For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we caught up with Ryan Sim, Managing Director of We The People. Tune in to learn more about how Ryan and his friend, Joel Liew, found initial success raising over a quarter of a million dollars through five successful crowdfunding campaigns, and then created We The People, the world’s only multi-channel crowdfunding retail chain and community. We The People is, essentially, a community of backers who both teach crowdfunding and create products for creators, by creators. In the podcast, Ryan discusses some of his first Kickstarter launches with Kisetsu, as well as his big plans surrounding his new company, We The People.
Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways
- Ryan’s journey growing each of his five crowdfunding campaigns – successes, mistakes, and all
- Whether or not to create customizable SKUs during a crowdfunding campaign and what to expect
- Crowdfunding tips for those thinking of launching accessory projects like his
- Things to keep in mind for crowdfunding campaign videos and rewards
- An in-depth explanation of We The People and how they offer additional resources for crowdfunding creators
- The most difficult hurdles between crowdfunding and bringing a product to retail
- Their strategies for the future of We The People and their goals around keeping their creators well incubated
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!
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.
Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit and the Gadget Flow. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping you print and ship faster. 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.
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I’m really excited because I’m joined with Ryan Sim, Managing Director of We The People. So if you aren’t familiar with We The People yet, I’m really excited to introduce this company and phenomenon of what these guys are doing. Ryan and his best friend, Joel Liew, co-created a wallet company, Kisetsu, and have had five successful crowdfunding campaigns raising over a quarter of a million. And then created in 2016 We The People, which is the world’s only multichannel crowdfunding retail chain and community. And since its inception, these guys have gone on to help over 14 brands, over 200 different product lines. They’ve created six brick and mortar stores in Singapore, a store in Malaysia, online stores, and they’re expanding their reach all over the planet. They’ve opened up a place here in St. Louis in November of last year and have further plans for the US expansion with the goal of bringing together the global creator community.
We The People is expanding internationally all over the place and they’re providing not only education in eCommerce, but also a brick and mortar retail space for entrepreneurs. And We The People is definitely becoming, and quickly becoming, the hub of innovation in Asia and around the world. So I’m really excited to talk with Ryan today about what he can offer in terms of insights, and the aspects of crowdfunding obviously because he’s done many campaigns. But also on the retail side, including funding and marketing, distribution, fulfillment, retail, et cetera.
So Ryan, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Ryan Sim: It’s great to be here. Thanks.
Roy Morejon: So let’s start a little bit and talk about your previous crowdfunding campaigns. Give a little bit of a background to our audience about that story.
Ryan Sim: All right. So my first foray into crowdfunding happened about five years ago. A friend of mine told me about Kickstarter and I didn’t believe it. I didn’t understand the idea of peoples trying to give you money for something that didn’t exist, to me that was absurd. Then we gave it a shot. So we tried doing a slim wallet. That was our first one, it was called the Haru wallet. It was a very simple card holder type of wallet. And first campaign we raised about five grand, I think if not wrong. And I think our goal was two grand at that point in time. So we were funded and we didn’t do any sort of marketing at all. So to us that was a win. And then we went further and created a few other campaigns and that went on to be very successful. So that’s how we started.
Roy Morejon: Awesome. So when you guys were let’s say designing the product, how did you know that wallets were the product that you guys wanted to move forward with? And then what were the challenges in designing the products themselves?
Ryan Sim: So well, why we chose a wallet was because, number one was one of the easier things to do to start off. It didn’t require immense technical knowledge, not like a spaceship or something like that. It was really stuff you could learn online. So it’s not that difficult to start off. And the challenges would have been … Well for the first campaign we had no idea what to do. Marketing, even creating campaign, understanding what to do with the video. Those were all very new things at that point of time and it was, I guess, that was a main challenge. Understanding what to tell people and how to tell them to get them to back your campaign. But over time of course we learned a lot.
