In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Ryan Wolfe and Aaron Katen, the Co-Founders of NOSU. NOSU is a dual-purpose stainless steel tumbler with built-in cutlery. It’s the perfect solution for an active lifestyle. NOSU stands for No Single-Use and can work with hot or cold beverages. With NOSU, everywhere you go, you have a knife, fork, and spoon built right into your water bottle. Learn how Wolfe and Katen spun an everyday simple idea into a convenient and sustainable product.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How one of Wolfe’s personal experiences sparked the idea for NOSU
  • The legwork that the NOSU team did before launching their successful campaign
  • The process of prototyping that led to the final design of NOSU
  • How they found the right agency that would be the perfect fit for their campaign
  • Finding a manufacturer to bring their physical product to life

Links

Note: As an Amazon Associate, Art of the Kickstart may earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Sponsors

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!

Transcript

View this episode's transcript

Roy Morejon:
Welcome entrepreneurs and startups to Art of the Kickstart, the podcast that every entrepreneur needs to listen to before you launch. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president and founder of Enventys partners. The world’s only turnkey product launch company that has helped over 2000 innovations successfully raise over $400 million in capital since 2010. Each week, I interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert, in order to help you take your startup to the next level. This show would not be possible without our main sponsor, Product Hype, a 300,000 member crowdfunding media site, and newsletter, that’s generated millions of dollars in sales for over a thousand top tier projects since 2017. Check out ProductHype.co to subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Now let’s get on with the show.

Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I’m super stoked to be speaking with the co-founders NOSU, Mr. Ryan Wolfe and Aaron Katen. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Ryan Wolfe:
Thanks for having us, Roy!

Aaron Katen:
Yeah, it’s awesome to be here.

Roy Morejon:
Well, it’s awesome of the product that you guys have created. So really excited to kind of dive in, you guys have an active Kickstarter campaign. Less than three weeks left on it. You’ve got over 500 backers, and over 45 grand raised on it. So congratulations on that, as well as getting fully funded on day one, which is always critical. But really want to dive in and talk about the product, as if our audience had never heard of it before.

Ryan Wolfe:
Yeah, man! This product is unique, and it solved a problem that we kind of faced every day. It’s basically a vacuum sealed tumbler, with built-in stainless steel cutlery. So everywhere you go, you got a knife, fork, and spoon built right into your water bottle, everywhere you go.

Roy Morejon:
You know, I was amazed with some of the stats that you guys had in the video, and it’s just compounding in terms of how much we humans waste. 40 billion single use plastic utensils are thrown out every year. And then add on to the fact that 22 billion plastic water bottles on top of that every year. So tens of millions of plastic pieces are just being tossed aside, and hopefully recycled at the end of the day, but it’s still finding its way to landfills. So I definitely get the problem that you guys are trying to solve there, but how did you guys decide on tackling it in this particular way with NOSU?

Aaron Katen:
Well, the worst part about all that is that 30% of that stuff ends up outside of the landfill, and it doesn’t even make it to a recycling facility, or the landfill itself. It ends up in the water. So for us, we spent our entire lives around the water. We were both in action sports, and wakeboarding, and we traveled around the world, and we could see firsthand the damage that this was doing. We also had a background in marketing, because we were both content creators. Ryan is a videographer, and I’m a photographer by trade. So we worked for big brands, and we worked on big marketing campaigns. And we always had the kind of desire to do that for ourselves, for our own company. So we have been brainstorming for ages trying to come up with products. And we knocked around a couple ideas over the past decade or so.

Aaron Katen:
And when we came upon the idea for this, we were talking about building a company that sold sustainable products that replaced single use plastics. And our idea in the beginning was to basically white-label some travel cutlery, and Ryan brought this home to his wife and said to her “Honey, I’m about to buy a thousand pieces of this travel cutlery, and we’re going to sell it on Amazon.” And she’s like, “Why are you going to do that? You’re not going to use it.” And he’s like “Yeah, I’m a pretty responsible guy. I think I’ll take it with you.” And she’s like, “Well, you have your tumbler with you every day. If you figure out a way to attach it to that, you’ll definitely have it with you every day.” And Ryan immediately picked up the phone and called me, and we were both like, “let’s do a patent search.” We did a patent search, and there was nothing close to it. Since then, that was about three years ago, we’ve been full steam ahead since then.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. It’s really impressive. I’m really surprised that there hasn’t been a product like this, but obviously, I think there’s a massive amount of attention now towards this economy of scale where these products are so critical to the future of our planet, as we’re just seeing more and more evidence come out of the effects of what we’re doing to it. So really inspirational of what you guys been doing. So when after your action sports careers, did you guys know that you wanted to take this entrepreneurial Path?

