In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Dylan Robertson and Mitchell Coburn, the founders of Respira, an air-purifying garden that takes care of itself. Respira’s design is rooted in nature, and backed by technology. Dylan and Mitchell focused on designing healthier indoor spaces by connecting them to nature and improving indoor air quality. Learn how Dylan and Mitchell raised over $240,000 with more than 300 backers for their Kickstarter campaign.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • Insight into what led to the creation of Respira
  • How Dylan and Mitchell named Respira
  • Why Dylan and Mitchell chose Kickstarter for their campaign
  • How Respira’s campaign would have looked different if they could do it again
  • Advice Dylan has to offer about finding a successful path for your product

Links

Sponsors

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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 ProductHype, 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. Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am joined with a tag team. I’ve got Dylan Robertson and Mitchell Coburn, the founders of Respira. Dylan, Mitchell, thank you guys for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Dylan:
Thank you, Roy. We appreciate you allowing us on here to share our story.

Mitchell:
Pleasure to be here.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah, so I absolutely love these sorts of products. We spend so much time indoors, right? Like everybody, I think you guys said in your Kickstarter campaign video, we spend about 90% of our time indoors and you guys have truly created a beautiful air purifying garden that is self maintenance-free basically. So I’m really interested to hear both of your backstories and what led you to creating this product and being entrepreneurs.

Dylan:
Definitely. So it all began probably about seven years ago when Mitch and I met each other at university, we were both in the real estate and housing program at the University of Guelph and just got on really well. My hallmate at the time, well I was living in Oakville, Ontario, and he mentioned he had a buddy from his hometown that reminded me or reminded him of me and ended up being Mitch himself. And this is definitely not our first business we’ve started. It’s one of maybe five, the previous four have all failed, but we picked up our bumps and bruises together, starting different businesses and mainly in the door to door industry where we were knocking doors and selling smart home technology. And that’s where we realized we were both very into sales, business development and owning the architecture of our own destiny and creating our future ourselves and one thing led to another and Mitch asked me if I wanted to jump into business and take another swing at another business idea and it’s blossomed into Respira.

Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. So with all of those learnings, not failures, how did you guys end up know that you wanted to take new paths each time? Because I think a lot of the entrepreneurs that listen to this show and that respond back to me on any of these episodes, they really want to make that leap, right? They want to leave their desk job or their office job or their current work from home job, whatever it may be but they’re always hesitant, right? They’re always not wanting to take that risk. So talk a little bit about some of those learnings that you’ve had along the way, and what made you know that this was going to be a successful path for you both.

Mitchell:
If I could speak to that, I would just say, get your reps in. Through trying it enough times and Dylan mentioned door to door, there’s so many lessons to be gained from selling something door to door because you get your pitch out so many times. And for somebody who’s looking to bridge that gap between a desk job, a nine to five job working for somebody else to an entrepreneurial path, my advice would be to find a way to actually start getting some pitches out, start talking to people about it and getting more comfortable with bringing an idea to life.

Dylan:
Yeah if I may build on that, I think it’s important to trust your instincts and when something comes to mind and you feel that entrepreneurial drive or pull and spirit within you definitely go after that and pursue it because it’s coming to you for a reason and you’re probably in the right place at the right time.

Roy Morejon:
So let’s talk about that pursuit. Let’s tell our audience a little bit more about the product as if I’ve never heard it before and what problems you guys were actually solving with this.

Mitchell:
So it’s a air purifying garden that takes care of itself. It has 13 plants that are growing vertical, and that’s kind of something unique that is apparent about our product and it comes from our history in the living wall space. There’s a lot of at-home garden products that are typically living on your countertop. And what seems novel about our idea is that it’s so efficient with space, but it was kind of a no-brainer for us. Its intention is to be a living wall that actively cleans your air. Because we’ve been in the living wall space for so long, we knew all the problems that people have with them. So maintenance costs and the uncertainty that your plants are going to do well. So creating this consumer product, our goal was to address every single objection we ever had in this space and bring something to life that people really enjoyed

Roy Morejon:
Talk a little bit about your mission at the onset, has that changed over time based on different product iterations or different designs or getting the consumer feedback from your hundreds of backers from the Kickstarter campaign?

Dylan:
Yeah, I think our values are what allowed us to stay true and stay at the course during such an uncertain time that being COVID 19 and 19 and the pandemic that we’re faced with. We originally were in the space of commercial living walls like Mitchell mentioned. And our mission was to improve the health of our built environment through a connection to nature. And through that, we were building living walls, building living walls profitable in our first two years, creating great relationships with architects, developers, and designers, and then COVID hit.

Dylan:
And as every great entrepreneur knows when you’re faced with adversity, you must adapt. And we had to reevaluate our product position and ask ourselves if we were in the right market. And so when we did that, we realized that a ton of people have been asking for these in their home, it just wasn’t accessible yet. And now that everyone was shifting to remote work, spending more time indoors with these lockdowns, we said, well, you know what, why not? Why not take a shot at this and see what comes of it? Because there was an underlying opportunity that hasn’t been tapped into yet. And that was our adaptation, that was our pivot. And that’s when things really changed for us.

