In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Armen Gharabegian, founder and CEO of ShadeCraft, a technology and robotics company on the mission to improve human life outdoors. With products such as Suntable, Blossom and Sunflower, ShadeCraft provides smart and durable outdoor furniture that has a variety of IoT, autonomous and solar power capabilities. Listen in and learn about ShadeCraft’s inspiration, product development journeys and crowdfunding marketing strategies.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

    • The challenges that came with designing their first product, Sunflower, the automatic sun-following umbrella
    • What led them to later release Suntable, a chic 3-in-1 table, speaker and charger
    • Why crowdfunding was the best option when launching their products
    • Tips for other crowdfunding creators launching an innovative product
    • Why they selected Enventys Partners to help with Suntable’s Kickstarter campaign

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 $100 million 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 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 I am talking with the founder and CEO of ShadeCraft, Mr. Armen Gharabegian. Armen, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Armen Gharabegian:
It’s my pleasure, excited to have this conversation.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, so our team remembers you guys launching, officially, your company back in CES 2017, which seems like so many lifetimes ago, for this amazing technology, Sunflower, with this autonomous sunshade. Now you guys have completely, more or less, brought IoT outside, where you’re not just an umbrella company, but you’re truly improving human life outdoors using technology. I’m excited to talk about your company, but give us a little bit of background of where does this all start? What inspired you to create ShadeCraft?
Armen Gharabegian:
Well, we were basically, actually, coming up on the whole concept of IoT a few years ago, and as an industrial designer, my background is from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. I was very interested in how can we actually integrate technology in a useful way to help people in the outdoor space, because I think there was a lot of stuff that many brilliant companies around the world have developed for the interior of homes and inside, but outside seemed like there was a huge gap. We tackled that initially with Sunflower, but our mission, in general, was to improve human life outdoors through great industrial design, technology, and automation and robotics. Sunflower was the paradigm of basically combining all of those different things into one product that we launched in 2017. We’re really excited to continue, obviously, producing more innovative products and inventing things that can help everyone.
Roy Morejon:
When you were creating ShadeCraft initially, talk a little bit about that process, in terms of going about what features to include, how to build it, where to source and manufacture it, really the nuts and bolts of the foundation that you’ve built so far.
Armen Gharabegian:
Well, I think that the most important thing that has shifted in the last several years is just the entire process of the speed from conception to production of a product through different means, whether that’s through industry of additives manufacturing through 3D printing, to be able to prototype faster, and just technology itself, allowing multiple companies around the world to integrate different types of technologies into a product that can help people outdoors or indoors or anywhere. That’s basically at our fingertips now, which was not something that was so easy to do.
Armen Gharabegian:
For example, if you take a refrigerator that was designed, let’s say, 30-40 years ago, that took a team of engineers and a substantial amount of time. Today, that same product can be designed by a few people, and prototyped in various locations around the world, and have a multitude of different teams working on different sites. It’s impossible to have the same kind of team that was able to produce that refrigerator 20 years ago happen the same way today, because there’s too much technology. We rely on external teams, and I’ll talk a little bit about our new product here, external teams that allow us to fulfill our vision and expertise in different things that we look for in teams that we work with. It’s a really interesting time, I think for everyone.
Armen Gharabegian:
I think this is the golden age of design, where you see a lot of people with incredible ideas around the world, startups in our country that are constantly developing and making brilliant new products. We’re able to do that today because of technology. It’s fascinating how we can integrate those things, even print, basically, circuit boards and side product, as well. It’s a fascinating time.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, what were some of those challenges, specifically, circuit boards, or just designing the overall product itself? Because it’s a beautiful product, and obviously it’s large in scale, so what were some of the challenges there?
Armen Gharabegian:
Well, we had to basically reinvent a lot of things with Sunflower, which was a really interesting process. When we initially started off, we knew actually, actually, I should say, when we started Sunflower… You’ll probably have to record that again.