Ryan Wolfe:
So we started a long time ago, man. We, Aaron and I, used to run a mobile marketing tour. We had a 40 foot tour bus and towed a boat around the country doing wake board lessons at all the major dealers. And we parlayed that into a Christmas light business that we used to run. Basically our Summers were jam packed and our Winters were dead. So we had started a Christmas light hanging company to keep us busy in the Winter time. So we’ve always had that entrepreneur bug inside of us, and launching a brand and our own products has always been a dream of ours. And we knew we wanted to be in the eco-friendly space. And that’s kind of where we really kind of spearheaded this project out of, so that’s kind of where it all kind of came about.

Aaron Katen:
And just like anything, it’s a bunch of ideas that we were bouncing around in our heads, and talking back and forth. And then finally, two of them really came together, and we thought it was a truly viable business.

Roy Morejon:
So I know when you guys were creating NOSU, this began over three years ago, right. So how many different prototypes, or iterations, or feedback sessions did you guys go through to decide on what features to include in this product, and in the final design that’s active on Kickstarter now?

Ryan Wolfe:
Man, just countless, countless iterations, and testing, and ideas. And we found a local engineering firm called Design Launchers here in Orlando, and we knew we wanted to work with someone local, because we just wanted that accessibility to sit down at a table, and just hash everything out. And these guys have been great. Aaron and I have gotten into the 3D printing realm. So we bought multiple printers that we can just kind of iterate on the fly, and it’s been just numerous prototypes, and going back and forth, and back to the drawing board, and testing this, and testing that.

Aaron Katen:
And you don’t realize it, but there’s a number of sub-assemblies to this product. And there’s a lot of pieces. So each one of those sub-assemblies have been redesigned a number of times. And every time you redesign one of those sub-assemblies, it starts to affect the other parts of the tumbler itself. Each one of those assemblies has had many iterations.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. Obviously constant learnings along the way, but what were some of those big challenges that you guys encountered specifically when designing the product? Because, you guys are packing a whole lot into this single use bottle.

Ryan Wolfe:
Yeah. The size itself was really difficult, but the first 3D printed model we got in our hands, and we started handing it to our friends and family, we realized that the first thing they do is flip it upside down. And so we had to completely rethink the lid and go, “If we’re going to have something that comes out of the bottom, we have to have a spill-proof lid.” So we had to completely redesign the lid. And literally the first time we got a sample product on our hand.

Roy Morejon:
How many patents have you guys ended up filing for this product?

Aaron Katen:
Yeah. There’s been three patents filed on this.

Ryan Wolfe:
Three patents issued, and one pending on the lid.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Congratulations. Lets talk a little bit about bringing this product to market. What was your first introduction to crowdfunding?

Ryan Wolfe:
I bought a number of things through crowdfunding, and one of them is a belt I have called, I think its Core Labs. And I did their Kickstarter, and it took a really long time to get it, but it’s honestly one of my favorite products. I give it to people for Christmas, and I give it to my friends as gifts because I found this product that’s just such a great product. And I was able to help them launch their brand. And when we were starting this, we went back and forth on whether we should do a Kickstarter a number of times. And I think just the idea that is a worldwide platform, and we could generate a large amount of sales, before we actually went into manufacturing. So it would pay for our first run of manufacturing, and number two, we would actually know how much of each color we would have to manufacture, before we ordered them. So there was a lot of benefits to us. There were some cons, but we felt like they were all overcome by the benefits.

Roy Morejon:
So in terms of color for instance, have they aligned with your expectations of what backers would select most?

Ryan Wolfe:
Well, they still haven’t selected them yet. That’s the tricky part. We’re still waiting to send out the surveys for people to pick out their colors. But one of the things that we did do was offered our original four colors. If you bought all four of them, we gave you a limited edition sea-foam color with that for free.

Roy Morejon:
Very nice. So let’s talk about the prep work. Obviously, leading up to a product launch, there’s a lot of work that gets done beforehand. What were some of the things that you guys did to put your campaign in such a great position to be able to fund on day one?

Ryan Wolfe:
Yeah, that just was Aaron and I getting out there, and building content, and trying to get as much content as we possibly could. Working hard on our Kickstarter campaign video. We went out to San Diego to shoot that, and my wife actually put a lot of hours into helping script that video.