Roy Morejon:
How did you guys come up with the name for the product?

Mitchell:
It was a pretty memorable brainstorming session on the Pacific ocean. We were trying to come up with a name and we had a beer, we went off our separate ways, sat on the coastline, wrote down a bunch of names, came back and voted on it.

Roy Morejon:
So who gets credit for the name?

Dylan:
I think that was me. I think that was me. I remember there was a third friend at the time and there was a ton of great ideas. I think Mitch came up with a really cool name that was the alternative, which was Atmos, so short for atmosphere and Respira was Spanish for breathe. And we ultimately went with Respira because our living walls aerate, they respirate, and it spoke to the product mark the mission mark.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So in talking about the product and the mission, I mean, you guys have a pretty serious and well-educated team that you’ve been working with for years on this. Talk a little bit about how the teams not only accommodated or been working through this current work from home COVID environment, but how you guys have worked to continually build and iterate on this product to make it the beautiful one that you’ve created today.

Mitchell:
So changing from the COVID-19 work from home climate was not an issue for us. Our team is actually all over Canada, primarily in Ontario, but remote working is we’re no stranger to it. And we’ve been lucky enough to have the right talent come work with us. We’ve got an incredibly talented team of industrial designers, engineers, developers who have really just worked their asses off to make this thing a reality. We promote self-accountability amongst our team. We all kind of set some high level goals at the beginning of the week and as long as you do what you say, we have no problems. And that method has allowed us to be very independent and keep making progress.

Dylan:
And I think, to add to that, giving the independence to our team who are the real experts in their niches, allows for that creativity to come through. We’re not restricting them and so a great example, if Mitch handles a ton of the design for our product and he works hand in hand with our very talented industrial designer and Tristan who’s our industrial designer has had the capacity and ability to really be the pusher of this product while Mitchell’s vision has provided guidelines, Tristan has been able to work within those guidelines as free as he can possibly imagine and that’s allowed him to just flourish and blossom in the role that he’s in and I think it’s worth mentioning when you allow people the responsibility of a project like this, especially when they’re passionate about it, great things happen.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, in terms of speaking to that, I mean, I’m sure you guys as a team went through so many different iterations in terms of what features to include, how to design it, et cetera. What was the process like there, because I’m sure there’s just a laundry list of things that you guys wanted in this first version that likely will come out in subsequent versions. But how did you guys go about launching the product with these and then learn from the crowd in terms of potentially other things you could add on next?

Mitchell:
It was always based off the user experience and just understanding what relationship we wanted people to have with the product. So the focus is very much on the plants. The design is very minimalist. And so there’s just one way to interact with the unit, which is a LCD screen, that’s almost invisible. And in terms of features that were removed or are now considered from future iterations of the product, based on the crowdfunding feedback, that really came down to the customize ability of the unit being the colors, the plant palette selections, these are things that we’ve been getting extremely valuable feedback from our customers about. In terms of the functionality of the unit, that’s more been on us to make that decision to ensure that the product is going to work exactly how the customer wants it to work.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So in talking about your customers, let’s jump into the crowdfunding campaign itself and give me some insights on what made you choose crowdfunding to launch this innovation with?

Dylan:
It originally began when we were early days, we had a product, we think we had one production ready prototype at the time, and we went to score some investment. Mitch and I thought our was done, we were ready to take on investment and see this thing through. And then the investor mentioned a few key important things that we needed to do before we were ready for investment. And one of those was pre-sell the units. And so we set out on the plan to pre-sell as many units as possible. And when we looked at the opportunities that were within our website and tapping into our existing network and building that audience, we realized that crowdfunding and Kickstarter specifically, already had this massive existing network and the crowdfunding campaign just made most sense.

Dylan:
So what we did for two months, November and December, was pre-sell on our website, gain an understanding of who our customer was and what they like to see, what they like to visually see in terms of the actual creative and what they interacted with in terms of copy as well and what resonated with them. And that allowed us to leading out to our campaign, allowed us to really niche down and focus hard in on who we knew was going to be making the purchases when it came to game time on January 26th.

Roy Morejon:
So what made you guys choose Kickstarter over Indiegogo for the initial launch?

Mitchell:
It was just the size of the audience and doing our own research, we thought there was a larger opportunity there for success. And I believe a major factor had to do with the demographic being majority male, as well as it falling in line with our age demographic. And then the interests. I think the highest interests on Kickstarter, if I remember correctly were technology and decor or home design, which are two areas that we could play within. And so for part of the campaign, we were under one category and then we switched it up and went to the second category for the back half of the campaign, which allowed us to access a whole new populace of potential buyers. And that was really what it came down to. It was the popularity of the research we did, and then just a gut feeling.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So let’s talk a little bit about that research, right? The preparation is so critical to launch a campaign and make it successful not only on launch day, but try and maintain consistency throughout it. So what were some of the things that you guys did internally to prepare for the Kickstarter campaign itself?

