This week on Art of the Kickstart, we spoke with Dave Winkler and Ed Cummings about how they built a better water bottle and launched it on Kickstarter. Tune in to learn more about designing a new Internet of Things product, using Kickstarter backer feedback to improve your product and much more!

AquaGenie: The World’s Smartest Water Bottle

Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How to combine form and function when deciding what features to include in a product
  • How to know if crowdfunding is a good fit for you
  • How to facilitate feedback from your Kickstarter backers
  • How to build up a community or audience around your product

Links

Connect with AquaGenie

Sponsors

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Transcript

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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.

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 luxury gadgets and creative gifts.

Now let’s get on with the show.

Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I am joined by Dave Winkler and Ed Cummings with AquaGenie. Dave and Ed, thank you so much for joining me.

Ed Cummings:

Great to be here.

Dave Winkler:

Thanks, Roy. Thanks for having us on.

Roy Morejon:

All right. So you guys launched a campaign recently, the AquaGenie, the world’s smartest water bottle. Tell our audience where it all starts. What’s the backstory here?

Dave Winkler:

Sure. So this starts actually a few years ago, when me and one of my co-founders were sitting around talking and trying to understand how we can get in better shape, how we can get in better health. And we dug into the research around it, because we’re kind of technical sciency guys and we thought, let’s understand what the factors are. And it turns out that water and hydration is a huge component in many aspects of health. And so we thought, well this is good, this is something we can tackle. We set out to design a product around solving that problem. It started with us wanting to feel better about us, but then we realized that it had many applications to many other things.

Ed Cummings:

In fact, what we really found when we looked into it, is that a majority of American people don’t drink enough water period, whether it’s for weight loss or just mental acuity, or for their fitness goals, the nature thirst impulse doesn’t work. We have abundant research on that, and one of the researchers is here at the University of Washington, and one of his studies shows that not only a majority of Americans don’t drink enough water, from their natural impulse, even when they’re intentional about it, but that 95% of men over 70 and 83% of women over 70 don’t drink enough water. And this … The research in Alzheimer’s and memory show that this definitely affects people’s mental function. So we this applied to us as well.

Roy Morejon:

Got it. So when you guys were creating AquaGenie initially, what was that process like? Our community always loves to hear how companies go about deciding what features to include, how the design process went. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Dave Winkler:

Sure. That’s a great question. It started off with this idea and this drive to figure out, how can we help people overcome their natural thirst instinct, and how can we help people remember to drink enough water? Drinking water is something you do everyday, but you’re not naturally reminded, your thirst instinct doesn’t tell you. And so we realized that this product has to not only keep track of how much you’ve had, and where you’re at, but it also has to tackle the reminder portion.

In terms of product development, the reminder portion for us was most important that it be in context [inaudible 00:03:48] and we thought it was most important that the reminders to do this thing that’s just critical for health for us, for seniors, for everyone, be in context on the bottle. And so one of the things that led to was this notion of the glowing lights on the bottle. The bottle glows to remind you, and in context, you have the water in your hand and you drink.

Related to that is the question of, well have I had enough water today? But I don’t know. How do I check? Well I could open up the app and I could see where my progress is, or we could just simply shake the bottle, and the bottle can respond with a green light to tell you you’re on track, a yellow light to tell you that you’re a little bit behind, and a red light to tell you that you’re very far behind, and you need to drink up. Luckily, you have the water right there in your hand.

Related to that also, we looked at some technical solutions. So just how do you measure water in a container? How does this get done? This is a pretty technically challenging problem. It’s not as easy to do as you might think, and so a lot of the up front time was spent in designing an integrated sensor that is part of the walls of the bottle. This is something we built, this is something that we have patent-pending, and we feel very strongly about. We feel very strongly that we get it designed correctly, and that it works, and that it works in all conditions. So with you water bottle today, you dropped your bottle. You put your bottle in the sink and you scrubbed it down with hot water. You take you bottle out for a ride on your bike at an angle. All of these things are scenarios in which the bottle has to work. It has to perform just like a water bottle, and ours does all of those things.

