In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Jack Yao, co-founder of Mobile Pixels. DUEX by Mobile Pixels is a monitor that can slide out of the back of your laptop so you can deploy it anywhere. Learn how Jack raised $1.5 million in pre-sales from 4,000 backers on Kickstarter and Indiegogo during his first campaign and what’s to come with his third campaign.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How the idea for Mobile Pixels came to Jack when he was a student at MIT on an internship at Amazon
  • What ways COVID-19 has impacted Mobile Pixel’s manufacturing
  • How Sean incorporated backer feedback into his process of designing and launching more mature versions of his earlier products
  • Lessons Jack has learned from his previous campaigns, including why he chose to leverage influencer marketing
  • How Mobile Pixels scaled after signing distribution contracts with Staples, QVC, B&H Cameras, and Best Buy

Links

Sponsors

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Transcript

View this episode's transcript

Roy Morejon:
Welcome to Art Of The kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president of Enventys Partners, the top full service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding.

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 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 joined by a very special guest, Mr. Jack Yao co-founder of mobile pixels. Jack, thank you again for being on the show today. It is an honor to have you.

Jack Yao:
Thank you. It’s nice to be on show again.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. So here we are again, we’ve got a new campaign. I’m sure our listeners know all about you, they remember your story, but I think it’s important to revisit that in terms of the roots. So if you would go back down memory lane and talk about the inspiration in terms of creating mobile pixels and the evolution of where you’re at now and why you’re back on the show.

Jack Yao:
Sure. So our company started about three years ago, it formally started three years ago, but the idea originated maybe four years ago all the way back when I was still a student at MIT on an internship at Amazon. I was sitting in a coworking space doing some programming work, and not having a second monitor really held me back. And obviously if you’re in a coworking space, you can’t be walking in and out of the office with a desktop monitor. So that’s where the light bulb initially went off. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there is some type of monitor that could slide out of the back of your laptop and you could deploy it anywhere, essentially?” So that’s where the idea came from.

Jack Yao:
And we made some prototypes with funding from the school, and with Roy’s help, launched the Kickstarter. Back then we were still going to get real jobs. I had an offer to go back to Amazon, but little did we know this thing took on a life of its own. We ended up raising about $1.5 million in pre-sales between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and I guess the rest was history.

Roy Morejon:
In deed. So for that first campaign to do well, Kickstarter extremely successful over 4,000 backers. Then you came back the year after and we launched trio with you, which had over 2,500 backers and a similar funding. Talk about the evolution, I guess, in terms of now that you’ve got so many years of hardware expertise, how has the design process changed for you guys?

Jack Yao:
Yeah, so product-wise, the DUEX Lite and the DUEX Plus really has evolved from the dual days. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of resources. We knew at a high level what the product ought to be and how it should be used. But quoting what I think what the founder of Dropbox had said, “It’s easy to make something that works 80% of the time. The last 20% could be 100 little problems that you have to solve for.”

Jack Yao:
So our experience is essentially that. We had a product that worked, that did its job and everybody was happy, but to really refine the product, it was too heavy, it’s too big and bulky, it didn’t have enough adjustability inside. And compared to a lot of the conventional monitors that’s already in the market, its specs and performance just didn’t really meet the par, I guess. So for the DUEX Lite and the DUEX Plus, we didn’t really focus on innovating the user experience, but we spent a lot of time making the product lighter, smaller. We added features such as eye care mode, auto rotation. We made it more compatible to Android phones to a Nintendo switch.

Jack Yao:
So overall, I think this round is to launch a much more mature product compared to the ones we did before.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. So the DUEX Lite and DUEX Plus active now on Kickstarter raised about $300,000 already in not even its first week of launch. So, again, the portable dual screen. And like you said, you’ve upgraded all of these elements to smaller size, larger screen, lighter weight. You’ve also got some really cool features on it. You want to pitch those new features that you’ve put into the product? Because I think those really help it stand out.

Jack Yao:
Sure. Yeah. And mainly it’s the DUEX Plus. It’s meant to be a more premium product than the DUEX Lite. Added features includes auto rotation. So now if you use it on the right or the left, the monitor will auto rotate. You no longer have to go into settings and manually rotate the display, which provides a better user experience. It has two ports, one for back charging. Now, if you connect your monitor to a laptop that only has one USB type C port, that’s doubled as a charging port, you could trickle charge through our monitor and without having to use another port. It’s compatible with Android phones. So if you have a Samsung S9 or something, it’ll activate DeX mode, essentially transforming your Android device into a Chromebook. It’s compatible with Nintendo switch. So if you’re with your friend or something, you’re at a park or a cafe and you want it to play your switch, you could actually play it on a bigger display now, by carrying our monitor with you.