Armen Gharabegian:
When we started Sunflower, we had a general idea of what we wanted to achieve. First and foremost, we were looking for a renewable source of energy. That’s [inaudible 00:05:34] basically philosophy. We wanted to harness the energy of the sun, instead of plugging a product that was autonomous. We knew automation was necessary, but we had not gone down the path of understanding, at that point, how involved it would’ve been to test different types of technologies and different types of motors, so we had to pretty much invent Sunflower ground up.
Armen Gharabegian:
As a result of that, we were blessed to be able to file so many patents and IP over the years, but it was a challenging step-by-step process, because when you’re designing something that has never been done before, it’s an interesting path. You have to stay the course and go through, basically, a series of different types of tests, failures. You learn from your mistakes, and you basically stick to your vision. It was a spectacular learning curve, but it’s something that we’re still actually exploring, because one of the interesting things was, although we knew in our gut that 20 years from now it’s going to be second nature for people to be able to just literally lay next to an umbrella outdoors at a beach or a resort, and communicate to it, and basically have the product autonomously close, without worrying about wind, et cetera, et cetera.
Armen Gharabegian:
The process of that was one thing, but then the human interaction with the robotic object was another. That’s something that we’re still trying to understand. When you leave that product, what does it do? You want it manual, then you want it automatic, sort of functions and autonomous functions, so it’s a whole series of use cases that were, I would say, the most interesting challenge and exploration to us, because we are actually at that point in our lives now, where robots and machines are starting to interact with people. As a result of that, there’s a lot of unknowns. What we wanted to do is design a product that did not look like a robot. That was very important. We did not want it anthropomorphic. It did not have hands and eyes.
Armen Gharabegian:
We wanted it to be very sleek and have an emotional, beautiful connection to the design. It was basically functioning as something that people are already used to. In order to do that, we had to cram all of this technology, as well as a multitude of different types of PCBs and computers, into this product. That was a challenge.
Roy Morejon:
I can imagine. With the design team and the engineering team working on that, you guys are also been preparing for this upcoming crowdfunding campaign for Suntable, which looks like a beautiful, outdoor, solar-powered table with wireless charging, high quality speakers on it. Looks like an amazing product, which I know is going to succeed well on the crowdfunding launch. Talk a little bit about the process there, that the evolution of going from a sun shade to a sun table now, what led you down that path?
Armen Gharabegian:
Well, I think it’s a part of a much broader vision for ShadeCraft to continually improve and design products that are enhancing human life outdoors. One of the things, the reasons, why we felt it was necessary to release Suntable was because there’s a lot of people around the world that already use their shade, and we felt that the adoption of robotic shades, although we were the pioneer of that, it’s going to take a few years. We said why not just allow the average person out there that is looking for a solution to use the power of the sun, and harness the energy of the sun, to just literally listen to their outdoor speaker, without having to charge it constantly indoors?
Armen Gharabegian:
Not only that, we already had the technology. We’d been working on it at ShadeCraft, and we decided that this was the best time to integrate and pick ala carte the different things that we have. Let’s release a product that really solves a problem every day for people. Phone charging is a big issue outdoors, and plugging it in, trying to find an outlet. We said that it’s time to combine some of the technology that we’ve been working on. This is an opportunity, for the first time, to literally let a speaker charge itself outdoors.
Armen Gharabegian:
Basically, if you’re living in a general sunny area, without having, let’s say, weeks of rain, this product should never need to charge, which is a fantastic thing. Not only that, but just imagine the amount of energy we use by charging our phones indoors all the time, as well as speakers. If we could design one object that can basically address that, imagine the amount of energy that we would save. It was part of our mission. It’s very important to us to be responsible to our planet, and to figure out a solution that’s not only beautiful and functional, but really solves a greater issue.
Roy Morejon:
I’d love to know what led you to the fact that crowdfunding was the best option for launching this product.
