In this exciting episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Joe Lemay, co-founder and CEO of Rocketbook, a company that brings traditional note-taking into the digital age. Through a variety of products, accessories and bundles, Rocketbook provides reusable, customizable, cloud-connected pens and notepads. Listen in to hear what inspired Joe to launch the product, the challenges he experienced throughout all four of his crowdfunding campaigns, and advice for up-and-coming project creators looking to use Kickstarter to launch their ideas.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • The difficulties that come with taking a crowdfunded idea to actual product fulfillment
  • How they managed feedback when adjusting their product to accommodate other features and benefits
  • The ways they’ve segmented their email database to effectively target and convert backers
  • Their experience with being on the popular entrepreneurial show, Shark Tank
  • The biggest surprise they’ve encountered throughout all four Rocketbook campaigns

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 Inventus 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.
Roy Morejon:
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 the 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 is a very exciting episode because I am talking with Joe LeMay, Co-Founder, CEO of Rocketbook. Rocketbook is a four X creator on Kickstarter, a crowdfunded, the first notebook, the Wave, without ever even knowing how to build a product. So I’m really excited to dive in today with Joe and talk about the campaign, their experience on Shark Tank and teaser alert, an upcoming campaign that’s about to launch here very quickly. So Joe, thank you and welcome to the show.
Joe LeMay:
Hey, thanks Roy. Great to be here.
Roy Morejon:
So, I always love to start these interviews at the beginning and the inspiration behind creating Rocketbook. Tell our audience where it all began.
Joe LeMay:
Ah, yeah man. So, Rocketbook, if you don’t know, is just a paper and pen notebook, but it’s reusable. And we have an app too, so when you scan in your notes with it, it transcribes your notes and sends them to various cloud services for you. So really what it came down to was, back in the day I studied computer science, I was in engineering and then I was more on the sales side of software, just working for medium and larger businesses, but I was a tech guy. But more and more while all of my information was in the cloud, I was still a notebook guy and a whiteboard guy. It’s just how I get ideas out of my head, it just feels natural to me.
Joe LeMay:
I do remember one time, I was in a sales meeting and I had prepped so many hours just getting ready to understand the potential customers business and what I was going to pitch to them. Pulled out my notebook in front of the CIO of a pretty big company and I was trying to sell them $1 million worth of software and that meeting did not go because that notebook I brought with me was the wrong one. Just that problem of, if only those notes were available on my device in a digital format, I wouldn’t of had that problem. So, that stuck with me. I didn’t come up with a solution right away.
Joe LeMay:
I actually went and tried all the solutions in the market. I tried different various styluses and digital pens and scanning apps and nothing just felt quite right. At some point I realized, “Hey, if nobody is going to build something, maybe I should.” And it was around the time when, it was 2014, I was obsessed with the idea of Kickstarter, Indiegogo and crowdfunding, in that people would just like pull out their credit cards and pay for a product that wasn’t even built yet and you could start a company that maybe even investors would never invest in or you wouldn’t have to go through that gauntlet.
Joe LeMay:
I was just currently obsessed with that idea and I was probably like a lot of the people who are listening to your podcast, just always trying to think of what could be a cool business idea, what could be a cool technology that I could actually build? And it kind of clicked together. I met my Co-Founder, Jake Epstein, I pitched to him this idea of a notebook and a digital app that went with it, it was still a vague idea when we were having beers. He jumped on it and literally, the next day we shook off our hangovers and got to work and started to work on what’s now called Rocketbook.
Joe LeMay:
What’s really interesting is that was, I want to say, December of 2014. We actually launched the campaign and had six figures of funding by March of 2015. So, in four months we went from just an idea on a napkin, to real revenue, not really recognizable revenue because we didn’t have a product that was shippable, but real money in the bank in the matter of four months. It just completely blew my mind that we were able to pull it off that quickly.
