For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we spoke with brothers Pete and Mark Ackerman, creators of the Chameleon pack, a backpack that transforms into an ultra-light chair. Tune in to learn more about how the Ackermans were inspired by nature, what challenges they’ve encountered and what advice they have to offer to others crowdfunding a product for the outdoors.

The Chameleon Pack: The Most Versatile Backpack in the World

Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • What design challenges to expect when you are creating a new product
  • Why Kickstarter is a great place to launch a new product
  • Why you need an audience before launching a Kickstarter campaign
  • What kind of feedback you can expect to get from backers
  • Why having a campaign plan and timeline before you launch is important

Links

Connect with Trailform

Sponsors

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backerkitArt of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, raise additional funds with add-ons and manage orders for fulfillment, saving creators hundreds of hours. To learn more and get started, click here.

Transcript

View this episode's transcript

Roy Morejon:

Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I’m joined by brothers Pete and Mark Ackerman. Gentleman, thank you so much for joining me on Art of the Kickstart this morning.

Pete Ackerman:

Happy to be here Roy, thank you.

Mark Ackerman:

It’s our pleasure, man.

Roy Morejon:

All right, so let’s get started. You guys have an active Kickstarter campaign right now, the Chameleon Pack. This is a genius backpack that turns into a chair. You guys are not only forging new trails out in the industry and out in the wilderness, but also in terms of product design and development. Let’s tell our audience all about the backstory here. Where does this all begin?

Pete Ackerman:

I’ll take that Roy. I guess the short version of it really is, I’ve got an interesting career that allows me basically a three hour lunch break every day. As you probably know, here in Utah, the mountains are just in our backyard, and so it becomes pretty normal to take advantage of that long break and get back up in the mountains and the canyons. Do a lot of hiking, do a lot of hammocking. My brother and I, we work together, Chris, who’s not with us right now. We just love to be able to get up out in the wilderness. It’s funny, as most people know, when you’re on the trail, especially with hammocks and stuff, you’re kind of limited to …

You have to have two trees that are the right distance in order to get as comfortable as you want to get. As we sat there over time, we just talked about how sweet it would be to have the ability to post up wherever we want and eat our lunch and hang out. Sometimes the best views don’t have the rocks and the trees and the things you want to be able to chill for a while. One day I came home, I had a day pack, and I had one of those ultra light chairs, and started playing around, and came up with this concept of trying to be able to, essentially carry your load and take your load off wherever you want to go. From there, we designed the Chameleon Pack, and it’s been awesome. We’re super excited to see what happens and where this thing goes.

Roy Morejon:

This is the first product that you guys have ever brought to market, right?

Pete Ackerman:

It is for now, yeah.

Roy Morejon:

Let’s talk a little bit about that for our audience in terms of what that process has looked like. How long ago did you guys begin, and what were some of the steps that you guys had to take to bring this product to fruition?

Pete Ackerman:

A lot of that really just comes from … You kind get in the … I think a lot of us are in that corporate realm where that’s life and that’s … I’ve been at the company I’m at for nine years, and I actually really enjoy what I do. It’s a lot of fun but after a while, you want something new. This whole concept of forging new trails and to do some uncomfortable things and break away … Especially, a lot of us, there’s people out there that do what they love for their career. I like my job, but my passion is the outdoors, so this was a great opportunity to try to combine both of those, and try to, I guess, jump in this space is a little bit crazy, but that’s also what makes it so exciting.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely.

Mark Ackerman:

Our phrase, “Forge New Trails” is as much about our story as it is about going in the outdoors and bushwhacking through the brush. Forging new trails, we’re developing and we’re growing as a business, and we want to … Our tag line “Forge New Trails” is as much about the business side as it is about the outdoors side.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. I had the pleasure and opportunity to speak at a conference out in Utah this past winter, and I must say you guys have an amazing audience around you of mountains. I completely appreciate this product, simply because of what you guys have around you as an opportunity to get out there and explore.

Pete Ackerman:

Absolutely, yeah, we’re spoiled for sure, Roy.

