In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Andrew Gardner, founder of Opeongo, creators of the tent and hammock crossover, AERIAL A1. With the ability to maintain a flat, stable sleeping surface in the air, this camping product suspends between two trees like a hammock while providing all the features of a traditional tent. Listen in and learn about Andrew’s past product development journeys as well as his crowdfunding experiences.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

    • Andrew Gardner’s background in product design
    • The story behind POLAR Pen, the first product he successfully crowdfunded
    • The challenges that came with prototyping AERIAL A1
    • The surprising place Andrew found AERIAL A1’s target audience
    • Advice he would give up-and-coming project creators

Links

Sponsors

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Transcript

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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 $100,000,000.00 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, I am talking with Andrew Gardner founder of Opeongo. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us today.
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah, pleasure to be here.
Roy Morejon:
So Andrew, you’re a Kickstarter OG. You’ve done multiple campaigns on Kickstarter, so I’m really excited to dive into when you ran your first campaign a few years ago, now you’re back with your second campaign in a completely different category. So really inspired to hear your story and where it all began creating new products.
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah. Yeah. I can dive into that. So I guess the tent is where we are now. It’s a tent that suspends between two trees creating a flat surface. So it’s a bit of a longer story, I suppose, but I used to work for a life jacket company as my original job. Actually, it was a co-op position coming out of school, industrial design school. And from that job, I actually ended up launching the Pen, which was a bit of a random story. It was sort of a… The POLAR Pen was a Kickstarter campaign that I launched in 2013. It was a pen made out a bunch of magnets that snap together and actually took me out of designing life jackets and full time into selling this bit of a ridiculous little pen, but we were able to sell… We had a campaign that was over 800,000 with 14,000 backers.
Andrew Gardner:
And every year now I go back to my old school and I talk about this project to my old industrial design program. And each year I pick a student out of that program to go back to my old job at the life jacket company for that original internship. Anyways, I picked my co-partner in the tent company to do the internship. I randomly picked up another job designing a military life jacket for my old boss, just for a side job. Jacob and I just happened to be at [South 00:02:58] at the same time that year and we were chatting about camping and swinging in hammocks. I had a hammock set up in my backyard between two trees and the trees are a bit too far apart to actually string up a normal hammock. So I had my slack lines set up between it and then my hammock dipping below. This is a pretty standard thing to do.
Andrew Gardner:
Anyways, I was just telling him about that. And he’s like, “Hey, I actually designed this slack line inspired tent that you need to check out.” Anyways, he showed me this prototype that he actually had made as a high school project and it was pretty good. He set it up, we set it up. I went inside. I’m like, “Man, this thing is awesome. We need to do this.” I had had about 12 years of experience designing soft good products at that point. And I was like, I think we can, we can make this happen and do a really good job.” So that’s how the tent came about. So it wasn’t my idea specifically. It’s my partner’s idea. And yeah, I’ve just jumped on board and yeah, we’ve made it a pretty big success here, I guess.
Roy Morejon:
Killer, man. So let’s go back to 2013 when you were creating the POLAR Pen. I mean, what inspired the creation of that product and then what led to its amazing success? I mean 14,000 backers in your first campaign that’s an incredible feat.
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah. It’s crazy. So I think there’s a few things. The landscape obviously, Kickstarter back in 2013 was extremely different than it is today, but I suppose, funny enough, the POLAR Pen wasn’t actually my first attempt at crowdfunding. I had launched a pair of sunglasses on Indiegogo prior to the pen and it was a complete failure, but what happened is I fell in love with crowdfunding at that point and the sunglasses were something I had been working on probably for like two years prior to even knowing about crowdfunding. And it was sort of like a last ditch effort to see if we could actually make this happen and it didn’t work. It was a complete bust and I think the main reason it was a bust was, well A, I didn’t know that much about crowdfunding at the time, and B the glasses were never specifically tailored or designed for crowdfunding.
Andrew Gardner:
I think the pen, I had done my research on crowdfunding and it wasn’t as much, “Hey, I love this pen. I want it for myself.” It was more, “Hey, this product could do really good on this platform.” So I actually designed, I think the POLAR Pen as a product for Kickstarter and the Kickstarter community. I think that’s probably, I think one of the reasons for the biggest success, a lot of people ask me, “Why was it so successful?” And I think people forget that Kickstarter is a community of people just like anywhere on the internet and the same people are coming back and are looking for specific things in niche areas. And there were people coming back time and time again, at that time there was people coming back for watches and there was like a ton of wallets. I figured a [pebble watch 00:06:09] was a little bit out of my wheelhouse and wallets were kind of a dime a dozen.