Joe LeMay:
Now, actually getting the product made and out to people, that was another challenge in and of itself, right? So, we didn’t really know what we’re in for and it turned out the product was really hard to make and if we hadn’t done the crowdfunding campaign and raised, I think at the time it was a little over $600,000. We had all that pressure on us and we were like, “How are we going to make this thing?” We might have actually given up if we didn’t have all of that pressure on us. We almost failed, we almost had to declare bankruptcy. We almost had to be like one of those Coolest Cooler stories where people funded it and never got a product and the company went bankrupt. We came really close to not succeeding, but we made it out alive. We got product out to people and there’s plenty of sales.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, tell me about those tails. I don’t think anybody wants to be a Coolest Cooler story unfortunately, for Ryan. But let’s talk about some of those challenges that you guys encountered. I mean, you hadn’t been making product before, you hadn’t done anything. You just had this idea. Your buddy says, “Let’s do it.” How did you guys go about deciding what features? How to design it? There’s a ton of technology built into this thing. How did you go from the idea stage into physically making this thing without all the funding and those sorts of things, in terms of getting this company off the ground?
Joe LeMay:
Yeah, so some of these decisions were made last minute. One interesting thing is, we knew that the notebook was going to be a paper notebook of a certain type that only used a pen, it wasn’t going to have any digital components. But, it would have certain markings on the page so that when it worked with a proprietary app that we would build, it would do things that you couldn’t do with just a regular scanning app. So, we kind of knew what it would do and what we’d have to build. We’d have to build an app on iOS and Android and hire software engineers and that was something I was somewhat familiar with, having some software background myself.
Joe LeMay:
But I’ll tell you how we decided to make the physical product, or at least the decision we made last minute. So, I actually had pitched this idea to Jason Calacanis who runs, This Week in Startups, because he had an upcoming festival called the Launch Festival. I sent him a little video when he tweeted out, he’s like, “We’re looking for new startups who are stealth, send me your pitch and maybe you can launch on our stage.” So I send them this really crappy video that I put together one evening, sent it over to him and he said, “Awesome. Come on out and rehearse and maybe apply for the festival.”
Joe LeMay:
So I flew out there and I did probably the worst demo ever of a product. It was falling apart. The product was horrible. I did a terrible demo, but he didn’t kick me out of the room. But he had some mock judges, they were his friends that were venture capitalists and they were asking me questions. One of the questions was, “So what’s after this?” I was kind of vague and I said, “Well we have some ideas for the physical product and how to make it reusable and we’ll be doing that in future releases of the product but not the one we’re going to launch next week on crowdfunding.”
Joe LeMay:
And Jason just stopped me and said, “Hey, who the fuck do you think you are? You think you’re the Elon Musk of notebooks? A venture capitalist from Sequoia just asks you, what you got going on in your product roadmap and you’re being vague, like tell him.” So, I said, “Okay, well one of the cooler versions of the notebook that we think we’ve figured out is, you’re going to write in it, and to erase it after you scan, you’re going to take this thing and pop it in the microwave for a minute or so and it’s all going to erase and you’re going to be able to reuse it. And Jason said, “Stop. Stop.” He’s like, “That’s the best thing you’ve ever said. That’s the only good thing you’ve said and there’s no way you’re going to be on my stage next week and not announce that.”
Joe LeMay:
So, I went back to the Airbnb we were staying at with Jake and I, as we were preparing and I was like, “Do you think we can make this? We had a prototype that worked in one microwave pretty well but hadn’t been extensively tested and we said, “You know what? Let’s just figure it out. We’ll just give ourselves plenty of time. Instead of three months, we’ll give ourselves seven months to deliver it. There’ll be plenty of time and we’ll figure out the exact paper quality, the exact this, exact that.” How to turn this prototype into something that worked consistently, well it turns out, to make a book that consistently microwaves and does so in a way that that dissipates heat in the notebook in a consistent way, in one microwave is pretty doable.
Joe LeMay:
But, in all of these different microwaves across the world and all of their different ways that they heat things up, we’d have a notebook that really didn’t erase anything in one notebook. It didn’t get hot enough in one microwave, yet it would burst into flames in another microwave because they’re just so vastly different. So, to say we struggled to come up with a universal design that worked consistently across the world, was an understatement. We announced a delay and then we had to announce another delay. We hired product development firms. One of the firms we hired had done work with the Coolest Cooler, which at the time was a phenomenon that hadn’t yet failed and showed a lot of promise. All of these people were talented, in charge of tens of thousands of dollars to help us test and try different constructions of the book. None of them bore fruit.