Roy Morejon:

I got that sense out there, where it’s just completely breathtaking views everywhere you go. Let’s talk about some of the challenges that you guys have encountered thus far bringing your first product to market. Have there been challenges on the design side, the ergonomics side, the support and stability side of an individual sitting in a chair? Talk a little bit about some of the challenges you guys have encountered throughout this process.

Pete Ackerman:

A lot of it, Roy, is … Biggest challenge of forging any new trail is the unknowns. Especially when you’re trying to balance … We’re dads, we’re deeply rooted in our families, that’s priority number one. Then obviously, the kind of capital that goes into starting a new venture like this, it’s kind of nerve wracking. The emotional side of starting a new venture like this, as well as some of the weight of the financial burden, takes a lot of resource to get out and do it. Luckily, I do some real estate investing, which helped get this thing off the ground, on the side, that’s one of my other passions. It’s still taxing on a wife, it’s taxing on kids.

As much as it’s exciting, those have probably been the biggest challenges. We’re grateful for, when it comes to the product itself and design, this is an industry over … I mean, hundreds of years, people have loved to get out and enjoy all of God’s creations, so there’s been a lot of inspiration that we’ve drawn from companies that have innovated over the years. Everybody’s goal is to enhance the outdoor experience, and we felt like this was a great opportunity to catch that same vision of companies that have gone before. They forged their own trails, and now we wanted to take the outdoor comfort and the outdoor experience to a whole new level, especially in the backpack space.

Roy Morejon:

Mark, you’re been working with our agency, Enventys Partners, since the launch of the campaign. Talk to our audience why you decided to use Kickstarter as a means to launch Trailform.

Mark Ackerman:

To use Kickstarter?

Roy Morejon:

Yeah.

Mark Ackerman:

Well, we have a brother, Dave Ackerman, who launched a brand on Kickstarter, Tobacco Motor, where they do motorcycle jeans. He was pretty successful. He was able to raise $120,000. Looking at it, if we had to … As we were developing the product, if we had to go and buy all the inventory and launch this business, I mean, it would be … I mean, I don’t know if we’d be able to do it because we’d have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on inventory and because of manufacturers have minimum orders and MOQs. Especially with the level of customization you want to do.

It sometimes can be easy to buy a product that already exists, and not have that MOQ. When you want to customize it, and make it as unique as we’ve made it, they have a minimum order quantity, so we decided to go to Kickstarter and see if they can help us raise the funds, see if … Also, find out, hey is there … I mean, we developed this product and think it’s cool, does the market out there think that this product is cool? Does the market think that this product is worthy of being developed? We thought Kickstarter would be a great platform to launch the product.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. With hundreds of backers and tens of thousands in funding, in just the first week, I think we’re certainly seeing success there since the campaign was fully funded within the first four days. What do you think was the biggest factor responsible for funding so quickly?

Mark Ackerman:

Well, I do think that it’s been huge working with Enventys Partners. They’ve been really good about keeping us on a timeline and making sure we reach certain goals. I think if we were to go at it alone, it would have taken us much longer to get as far as we’ve gotten. I think also, planning ahead and not just shooting in the dark, we’ve gone and collected email lists, even before the Kickstarter began, and we’ve marketed those lists right at launch, so I mean, if you ask us, “How did you fund so quickly?” Well, it’s because we actually had an audience before we launched.

Pete Ackerman:

Adding to that Roy, I just think that because we have a product that truly is completely unique in the sense that since early 1900s we’ve seen people doing this thing where you try to combine a backpack and a chair at the same time. There’s nothing quite like what this Chameleon is. I think when people actually see what it does and they … It’s beyond just a backpack to a chair transformation, there’s a ton that’s really intriguing to any outdoor enthusiast, at minimum it’s intriguing. We’ve gotten a lot of really awesome feedback that people are stoked that there’s really nothing like this product out there, it’s completely unique. That’s obviously helped gain traction.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. What’s been the biggest surprise so far that you guys have encountered in your first week in the active campaign?

