In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Tayson Whittaker, President of Outdoor Vitals, a premium outdoor gear company. With a unique, direct-to-consumer business model, Outdoor Vitals is able to provide high-quality camping equipment at competitive prices compared to retailers. Listen in and learn about the brand’s product development journeys and Tayson’s tips for Kickstarter novices.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

    • Tayson Whittaker’s background and the inspiration behind Outdoor Vital’s first crowdfunding campaign, MummyPod™
    • Why they decided to reach consumers through Kickstarter instead of Amazon
    • How they prepared for the launches of their last two campaigns, Satu Adventure Pants and LoftTek Adventure Jacket
    • How the team at Outdoor Vitals interacts with their community of backers
    • What the process has been like on Indiegogo when switching to InDemand

    Links

    Sponsors

    Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by The Gadget Flow, a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. The Gadget Flow is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Click here to learn more and list your product – use coupon code ATOKK16 for 20% off!

    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.
    Roy Morejon:
    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 super excited to be speaking with Tayson Whittaker, the President of Outdoor Vitals. So Tayson and his team are three time creators on Kickstarter. They have now surpassed over 9,000 backers on their campaigns and have raised over a million dollars. We started working with the company back in 2018 on their LoftTek Jacket campaign. And they’ve recently just finished their amazing ultra comfortable pants, the Satu. So Tayson, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Yeah. Happy to be here.
    Roy Morejon:
    So I’m excited to hear your story just because I know there was a lot into it in terms of starting Outdoor Vitals. So if you would, take us back in time of when it all began and where it all started.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So for me, it started … I don’t know, as a kid, I guess. I always loved outdoors and things like that as far as the hobby level, but the business itself started right after college for me. I’d been working with an eCommerce business, run some of their marketing and their finances. And at that point in time, I’d seen an opportunity to kind of get started with Amazon.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And so I looked at that as a stepping stone for us to build something. And so I started looking at my own personal needs, found that down sleeping bags, I felt like were, were overpriced and that if we cut out the middleman, we could get people into the outdoors at a cheaper price. And so that was kind of the original fundamentals of what the businesses was started on and we started selling on Amazon.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    But like I said, I always knew that Amazon was a stepping stone. I wanted to build off of Amazon, build a very strong and connective brand, and then also just innovate. I really love innovating on the product side. And so it’s taken us a while to go from Amazon to website to crowdfunding and whatnot. But the last year, or a few years of the company, it’s been really cool to see how everything’s finally come together. And I’m just super happy with where we’re at and the direction we’re going.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And so it’s been a grind. Like I said, we’ve just been hopping platforms, different revenue streams, building lists. We would do YouTube stuff, all sorts of things, but it all bleeds in and it’s helped us be successful and get where we’re at.
    Roy Morejon:
    So taking us back to the beginning there, what was the process like of, one, finding the category that you best resonated with, and then deciding how to build out the company in terms of the products that you wanted to create?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So the product selection was basically I was the avatar. It was a need that I had in the market. I was trying to lighten up my backpacking gear and get to that ultra light status. And one of the biggest things that I didn’t have was a good sleeping bag. I was always cold. I was always sleeping miserable. And so I started looking at those and they started at $300 and just went up from there it seemed like.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And so that was a personal need. And I did the research, looking and it looked like the competition wasn’t high. And it was one of those things that people didn’t want to touch. It was bigger, more bulky, higher priced. It didn’t fit in a shoe box, all those nuances. But I could tell that that people were buying them, that there was a market.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And so I went after it, and that was both a good and a bad decision for us. I say us, but really back then, it was me. Because what happened is I was able to get into the market fairly easily, but it’s not a big market, and so it was a pro and a con. And I started off with the sleeping bags, started growing that and had really good success, was able to climb to the top of Amazon pretty well, just focusing on fundamentals.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And then what happens, it started to cap. So then I was like, “Okay, now I need more sleeping bags, get deeper in the product line,” and so on and so forth. And it wasn’t till a few years in that we started to realize, “Hey, I think we could do better if we had our one avatar and built more things for the one avatar instead of just going deep into the same product line.”
    Roy Morejon:
    So in creating the MummyPod, your first Kickstarter campaign, which wasn’t a huge success, but what inspired you, I guess, to keep going on or to decide that crowdfunding was the right way to launch that product and not Amazon?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    I’m a big believer in starting and getting going, because it seems like any time you’re moving forward, it’s … I always liken it to walking up a mountain, the farther I walk forward up that mountain, the farther I can see into the distance. And so that’s really what that campaign was, is that campaign was done 100% internally, just every single thing on the entire campaign was done 100% internally.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    But what we saw was the potential of it. So the product itself was a decent product. It’s honestly not my favorite product. We may end up dropping it for certain reasons in the future, but it was a really cool product for a very specific type of person. And we saw that if it hit that person, that they were backing it, that they were really liking it.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And then we saw how the cash comes in, how you get paid from Kickstarter and how you’re able to hold onto that money while it’s being manufactured and some things like that. And so that all played into this, “Hey, if we had the right product on these platforms, the more ubiquitous product, something that’s for everyone, not just our niche core group of people, I think we could do a lot better.”