Joe LeMay:
Ultimately, it was Jake, it was me, late nights over and over just trying different materials, trying different ideas and coming up finally with a design that would work consistently in different microwaves. It was funny, the thing that worked was, “Hey, you have to put a mug in with this book because that slows down the microwave, if it’s a very hot microwave. Instead of giving a prescribed time, like put it in for one minute or two minutes, instead, we put a little thermo chromic logo on the front cover and when that turns from blue to clear, and you have to look at it through the microwave, then it’s done. And that was the key to making instructions that would work in every microwave and wouldn’t burst into flames and would erase your book.
Joe LeMay:
So, man it took, I can’t tell you how many dark, dark days when we thought we were just not going to be able to pull it off. We finally got it working and then we had one printer print out thousands and thousands of books and the logo would just rub off, they didn’t properly coat it. So then we had to announce yet another delay and take another huge financial hit from that printing partner. Then, we finally had all the product pretty much done in a warehouse. Getting it out, we didn’t have a proper fulfillment partner. The printer that we were using told us that they could ship out the product and it was a complete nightmare. They didn’t have the proper systems to be able to track orders, make sure that they got in people’s hands and for our one customer service person, to be able to tell people whether it shipped or not and give them a tracking number and it was just a nightmare getting it out.
Joe LeMay:
I think when all was said and done, the last backer probably got their book eight or nine months after we estimated a ship date. Through those days, we were financially in the red. We didn’t know if we were going to make it financially. We were getting basically, death threats on the Indiegogo comment thread. We were really bankrupt at one point. We weren’t going to be able to get out all of our books. We were a little over 200K in the hole. We happened to have the idea to launch another crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, for the Rocketbook Wave, which is essentially the same product, but this project was going to fund some additional integrations as well. We launched that on Kickstarter and we raised another 400K and change, and that got us out of bankruptcy.
Joe LeMay:
Kickstarter did not like that. They almost pulled our project, but the only justification we had, was that it was actually funding these new integrations even though the reward, which was the book we shipped, was basically the same. We got away with it, to this day, Kickstarter maybe has us on their list of naughty kids or something. Since then, we’ve had an amazing track record delivering an amazing product, in future series of Rocketbooks, since. We’ll be launching a Kickstarter, by the time this airs, we’ll have launched a Kickstarter for what is going to be the coolest, damn notebook ever invented, the Rocketbook Orbit.
Roy Morejon:
Very exciting stuff there, man. So, I was remembering back of when we helped you guys launch the first Rocketbook and Calacanis put a gag order on any press or media outreach. So we couldn’t even promote the prelaunch of the product until you went live on stage.
Joe LeMay:
Oh, yeah.
Roy Morejon:
I remember pressing that button once you went on stage, to be able to take orders while you were up there pitching to the audience.
Joe LeMay:
That was amazing. Yeah, we worked with Aventis on that initial launch which ended up being an amazing success. And you guys were called Command Partners back in the day, that was how long ago it was.
Roy Morejon:
Yep.
Joe LeMay:
But that’s just right today. Yeah, you were somewhat hamstrung, but we work together and we pulled it off and we got a lot of press for it. We even had I think, one press outlet that you sourced, like crate.com that generated, I don’t know, like $60,000 worth of measurable orders from that one, Uncrate, yeah.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. Uncrate yeah. We reached out, we got a great contact over there and got you guys covered there and yeah, boom. That’s the guys, it’s like a higher class of Touch of Modern, if you will. It’s kind of like James Bond’s email list of cool things to have.
Joe LeMay:
Yeah, that was so cool. Do you remember, it was the first day, remember we did like 8K and then the next day, I don’t know, we did like 10K and we were amazed.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah.
Joe LeMay:
And then Indiegogo put us in their newsletter and you get a little-
Roy Morejon:
Like 100k?
Joe LeMay:
… yeah, you get a little notification ding, when you get a new backer. But that Saturday we woke up and our phones were going bing, bing, bing, bing. We thought our phones were broken, we was going crazy and we made, yeah, 100K in one day. Do you remember that? That was amazing.
Roy Morejon:
I do. yeah, that was nuts, man. It’s crazy. Once the audience picks up on it and nobody wants to be the first one on the dance floor, but once everybody’s out there having a good time, everybody joins in. Right?
Joe LeMay:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s incredible.
Roy Morejon:
So, I love the fact that you know, obviously you’ve got a ton of learnings in bringing products to market, but I’m really interested in terms of what’s changed over the years in terms of your lead ups to launching new campaigns? Like, from the first time launching, lots of things we’ve learned along the way and you guys have learned now, that you’ve done multiple campaigns. What are some of those tips that you can convey to our audience of things that now you’re going to do for number five here upcoming?