Roy Morejon: So what did some of that prep work look like going from the course of your first campaign and doing a couple thousand, to now raising over a quarter of a million in total for five separate campaigns now?
Ryan Sim: So I guess … I mean the law of learning points are, you learn a lot of things along the way. Firstly, the first thing you understand is that, okay people are much nicer here on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. They are more forgiving because they understand that this is not a purchase. They are pledging for an idea. So there’s a little bit more forgiving room. Then came the fulfillment. I guess the hardest part of the campaign was mostly the fulfillment, because suddenly you have this great influx of orders and you had to somehow manage to fulfill all of them in the stipulated time that you promised your backers. That that will always be the hardest part to do. And let’s see, what else was there? Oh, let me talk about a mistake we made.
Roy Morejon: Sure. We loved those.
Ryan Sim: Yeah, yeah. Everybody loves these. Okay, on our second campaign, it’s called the Natsu wallet, I think a few of our backers from our first campaign said, “Hey guys, why don’t you make the smallest wallet around, smallest slim wallet?” And we took out a challenge. Let’s try, right. Okay so we did, we managed to do it. But we wanted to try giving more customization as you know, like most times when people launch things on Kickstarter, they try to give backers as much customization as possible. So we tried, and that was a big mistake.
Roy Morejon: Sure.
Ryan Sim: So let me explain. We had 17 different colors to choose from, which is already a big mistake. And a choice of having the wallet’s RFID protected or not. And a choice of having the wallet debossed with their initials are not. So that came up to like 17 times 17 times 17. Which was crazy to fulfill because when all the wallets came in from our manufacturer, we had to sort them out properly and one by one send them out ourselves. Because the sheer amount of SKUs was mind boggling. We spent two whole weeks not sleeping, much trying to fix all that. But thankfully we managed to fulfill it on time. Again, we’re never going to do so many SKUs ever again. Never do that. Don’t do that.
Roy Morejon: Yeah. 4,913 SKUs. That’s a little much.
Ryan Sim: Yeah. Don’t do that.
Roy Morejon: So what did some of the marketing prep work leading up to in the initial campaign look like? Because I know you guys didn’t do much there, and then the evolution of launching other successful campaigns. What changed on the marketing side for you guys to continue to see success there?
Ryan Sim: Of course we experimented with different marketing companies until we found one or two that had worked. I think in the end of the day it was more of the ads that worked, paired with the pre-marketing. So what we learned along the way was, you really got to get funded before you even press the launch button. So what it means is that before you press logic you got to prep your existing database and tell them that, “Hey guys, we’re launching very soon. Make sure you stand by.” And so that was done pretty well because we had a good following from the first few campaigns and that’s always a bonus.
So once we prepped them up, we launched. We told them, “Hey guys, we’ve launched.” They all flooded in, they claimed it back. But of course I think the important thing is that you shouldn’t launch campaigns, or rather wallets, too quickly because your initial backers wouldn’t want to buy the same thing again. So you got to have some, at least three to five months, so that they will definitely pledge your campaign.
So that’s one of the things we did. The next thing we did was we got some ads going. Facebook ads, Google ads, all sorts of ads we tried with. Best ones that converted where of course Facebook ads, those were the best converting ones. And yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Roy Morejon: So what tips, outside of not launching a campaign with over 4,000 SKUs, would you have for someone looking to crowdfund a product like yours?
Ryan Sim: Keep your campaign as simple as it can be. Don’t dilute your messaging, especially if you’re video. I know that in your video you want to tell people everything about your product. But of course you got to tone it down a little bit because there can be a thousand functions, but you really got to laser focus on the important ones. And not lose sight of, well what you want people to see and understand. Because it’s very easy for people to stop watching. You’ve got 30 seconds tops to convince them. So within that 30 seconds you’ve got to make them want to buy your wallet or buy your product. After the 30 second mark, that’s when you can start talking about the other things. But within the first 30 second, 30 seconds, that’s the most crucial point.