Dylan:
Well, I’ll jump in and Mitch I think you can add to it, but the first thing we did was pre-sell our units on our website. So we specifically began targeting people with Facebook ads, Instagram ads, and just getting understanding of what they wanted to see and what kind of person was, what buyer persona, if you will was purchasing our product. Once we have that down, that allowed us to exercise our ad spend a lot more efficiently once it came to the campaign. So I highly recommend anyone beforehand making the investment into the education and the research and spending a few dollars to gain a better understanding of who your customer is because going into the Kickstarter campaign we thought that females between the ages of 26 and 35 were going to be our buyers. And what happened was we turned out to realize that in the two months it was mainly dominated by males, about 80 to 90% of our purchases were males. So that lesson was integral in being able to target the right person when our campaign launch.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So after the Kickstarter campaign learnings that you guys had, once it was active, aside from shifting what category the project got listed under, what were some other tricks or tips that you guys would recommend to our listeners?

Dylan:
Mitch do you want to take that one?

Mitchell:
Have your materials ready before your launch date. We communicated our launch dates ahead of time so people who were on our email lists were anticipating the arrival and our timelines in terms of getting the Kickstarter video together and the Kickstarter page was very tight. So don’t underestimate the work that goes into actually creating your Kickstarter page and the content behind it.

Roy Morejon:
Definitely. So what, if anything, would you guys do differently if you were starting the campaign over again, or when you relaunched version two?

Dylan:
Start earlier, do more research, invest more time and money into learning your audience. And I think specifically for us, what we would have done in terms of the research was build a larger community ahead of time of email list. I think we had about a thousand emails and that might seem like a large number to any person or a company considering Kickstarter, but that’s not enough, more, 2000 more, 3000 more, however many more you can get is better than a thousand because your game one funding is going to be a huge aspect of the success that determine throughout the campaign. You’ll read it everywhere online. Yeah. Day one is the most important aspect of your campaign and you’re going to do yourself a great service investing that time and energy into building that community that’s going to want purchase on day one ahead of time.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, gentlemen, this is going to get us into our launch round, where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions. Dylan, you drew the short straw to begin with, so you good to go?

Dylan:
Yeah, I’m good to go.

Roy Morejon:
So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Dylan:
Controlling my own destiny?.

Mitchell:
Nice. If you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Mitchell:
That’s for me?

Roy Morejon:
Sure.

Mitchell:
Okay. That’d be, throughout history, well, I’m going to say Richard Branson. He seems like a great time and I’d love to know how he cultivated that playful mentality through growing such a large business.

Roy Morejon:
What would be your first question for him?

Mitchell:
Something along those lines, how were you able to have so much fun throughout all these meaningful decisions that need to be made as an entrepreneur?

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Dylan, what book would you recommend to a entrepreneur

Dylan:
Meditations for Men Who Do Too Much. There’s one passage for everyday. Today’s or yesterday’s actually was something I shared with our team. It was about taking purposeful pause and punctuate your day with pause rather than going from this interview to another phone call, drop that energy, allow yourself to breathe, understand where you’re at and then take that next step with a clear mind.

Roy Morejon:
Advice that all of us need to take, indeed. Mitchell, what advice would you give to a new inventor or entrepreneur who’s looking to launch their product?

Mitchell:
I would double your anticipated timelines and budget. As tough as that is to hear, we heard it a long time ago from one of our mentors and laughed at them and all of that, but anticipate it to be harder than what it actually is.

Roy Morejon:
For sure. Dylan, what do you think are the top three skills that every entrepreneur needs to be successful?

Dylan:
[inaudible 00:19:05] being one of them, which is ballsiness hunger and creativity.

Roy Morejon:
Solid roundup there. Mitchell, the last question is yours. And given that you guys just finished up your campaign interested potentially to hear both your insights, but I’ll give it to you first Mitchell. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Mitchell:
We’ve got a lot of great ideas at newer solutions, Respira is just the first one. We’d be excited to bring more technologies that improve the health of our built environment to crowdfunding. We could see larger products for your home and smaller products for your home aligned with living walls that actively purify your air.

Dylan:
Yeah. To add to that, I think crowdfunding in general decentralizes the power of banks or investors having all the money to be able to provide to businesses that want to begin. Crowdfundin empowers the people. And I think that’s where a lot of businesses going to be headed.

Roy Morejon:
Power to the people, indeed. Well guys, this has been amazing. Mitchell, your opportunity here to give our audienc your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where they should go and why they should check you guys out.

Mitchell:
Thanks so much for the opportunity. You can visit our website at respira.ca and join our social media, Instagram is respira_air. We’re a group of environmentally conscious people. We love nature. We love connecting with nature. And if you’re looking to just see how we’re promoting a healthy indoor environment, do check us out.

Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Well, audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the product and everything else we talked about today. And of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors The Gadget Flow and ProductHype. Dylan and Mitchell, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Dylan:
Thanks Roy, we appreciate it.

Mitchell:
Thank you.

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.