Joe LeMay:
Sure. So now we have a team and we have an email list. Probably, the email list is the number one asset we have in launching a campaign. So if you’re a new campaign creator, you’re doing great if you’ve got one or a few thousand email addresses, right? And using that to get it off to a fast start on day one, you’re going to send everybody an email on day one and try to get up in the rankings on day one with your email list.
Joe LeMay:
Now that we’ve evolved, and we have well over a million email addresses, we won’t email everybody on the first day. We’ll, send quite a few on the first day. But what happens, we call it riding the wave. So we’ll shoot up to number one, let’s say, or number two in our first day and we’ll do that mostly by our email list and maybe some people finding us on the platform. But then if we don’t do anything, we’ll start to drift down over time. But as we start to drift down, boom. Now we’ll hit the next cohort in our email list and boom, right back up at the top of the wave. And then once we see ourselves drifting down, then we’ll hit the next part of the email list.
Joe LeMay:
So, we will not use all of our powder in the first day in terms of our email list, we’ll spread it out. And there are really two things that we think are really important for getting people from the platform to back your campaign. At least two initial things. One is being high in the ranking for a category. So, if you’re in technology and you are number one, even for a day, you’re going to have a great day because people are going to find you. You’ve got that social proof. Then as well, having a really spicy hero image that really captures peoples attention and that tagline.
Joe LeMay:
That tagline, it doesn’t need to explain what it is. It needs to provoke curiosity for people to click in. So our tagline for our best campaign was, “The last notebook you’re ever going to need or ever going to buy? That’s the Rocketbook, Everlast.” So, it didn’t explain what it was exactly and it just showed this picture of a notebook splashing through water. Right? There’s no way somebody would look at that and understand exactly what the product was.
Roy Morejon:
Right.
Joe LeMay:
But damn, they were curious. So then they clicked in and having a great video, really great copy with some good singers in there, some good copywriting, make it fun and jovial, that’s our style. That’s where you get a chance to really engage people and explain to them why it’s interesting. But really, getting people to that page, the number one thing is get up in that ranking for at least one day, have a great hero image and have a great tagline and now you got a shot at converting that.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. I think at the heart of the early adopter, if you will, and why crowdfunding is so beautiful, is it truly does convey into that curiosity realm of, what’s next? What else is out there? And a product like this and a catchy headline of, “Curious to see what the last notebook looks like?” Is something, we’re like, ‘Hell yeah, I want to see that.” You know? And it just entices you into it, to get you into that.
Roy Morejon:
But I’m curious to dive into a little bit more with the database that you guys have now, of a million email addresses, which is awesome. How do you go about segmenting that audience and tiering out emails based on spend or did they back previous campaigns, multiple campaigns, et cetera? How do you break up that audience now that you have statistical relevance within it?
Joe LeMay:
Yeah, so we use a tool called Klaviyo, which is a fairly sophisticated rule-based email marketing tool. Most creators don’t need such a thing. MailChimp was great for us into several, seven figure campaigns. There’s a few things that we do segment on. One is, a lot of these email addresses are people who use the Rocketbook app. Maybe they bought a Rocketbook on Amazon and then they go to download the app and so we have their login and they’ve opted-in for email marketing in this case. We can also see that they are actively using a Rocketbook. They’ve maybe scanned a page in the last month or so. That is a really high value email address and so that is one valuable cohort. We also have email addresses from past campaigns and we can see whether they backed us in the past and how long ago that was.
Joe LeMay:
The number one thing, that factor, as to whether someone is going to back your campaign, isn’t necessarily whether they’ve bought a product like yours. It’s whether they’ve backed a campaign ever before. Right? Are they experienced with crowdfunding in any way? That far surpasses whether they meet some other profile factor, like if they’re male or female, other things that might match the product. Just having backed a campaign, is the number one factor for campaign conversion.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So in talking about your backers and supporters of the four crowdfunding campaigns, how have you gone about managing feedback with one customer service agent at the time when you launched, to then pulling that feedback in and potentially getting new ideas for new products for them?