Armen Gharabegian:
Well, first and foremost, I’m an avid believer… Even though I’ve been in design all my life and engineering for the past several years, I definitely believe that what we design still has to be tested. It’s really for… We design for people. Improving human life outdoors means that it’s the crowd itself that has to help us and guide us through the process of what they like, what they don’t like. It really is. We have to go outside of the reservation. The most important thing for me and our team was how is… Basically, how are people going to react to this product? Crowdfunding is the greatest opportunity, first and foremost, for us to say, “Hey, we really would love your opinion. We would love you to help us to understand how is this working for you? Do you enjoy the product? What can we improve, as a design firm, as a company in the U.S. that is building product to improve human life?” It’s for the public, so we want the crowd to tell us how they want us to improve this. What are their opinions, everything from color to positioning of buttons?
Armen Gharabegian:
We can think all we want, but I think it’s the collective that we are very interested to engage. At the end of the day, we want to sort of share what is our mission. It’s to, basically, save all this energy. If it’s a beautiful, sunny, let’s say, month, just go outside. Put your phone literally on a product that you can enjoy some music. Let your phone charge outdoors. It’s just a gift we have from the sun. You don’t need to plug it in. You don’t need to take an external charger with you outdoors. All of these things are what we’re interested to hear, and hopefully, with this launch, bring awareness to the fact that this is our mission, basically, as a company that is trying to do, hopefully, improve human life outdoors. Are we doing this? What do you guys recommend? We’re really interested, and we really would love the public opinion on what we’re working on.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. I know the preparation leading up to this crowdfunding launch is much different than a CES launch. What are some of the things that have been different, in terms of preparation for the upcoming campaign?
Armen Gharabegian:
I think with a launch at CES, obviously, there’s a little bit difference in terms of actually, physically being there, and engaging with the consumer, or different companies that approach us. We have the opportunity to go in depth, in person, about our product; whereas, with a campaign like this, we have to communicate all the possible ways that this product can enhance the environment outdoors, and how it can help people. We’re very interested in how the difference between the online aspect of connecting to a crowd versus physically being there to explain all of the things we [inaudible 00:14:09].
Roy Morejon:
What tips would you have for someone looking to launch their product specifically going forward, in terms of in this marketplace right now, and making sure that they’ve built a product that fits the consumer?
Armen Gharabegian:
I think the inventive spirit should definitely prevail over any type of market. Obviously, there’s two different viewpoints. One has to do with the market itself, the economy, what people are looking for, but I would say to any company, that wants to launch an innovative product, to stay focused, and believe in their vision. Be honest about what you’re doing, and really produce something that really is going to make a difference. I think the responsibility towards our planet is the only overarching paradigm for me, above and beyond any market thing that we think about.
Armen Gharabegian:
I think that it’s never a bad time. It’s never a great time. It’s just, when you create something, and you believe in it, share it and launch it in a way that people can understand what it is that you’re doing. This is our first time that we’re actually engaged in a campaign like this. We hope to actually release more products on Kickstarter. We’ve got a whole slew of other ideas that we’d like to introduce, and I think this is going to be an exciting beginning for us.
Armen Gharabegian:
I’m very excited about the time, actually, also, because there’s other issues that have come up in the last several months that obviously are impacting everyone globally. I, for one, have been really looking at how can we solve other issues, aside from just aesthetic products? How can we bring some of the other technologies of ShadeCraft to help with a situation, just like what we’ve been experiencing, a global pandemic? I think some things will change that way, but the market will shift. I think everyone’s always excited for new products, and the globe needs it.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. You’ve been working with us here at Enventys Partners for a while now. What were some of those considerations that you looked at, in choosing an agency to partner with for your first crowdfunding campaign?
Armen Gharabegian:
We actually went through a few interviews. Enventys was basically the most… It felt right from the get-go. The questions that were posed to us were spot-on. The guidance through the process has been absolutely fantastic for us. We think that we know, right now, before the launch… I don’t know if you’re going to record that or not, but I don’t know if this is before the launch or after, but we know that we made the right choice. It’s an amazing company, very diligent, very involved in the process. That was really interesting for us.
