For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we caught up with Brook Parker, operating partner of Cotton Carrier and co-creator of SlingBelt and Bucket System for photographers. Tune in to learn more about Brook and his team’s experience launching their second successful project via crowdfunding, as well as how they took lessons from their first campaign to improve their efforts.
Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways
- How Brook and his team adapted to the marketing and fulfillment landscape over the past decade, thus finding crowdfunding
- The value of the Kickstarter community in today’s market
- Navigating the development, manufacturing and fulfillment waters
- The differences between their first and current crowdfunding campaigns and what they focused on for their second campaign
- How they approached their campaign video to tell their story
- How they chose the best crowdfunding agency for their needs
- The value of samples and a paid advertising budget during a crowdfunding campaign
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.
Roy Morejon: 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.
Roy Morejon: Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am talking with Brooke Parker, operating partner of SlingBelt and Bucket System for photographers. Brooke, thank you so much for joining us today.
Brook Parker: Yeah, thanks. No problem. I’m excited.
Roy Morejon: So you’ve got a campaign that is hypothetically launching tomorrow on Kickstarter. This is not your first rodeo on Kickstarter. So I’m really excited to talk about the previous innovation SKOUT, where you guys had over a thousand backers come in and back your hands free, camera carrying system. And just looking at the history of the business itself or Cotton Carrier, you guys have been in business for a decade now I think. So I’m really interested to hear, where did this company start out of, where did the passion for photography begin and then what inspired you and your team to create SKOUT and now your newest product Launch Sling on Kickstarter.
Brook Parker: Yeah, for sure. We all had jobs before. We all started this thing as a hobby. My uncle is a professional wildlife and landscape photographer, and he saw an issue with carrying his cameras into the field. So he created a harness 10 years ago and we sort of brought it to market quietly and slowly and naively and people were very receptive to it. So over the first couple of years we sort of sold this thing out of the garage and sort of bumbled our way trying to figure that out. And this was long before there was any crowdfunding or Kickstarters or Indiegogos of the world. So we sort of did it on our own dime and bought some print ads and launched a brand, which we had no idea of what to do or how to do it.
Brook Parker: And we sort of bumbled our way through for the first couple of years and it sort of took off. And then we rented a big warehouse and found some staff and figuring out how to do fulfillment and manufacturing. And as the world turned, everything sort of changed. Print ads died, social media came in and became a strong point to marketing. And then this wonderful thing called crowdfunding began. And it’s just an amazing way for small boutique brands to bring a new product to market. So that’s where we are today.
Roy Morejon: So you guys launched SKOUT back in 2018 on Kickstarter. When you were creating that product, let’s talk about the design process, the manufacturing. Obviously you guys said you built out a warehouse. How did you guys go about doing that for the first time? So I’m a founder, tell me about the process there of, designing and manufacturing making and then delivering it to over 1100 backers.
Brook Parker: Yeah, for sure. I mean we have a small design team now. So they, look at our current product line, they decided that this SKOUT product was a nice little fit in that it got into the direction that cameras are going in and they’re getting smaller and lenses are getting smaller so you don’t need a big harness to help support a lighter weight system. Then they went out into the marketplace and sort of looked to see if there was something like this out there and realized there wasn’t. So then they started the process of how do you create something that is comfortable, easily manufacturable, and the ability to bring to mass market. It takes about a year of sort of R and D and chucking ideas out there and seeing what works. And then after that you sort of start the sample process.
Brook Parker: Once, you get to something that you’re kind of happy with. And then sampling takes another sort of, you know, at least 8 to 10 months if you’re on top of your game. And then at the end of that sampling process, you’re sort of ready to engage in the pre production of Kickstarter and marketing. So it sort of takes two to two and a half years to really get a single product up to the point where you could bring it to market.
Brook Parker: And before you used to bring it to market, you’d pay somebody. You’d buy your first shipment. You’d go out to the retailers of the world and say, “Hey, can you please put this on your shelves? You know, we’d really appreciate it if you put this on the shelves.” And then the consumer would go in and find the product. Well that’s gone, now. That step’s gone. The consumer can go directly to a manufacturer or brand like myself and they can find the brand new item. They don’t have to go to the store to get it. So it gives you a great indication that this will be a successful product. People want this. You know, the Kickstarter community has said, “Yes, this is a legitimate product. This is solving an issue and it will be successful.” So it’s a great way to bring something to market.
Roy Morejon: So what were some of the biggest challenges that you had to overcome initially in bringing out your first product to market and then what have you guys changed in your process design, and product manufacturing wise for this second launch?
Brook Parker: Well, it’s to find the factory and then have the clean lines of communication on how exactly you want your product to be produced is the most difficult. They aren’t generally in North America. So you’re a few hours behind the times or a whole day behind the times. They might not have English as their first language. So how you set up every single word of your communications. What you call things, how that manufacturing process you want produced. It’s all a bit of a struggle. So until, you create that relationship with your factory. It’s by far the hardest part. And you’ll struggle through it for the first year or a year and a half. And as much as you can go over and spend time with them and work on creating those lines of communication. There’s still a lot of times where you’re trying to email or text message or communicate that you can lose things in translation.
Brook Parker: So as much as you can send something off of the beautiful book of how you want it done and a tech pack saying, “This stitch needs to be here and this zipper needs to go that way.” And well there’s still always interpretation and however that interpretation comes back, it can be challenging. So I would say that communication is the most difficult.
Roy Morejon: So talking about your original crowdfunding campaign, how long did you spend preparing for the original campaign compared to the current crowdfunding campaign that’s launching tomorrow?