Joe LeMay:
Oh yeah, totally. So today, we have a sophisticated customer intelligence platform and so when you start using our product, when you use our app and you’ve opted-in for email communications, about 10 days after you have started using our app, you get a survey from us. And you get a net promoter, we asked you out of 1 to 10, what are the chances that you would recommend this product to a friend? And then we ask for their feedback, what did you like about it? What are the problems you’re experiencing with it? Actually this year, Michael, what have we got, about 50,000 responses to that survey?
Michael:
MPS 24?
Joe LeMay:
Yeah. Well in 2019.
Michael:
In 2019 we had over 100,000 total touch points. I’d say just prior to 2019.
Joe LeMay:
Yes, we literally had about 50,000 survey responses. Our customer service team goes through every single one and tags them with different things like, “Oh, I had a problem with the cover.” Or, “I had a problem with this.” Et cetera. Tags them and then we take that and put them onto a two by two matrix of effort versus impact of how we pick the improvements that we’re going to work on next. In every quarter we pick a bunch of improvements and we incrementally improve the product over and over.
Joe LeMay:
And we’re also listening for new ideas. One thing you can go to is ideas.getrocketbook.com. It’s a place where people submit the feature ideas or new product ideas, they would like to see us do next and they can upvote them as well. It’s kind of like Reddit, but for features, right? We really prioritize those things that bubble up to the top. For example, one of them was a product for whiteboards. So then, that prioritized our idea to do Rocketbook Beacons, which are four essentially, orange stick on things that go on to the corners of your whiteboard and when you point our app at it, it does cool stuff. It turns it essentially, into a Rocketbook page, but also allows you to stream it in real time to anyone with a web browser to follow along with an image of your whiteboard as it changes during your meeting.
Joe LeMay:
So these are the types of things we’re doing because we used crowdfunding very early on as a mechanism to draw our customers in. We used it not just to fund our product, but like our logo. We put together options with the designer and then we pushed it out to our crowdfunding backers and they voted on what is now today, our logo. So we use it as a mechanism to bring customers into the product experience. So that’s why even today, why we’re a sizable company compared to what we were when we started. But, we still use the platform, not just for financial reasons, but really to create a party for product nerds who want to be involved in the product process, want to have a say in it. We will find reasons to put out a survey to them and have them make decisions on the final product, give us ideas and really become part of our extended ideation and product team and customer service team.
Roy Morejon:
So, in talking about nerds, let’s talk about Shark Tank. So, I know you aired on the season finale, I think it was, you said season eight back in 2017?
Joe LeMay:
Yeah.
Roy Morejon:
Which seems so long ago.
Joe LeMay:
Crazy.
Roy Morejon:
Which was a great episode, you guys crushed it on there.
Joe LeMay:
Thanks.
Roy Morejon:
But obviously, those guys didn’t see what everybody else saw. So let’s talk a little bit about your experience of one, getting on the show. How did they find you? How did they reach out to you and then your experience with getting filmed and finally airing?
Joe LeMay:
Man. Yeah. If memory serves, I think they found us. They have junior level producers, probably reaching out to every successful crowdfunding campaign for startup ideas. I think that’s how they found us. It might’ve been through Indiegogo, but memory doesn’t even, I can’t even quite remember, but they reached out to us at one point and we filled in the application. We got approved. They wanted to have us on. We were just about done shipping to all our backers, but we hadn’t really gotten on Amazon. We were just about to get our eCommerce site on. They invited us to go out there and film in California and we were really nervous, Jake and I. And we decided to say no, not now, maybe later on, because we imagined ourselves walking on stage and them saying, “Great, you made a million whatever, not quite $9 million on crowdfunding, but this thing has never been on retail. We don’t know it’s going to succeed, you don’t have any data, you guys are dreaming. This is going to fail.” And we just wouldn’t have any real life data to back it up.
Joe LeMay:
But we knew, give us a few months and we’ll have that data. We’ll be on Amazon for a few months, we’ll be on our website for a few months. We did that, we had great sales coming into it and we had I think over $2 million worth of sales when we filmed in the fall. But of course, we had a small track record and they picked that apart and even Laurie said, “Don’t you think that this had a lot to do with back to school coming up?” And I was like, “Yeah, probably, people buy notebooks.” And she dismissed our sales. Actually, when we gave the demo, we were in these orange astronauts suits and we gave the demo, it went in the microwave, and they were like, “This is crazy.”