Armen Gharabegian:
We did not expect an external company to really be excited about the product and guide us through the different steps we needed to look at and everything besides just the matrix and the analytics of things, but it’s more about the product itself. It’s about the breath and spirit of the campaign itself. There’s so much that we learned through the process with Enventys. We’re excited to do many more with Enventys.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, I know the team is super-stoked to be able to launch this out here next week, as we’re recording this, but likely the week after, once we get this thing published. I’d be interested to know, what’s been one takeaway that you’ve learned throughout the process of launching a product on Kickstarter?
Armen Gharabegian:
I think what I’ve learned is I would like to have a little bit more time, perhaps, to produce maybe a lot more, because the crowd wants to see more, and we just really don’t know exactly what to expect. We’d like to definitely produce more video assets leading up to the campaign. We were just sort of… This was our first one, and I think we’re learning. We’re really excited about the feedback and the overall response, but we definitely feel like we need to have a few more weeks, perhaps maybe a couple of months prior to the campaign, to start the process.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. I’m excited to know where… After we launch this product, where are you headed next?
Armen Gharabegian:
Well, one of the things we’d love to do is to actually… not love to do. We are going to do it, is to definitely deliver this product. We already are in the process. It’s being manufactured, and we are really excited to finish this campaign and put the different comments and suggestions from the crowd into this product, and hopefully improve it. After we deliver this product, we would like to start another one, which we’re very excited about. Again, this may not involve too much technology, but a part of our overall mission to help people outdoors, and we hope that the crowd will continue to help us through our various campaigns in the coming years, and build a strong relationship with all the backers and people that are interested in what we’re inventing day-to-day.
Roy Morejon:
I’m really excited to see all of that. 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?
Armen Gharabegian:
Sure. I hope I can nail it.
Roy Morejon:
I’m sure you can, man. Let’s do this. All right, so what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Armen Gharabegian:
I think it wasn’t the word entrepreneur that inspired me. It was just this passion to invent, which is a part of my [inaudible 00:20:08]. I think, each day, I think about new things. I think it’s important to actually follow through. If you follow through, you find solutions, and the next thing you know, somebody’s calling you an entrepreneur. The entire mission is not to be an entrepreneur, but to actually create things that help people. That’s the spirit that drives me personally.
Roy Morejon:
If you could meet any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Armen Gharabegian:
Oh, my God, Nikola Tesla would be one of them. There are so many, Henry Ford, so many different entrepreneurs, I can’t even name one, each one for their own personality, and their own struggles. I’d like to… I definitely realize that all of the greatest inventors in the world, at first, have not been really understood. Eventually, the public and the world comes around to understand what they actually did, and that’s an exciting thing. Sometimes you have to really believe in what you’re creating, and not necessarily just frivolous products for the sake of being an entrepreneur, the sake of making revenue.
Armen Gharabegian:
That’s not our goal. If it was, we would not design the Sunflower. We’ve labored over that technology, and we’re blessed to be the pioneer, but it’s difficult. I would say that it’s really important for people out there that are inventing to stay the course, and believe in themselves, and believe in their mission. As long as their spirit and their mission and what they believe in is in the right place, then everything else follows, I believe.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. If you had a chance to meet Sir Tesla, what would’ve been your first question for him?
Armen Gharabegian:
Why do you take photographs of yourself with your hand on your head? Those photographs don’t really follow his brilliant creations, but it’s sort of very posed. I think it’s more important to focus on creating things, rather than taking beautiful images of yourself. I definitely have a series of questions for different kinds of inventors, but with him, I would definitely want to know about his childhood and what he explored, growing up, because he’s definitely a unique person.
Roy Morejon:
What’s your favorite invention that you use daily?
Armen Gharabegian:
That I use daily?
Roy Morejon:
Yeah.
Armen Gharabegian:
Myself, for myself, my own invention?
Roy Morejon:
Sure.
Armen Gharabegian:
Well, I have to say, this is something that I would love everyone to be able to use. It’s the autonomous shades, literally being able to not wake up in California and worry about my umbrella flying into my neighbor’s home, being able to listen to great music, all with the power of the sun. I’m hoping that our shades, and I’m actually using Suntable and testing Suntable now for at least three months. I’m kind of addicted to it, to tell you the truth. I’ve been using it, even in light drizzle, which is interesting. We create products that are solving real problems, so I would say Suntable is becoming one of my favorites.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. What book would you recommend to our listeners?