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And so it really just showed us, “Okay, this is how the campaign works start to finish. This is what we learned on the marketing side. This is what we learned on the product side. This is what we learned on how it helped us acquire more customers, that they then go to buy other things.” And so it was this tipping point for us to be like, “Okay, there’s some potential here, let’s go back, reassess, and bring something different to the platform.”
    Roy Morejon:
    So before you guys began, did you guys self-fund this or did you guys raise any venture capital money out of it?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So this has all been self-funded. So I put all of my money that I had after graduating college, some tax return money, student loan money. I mean, it was everything that I had, ended up going into the business over time and we’ve never taken any outside funding. Other than that, we have done some loans and things like that, but just simple bank loans-
    Roy Morejon:
    Nice.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    … lines of credit.
    Roy Morejon:
    So in preparation for the first campaign, and then for the most recent campaign that just finished this past week, what are some of the things that you guys have changed in terms of marketing preparation or asset creation, videography, those sorts of things that’s made each campaign now more successful?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So I would say the biggest thing is now we do a lot more upfront work for validation. So we’re basically setting up different landing pages to test concepts, see what’s resonating with, let’s say headlines, see what people’s favorite features are, what we need to focus on, what’s not important to people. And that gives us a lot of feedback.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    On the MummyPod, I mean, we just created it and we just went at it. But with the Satu Adventure Pants, we went through this process where we actually had that coupled with another product, which is our DragonWool, which is a way, way cool product. And we still learn things on this campaign. But when we first initially were planning on doing was launching a layering system. You’d get the pant, but you’d also get these zip off thermals and the underwear at the same time. It was a system.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And we started to do the pre-campaigning, we saw that that was a big disconnect for people. And when we broke the pant onto its own individual thing, that’s where we started to see more success. We ended up selling the DragonWool, add-ons and upsells, but honestly, if I could go back in time, I probably would have just totally separated out the DragonWool in and of itself, because it’s a really innovative, really cool product, but didn’t get the attention because we tacked it on there.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    But we learned a lot in that pre-campaign. If we had launched it how I initially wanted to, the campaign would have not achieved nearly the same level of success. So that’s been probably the biggest change from first campaign to this last campaign. And then we also do just more collaborating and whatnot.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    But I think the collaboration piece is very helpful in the beginning projects, especially if you want to bring on someone that’s going to hold your hand through the process. But we’ve learned a lot through the systems and marketing partners. We still believe a lot in them, but we’ve learned a lot in the sense that now we’ve got our own systems and our own processes to launch a Kickstarter from doing it a couple of times now.
    Roy Morejon:
    I mean, you guys are solid marketers over there. So give me some insights into maybe some of the KPIs that you were looking at pre-campaign, and then once the campaign was active to kind of guide and make data driven decisions.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Yeah, that’s a tough one. I always measure everything up against our other email, where we’re getting emails in other ways in the business. And so it’s very, very hard to plug in a new system and get the same KPIs. We’re essentially able to get emails for cents on the dollar through just a series of different things, but for this, it makes it harder.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So we were trying to get emails for under a dollar. We’re trying to get those emails to give us a dollar themselves to validate, basically, the project after that. And so those are early reservations, is basically what you call them, and you try to give them a better price on the launch, give them first opportunity to jump on the launch, get the earliest prices and whatnot. And for those we were trying to get … basically make the numbers work at best we can, but we started off with, “Man, it would cost us over $100 to get someone to give us that dollar reservation.” And that was not okay with me at all, and it shouldn’t have been.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    But so we worked that down and got it lower, but essentially, we never did get it quite where I would have wanted it, which would have been maybe $20 for a reservation, because those reservations convert highly effectively. But we ended up basically proving the concept and then shutting things off once we felt pretty good about the concept that we’d proven.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    But the goal would be to get reservations down to 20, 30 bucks at least, and then be collecting emails for well under a dollar. It doesn’t always work that way. But I think the important part for us there was to see where it started and then just keep bringing those numbers down with all of the testing and changes that we were doing.
    Roy Morejon:
    So when those pre-campaign dollar reservations, I mean, what kind of conversion rate did those have once that campaign went active?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Typically, they’re 60%, give or take. They’re highly likely to back. I think on good campaigns maybe you see them more like 80%, bad campaigns once they finally launch, maybe 30, 40%. I think the medium though is between 50 and 60%.