Joe LeMay:
They didn’t take us seriously at all. And then when we told them that we sold over 20,000 units, they couldn’t believe it, it made their heads explode and they were almost angry because they hadn’t been taking us seriously. And there we were presenting some pretty high sales but still, they couldn’t get their head around it and we were basically laughed off Sharp Tank.
Roy Morejon:
Wow. You know? I think you guys are laughing now, right?
Joe LeMay:
Yeah, totally. Well, I mean, we came back, kind of with a chip on our shoulder and with that feeling we decided, “Hey, before this thing airs.” We don’t know when it’s going to air. Now, keep in mind, it was like we filmed in September and it aired in May so it was a whole school year that went by where we were wondering what was going to happen, whether they were going to edit it to make us look good or bad or whatever.
Joe LeMay:
But we went to work and we came up with our next product and we launched that right around Christmas in between that time, and it became the biggest sensation that we’ve ever had. And it’s called the Rocketbook Core today, it used to be called the Rocketbook Everlast. It’s a reusable notebook that works with Pilot FriXion pens, a little bit of water erases it and it delivers on reusability in an amazing way. And today, it’s well over 95% of our sales, it was almost a $2 million Kickstarter and it just kept climbing and climbing. By the time that episode aired, we had already on our own, multiplied our sales by many multiples and were on a huge growth trajectory. When that episode aired, I barely even saw the impact of Shark Tank on our sales because we already had a pretty good, big basis of sales.
Joe LeMay:
So, I saw a blip that weekend when we aired, but we were, even on our own organically, we were outpacing anything that we could expect to see from Shark Tank anyway.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, that’s crazy. So, with all the things that you’ve learned through this whole process of Shark Tanks and crowdfunding and Kickstarter campaigns or Indiegogo campaigns, what was your biggest surprise so far?
Joe LeMay:
Man, I’ll tell you. No matter how much you prepare, now that we’re seasoned product creators and crowdfunding campaign runners, we still, can never take out 0% of the risk of getting a product to market. We launched Rocketbook Beacons, which are essentially, these orange stickers on a silicon substrate, that’s the physical product, it’s a fairly simple product. And we gave ourselves plenty of time to deliver on it so that we could deliver early. We were in the cadence of delivering early on every campaign and we thought this would be a slam dunk and it turned out, we ended up delivering a couple months late on that because silicone is a funny substance to work with.
Joe LeMay:
We got all of these samples from a manufacturer that were supposed to be the production sample, that we were printing on and they worked great and it was supposed to just work perfectly. Then when we got basically, two tons of silicone delivered, it didn’t work. When we printed on it, it would rub off and we’re talking about 40,000 units of Rocketbook Beacons that we had two tons of silicone for but when we printed on it, it would all rub off. It had to do with the fact that when they packed this shipment, this two ton shipment of silicone, they packed it in film that had a talcum powder to prevent it from sticking, which they hadn’t in the production samples they sent us during prototyping. Just the way they packed it, made it not perform in the printing process.
Joe LeMay:
It took us a long time to figure out that that was the cause, that it was actually this powder that was getting in the way and that created a couple month delay. We got it out, we rallied as a team, it was extremely stressful. But it goes to show you, even in our, I don’t know, sixth crowdfunding campaign and product delivery, we still can’t take 100% of the risk off the table. We’re still taking a risk by doing crowdfunding and setting a ship date before we actually have the product in a warehouse ready to go. But we do it for real. We design the product, we get it all ready, we know who our suppliers are, but we haven’t pressed go. It’s right after the campaign that we start creating the product and manufacturing it and it’s still a risk factor. It’s still an adventure and our backers are along for the ride.
Joe LeMay:
But at least in that scenario, we got great feedback and encouragement from backers who said, “You guys are amazing.” I put together a video and explained all the details of what can go wrong with silicone and what went wrong with us. We made a little graphic and all of this and people for the most part, really appreciated that we took the time to explain the details of what went wrong in the manufacturing process and what we had planned to fix it. And then when we actually delivered, people were completely psyched about it. Today, it’s a 4.8 out of 5-star product on Amazon, which is, if you guys have ever seen Amazon, it’s really high up there in terms of product satisfaction.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. Talk to me a little bit about the advice of someone taking their product from a successful crowdfunding campaign over to Amazon after?