Jack Yao:
But really, I think the coolest feature is the weight. The DUEX Plus is 13.3 inches the display size, compared to the duo or the DUEX Pro, which is only 12.5. But despite a larger screen dimension, the overall size is actually smaller than the DUEX Pro. The DUEX Pro, or the duo, is actually 1.77 pounds, so it’s kind of 1.8 pounds, the DUEX Plus is less than 1.3. So it’s half a pound lighter despite being bigger, and with all these added features. I think that for us was a major breakthrough. It really wasn’t easy taking half a pound out of the device, but we did it.

Jack Yao:
One more note was, a lot of people did not like the way the magnets stuck to the back of their laptop. It didn’t provide enough contact surface area to hold it in a stable position. And also a lot of people just didn’t like the way it looked when your monitor’s off. So we were able to shrink the magnets by more than 50%, the contact area significantly increased. And now you can actually slide the monitor on the back of the magnets and also free hang. So, even if you’re not on a even surface like your lap or something. You could put the laptop on your lap and hang the DUEX Plus or the DUEX Lite on the back of your laptop without having to worry about it falling off.

Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. So you mentioned a lot of new features. Where did these ideas come from? Tapping into the crowd and the thousands of backers that you have, where they were pitching you these feature requests, or is this more of an internal brainstorming that comes up with the newest elements to add to the product?

Jack Yao:
Yeah. Like you said, definitely a lot of feedback from our prior customers. Nobody was shy at telling us where our products fell short. So things like auto rotation, eye care mode, those really just… And also the weight reduction really came at the bequest of our customers. Now changing the magnet system, our customer pointed out that the magnets weren’t good enough, but it was a result of our internal design and brainstorming session to come up with a system that’s on the product today.

Jack Yao:
And then additionally, with the pandemic going on, there has been an accelerated adoption in working from home, which increased the size of the market for office equipment. And we’ve seen a lot more competition coming from overseas in the portable display sector. And a lot of their products had these features we have, so a part of it is just… We were really examining the competitive landscape and felt that a lot of these things are no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have for our product as well.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So you mentioned on the overseas side, I mean obviously there’s a… The pandemic has led to a lot of different things changing in the world itself. How has managing the manufacturing element along with supply chain issues and chip issues, and those sorts of things affected the business over the last year?

Jack Yao:
It’s been really difficult. We’ve seen our, actually, bomb cost increase by 50%. And that pretty much came from two things, well, three things. One is display prices pretty much tripled. Because there’s such a lift in the demand for laptops and portable monitors, the big players like Samsung, LG, they’re staffing up all the displays in the market. So due to increased demand, LCD panels really increased. Now, I’m sure a lot of people have heard there’s a IC shortage as well, in the market. So our chip prices also increased.

Jack Yao:
And lastly, commodity prices. Copper has increased by 5,000 RMB per ton, pretty much per week for the last month. So electronic components, a lot of it are made from copper, such as your USB cable, that sort of thing. So prices on that front has increased as well. So supply chain wise, it’s been tough, but luckily we have good relationship with our supplier, even though with the higher prices, we’re able to maintain a steady supply. And also we have a lot of inventory from last year. So we were able to cushion a bit of the impact at the beginning of this year.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So now that you guys are on your third Kickstarter campaign, let’s talk a little bit about what’s changed in terms of preparation for the marketing and the launch of this innovation. What have you guys learned over the years now of running three campaigns with us that has changed course in terms of the marketing or the messaging approach to the audience?

Jack Yao:
Yeah. I think just the marketing landscape has really changed. Before, the combination always rely on Facebook ads, Google ads. Now Facebook and Google are qualifiers, right? They are no longer differentiators when it comes to a Kickstarter. So one thing we did upfront this year was we invested heavily on the influencer marketing side. So prior to the campaign months, prior to the campaign, we’ve been in contact with several influencers including E-list influencers like iJustine. And I think that’s really helped add exposure to our campaign and bring in a lot more traffic.

Roy Morejon:
Interesting. So you go from a six figure Kickstarter campaign to seven figures in sales that same year, and last year you guys eclipsed the eight figure mark. So congrats on that. I mean, how have you gone about scaling, let’s say from a retail perspective or partnerships in Amazon and Office Depot. I know you guys were huge on wood and touch of modern. How has that changed the inventory risk or the fact that you guys are getting much more exposure in a broader market with such a great product that’s out there now?