And we looked at the market to see what else is out there. None of the other bottles that are out there can do and achieve all these goals that we’ve set.

Roy Morejon:

I’m glad you brought up designing the product. What have been some of the biggest challenges that you guys have encountered getting the product ready for all these different scenarios you’ve entailed

Ed Cummings:

Well, I think the biggest thing is that by creating this really adaptable, durable, flexible, accurate sensor, we basically had to integrate it entirely with the bottle construction. That’s going to raise our short-term manufacturing costs, but produce a bottle that can do things that no other bottle can do. You can drop this bottle, it doesn’t affect the measurement. You can put it sideways in a backpack or in a bike cage, water bottle cage, and it’ll be measuring as you go along.

Dave Winkler:

You can take it skydiving. You can take it to the moon, you might not want to but you could, and it would measure just fine.

Ed Cummings:

Exactly. And then I think the other thing is that we made a decision we wanted absolutely no wires or batteries. And so you have to put … You have to find a way to wirelessly recharge, and the only way to do that is really put it in the bottom of the bottle. And so our electronics package, and our battery, and our wireless recharger are all on the bottom of the bottle, which actually makes the bottle more stable, it’s a really good design, but again, you have to custom manufacture it. You’re not just slapping some sort of sensor on a pre-manufactured bottle.

Roy Morejon:

So let’s talk about the crowdfunding campaign. When and how did you guys decide that crowdfunding was the right path for the product to be launched on?

Ed Cummings:

I think we decided pretty early on. Part of it is we recognized that with some of the technical challenges, we’re going to have to go through a very custom manufacturing process. We have all the personnel to do it. We have people who design phones and software that have been used literally by billions of people, at Microsoft and T-Mobile and other places. But you’ve got to get that first manufactured hardware product, you’ve got to create a custom design for it, and that’s a pretty high threshold.

We also really felt that we could enroll people in this idea, because this water problem is universal. Getting enough water helps so many people in weight loss, fitness, to achieve their goals. And we very, particularly excited about trying to help seniors. And so we’ve built this so that you can hand this to your mother and live a thousand miles away, and check the app on your phone to make sure she’s drinking enough. And on her side, all she has to do is shake the bottle to know whether she’s supposed to drink.

Roy Morejon:

Interesting. So let’s talk about the campaign a little bit. You guys have hundreds of backers and tens of thousands in backing so far. Tell us a little bit about your experience with your backers and your community that we’ll built up so far. Have you gotten much feedback? What’s their feedback been for you guys thus far?

Dave Winkler:

We’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm. Just last night, in fact, we hosted a Kickstarter Live event where we demoed the bottle for a number of our backers and a number of our viewers. We got some good questions. Mostly, people are excited. We showed off a few things that we hadn’t really shown before, so we showed the shake the bottle, and giving the light the red, green and yellow live, and that was really exciting.

We’ve had some good questions, mostly positive. Questions about who is this … Can I give this to my elderly mother? Will this work? And we’re happy to answer. Most audiences that people ask about can I give this to, is this good for, the answer for us is always yes, which is really exciting.

Roy Morejon:

That’s great to hear. So what’s been the biggest thing that you guys have learned thought the entire process of launching the Kickstarter campaign? Even though the campaign is still active, what have you learned thus far?

Dave Winkler:

Running a Kickstarter campaign is hard work. There’s a lot that goes into it. I have a lot of respect for people that have done successful Kickstarter campaigns, getting the message out there and making sure people understand we are here sometimes in the weeds, building a product at the same time as we’re talking about it. People at Kickstarter come and they just want to get excited about a product. Some people want to know how you built it, but most just want to know that it’s coming, that it’s going to meet their needs, and they can understand that it’s the product for them. Would you add anything to that?