Aaron Katen:
Just all the prep work, and getting all the assets together. And we did a lot of our due diligence, talking to several agencies that work in crowd funding. We ultimately landed on Enventys because we thought you guys were the best fit for us. And it’s been fantastic working with you guys. And it really is eye opening to us, how much work, and prep. It takes a legitimate team to launch a Kickstarter campaign, and do it right. And that’s one of the things that Aaron and I said to each other in the beginning. “If we’re going to do this, we’ve got to do this the right way, and be as legitimate as we possibly can.” And I think that we’ve dotted all our I’s and crossed our T’s in doing that. And so it’s been a great experience so far.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. I think that’s one of the misconceptions. A lot of times we hear from founders in terms of, “If you build it, they will come” scenario, where they just think that if they launch this product out to Kickstarter, Kickstarter is going to do all the work for them. But as you guys know, countless hundreds of hours, and tasks, and marketing initiatives go into these things. So really interested to know, since you did vet other agencies, or partners to work with, what were some of those big considerations that you guys looked at in terms of choosing an agency to partner with?

Ryan Wolfe:
Past campaigns.

Aaron Katen:
Yeah, past campaigns, and looking at what you guys have done. I just love everything that Enventys, as a full 360 platform, and everything that you guys do, you just really kind of made us feel comfortable going with Enventys, because I felt like you guys covered all angles of this aspect.

Ryan Wolfe:
Not only that Roy, we’ve done campaigns in the past, on our own too. So for us going into this, it was a real debate. Do we do this on our own? Or do we partner with another agency? And when we did, we realized how unprepared we would have been, because there’s just so many unknowns going into it, or something like this.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah, there definitely are. What’s been great with your campaign is the fact that you’ve brought in about 25% of your backers have been brand new folks to Kickstarter. Which is great for the lifeblood of new innovation, and new startup founders that are out there trying to raise capital and being able to get over that hurdle as a first time backer. To be finally pushed to consume this product, and back and support this company with what you guys have created, just because of the overall mission, and what you guys are putting out there. So it’s, it’s great to see.

Ryan Wolfe:
It’s very cool.

Roy Morejon:
Let’s talk a little bit about the manufacturing side. I know this is usually a spot where a lot of folks get hung up in terms of bringing their idea to market, and just the amount of information, or factories, or different resources out there. How did you guys end up going about finding your manufacturer, and any tips for some of the the early founders, or startup guys and girls that are out there thinking about bringing their physical product to market?

Ryan Wolfe:
We got really lucky, and we’re lucky to have a very big network of friends, and business associates that we’ve made throughout the years. And we’ve been telling our friends, and family about this for a very long time. And one of our closest friends, Marco, we were telling him like, “Hey, what should we do about this manufacturing thing?” And he’s like, “oh, you got to talk to my buddy, John.” So we basically connected with this guy, John Ross in China, who is a manufacturing consultant. And it just so happened that my father was living in Hong Kong at the time.

Roy Morejon:
We’d gone over to celebrate Marco’s birthday, and we ended up getting a meeting with him in Hong Kong, and he was a perfect fit. And he’s an American guy who’s been living over there for 20 years, and he basically has set up our entire supply chain. So we got really lucky. And it’s a difficult question for us to answer to many other entrepreneurs. I guess, utilize your network is the best way to answer that, because that’s how we leveraged our network, is make all these connections. And it’s been very serendipitous when you look back on it. But yeah, that’s a tough question.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah, I get that. So let’s do a little reflection time then. What, if anything, would you guys do differently if you were starting this whole project, or this whole launch over again?

Ryan Wolfe:
That’s a tough question. There’s probably a lot, probably some stuff that, just the speed at which it takes. We thought we were going to have a product out in six months, and it’s been three years. And I don’t know how we would do that.

Aaron Katen:
Yeah. I think we kind of bounced around a little bit on these prototypes, too. In the beginning, Roy, we tried to speed up the process, and we might’ve jumped a corner here, or there, and then it came back to us and they were like, “Hey, this is a process that you really have to follow step by step to get it exactly right.” And that’s one of the things that we really had to be patient, and really sit back, because we were very eager to try to get this thing manufactured, and get it to market. We really had a couple setbacks, and we’re like, “All right, we got to really kind of trust this process, trust these guys, and really take a step back, and really tease out, this iteration process to make sure it’s right.”

Roy Morejon:
I can only imagine. What I’m really interested on this is where are you guys headed next? Where do you see other opportunities with this no single use product line, that you guys are going to be building out?

Ryan Wolfe:
That’s the beauty of our brand is that our brand is no single use, NOSU. So we have this ethos, if anything, our tagline is “effortless sustainability.” We thought in the beginning, “how do we tackle this process? How do, how do we tackle this problem?” And we thought people use plastic cutlery because it’s very convenient. It’s very easy to use. It’s very prevalent. You pick it up, you use it once, and you throw it away. There’s so much convenience there. So we figured if we were going to have people change their habits, we had to make something very convenient, and easy for people to use. And most people are already in the habit of using their vacuum-sealed tumblers. So combining that with something else, you’re tackling two birds with one stone, and you’re making it effortless for them to not use those things.