Jack Yao:
Inventory-wise, in the beginning, a lot of the conventional distribution contracts are tough. So there’s long payment terms like net 60. Then there’s a lot of clauses in there that allows your customer to return on sold inventory to you, or ask you to compensate for promotion or even a right to exchange for upgraded products when a new product comes out. So we knew all those things present a big risk for a small company like us. So luckily, we have a very strong warehousing operation. So right from the beginning, we negotiated dropshipping contracts with them.

Jack Yao:
So inventory-wise, we were able to pull our inventory in one location and fulfill several different channels that allows us to really consolidate the risk and have a better method of controlling it. Our product lines are pretty simple. We have different sizes, different functions, but our skew up to this point had been simple, it’s the same color really. So we didn’t have to manage multiple color variations, that sort of thing. So that helped us as well. But I think crowdfunding really deserves a lot of credit in terms of publicity. You mentioned touch of modern office depot wood. We just signed with Staples. We signed a contract with one of the largest distributors in the US DNH, which enables us to sell to B&H cameras, Best Buy.

Jack Yao:
Our distribution channel really grew this year. And really that is a result of not only our own marketing prowess, but crowdfunding. They all came to us, not a single one of these distributors did we cold call or try to sign on board. A lot of them just actually emailed us and asked us if we wanted to work with them, including QVC, which did a special for us the Saturday after black Friday. And that was huge last year.

Roy Morejon:
How huge was that for sales? Because QVC, we’ve always had mixed reports with some of our clients that they get exposure on the show, but it sounds like it went well.

Jack Yao:
We had like 110,000 sales in one day. It was pretty big. We didn’t really have to pay for any of the marketing. They basically just… Whatever units they sold, we dropshipped for them. So that was really good.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So I know after the first campaign ended, you guys went over to Indiegogo and in demand and did it extremely well. Is that something that you would recommend or you’re going to do on this campaign?

Jack Yao:
Yeah. Absolutely. By that point, a lot of the marketing assets is already in place. You font-loaded a lot of the fixed costs. So transitioning to in demand already is a no-brainer at that point.

Roy Morejon:
Right. So in terms of the campaign itself, this is our third campaign together that I’ve been blessed to be able to work with you, and the team is so excited for this campaign. When you were looking for an agency to partner with, and then when you looked again, for this campaign to work with, obviously you had your pick of the litter, but why’d you come back to us at Enventys Partners. What made you keep choosing our agency to partner with?

Jack Yao:
Well first of all, everything worked out great previously, so why mess with something that worked?

Roy Morejon:
Right.

Jack Yao:
Really, really it’s the responsiveness of EP. Every person I’ve worked with, last year I worked with Sarah and this year I’m working with Emily. The people that I interact with are extremely professional and they get back to me within 10 minutes, I think, every email. That made me feel like they’re really on board a part of my team and invested in this project.

Jack Yao:
I’ve worked with a lot of marketing agencies since 2018, just Facebook agencies. I went through four or five of them. A lot of them, they set up the ads, they look at it once every two weeks, most of the time right before we have to meet. It just really feels like it’s a cookie cutter process for a lot of these agencies, but it didn’t feel that way with EP.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. It’s always good to hear. Again, obviously with the work that the team’s putting in and making sure that this is just another massive success out there and that the community sees the work that’s gone into it, the product you created is beautiful yet again, your customers and tribe are truly happy about the product that they’ve received, and you built the trust with the community. So it’s great to see you keep coming back and launching innovations to them.

Jack Yao:
Yeah, absolutely.

Roy Morejon:
Any challenges from over-funding so many campaigns?

Jack Yao:
I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing. No. Our first campaign was crazy because we didn’t think we were going to sell that many. So being able to scrounge up that many units to be able to ship to the backers was hard. But along with our product, our company is maturing as well. Our supply chain is maturing. So we’re able to plan ahead now. Especially given previous experiences, a lot of it just culminated into a much better preparation. Not only in terms of the campaign, but also the post-campaign fulfillment.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. No, I mean, you’ve built the streamlined process now, right? Where it’s seamless from the campaign itself, the funding, and at the end of the day, what the overall experience and the product that the backer believes they’re going to be getting it once you finally deliver it.

Jack Yao:
Yeah. That’s right.

Roy Morejon:
So I’m excited to hear where are you guys headed next?

Jack Yao:
Well, it’s funny that you asked. Our next project is actually going to be a desktop monitor. I think it’s great making laptop monitors, but really the much larger market is in the desktop space. Many more people use desktop monitors, portable laptop monitors. And from an Amazon’s perspective, that market is actually more than 10 times larger than the portable monitor space. So, that’s where we’re headed next project. And hopefully by July or August, we’ll be able to launch our next product. It’s really exciting. It’s really nothing anyone has seen before. It’s really different from conventional desktop monitors. So I can’t share too many details, unfortunately. We’re still in the patent process, but I think our backers won’t be disappointed.