Brook Parker: The first campaign just from finished sample to launch of the actual page. I think we took about six months. It’s sort of tough to say because I think when we started out with SKOUT, we always knew that we were going to bring it to market via a crowdfunding platform. So I guess you could say that as soon as you start your production, you should sort of know how are you going to bring that product to market. So if in your business plan you aren’t saying, “Okay, well now I’ve got to say SKOUT for instance, and it’s a beautiful product. And it’s all finished, and it’s ready to go. But I have no idea where to put it.” Well that’s a big problem because you’ve sort of missed a huge step in your business cycle. So I guess the honest answer and that is, we sort of worked two years before SKOUT was released, but the actual production of the imagery and the video and the content, it took us about six months on that round.
Roy Morejon: Nice.
Brook Parker: Now this one is a little different in that we sort of knew what we needed. We’ve kind of knew how much content we had to have, what content we wanted. So we were able to do it quite a bit faster. Now where we are spending more time is on the advertising and marketing. SKOUT for the first time we didn’t have any pre production samples here. This time we have 50 pre production samples that we can get out to PR firms and influencers. We realized that that side of the business is somewhere where we sort of let down a little bit last time. And we’ve definitely changed our focus to go harder at the marketing.
Roy Morejon: In talking about your experience with your backers so far, you know obviously from the first campaign with over 1100 backers, hopefully they were giving you some great insights. Did you guys take any of that feedback and then create this current new launch with that feedback?
Brook Parker: Oh for sure. They all wanted a little bag to carry some extra gear, or an extra lens. That’s straight from the straight from the Kickstarter source. This is directed at them. So hopefully this bag solves that solution. That was requested by I would say, 40 to 50% of our SKOUT backers. So we’re super excited about that part of it, for sure.
Roy Morejon: Nice. Now I noticed with the upcoming campaign, the campaign video follows a similar path in terms of storytelling. Can you talk to us a little bit about the campaign video and the process there and how you decided what to include in the video and not to include?
Brook Parker: Yeah, I mean we sort of try to imagine who this product would be used by and then create situations around that. SKOUT was more an outdoor nature hiking product. So we had a hiker and anybody that’s going to be out in active … In the outside environment for that one. And then for this product we see it more as an event wedding. You know, we sort of created these four or five different scenarios where a customer would use the SlingBelt. A traveler. So however we sort of saw the product being used in the market. We tried to create a little bit of a story around each of those different demographics.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. So you’ve been working with our agency here at Enventys Partners for a little while now with this upcoming second launch of your campaign. What were some of the bigger considerations that you guys looked into when choosing an agency to partner with on your second launch?
Brook Parker: Transparency. I really liked how you guys came out of the blocks and just said, “This is what it’s going to be. This is how we’re going to go about doing it and this is how we’re going to get there.” And then through the process, just being able to watch what you, you know, what you guys produce and how you produce it and the openness of the communication. That’s very crucial to our success. So we wanted to partner with somebody. We didn’t want to come in and assist another business to grow their revenue and I truly believe in good partnerships will grow everybody’s revenue.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. So what were some of the biggest things that you’ve learned through your first crowdfunding campaign that you guys are putting into play into this new launch?
Brook Parker: Oh, pre-production samples. We didn’t have any samples here to get out to market. So people could test them out. That was a huge mistake. So we have rectified that. Having an ad spend budget, it was another big one. We naively had no idea how much of an ad spend we needed or how to use that. So Enventys has come in and sort of given us a clear idea of what we do need to spend so that we can be successful and hopefully that’s scalable so that we can then take it forward and be super successful.
Roy Morejon: Awesome. Well, Brook, this gets us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. Are you good to go?
Brook Parker: Yeah, for sure.
Roy Morejon: So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Brook Parker: Family. I don’t like taking orders from other people.
Roy Morejon: There you go. So if you could photograph any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Brook Parker: Oh, Elon Musk.
Roy Morejon: Elon, there you go. All right. What would be your first question for Elon?
Brook Parker: Oh, that’s a toughie. Are you sure the battery life is going to last as long as you say?
Roy Morejon: There you go. Any books you would recommend for listeners?
Brook Parker: Not off the top of my head.
Roy Morejon: Okay.
Brook Parker: I’m a big fan of podcasts and I just read everything they can come my way. So I haven’t read any sort of marketing stuff that just has blown me away lately because I think it changes quite rapidly at the moment.
Roy Morejon: What’s your favorite podcast?
Brook Parker: Hey, you got some tough ones on a Monday morning.
Roy Morejon: Hey, come on man. You got to be ready for launch. Let’s go.
Brook Parker: I am ready for launch. It’s all on launch. I can’t even think of a podcast that I’m just absolutely enthralled with at the moment. But anyway.
Roy Morejon: I get it. All right. I’ll let you off the hook then. All right, last question. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Brook Parker: Well, I hope that it is growing and will continue to grow. There are some concerns of mine with the platforms that they aren’t monitoring good enough. That the people follow through with the products that they promise. So as long as they don’t lose the consumer, then I think it’s a very healthy way for brands that are honest and open to launch products.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. Well, Brook this has been awesome. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch. Tell people what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should check you out.
Brook Parker: Ah, for sure. The SlingBelt and Bucket System launches tomorrow morning. It’s an amazing product for any photographer that wants to take their camera out into the field. It’s got quick access, but great security. Allow you take an extra lens. Go to Kickstarter and search SlingBelt Bucket System. You’ll see us top of the list.
Roy Morejon: Awesome. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript links to the campaign and the previous campaign and everything else we talked about today and of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors the Gadget Flow and BackerKit. Brook, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Brook Parker: Thanks Roy. I really appreciate it.
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.