So that’s just for the video. Of course, the next thing you want to do is the rewards. So here’s my biggest tip. Whenever I launch a Kickstarter campaign, my first reward here, I will always structure it in a way where I will limit it to like let’s say 200 backers or something like that. Or just to make sure that if that category is filled up and it should be, the amount raised will definitely hit your goal. Because you’ve got to do your research and understand which is the most likely reward that people will back. And pair that with the fact that you got to get funded within the first 48 hours to hit Kickstarter’s algorithm and try to get into the popular category, because that’s where you really want to be. So yes, always, always try to see how you can make sure that the first tier, if it’s maxed out, it will hit your funding goal.
Roy Morejon: Interesting. So let’s say you had a $20,000 funding goal, public facing funding goal. You had 200 rewards at the first limit and the price point was $100. That’s basically what you would say?
Ryan Sim: Yes, that’s right.
Roy Morejon: Nice. So what, if anything, would you do differently if you were starting this whole project over again or launching another crowdfunding campaign this year?
Ryan Sim: Let’s see. Well, right now we’ve done it a couple of times, so we already know what exactly to do. I guess we’re more with experimenting with different marketing styles. I think the last campaign we did, we did what’s called the Kaizen wallet. That was pretty successful as well. I think we raised about, let’s see, 60 grand. It was okay. But this time we experimented with different type of video. It was more artistic than a very standard Kickstarter, functional video where it’s just boom, boom, wallet, functions. No, it wasn’t like that at all. It was more poetic and artistic. We wanted to try to hold branding approach instead.
So we’re not sure whether that really worked, if the Kickstarter crowd, even though the video is beautiful, but we’re not so sure whether it really worked. So lesson learned, in the next campaign that we do, we will add more on functional side more rather than the artistic side.
Roy Morejon: Sure. So let’s move on a little bit and talk about We The People.
Ryan Sim: Sure.
Roy Morejon: Tell our audience a little bit more about that.
Ryan Sim: Nice. It’s my favorite part.
Roy Morejon: I told you, I’d save the best for last, right?
Ryan Sim: So yeah, we created We The People. We The People, we’re like a community. A community of backers and creators from all over the world. We look like a store. Well, we are a store. We are the only brick and mortar chain of stores that exclusively retail, supports and promotes everything that was, well made possible with crowdfunding. Especially with like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and other crowdfunding platforms. Why we opened a store was because for us as creators, there was never really a real physical channel where … Like a best fit place to put your products in. It was always other smaller stores or bigger stores where the salespeople didn’t really care so much about your product. So people don’t end up buying as much and there’s not enough brand equity going around doing it that way.
So we created We The People to be like For Creators, By Creators. And when we sell a product in the store, we sell it like we own it. Like we’re part of the process, so that the people buying the product in the store understand and feel the passion. That’s something that’s really missing in retail. We also teach how to crowdfund. That’s one of our big strengths. Because we’ve done it so many times we also want to show people how they could do it for themselves. Because crowdfunding can be really confusing. It’s a big word. A lot of people don’t understand it. And even if they did, they didn’t know how to apply it to their own ideas. So we show them how to do it. So, and we have quite a couple of stores around the world. We are slowly opening more and more as well. And we have various solutions for different … even for people with live campaigns, we can help you out.
So that’s one thing we immediately wanted to help people with, when you launch a campaign on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, if it was fairly expensive, most people want to touch and feel first. So you’re missing a lot of the physical market that want to touch and feel it first. And with us and having the stores, we work with creators to get them to send us their prototypes, put it in the store where people can now touch and feel the products first before pledging. We call this process Live Funding. And it has been very big successful. We’ve helped over 40 different creators, so far they have raised a lot more money than they would have without Live Funding. So as you can see, we’re more than just a store, were like a good community of people helping each other out and we just look like a store.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. So I love the fact that you guys have taken and get physical products. Even if, I guess they’re in the beta mode potentially, where customers can touch and feel the product in real life and know that it actually exists. Even back the project on the spot in the store. See how the project’s going to get made potentially meet the creators themselves, and obviously see new innovations that are coming to market that really do exist and they get to be the first ones to test it out, which is obviously the beauty of crowdfunding.