    Roy Morejon:
    Interesting. So given that you guys have done now three separate Kickstarter campaigns, talk a little bit about your experience with the community that you’ve built and the backers that have come in to support you over the years. I mean, how have you gone about managing that feedback and then potentially creating products around their ideas?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    I mean, I think if there’s one thing I could have done better to begin with and … it really comes down to planning. There is so much behind the scenes planning that goes into a really successful Kickstarter. I mean, when you look at someone like Peak Designs, I can’t even like fathom the amount of planning and the team and everything that goes into that. And I’m just talking myself out of your initial question. In fact, ask your initial question. Let me make sure I answer that correctly before I get off on a tangent.
    Roy Morejon:
    I just wanted to talk about your experience with all the backers in the community that you’ve built and [crosstalk 00:13:09] building them into new products potentially.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And that’s why I brought up Peak Design. So that’s one thing that we’re just really looking at from this campaign to the last, since our second campaign had a lot of success, we brought on a lot of backers and we were able to roll that forward.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And that’s been a huge thing for us. We actually launched on the same day as Nomadic launched a product line on Kickstarter. And they had just a tremendous initial push and initial launch, but there’s so much … and I guess what we learned from that, because I mean, our regular marketing and stuff, we bring on lots of emails. We have a very big email list and we have a very engaged community, but there’s a difference between Kickstart backers that have backed one campaign and the percentages of them that back the next campaign is significantly higher.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So they were able to roll that forward. And so really, you learn a lot, but that community grows and they become loyal and you learn how to communicate with them. You actually learn too what their anticipated questions are going to be, and so you are able to build that into your initial campaign too. And talking about colors and sizing and things that you see. And you can learn that by studying other people’s campaigns too. But we learned that through going through the campaign process and seeing some of those pain points come up for the backers.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    But those backers are so valuable if you want to continue on the platform. I mean, my advice to people is if you do a Kickstarter, if you have a lot of interest in a Kickstarter, you should look at doing serial kickstart projects because each one can help build into the next. So really focusing on maybe a little bit more of the branding side because you’re acquiring customers. And so why not try to tap into them more than once? I know that’s hard for some people because it’s like they just have one product idea and that’s all it is, but there’s a huge benefit to serial campaigns, I feel like.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yes. I mean your most recent campaign, about a sixth of all the backers were brand new, first time backers. Where do you think those guys came from?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    The brand new side of the backers, I mean, we spend a lot of money on ads. We run a lot of ads. We do a lot of testing on ads. And so I’m sure that that has a lot to do with what happens. But kind of going back to it, those are harder to get than the people that have already backed or already seen projects before and understand those. So there’s a bit of a learning curve, but for sure we’re trying to drive outside traffic.
    Roy Morejon:
    For sure. So after this Kickstarter campaign ended, you guys moved over to Indiegogo in demand. Talk a little bit about why you decided to go to that route and what the process has been like over there.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Yeah. So Indiegogo’s great to work with. You can talk to them, you can get them on the phone, you can get answers. They’ve been innovating, they’ve actually changed their platform to help optimize things. But it was pretty debatable with us whether we wanted to do our own pre-sale on our own landing pages or go to Indiegogo. And that may still change in the future. We have to base things off of numbers and where we’re getting results. But we really like Indiegogo because of some things they provide, as far as some organic reach. They provide a platform that kind of comes with a little bit more of an education cycle. It’s a third party tested proven thing. But the biggest reason that we continue to sell through that is it continues to give us more data on future orders.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So we’ve got our Kickstarter orders already placed and into manufacturer in that process. I mean, that was started, actually, even during the campaign. But what we don’t know and what we learned as it was a very … hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of learning experience here, was that we didn’t understand what the demand was going to be after we had the products ready to ship on a daily basis. So once they were just in stock on the website, ready to sell, we had no idea what those numbers would look like. And they proved out to be a lot stronger than we thought. And so we very much so didn’t have enough inventory and we’ve stocked out for months at a time on that LoftTek Jacket and so on and so forth.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    But what we learned is that Indiegogo is going to … it did for us, at least, outperform … No, I take that back. It didn’t. Indiegogo was very similar to the results we were able to get on a daily basis post-campaign compared to … Kickstarter is such a time sensitive matter. You have these massive days, tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands dollars on launch days or end days, but that doesn’t give you data to make day-to-day decisions post-campaign, whereas Indiegogo does a great job at that.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So it helps us continue to raise funding. On the LoftTek Jacket, we raised an additional $300,000 on Indiegogo in demand. And that was really beneficial for us, but definitely a big takeaway there is that you can help to use some of those numbers as more projections of what might be expected once you have them ready to ship on a day-to-day basis.
