is great. I think you should pursue it. I think you should launch it somewhere else. I don’t think this will be successful on this channel.” Because, again, it’s a unique channel. I think that’s one part of it.
    Graham Ripple:
    I think a second part of it is… I mean, of course, there’s great partners. A third part is pricing. I like having products that are over $100. I like having products that are about $130 or so, or somewhere between $100 and $200, because it gives you enough space to have advertising budget behind it. Two, advertising. I think that you want a war chest that you can launch ads with and test. And then I think the last thing, which actually ties back into the first thing, which is just storytelling. That you have a product that you vetted, you have a product that resonates with the target demographic of Kickstarter, and that you can really explain it and show it to them where they look at this and they say, “Absolutely. I want to help bring this thing to life.” Because in the end, crowdfunding is all about helping an inventor or helping a business bring something to life.
    Graham Ripple:
    And I think that sometimes companies forget that, and they forget it in terms of their messaging, and they forget it in terms of how they approach potential support. And so the ethos of crowdfunding is, “I want to be the sort of person who believes in things and who supports it and who’s an early adapter and gets things first.” And I think that you really need to tap into that both in terms of the product that you’re bringing forward as well as your messaging around that product.
    Roy Morejon:
    Absolutely. Well said, Graham. 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?
    Graham Ripple:
    Yeah, I’m ready.
    Roy Morejon:
    Let’s do this. So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
    Graham Ripple:
    I have a background in engineering and business, actually. And what I found was that I’m a mix of right and left brain. And so I found that engineering was just a little bit too programmatic for me, and so I wanted creativity as well as structure. To scale a business, you need structure, but to scale a business, you also need vision and you need creativity. And so I love that entrepreneurship allows me to exercise both and that different seasons allows me to engage my right or left brain a little bit differently.
    Roy Morejon:
    Nice. So if you could meet any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to work out with?
    Graham Ripple:
    Oh, gosh. I think it would be so hard to pass up hanging out with Steve Jobs. I think that he would be fascinating. I would want to do it probably outside of Apple, like in a space where he can just sit and riff and brainstorm. I think it’d be fascinating to follow him around for a day, even there at Apple, and just watch him work. I mean, he was a force. And I don’t know if I’d like working with him, but I think that I would’ve loved being around him and watching him work and learn. And he just fascinates me.
    Roy Morejon:
    If you could ask him one question, what would it would have been?
    Graham Ripple:
    I think I would ask him what his number one lesson is, what he would have done differently. I think that someone with that experience and that change on culture, I think that he has lots of insights. And I think that he has self-reflection to say, “I’d do this,” or, “I would do that.” And I’d be really interested to see if it was business or personal that he talked about, and I think that both would have been very valuable.
    Roy Morejon:
    Nice. What’s your favorite workout or stretch with the OYO NOVA?
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. I love the full body, just full-body movements, and so I really love the programming that Nick Bolton, our fitness director, has done. There’s this movement called the Chest Back DoubleFlex. It’s actually something very unique to the OYO NOVA and the OYO Personal Gym is that you push the handles together and it creates resistance, and then you can pull the handles apart and that also creates resistance. And so that movement is one where you are pushing it together and it’s working your chest, and then you pull it apart and it works your back. And then Nick puts an iteration on it where he puts a squat in there as well. And so I love this very efficient movement of doing your chest, doing your back, and popping into a squat. As you’re doing your squat, you’re also activating your core. I mean, I love those full-body movements like that.
    Roy Morejon:
    Can’t wait to get mine in October. What business book or life book would you recommend to our listeners?
    Graham Ripple:
    I have recently been rereading the book The Big Leap, and I’m loving it. Basically, he says that we live in four quadrants, zones of incompetence, zones of competence, zones of excellence, and then zones of genius. And he says most people who are successful live in the zone of excellence, and they’ve learned how to minimize zones of incompetence and competence in their life. But that the big leap and the movement to ultimate fulfillment is leaping from the zone of excellence to the zone of genius. And I just love that concept. He talks about barriers that get in the way.
    Graham Ripple:
    But, I mean, for me, I feel like shelter in place and all this is a season of reflection. And so I’m in the season of reflection, but I read that book probably two years ago, and I had it in my bag for probably two years. It’s all banged up because I knew I needed to get back to it. And then, finally, I’ve been reengaging with it the last six, eight weeks.
    Roy Morejon:
    Nice. Last question in the launch round. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
    Graham Ripple:
    To be perfectly honest, I do not know, but I’m excited. Specifically, I think that there is a ton of product and creative innovation that’s happening as people are worldwide in shelter in place. And so my hunch is that in the next six, nine, year, 18 months, that we’re going to see some incredibly cool products come out on crowdfunding. And so I honestly get really geeked out about all of these creatives that are a little bit stuck, a little bit at home with a small group of people, and that they’re just thinking about stuff and they’re iterating on stuff. And so I get so excited to just see what comes out, and I think it’s going to be really cool.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah. I think so, too, man. Well, this has been amazing. Graham, this is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where they should go, and why they should check you out.
    Graham Ripple:
    Absolutely. I, of course, have to give a pitch out to the OYO NOVA. We’ve got a little over 20 days left on Kickstarter. As you said, Roy, we’re the number one most funded fitness product in Kickstarter history, and so I’m so blown away and grateful for the support. And so I think that’s really my shout-out. With that, we want to be a part of your fitness story, and we want to be a part of helping you be your best self. And so, however that looks, we support it, but we’d love to have you consider the NOVA for part of your journey.
    Roy Morejon:
    Absolutely. Well, audience, thanks for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign, everything we talked about today. And, of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and ProductHype. Graham, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
    Graham Ripple:
    Thank you. My pleasure.
    Roy Morejon:
    Thanks for tuning into 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 artofthekickstart.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.