Ryan Sim: Yeah, that’s right. So the store serves as a discovery channel. That’s the beauty of Kickstarter and these new types of products. Because of the lack of, well propagation. It’s not a mass market product yet. So that’s the issue. It’s not like you have a friend or a brother or sister where you can refer to and touch and feel the product first and buy it online. That process doesn’t exist. That’s why the physical channels is so important for new products like this. It helps with, number one, credibility. It’s so that those micro conversations can happen. Like, “Hey, I saw that at the store that day. That’s a cool product.” And then they can go and read more, and potentially come back to the store and buy it because the store is the main discovery point for these products.
Roy Morejon: So what’s been, let’s say, the most challenging part of setting up your retail outlet in different malls?
Ryan Sim: I would say that … There’s actually a whole bunch of challenges. Number one, rental is hard.
Roy Morejon: Yeah.
Ryan Sim: That’s the hardest part. Finding the right manpower. But of course it’s really about the demographics all right, where you want to make sure that we position the store at places where people would appreciate these kind of things. And it’s not everywhere. And yeah, it’s really about finding the right place. And that takes a lot of effort, research and resources to find these right places. But one of the ways we do that is we test different locations. We have little popup stores, like short term, two weeks or a month. See how that goes. If it goes well, then we might consider opening a permanent store. So that’s just one of the methods that we apply before opening a store.
Roy Morejon: So the fact that you guys have been able to work with dozens of entrepreneurs now, what do you think is the most challenging piece for a startup moving from successfully crowdfunding their product to bringing it to retail?
Ryan Sim: Yeah, I would say the most challenging place would be to find a good retail partner. It’s never easy if I’m … Even for me as as a creator myself, until now I still have issues finding good retail partners. There’s a lot of boutique stores around, that’s for sure. But they don’t really push your brand as much as you would like. And that’s what we want to be. We The People want us to be that one-stop channel where if you had an idea, we’ll help you. We’ll teach you how to do it, launch it on a crowdfunding platform, get funded, manufacture it and then we can sell it for you internationally within like a month.
That’s something that a lot of companies cannot do, and that’s something we pride ourselves in. Put it this way, you send us an email with your campaign and if it all works out, we could potentially retail your product all over the world within a month. And yeah, that is almost impossible to find.
Roy Morejon: So I’m also really excited about what you guys are doing with the For Creators, By Creators. And I had the opportunity to speak with you guys at the CES event earlier this year, and you guys have done other events now where you’re really trying to help bridge creators and entrepreneurs together with the local community to really make that a local game changer if you will, in terms of the industry. So talk a little bit to our audience about what you guys are doing with the For Creators, Cy creators initiative.
Ryan Sim: All right, so For Creators, By Creators, is basically I’ll wait to show people that crowdfunding could be a very viable way to forge your own path, to beat the nine to five. Because that’s what happened to us. We’re creators as well, and one day we decided to try crowdfunding and that really worked out for us. But here’s the thing, most people, like I said earlier, don’t understand how it works, or even if you did, they don’t know how to apply it for themselves. Which is a pity because crowdfunding is really, really magical. You know more than most, Roy.
Roy Morejon: Yeah.
Ryan Sim: So yeah, so that’s something we wanted to show people and give them the knowledge. It works like a … It’s like a big session where we’ll get a lot of interesting people from different industries talking about their experiences with crowdfunding and how it worked out them. And it’ll be very intimate where people that attend can ask direct questions and get really, really honest replies. It’s not going to be a very cold setting where you can’t get to talk to the host and stuff like that. You will always be able to talk to the panelists, stuff like that.