Ed Cummings:

One of the things that we really appreciate is the community. It can sometimes be as simple as discussions about which colors the bottle should be, but that’s important feedback too, because we want people to be proud. People carry their water bottles every day. So we want people, and we’ve seen people visualize putting this in their backpack every day. And it’s exciting to be in direct contact with people who do that. Yeah, you’ve got to so the work every day to make sure that you’re having that positive interaction with folks, and we’ve been working really hard on targeting across the fitness, and weight loss, and senior care communities to understand who’s most interested, but we’ve been able to work with our experts to find the right targeting, and we’re very excited about being able to make those connections.

Roy Morejon:

So what advice would you give to someone else out there, a young entrepreneur or a startup looking to launch their smart health product like this one.

Dave Winkler:

I would suggest starting with ensuring there’s a need for this product. So this is something for myself for the product development and research background, it’s really important to understand, does the market, do people need the thing you’re building, and make sure what you’re building aligns with what they need. Do a lot of heavy research up front. It’s a whole lot easier to understand the problem and understand the needs, and then build the feature set and the product around those needs, then to change what you’ve built later, then to reconfigure the app, the reconfigure the bottle.

Ed Cummings:

Yeah, and I think never stop making that case. The easiest thing for us was to look out and see that the Apple health app and the Samsung Health app, and the FitBit app, and the Garmin app all said, how much water have you consumed? And there was no way to tell it, except through thumb-typing, right? And eyeballing how much you drink out of your water bottle. We solved that problem, so there was a certain assumption on our part that everybody understood that you need to automate this process, and if you did, your entire FitBit dashboard and Apple Health dashboard would be more useful. And yet, when we first put out the first ads on the water bottle, some of the first reaction was, who needs this? So never stop telling people how and why you understand, and share your understanding with why your product, or your device is really going to help people.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, solid advice there. So I know there are multiple studies out there about drinking more water, associated with the numerous dietary benefits. I’m assuming you guys have big plans after this project ends, so what’s next after this one?

Ed Cummings:

What’s next after this one? More colors, right? That’s what our customers have been asking about. But what’s next after this is going directly into the markets we’re talking about. We’re already in discussions with people like [inaudible 00:13:04]. We think yoga, especially hot yoga, is especially a good adaptation for hydration. Going directly after Nike and Under Armor and understanding whether we can successfully distribute the product. They’re all interested in smart products. The internet of things apply to fitness. Are we in the right space there, and again, in the Pacific Northwest, we can go talk to those companies directly.

And then tackling the senior, I think, [inaudible 00:13:37] this thing can be sterilized and completely dishwasher-safe with some modifications. So next generation, it won’t be just, it’s easy to wash.

Dave Winkler:

Just to add onto that, we’re at a point in time where the internet of things is exploding. It’s possible to connect everything out there to some sort of dashboard, some sort of data. You can better understand your behaviors, other people’s behaviors, and improve and correct based upon them. Microprocessors, technology, have shrunk to the point where we can instrument a water bottle, and we can tell you this thing that’s absolutely critical to your life, am I getting enough water? And if not, it can help you do that. And that’s thanks to the benefits of tiny technology, internet of things, just booming. And so we’re very bullish on things being connected to us, back to dashboards to help us, and to help us help other people.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome. So this gets us into our launch round, where I’m going to rapid fire a few questions at you guys. You good to go?

Ed Cummings:

Yep. Let’s do it.

Roy Morejon:

All right. So what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Dave Winkler:

I’ve worked in big companies for a long time, and I’ve always built products under the umbrella of big companies vision. I really wanted to break out with some technically savvy people and develop a product that we really believed in, and we wanted to launch on our own.

Ed Cummings:

I’ll answer that with I’ve been in and out of both startups and big companies. It’s great to ship something and I could list a few things that you’ve handled today that I’ve helped ship. But at the same time, taking some time and standing up and making something real that wasn’t real before, and getting it into the marketplace, is a beautiful experience.