    Roy Morejon:
    So what would be your top tip for raising over a million dollars on crowdfunding over the years?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Top tip for me … I kind of have two, but-
    Roy Morejon:
    I’ll take two.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Two? Okay. Number one is you’ve got to have your own list. So the pre-campaigning for us is a concept proving pre-campaign, but for people that have never done this before, it’s just a must. You must do that one approved concept, but two, you have to have that launch list to get some initial traction going and then move forward. Because then that’s where the step two comes in, is if you can get really good initial traffic, that initial push off the gate, then when you start running paid ads, then they’re going to convert a lot better. And so that’s the part too, is people think … I think there’s a misconception with Kickstarter that they just create the best possible product, they put it up there and it’s going to blow up.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Or sometimes people take it a step farther. They think, “I’ll create the best possible product. I’ve got a list, I’ll push it out there and then it’ll blow up.” But I just don’t think that’s the way. I would love to see the behind the scenes numbers of the Peak Designs or Nomadic campaigns or different things where they’re raising … or Pebble. They’re raising millions and millions of dollars, you better believe that they’re spending millions of dollars on ads too. It’s a really big piece to it.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Kickstarter is not a set-it-and-forget-it campaign. I think maybe in far back history, just like with Amazon, there were some good days on Amazon, you could start things and it would sell really well without a ton of effort. Maybe with Kickstarter, if you launched a good product, it would just get traction and grow on its own accord. But anymore, it’s very much driven by what you’re doing.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    And so to me, you’ve got to have a list and then you’ve got to be able to have the right marketing partners or have a good marketing team internally to continue to push that and drive traffic and keep the momentum going.
    Roy Morejon:
    Solid advice there, Tayson. Well, 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?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Yeah.
    Roy Morejon:
    All right. So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Lifestyle.
    Roy Morejon:
    If you could go camping with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    I don’t know. Henry Ford.
    Roy Morejon:
    Henry, there we go. What would have been your first question for him?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    First question would probably just be, where does he get his innovation from?
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah, I think a lot of those guys during that time had a lot of innovation opportunities at their hand when the economies were just opening up, kind of the revolution side of things.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Yeah, totally.
    Roy Morejon:
    What book would you recommend to our listeners?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    I honestly think a lot of listeners, I feel like are typically first-time entrepreneurs. And so probably my favorite lately has been stuff from Russell Brunson. So he’s got three books out. I’d go pick up any of his three books, Dotcom Secrets, Expert Secrets, or Traffic Secrets. I think he’s very good at speaking to newer people and just getting them basics that are really valid.
    Roy Morejon:
    Yeah, that Click Funnels community on Facebook is pretty nice too. They’ve got a lot of support in there, for the most part.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Yeah. It’s not the end-all, be-all, but the principles, if you study those books, really reading into the principles of them, he’s a great marketer.
    Roy Morejon:
    All right, Tayson, last question. And given that you’ve run three campaigns, I’m excited to hear your answer on this in terms of, what does the future of crowdfunding look like?
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Future of crowdfunding, to me, I think it looks like the alternative to venture capital to me. So I think that it’s going to become very much so brand focused, tight-knit, like brands are just going to be able to do really, really amazing things and develop really amazing products from crowdfunding. And I think that you might see bigger campaigns happening. And I think that you’ll see serial campaigns happening more often. And I think that you’re going to see, because of crowdfunding, because the opportunities it brings, I think you’re going to see just some crazy good innovation that just benefits the consumers.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So I’m a big anti-venture capital guy, because the second I take venture capital, my stakeholders aren’t my customers anymore. Now I’ve got multiple stakeholders to serve. And so I love that about crowdfunding, is the same people that are helping us grow the company, helping us innovate, are the same people that are important to us on every other day of the year. And so I love that. It helps propel everything forward and keep us focused on who matters most in the company, which is our customers. And so I see just brands being able to tap into some of this and innovate for our customers. Not innovate for profits, not innovate for VCs or whatever else it is, but just really building products for customers.
    Roy Morejon:
    Right on. Well Tayson, this has been amazing. This is your opportunity to give us your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where they should go and why they should check you out.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    So if you’re interested in Outdoor Vitals or what we’re doing in outdoors or even traveling, you can always go to OutdoorVitals.com. Check us out. But I would say probably a better place for you to come connect with us would be our podcast, which is Live Ultralight, the Live Ultralight Podcast, or our YouTube channel.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    We put out a lot of content to help people get outdoors, to help people … just a lot of people would love to get outdoors and they don’t know how and they’ve got fears around it. And those fears will keep them getting out there every time. So we try to help alleviate those. So go follow us on YouTube or on our podcast and get to know us.
    Roy Morejon:
    Awesome. Well, audience, thank you again for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for the notes, the transcript links to everything we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadet Flow and Product Type. Tayson, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
    Tayson Whittaker:
    Yeah. Happy to be here.
    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, and of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at ArtoftheKickstart.com/iTunes.
    Roy Morejon:
    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 EnentysPartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.