Andrew Gardner:
So I landed on a pen as being something I could do myself. Anyways, I happened to be playing with magnets the day I came up with the idea on my desk and was like, “Yo, this is super easy. Let’s make this thing happen.” So yeah, it was interesting back then because Kickstarter wasn’t as well known as it is now, and publications were actually pretty excited about Kickstarter at the time, opposed to now when you reach out to a publication and you tell them you’re on Kickstarter, they’re not always super keen, where back then they were like, “What is Kickstarter? This thing’s super cool and crowdfunding, that’s such a unique idea.” So people were as interested in my pen, I think, as they were just crowdfunding in general and the two created a perfect storm to create a pretty crazy campaign around a very small product.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. I think there’s some fascination, if you will, with magnets. We just finished working on the [SuperCalla 00:07:14] campaign, which was a huge success with the magnet cables for your phone charging cord. There’s just something beautiful about the way magnets work and how we get sucked into them in terms of, figuratively, I guess.
Andrew Gardner:
They’re inherently just so much fun. Yeah.
Roy Morejon:
So in creating Aerial, this tree tent hammock, if you will, what were some of the challenges that you guys have encountered when designing the product?
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah. Right. So yeah, there’s been tons of things. I think the biggest one is we’re essentially designing a one man solo tent, which traditionally is for backpackers, people that are looking to be really lightweight, but because we have quite a unique suspension system that is under tension and load, it comes with quite a bit of extra reinforcement and strength that you need to actually achieve what we’re doing. So I think our biggest hurdle has always been trying to juggle keeping this thing as light as physically possible with keeping it as strong as physically possible. So this balance, I think, has been the biggest challenge sort of, we want to be on the edge of everything in terms of its strength, but obviously we want to make sure it’s never going to break. So yeah, I think that’s probably been one of our bigger challenges and just the prototyping phases, the nice thing is, is we do have in-house prototype capabilities.
Andrew Gardner:
And one of the reasons why I’m so excited about the tent is from a personal point view. I just love soft goods for many reasons. There’s no tooling involved. Prototyping is… you’re not just building something that’s 3-D printed and it’s actually going to have a smoother surface or it’s going to be stronger here. When you build something out of fabric, it is as good as that same product is going to be, the final product. And I can make a prototype in a couple of days opposed to having to get tooling made, or wait for something to be shipped in from here, or shipped in from there. So that’s been really nice to be able to just prototype things really fast and test, and then do it again, and test it, just keep changing it to try and make it better and better, but there’s been challenges for sure, figuring out which stitch patterns to use to create the strongest systems.
Roy Morejon:
So in terms of preparation of crowdfunding, one, I guess go back to 2013 and what made you find Kickstarter or know that that was the right way to launch your product? And then what sort of preparation changes have you made from launching your first campaign years ago to this one today?
Andrew Gardner:
Right. Yeah. So I took probably… I spent some time developing my page out just like I did on this campaign with the original one, but there was no prelaunch strategy. It was me just sitting at a computer one day being like, “Oh, maybe this is a good time to press go,” and I’ve pushed the button and sure enough people just started backing it, which was crazy. There was no… I had no knowledge of marketing at the time or anything. It was one of those, I think, success stories that were truly just an entrepreneur that had an idea and with not a whole lot of knowledge and just went out and did it, and luckily we’re successful. This time around, we obviously put a lot more energy into a bit of a pre-marketing campaign where we set up our social accounts early and tried to get a mailing list together so that when we did hit it, we had a little bit of momentum right away.
Andrew Gardner:
But at the same time, I think what crowdfunding is best used for is to just test your product and not put so, so much energy into marketing upfront. I think it’s sort of see if this is a good product or not, and if you should keep pursuing it. So I think that’s how I approached both campaigns. This one, I just had a bit more knowledge of what needed to be done. And to be honest, there was just a lot more research available or information available to me this second time around.
Andrew Gardner:
Prior to that, there was no information. There was no agencies that had any idea how to market a Kickstarter campaign. I did contact an agency for my POLAR Pen campaign, the first one, and I gave them some money to try and do some marketing. It was a complete flop. They had no idea how to deal with a product that was only in prelaunch where you couldn’t actually A, send it out or give people legitimate prices or anything like that in terms of what they would retail for after the campaign. And so it was just a confusing thing, but now there’s people that clearly, like you guys, and there’s people that specialize in crowdfunding, it’s a known thing and there’s known information that you can use to help you be more successful.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, man. So in terms of the prep work on the Kickstarter campaign and then the launch, I know right now you guys are running traffic for yourselves, how are you going about deciding on where to find your target market and audience given the way the world is today?