Armen Gharabegian:
Oh, God, there’s too many books that I can’t really… I can’t nail that one. You have to ask another question.
Roy Morejon:
Fair enough. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Armen Gharabegian:
I see myself basically waking up on a Sunday again, taking my sons to the office, turning on some music, and playing around with some ideas, and creating something. I don’t think that anything’s going to change for me. I’m always going to be driven to make new things and dream and basically be like a child, imagining how we can improve things around us.
Armen Gharabegian:
I do have an answer, by the way. I’ll just basically recommend one of my favorite books. It’s Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I think we’re living in an interesting time with artificial intelligence, and the questions that are posed out there, and a lot of people want to know what’s happening with AI. I think it’s an interesting book for people to read, and it doesn’t have anything, necessarily, to do with inventing things or being an entrepreneur, but it is really where we’re going.
Armen Gharabegian:
Eventually, supercomputers and super-intelligence will be around us, and so we have to figure out a way to coexist. I think, my personal opinion about this whole thing is that keep the spirit of invention and emotional creativity alive. That’s a human gift, and it’s really an important thing. It’s the delta between us and machines in the next 20-30 years. Maybe it’s going to be sooner. We don’t know, but I’m one of those people that if my boys want to tear up, let’s say, a box, and add styrofoam pieces out in the pool, and then duct-tape them together to create a boat, I’m all for it. The more random it is, and the more emotionally inspired the idea is, the more powerful it is, and the more human it is. I think that this is the spirit. I really think that kids all around the world should be listening to music, and drawing, and painting, and having fun, because that eventually inspires some great ideas in the future. We need people like that.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, I know the crowdfunding campaign hasn’t launched yet, but I’m interested to get your insights on what the future of crowdfunding looks like.
Armen Gharabegian:
I’m definitely not an expert in crowdfunding, so I really think that it definitely has a whole slew of different types of products out there. It’s definitely gotten a little bit more complex to weed out really innovative, unique products from products that are out there just for the sake of being out there. I think it’s important to also weed out the companies that are actually going to produce and make something versus the products that are just out there, and they dissipate, even though the product and the campaign may look successful.
Armen Gharabegian:
One of the most important things for us, personally, was that we already know we’re delivering, so it’s going to be a couple of months. We don’t really… We really needed the crowd to help us improve some minor things on this product and give us their opinion, but I’m a little worried about crowdfunding, as it becomes more and more complex in the future, how we would weed out certain types of products, and certain companies from others. Just like everything else, there’s so much information out there. I think the crowd is obviously growing, and they need to do their homework, and understand the difference between certain types of companies and projects.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, Armen, this has been amazing. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch. Tell people what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should check out ShadeCraft.
Armen Gharabegian:
Well, first and foremost, we’re blessed to have this opportunity to share Suntable with the crowd. We definitely are creating our products for you. It’s definitely not for us. We really would love your opinions and your assistance and your help in improving this and bringing it to life. Basically, we want to inspire the rest of the world with these products. This is your chance to help us to reach our goal, and to improve our products from here. That’s really important to us, so I really appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this now.
Armen Gharabegian:
I want to thank everyone that’s supporting us, and I would like them to actually talk about ShadeCraft and the kinds of mission and products we are trying to create, and definitely talk about the product that we are launching, Suntable, which I think is something that is going to be a fantastic addition to the outdoors, whether you have a balcony or you have a backyard. Help us to reach our goal, and help us to go beyond and inspire the rest of the world with this product.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Well, audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign once it goes live, and everything else we talked about today. Of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow and ProductHype. Armen, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Armen Gharabegian:
Thank you, Roy. It was a pleasure.
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 artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There, you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter Guide to Crushing It. 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.
Roy Morejon:
If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in. We’ll see you again next week.