Pete Ackerman:

I think some of it would be, always in the back of your head when you’re doing something like this, it’s a roller coaster of emotions. There’s days we think, “Oh, this thing’s going to bust, explode.” Then there’s days it feels like, “Oh man, is this going to flop?” I guess to a degree, it’s been a nice surprise to see the reactions and some of the messages, personal messages we’ve received from people. Some of the personal messages that we’ve received have been awesome, and the feedback and how excited … I think people have caught our vision, so it didn’t necessarily take us by surprise in the sense we were hoping that would be the case, but certainly to this scale makes it exciting.

Roy Morejon:

That’s exciting to hear, and obviously it’s always nice when you can interact with the people that are not only backing your project but potentially want to give you some feedback and resonate with the story that you guys have produced. It’s always great to hear, and that’s the true spirit of crowdfunding, right?

Pete Ackerman:

Hell yeah, it’s awesome.

Roy Morejon:

Let’s talk about your audience, and giving advice to someone else who is looking to Kickstart their outdoor or camping product like this.

Pete Ackerman:

I would say advice would be, I think be patient. Sometimes those emotions can get the best of us, and it’s nice to remember that these campaigns are a duration. At the same time, I think be prepared. I think it has been helpful to have Enventys Partners to help create, like Mark said, that timeline. Milestones, hitting milestones, giving consultation and advice. It’s nice to … It’s not like every single piece of advice you always agree with or see eye to eye, but at the same time, you want to trust those that have gone before, and I think that’s been a big help. I think having people that have a structure in place, a plan in place that’s proven is certainly really helpful.

Roy Morejon:

What’s next after this product? What do you guys have in store?

Pete Ackerman:

There’s all kinds of cool stuff. One of the patents pending that we have are these Switch Bags. We’re super stoked that the video and the Kickstarter to this point I think doesn’t do it justice, what we have in mind with these type of things, as well as because of the other patent pending, our Penta-zip technology on this backpack, it presents so many other things and options that we can do with a backpack that are still going to allow this to be very fully functional as a backpack, but also creates some other conveniences. It’s been funny to see the comments and feedback from our advertising and our backers that a lot of them are suggesting some things that we already have some plans to do some further innovations.

Roy Morejon:

Nice.

Pete Ackerman:

We don’t want a spoiler alert too quick, especially because we’ve got a lot of intellectual property that we’re pinning down, and that kind of stuff. There’s a ton of cool things in the works. With future versions, I think people will be surprised when they get their final version of this backpack, to see a few additions that are just going to come standard on it, as well as we’re excited to roll out some stretch goals and get some exposure to some of these other ideas that we have. I think people will be pretty stoked at some of that.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome, excited to see that. All right Pete, this gets us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a few questions at you. You good to go?

Pete Ackerman:

I’m good to go. Let’s do it.

Roy Morejon:

What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Pete Ackerman:

Great question. To me, I guess it wasn’t necessarily about entrepreneurship. To me, it’s just been about, as cliché or cheesy as it might sound, I mean I think being outdoors is so invigorating. Anybody that spends time in the outdoors knows how it feels like true freedom, and it feels like where man is supposed to be almost. What happened really was just the ability to try to break from maybe that corporate course. It’s a well trodden path that we go to work, and people just get into that mode a little bit.

I love, I really enjoy what I do, but I think getting into this space, breaking away from a comfort zone, Roy. Like we’ve talked about, forging a new trail both in life and in the outdoor industry, that ride, that journey is so invigorating. I would encourage anybody that has good ideas to just try stuff. I mean, if you could try stuff and you take action, regardless of whether something succeeds or fails, there’s so much personal development, and so much happiness and joy from breaking away from that well trodden path and doing something new and stretching ourselves. I’ve been really inspired by several books and things that I’ve been reading, that these entrepreneurs talk a lot about that.

Roy Morejon:

Talking about forging new trails, what’s your favorite place to hike?

Pete Ackerman:

Probably the places that I’ve spent the most time. Again, being a family man, I’m a little bit … I shouldn’t use that as an excuse became I see some awesome people that have backed us and I’ve got friends that don’t let kids get in the way as much. I think we crammed our kids so close together, we’ve let that be the excuse to not go as far and travel as far.