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah. So we’ve been as active as we can on Reddit and some of the Facebook forums and stuff. And I think most of our traction has actually come from those areas. Reddit, it’s a beautiful and scary place where you’ll get a lot of the best information. You can get your product in front of a ton of eyes, but you also get your product in front of the most critical eyes. So I think we’ve tried to hit that and be as honest as we can with what we’re trying to do here. I think it’s cool too, because I do believe we have a very unique approach to the product that we’re actually delivering here, where we’re creating kind of a hammock and there’s a huge hammocking community of campers. This is a big thing now to get off the ground and use hammocks between two trees for camping.
Andrew Gardner:
But ours provides a flat stable surface, which is very unique and it’s different, and it comes with some criticism obviously, because it’s different. But I think the community in general, is just like, “Wow, this is a very new approach, innovative approach.” And I think people are just genuinely excited to try it out and see if it’s going to live up to the hype that we’re trying to give it, and I genuinely do believe it is. I think the product actually is going to be better than what people think, like the stability. It’s a unique product.
Andrew Gardner:
It is really cool and the first time you get into it, it is a weird sensation where you just start, huh, this is not like a hammock. You can walk back into it and it’s stable. So if you’re trying to get into a hammock, you have to hold it and slide yourself into it, but this, you can just back up into it and drop in and it’s it’s really unique. So I think the communities have accepted us and I think we’ve got a lot of traction through that. I can’t remember if that was the question you asked but…
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. I mean, in terms of the feedback that you’ve gotten, one with your first campaign and 14,000 backers, I’m sure was a lot of opinions. How have you gone about managing those backers from then until now, seven years of managing a community there. And in terms of now with the new launch of the Aerial campaign, how are they being involved in the process?
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah. So funny enough, I haven’t necessarily done a ton of cross marketing between the two products just because they are in such different worlds. I had, funny enough, obviously as a successful Kickstarter, you get tons of people asking to cross promote, cross promote, cross promote, and I have learned my lesson. I had a few friends that had products outside of the pen world and I helped them promote through my old community. And it took a big backlash of people being like, “This has nothing to do with magnets, has nothing to do with pens. What are you doing?” So I’ve been a bit leery to just blatantly plug a product to that community. So I haven’t necessarily done that, but yeah, we have a great community over on the POLAR Pen side. We still sell pens six years later. We’ve updated the product a little bit here and there, but for the most part it’s still the same pen and we just keep selling them.
Andrew Gardner:
People have been good. It was a crazy, crazy campaign trying to deal with 14,000 people, being one guy, which is funny enough, now that we’ve hit about 500 backers now on the Aerial campaign and I’m actually debating, I think this is probably enough. We’ve gone way past our expectations, definitely in the current climate with Coronavirus, we were worried that we were even going to meet our funding goal. So we’ve gone well past that at like 900% funded or something right now. I think this amount of backers is actually kind of a nice community of people that we can get the product out to, they can help us find anything that might be wrong with it. We can fix any of those problems if there are for whatever reason. And it would just be a nice sample size to start with.
Andrew Gardner:
I’m actually looking at even potentially slowing down some of my marketing to not get too much bigger, because I know all the problems dealing with a mass amount of people all at once that all want their product all on the same day. It’s different once you transition into normal sales where sales come in and then you fill the product and then those essentially customers are happy and then you get new customers and you have a more of a [inaudible 00:17:38] transition. Anyways, I don’t know if that was good, but…
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, I mean, in terms of, switching gears a little bit, in terms of learning process, now that you’ve run campaigns over the last seven years, I can say, what have you learned throughout the whole process that you can distill down to other entrepreneurs or startup founders that are looking to launch their innovation, using Kickstarter as a means of validating their idea?
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah. Yeah. So I guess I would say keep things simple and have good design. I’m an industrial designer, so obviously design is my main focus. A marketer might say you need good marketing, but I think if you have a good product, a well thought out… A product that is achievable to be made and simple enough to make, I think that’s the best thing that you can do, is… People often ask me, “What was the secret recipe? Like what?” And I think it’s, I just really worked on my product to make it as sleek, and minimal, and clean both in the tent and the pen, all the focus was on the product and I hope the product’s good enough, as long as I take good photos of it and make a nice video, hopefully the product will just sell itself. So as long as you have a good product, I think the rest of the work becomes a lot easier.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah and I think that’s sound advice for everyone looking out there is to not over complicate these products that they’re creating. I mean, the simplest innovations are usually the best. I mean, I think we were running a campaign [Bunch of Balloons 00:19:17] back then in 2013 when you were launching yours and just a very simple innovation where people are like, “I get it, I need it now. It makes sense.” Quick and easy video. Explain the problem. Here’s the solution. Go buy it now.