Ryan Wolfe:
So our whole idea is to create an ecosystem of products, that when you leave your house, you really can minimize that single use waste every day. We want to build bags, and food containers, coffee cups, and anything that we can do that can eliminate those single use plastics, or those single use items, and eliminate waste, and reduce waste. Because, it’s a huge problem, and there’s not one thing that’s going to fix it. It’s going to have to be a confluence of things. It’s going to have to be a little bit of progress at a time. And this is our first offering. So we hope people use this. We hope people enjoy using this and we hope it really does eliminate plastic waste. And we hope people enjoy using it.

Roy Morejon:
I’m sure they will. And I definitely can see people obviously using this more than once, which is the whole idea around it, because we need to break free of these habits that we have. Especially protect our planet a little bit more.

Ryan Wolfe:
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s amazing. How many situations you find yourself in, Roy, where you’re like, “Man, I could really use a fork or a knife right now. If I just had my own fork or knife.” When we started this, we found ourselves so many situations where if we had our notes right now, this will be the perfect situation for it. And it happens all the time. So we’re really excited to get this in peoples hands, and let them see just how convenient and effortless this product really is.

Roy Morejon:
Well, Ryan and Aaron, this is going to get us into our launch round, where I’m going to rapid fire some questions at you both, you ready to go?

Ryan Wolfe:
Let’s go.

Roy Morejon:
Let’s do this. So what inspired you both to become entrepreneurs?

Ryan Wolfe:
My dad inspired me to be an entrepreneur. Watching my dad create products in the racing industry from when I was a young kid, and watching his sheer determination, and perseverance, to get these products across the finish line was super inspiring.

Roy Morejon:
So if you could meet any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to share a meal with?

Ryan Wolfe:
I’ve got two for that. I think either Edwin Land, who was a very famous entrepreneur who started Polaroid, or Carl Sagan. Who’s not a traditional entrepreneur, but he was such a visionary, and he did so many different things. He won a Pulitzer, or even wrote books, and had movies made. And he was an astronomer, and an astrobiologist, and all sorts of cool things. I think either of them would be a pretty interesting conversation over dinner.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So on speaking of books, any books you’d recommend to our entrepreneurial listeners?

Ryan Wolfe:
We’ve got a lot, I think. I’ll just go down the list here, some stuff that has inspired us. So Loonshots is fantastic for any entrepreneurs. Creativity Inc. is an amazing book when it comes to thinking about how to work creatively with teams. And Originals by Adam Grant, he has a fantastic book for entrepreneurs are starting out.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So speaking of advice for entrepreneurs, what advice would you give to a new entrepreneur, or a new inventor who’s looking to launch their product?

Aaron Katen:
I would say, don’t take no for an answer, and you got to just keep that focus, and keep that determination, and enjoy the ride along the way.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So what do you think would be the top three skills every entrepreneur needs to be successful.

Aaron Katen:
I would definitely say determination, focus, and self-awareness,

Roy Morejon:
Solid. All right, gentlemen, the big question. And since you guys have worked on multiple campaigns and are finally launching your own innovation out there, very interested to hear when you look into the crystal ball, what does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Aaron Katen:
I honestly think the future of crowdfunding is huge. The backer community is just amazing. It’s growing every day. It’s such an amazing platform to launch a product, and get all sorts of data on your product, and testing the market before you have to make that huge leap into manufacturing. And I think that getting all those analytics, and stuff prior to doing that is just priceless.

Ryan Wolfe:
And I’ll add onto that. I really think it gets the little guy, a leg up on the competition. You know, it’s very difficult to come to market with a brand new product, and it’s hard to compete with the big players in any industry. And this really gives people the ability to bring product to market without having to raise a ton of money, and it can be your first product, or it can be your tenth product. And it’s still a viable platform.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, Ryan, and Aaron, this has been amazing. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where they should go and why they should check you out.

Ryan Wolfe:
Yeah, we’re NOSU, we’re short for No Single Use. We built a vacuum sealed water bottle, with built-in stainless steel cutlery, and we want to make your everyday life on the go just a little bit more sustainable, and make it effortless for you to do that. Check us out at livenosu.com, check out our Kickstarter, and come join our mission to help tackle the single use plastic crisis.

Roy Morejon:
Audience, thank you so much for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign over on Kickstarter, and everything else we talked about today. And of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast, sponsors The Gadget Flow, and Product Hype Ryan. Aaron, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Ryan Wolfe:
Thank you Roy!

Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another amazing episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a better business world, and life, with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, show us some love by giving us a great rating on your favorite listening station. And of course, make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for all the previous episodes. And if you need some help, that’s what we’re here for. Make sure to send me an email to info@artofthekickstart.com. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll see you on the next episode.