Roy Morejon:

I agree. So if you guys could have a glass of water with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Dave Winkler:

These days, I’d like to sit down with Elon Musk. I’d like to talk to him, I’d like to understand … I think he’s had a great vision. He had his vision for a car network and to do that well, he had to build up all the pieces of the Tesla, and of the cars, and so he developed really smart batteries, just so that he could put them in this car to make this infrastructure and this vision he had come to life. And so I would love to just pick his brain and understand what goes into that, how we can emulate some of the things I’ve seen him execute on.

Ed Cummings:

And that we could persuade him to make a 300 milliamp battery for our bottle.

Dave Winkler:

Yeah.

Roy Morejon:

That would be impressive. So what would be, if you only had one question to ask Elon, what would it be?

Ed Cummings:

I know what I’d ask him, which is, which of our target markets, cause all of them are billion dollar markets, not billion dollars of bottles, but billion dollar industries, which one would you go after first

Dave Winkler:

Yeah.

Roy Morejon:

So outside of Elon’s book, what other business book, or life book would you recommend to our listeners?

Dave Winkler:

I enjoyed, fairly recently, reading Zero to One, Peter Thiel’s book on startups. I found that really interesting. It’s a really easy, quick read, but it’s got some really good insights. It was drawn from a college course that he took, and it was one his students actually drafted up the notes from the course and they co-wrote the book with him, on how to build startups from nothing, into something. I just found it really interesting and inspiring.

Ed Cummings:

And I would always make sure people have read Crossing the Chasm, because you can have a great idea, but if you can’t reach those people who are going to be the first excited people, and that’s what’s so exciting about Kickstarter, is it’s like the first bridge halfway across the chasm. You’ve got to finish it, but it’s a great first step.

Roy Morejon:

Yes, solid reads there. Where do you guys see yourselves in five years?

Dave Winkler:

Running a successful company, selling bottles left and right, and helping people hydrate; helping your mom remember to drink, helping kids remember to drink, fitting smart water bottles into all the places they need to be. Helping people just understand their hydration better.

Ed Cummings:

Five years from now, I’d like to be talking to those guys on the other side of town who have a spectroscopic fluid analysis technology so that you could pour a blended juice in and I could tell you what the nutrient content is, so that you can completely instrument your consumption of [inaudible 00:18:13]. But things like that. Take this technology to the next levels of analysis and information.

Roy Morejon:

Last question in the launch round, gentlemen. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Dave Winkler:

It’s only going to get bigger. Crowdfunding is a great direct connection. You can get immediate direct feedback from interested customers, potential customers. It’s a direct link to customers and customer feedback that really hasn’t existed in this kind of way before. I think it’s only going to get deeper, and I think we’re going to see more companies big and small jump into this space for validation on products.

Ed Cummings:

Yeah, we already see that really we should be launching, no matter how established we get, we should launch every product in this channel. And it’s not just about fundraising, it’s about a dynamic, intelligent community that can provide you with realtime feedback on your product before you even build it.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. Dave and Ed, you guys have been great. Please give our audience you pitch. Tell people what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should go buy an AquaGenie.

Ed Cummings:

So our pitch is very simple. We have found that everybody needs to drink more water. Studies show a majority of Americans and the vast majority of seniors need to drink more water for weight loss, health, wellness, or just high performance fitness. To do that, you need to be reminded. To do that, you need to know how much you’ve consumed every day. AquaGenie solves that problem with the same kind of water bottle that you’re using every day. You can drop it, it’s wireless, it looks like every other water bottle, it’s easy to wash, so make it part of your everyday life.

Dave Winkler:

And come see us on Kickstarter. AquaGenie and we’re at theaquagenie.com.

Roy Morejon:

Excellent. Dave and Ed, thank you so much for being on the show. Audience, thank you again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artkick.wpengine.com for all the show notes, a full transcript, links to the campaign, and everything we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow and BackerKit.

Ed, Dave, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Dave Winkler:

Thank you, Roy.