Andrew Gardner:
Exactly. Exactly.
Roy Morejon:
So what have been some of your bigger surprises, I guess, of the first campaign and then of your current campaign?
Andrew Gardner:
Bigger surprises? Well, this campaign, the biggest surprise was that in the world of COVID that people are still willing to purchase a product like this. I don’t know what my biggest surprises would be. I try and allow as few surprises as possible because I want to know what the results are going to be before I get the result. But I think just that people are willing to help out designers and people coming to them with a genuine product, that people are just willing to back you, and help you, and support you, and give you advice. And most people are super friendly and super nice and just want to help you out and I think that’s what I love about Kickstarter and crowdfunding projects. I think that’s the thing I’m probably most surprised that people are just so keen to give you help and advice.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. It is a quite unique community of giving, and offering up support, especially for the creators like yourself out there.
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah. Yeah. For sure.
Roy Morejon:
Well, Andrew, 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?
Andrew Gardner:
Sure.
Roy Morejon:
So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Andrew Gardner:
I guess I don’t consider myself overly employable by other people. That’s probably why, but no, it was probably the POLAR Pen pulled me out of working a standard job. And essentially I had launched this campaign and it had over $100,000.00 for the funding. I had just hired somebody actually, and was paying them more money than I was making at my current job that I was still working at. And I went to the owner of the company, I was like, “Uh, I have to leave because I randomly launched this pen.” So that actually is probably what took me into running my own business, but I think what I love about it and why I continue to do it is I love more than just industrial design. I enjoy the marketing aspect of it, and the finance aspect of it, and the sales aspect, and the customer service. And I just… It’s hard for me to ever think about going back to a job where I might be put into just one slot. I need to have my fingers in it all now.
Roy Morejon:
I get it. So if you could go camping with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah, I think I would have to say my great, great grandfather. He started a business in like 1873. So that’s like what? Almost 150 years ago. And he was doing sheet metal products. So like an industrial designer before the word industrial design had it even probably been coined, but they were making wheelbarrows, and well pumps, and just like all sorts of really cool, small, unique sheet metal products. Anyways, the business is still around today. So that’s a pretty amazing testament for an entrepreneur.
Roy Morejon:
What would be your first question?
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah. How did you do it? How did you do it at the beginning? That would have been the end of the industrial revolution, just how did you come up with your different ideas? There’s a whole book that I have of all the products that they had. They had a huge line up of different products and I run a pen company that has three pens, now a tent company that has one product. And that’s enough for me to inventory and manage. I couldn’t imagine that [crosstalk 00:23:21].
Roy Morejon:
Any book you would recommend to our listeners?
Andrew Gardner:
Well, I don’t know if it’s the world’s greatest book, but the Four Hour Workweek, I read that book. I actually won a Shopify, Build a Business competition back in 2014. And one of the mentors they hooked me up with was Tim Ferriss. So just before meeting Tim Ferriss, I actually ended up reading his book, which I think might now be a little bit out of date, but back then was still very relevant and it actually did guide my path for how I set up the pen business. I don’t know if this is worth going into, but funny enough, I actually can’t sell my pens in Canada, which is a long story that maybe I’ll save you right now, but it forced me to outsource a lot of my well, the manufacturing, the distribution and stuff of it. And I think that book really helped me see how you can run a business, literally just from home and outsource most of the work, which I didn’t necessarily want to do, but I was forced into doing.
Roy Morejon:
Interesting. Where do you see yourself in five years, Andrew?
Andrew Gardner:
Camping out in the woods.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. All right. Well last question, Andrew, and I’m excited to hear your answer on this one, just because you’ve run a couple campaigns. So what does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah, I believe it won’t change that much. It might change names from Indiegogo, to Go Fund Me, to Kickstarter. We might see new names for those over the years, but I think the idea of some essentially an unknown person or company going directly to the end user for their products or their idea, isn’t going away anytime soon. Pitching products to banks and trying to get money from VCs and stuff that’s challenging and doesn’t lend itself to everybody’s skill set. I think the best way is just get an idea, put it out there, and see if you can get it directly into the hands of the end user without having to deal with any middlemen.
Roy Morejon:
Sound advice. Well, Andrew, this has been awesome. 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.
Andrew Gardner:
Yeah, so we just launched the Aerial A1 on Kickstarter. It is the best way to camp. It’s a flat, comfortable surface, gets you off the ground out of the mud and we believe it’s going to be the future of camping. So check it out at Kickstarter.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthe kickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign, and everything else we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors the Gadget Flow and [ProductHype 00:26:13]. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Andrew Gardner:
Thanks so much for having me.
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 artofthe kickstart.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.