It’s more about sharing information, best practices, how you could start yourself, and potentially even forming partnerships with people there themselves. Something like that hasn’t happened before, not on this scale, and not in this type of intimacy. So that is our dream for For Creators, By Creators. We want to show people how crowdfunding can lead the way and how they could do it themselves.
Roy Morejon: Awesome. So Ryan, I’m excited to hear where you hope to see We The People in the next three to five years?
Ryan Sim: Okay, so here’s the angle. I want you to picture a big store with glass doors in front, really big store. Inside you see a bunch of products, at the end you’ll see long rows of counters with people. So we want to make … Well, if you had an idea, we want to make We The People the household name where you would go to, tell them your idea, we’ll show you how to do it, we’ll show you how to get it funded. We’ll show you how to retail internationally, and then we’ll make sure that you’re sustainable and potentially, well make you rich. We want to make sure that your ideas are properly incubated and seed it to the world. That’s where we’re going to be, we’re more than just a store.
Roy Morejon: I can imagine. So where are you headed next?
Ryan Sim: Let’s see, probably back to the States and a month or two we’ll be checking out retail locations in New York and San Francisco. We might be opening a store in Mall of America and that’ll be quite fun. And we might be opening a store in, let’s see, Value Fair in Silicon Valley. So that’ll be really, really fun. At the same time, that’s just for the US. We’re also opening more stores in Europe, in Asia as well. So the more stores we have, the better channels we can provide to our creators.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. All right Ryan, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You’re ready to go?
Ryan Sim: Let’s do it.
Roy Morejon: Alright, so what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Ryan Sim: Very clearly, I just wanted … I like nice cars and they are expensive. That’s it.
Roy Morejon: So simple. If you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Ryan Sim: Elon Musk.
Roy Morejon: Nice. All right, so what would you ask Mr. Musk?
Ryan Sim: Why? Just why? Why, why … How do you even get to the point where you decide, “Okay, I want to colonize Mars.” Why?
Roy Morejon: Fair enough. So what’s been your favorite crowdfunded product?
Ryan Sim: Favorite crowdfunded product. Too many. Let’s see.
Roy Morejon: How about a current one?
Ryan Sim: Yeah, let me talk about a current one. Okay. How about this one? I think it’s called Snore Circle. I think it was on Indiegogo. It’s basically a sleeping mask, that whenever it detects that you’re storing, it’ll send a vibration down to the back of your throat to stimulate the muscles to contract. And that will stop you snoring immediately. I bought that for my mom for Mother’s Day, but not for my mom, for her to give to my dad.
Roy Morejon: I see.
Ryan Sim: Yeah. That’s pretty cool. I liked that a lot. It’s super functional.
Roy Morejon: Interesting plan. All right. What book would you recommend to our listeners?
Ryan Sim: Wait, I have it right here. The Zero to One by Peter Thiel.
Roy Morejon: Good read right there.
Ryan Sim: Yeah.
Roy Morejon: All right, last question, Ryan, you’re killing it here. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Ryan Sim: Crowdfunding has to become more physical. while, we understand that it’s a very online thing, we feel that it could be much both online and offline, just like retail. Crowdfunding should be with a group of people looking at a project together and talking about it. And if they like it, back it together. We need more of that social thing going on rather than it being from behind a laptop or a phone.
Roy Morejon: Awesome. Well Ryan, 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.
Ryan Sim: Okay. So I represent to Kisetsu and We The People. Well if you like crowdfunding, if you ever wanted to see the newest of the newest things around, that’s We The People, we only find the best from crowdfunding and we retail it all around the world. And we’ll be opening up an outlet near to you soon as well. And if you’re ever interested in launching a campaign yourself, hey, reach out to us. We can teach you how to do it.
Roy Morejon: Awesome. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for notes, transcript, links to everything we talked about today and of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors the Gadget Flow and BackerKit.
Ryan, thank you so much for being on the show today. It’s been awesome.
Ryan Sim: I appreciate it. I really enjoyed myself.
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 love this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com slash 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.