Joe LeMay:
Yeah, I think one program, I don’t even know if it’s still around anymore, but-
Roy Morejon:
Launchpad, right?
Joe LeMay:
Yeah. Amazon Launchpad. I think that that was really good for us. They took us in as a new product off of crowdfunding and featured us on Amazon Launchpad and that really helped to get us off to the races. Today, Amazon is our number one channel and will be for quite a while I think. I think that there’s two ways to sell through Amazon. One is to be a vendor. It’s usually larger companies who are a vendor, meaning, you sell to Amazon at a wholesale price and they sell it to their customers.
Joe LeMay:
The other way to do it is, to be a seller. So usually, startups are usually sellers because that’s the only option available to them. But what that means is, you ship to Amazon the product, they don’t buy it from you. It’s when a customer buys it, then you get paid and Amazon takes a percentage. That can actually be a lot better for, especially a small customer, because you can set the price, you can control it, you can take control of your inventory, et cetera, and make sure that Amazon doesn’t run out. But once you become bigger, Amazon will probably approach you and ask you to become a vendor and have a lot of benefits to that. They take more of your margin, but ostensibly, they promise to do more things to promote and feature your product.
Joe LeMay:
You can’t A-B test these scenarios in a controlled, scientific study as to what is better. It’s been our experience, we’ve done well as a vendor. But I would say, I would start as a seller, see how that goes because you have a lot more control, even over your copy and all of the assets that you have to feature your products. You just have more control over that and play around with your price and see how sales are. Those are the types of things that we can’t do because Amazon really controls a lot of this stuff. So, enjoy your time as a smaller startup and as your time as a seller and do a lot of experiments through the Amazon platform and use that to your advantage.
Roy Morejon:
Solid advice, Joe. Well, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire, rocket fire a few questions at you. You’re good to go.
Joe LeMay:
I like it. Go for it.
Roy Morejon:
So, what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Joe LeMay:
Huh? I think I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but what the timing was, I had three young kids and I decided, “Well, if they become three older kids in college, I’m never going to do it. So let’s do it now.” So having the pressure of actually having young kids might scare some people off, but for me it was like now or never.
Roy Morejon:
So if you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Joe LeMay:
Definitely, Elon Musk. Just his first principles thinking, his ability to take risks and put it all on the line. And just truly hard work and true engineering focus as a CEO. Elon Musk, number one.
Roy Morejon:
What would be your first question for him?
Joe LeMay:
Please teach me more about how to think in a first principles method. Just how he thinks, thinking about first principles. I wish I could absorb more of that from him.
Roy Morejon:
Solid. Any books you would recommend to our audience?
Joe LeMay:
The Lean Startup, number one. I got that when I started my company and I’m so glad I did. It’s a principle that we still run our company through and every single employee has to read it at least once, at Rocketbook.
Roy Morejon:
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Joe LeMay:
I see myself as the CEO of Rocketbook still, but I just see Rocketbook being a household name. Imagine a whole aisle in Target, in a whole aisle and Staples of Rocketbook products.
Roy Morejon:
All the end caps. That would be amazing.
Joe LeMay:
All the end caps.
Roy Morejon:
All right. Last question, Joe. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Joe LeMay:
I think the future of crowdfunding includes equity and a mix of equity in actual rewards. Now they’re kind of segregated. There’s equity crowdfunding and there’s reward based crowdfunding. I think bringing them together, could be really interesting.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well Joe, this has been awesome. 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 you out.
Joe LeMay:
Yeah. Head to getrocketbook.com or check us out, @getrocketbook on Instagram and other social channels to see how we operate. See some of our cool, funny videos that we put together for every product that we create. Check out the different products we have and shoot us your ideas at ideas@getrocketbook.com and thanks for checking us out.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. And audience, thanks again for tuning in. Visit artofthekickstart.com for notes, transcripts, links to the upcoming campaign and everything else we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors the Gadget Flow and BackerKit. Joe, thank you so much for joining us today on the show.
Joe LeMay:
Hey Roy, one more thing.
Roy Morejon:
Yes.
Joe LeMay:
Head to Kickstarter and search for Rocketbook Orbit.
Roy Morejon:
There we go. Rocketbook Orbit. You heard it here first, folks. Thank you again, Joe, for being on the show.
Joe LeMay:
Thanks Roy.
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 of 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 inventuspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.