Roy Morejon:
Well, I know I’m not going to be disappointed. That sounds amazing. I can’t wait to see that one come out and be another supporter of that campaign. That’s going to be great, Jack. Congrats.

Jack Yao:
Thank you.

Roy Morejon:
Well, this is going to get us yet again into our launch round, where I’m going to rapid fire some questions at you. I know you’re good to go. So you ready to start?

Jack Yao:
Yeah.

Roy Morejon:
Let’s do this. So again, I know we’ve talked about this before, but tell me about your inspiration to become an entrepreneur.

Jack Yao:
I don’t think it was natural. I’m sure like a lot of people, I was really worried about security. My entire life I’ve worked for big companies that gave me a steady paycheck, but the transitioning to an entrepreneur was really serendipitous. I had mentioned I was going to work for Amazon, but the Kickstarter campaign we launched took on a life of its own. At that point to fulfill that many orders, I had to do it full time. And the more I did it, the more I became, I guess, addicted to the uncertainties of entrepreneurship. And every time you solve a problem or overcome an obstacle, you’re doing it for yourself, and every little bit adds more confidence to your entrepreneurship journey. So, that’s how it happened.

Roy Morejon:
Amazing. So if you could meet any inventor throughout history, who would it be?

Jack Yao:
I don’t want to sound cliche, but probably Steve Jobs. I think as a product designer, when we conduct industrial design, we’re always looking for other products that give us inspiration, that give us an idea of the design language we want to convey. And every round we do, every product we do, Apple products just are always an important part of it.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Jack, what’s your favorite podcast you listen to.

Jack Yao:
How I Built This. It’s a popular one. I’m sure a lot of our listeners are into it. I actually bought the book. I listen to them almost every day.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. What’s been your best productivity hack over the pandemic?

Jack Yao:
Well here’s a shameless plug, I use our portable monitors every day. When I’m working at home, whether I’m in my kitchen, I’m in the living room, I’m in my backyard, I always have it with me. I think portability, working from home perspective doesn’t mean you’re chained to a desk in your home office. You could really be anywhere. And our accessory allows you to bring that productivity anywhere you are.

Roy Morejon:
In deed. What’s been your favorite book that you finished over the past year?

Jack Yao:
Well, I just finished The Promised Land by Barack Obama. I think that was a really good one. And I’m not going to give too much opinion on a political book, but I’ll leave that to the listeners.

Roy Morejon:
Fair enough. All right. Last question, Jack. And since you’re such an expert on both the hardware side, the marketing side and the product launch side using crowdfunding, we’re very excited to hear what your take is on the future of crowdfunding.

Jack Yao:
I think it’s going to stay popular. Crowdfunding provides a slew of benefits. For one, it lets you to test whether your product has market traction. Two, it lets you work out pricing strategies. Three, it enables you to build the publicity you need for when you do go into retail. And then lastly, of course, it gives you the cash upfront to de-risk your inventory position and also allow you to make the stuff that you’ve invented. So I think it’s going to stay strong.

Jack Yao:
My only hope is that people use crowdfunding for the way it was meant for. I’m seeing a lot of, I mentioned this last time, just a lot of overseas factories use crowdfunding as a method to really just sell their products.

Roy Morejon:
Right.

Jack Yao:
And that’s not what it’s for. And I think it dilutes the core and the purpose of why we do this in the first place.

Roy Morejon:
I agree. Well, Jack, this has been amazing as always. This is your opportunity to give the crowd your pitch, tell them what you’re all about, where they should go and why they should check you out.

Jack Yao:
Yeah. I mentioned several improvements of our current product from before. I really think this is the best product we’ve come up with so far. And if our backers or the listeners or potential customers really thought about buying one of our previous products, I think everyone really ought to check out our current Kickstarter. You won’t be disappointed. At 1.3 pounds, you’re not even going to notice that you have our monitor with you. So that means most likely, you’re going to carry with you anytime you go. So whenever you need it, you will always have it, which translates into a much higher productivity for whatever you do.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, Jack, thank you for being on the show. Audience, thanks for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to all the campaigns and everything else we talked about today. And of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow and Product Hype. Jack, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Jack Yao:
Thank you.

Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art Of The Kickstart, the show about building a business world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it. And of course, if you loved this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs and startups find this show, and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in, and we’ll see you again next week.