The High Unitas, there’s so many beautiful hikes, and spending time back there. One of my favorite hikes is White Packard, it’s a nice short … It’s a day hike, but the scenery and some of those places, I’ve gone there with brothers on a number of occasions and friends. Just some beautiful scenery. The High Unitas here locally, unfortunately would be maybe my boring answer. A lot of people may not be familiar with that wilderness.

Roy Morejon:

Sure. If you could go hiking with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Pete Ackerman:

Well, man, people that know the history of the outdoors. Teddy Roosevelt was a big outdoorsman, who paved the way in a lot of sense to do a lot of the preservation of national parks. I know that there’s some really famous outdoorsmen that … That’s a tough question.

Roy Morejon:

What would have been your first question for Mr. Roosevelt?

Pete Ackerman:

Oh man. Man, you’re asking some good, tough questions. Maybe, “What took us so long to start preserving these lands and inspiring others to get out and enjoy them?” That’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Roy Morejon:

What book would you recommend to our audience?

Pete Ackerman:

You know what? That’s a great question to. The books that have inspired me as of late, there’s a … Well, I’m in the middle of, well I’m close to the end of “7 Habits for Highly Effective People.” It talks a lot about this paradigm, this mindset. As well as there’s a book by Phil Knight, the owner of Nike, “Shoe Dog,” which is super inspiring. Because any entrepreneur’s going to feel like there’s a lot in common to read about him and his journey.

Obviously, we know what the end of that story is, but it would just be really cool to feel like we can even catch a glimpse of making that type of impact, even if it be a fraction of the success that Phil Knight has seen. It would be fun to really see people be inspired by our products. The goal would be to inspire people to get out more and not let life and our jobs and careers and other things keep us from getting out and enjoying the outdoors.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. Last question Pete. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Pete Ackerman:

The future of crowdfunding? You know what? I think we’re going to continue to see more and more people enter the space. We know some of the big players, Kickstarter and Indiegogo, I think we’ll see more of that. I think there will be more companies like Enventys Partners that jump in. We’ve already had a bunch of companies reaching out to us that I think want to, they want to help and assist other people ease the burden of startup and help people, and I think that’s a good thing. I think you’ll see a lot of companies start a move to, especially startup companies moving more and more to this model to prove their products, to prove their vision and direction they want to take these companies, and make sure that they have something viable before they shoulder a ton of the risk that keeps some people out of it.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome. I know we lost Mark, but Pete, this has been awesome. Please give our audience your pitch, tell them what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should go buy a Trailform.

Pete Ackerman:

Go buy a Chameleon you mean?

Roy Morejon:

That is what I meant.

Pete Ackerman:

You know what? If anybody loves the outdoors, we love being minimalists, we love the roughing it mentality, but we don’t believe that it’s always necessary to sacrifice comfort. For a long time, we carried around chairs and this and that. Having used the chameleon there really isn’t … Anybody who loves outdoors and gear, there’s certain items of your gear that you get super stoked about and want to take with you, and want to use often, and want to find excuses to use it. The Chameleon encompasses that.

This is a pack that gives you so many options, so much adaptability. It really, you can tailor it to whatever trip you’re doing, kids’ soccer games, day hikes, work situations. I’ve had people tell me, “I’m pumped to take this to work with me. I have a job that I’d love to be able to have an option to sit down on my lunch breaks and do things in leisure and school.” We’ve had college students say they’re pumped to use this. There’s so many options this thing gives. We hope everybody gets the chance to see the full version and see what this thing really does. It’s a lot more than just a backpack to a chair transformation.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. Well I know Mark dropped off, but Pete, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for being on the show. Audience, of course, thank you for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for all the show notes, a full transcript, links to everything we talked about today including the campaign. Of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors the Gadget Flow and BackerKit. Peter, thank you so much for being on Art of the Kickstart.

Pete Ackerman:

Thank you, Roy. Appreciate you having us.