This week we’re catching up with Wylie Robinson, who we first interviewed three years ago in episode 123. Tune in to learn more about how he went on to have two more successful crowdfunding campaigns, what he’s learned about scaling a business and entering the wholesale market, what’s next for his company and much more.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How a company can grow through crowdfunding
  • Challenges that come with scaling a company after multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns
  • How Kickstarter campaign preparations change after you’ve run multiple successful projects
  • How to cut costs for your Kickstarter video
  • How to use social media to grow your audience
  • How to manage feedback from Kickstarter backers
  • Why you need to have your product ready to go before launching on Kickstarter
  • How to scale your company to begin to sell wholesale

Links

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!

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 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 with Wylie Robinson, founder and CEO of Rumpl. Wylie, thank you for joining the show again.

Wylie Robinson:

Thanks, Roy. Nice to be here.

Roy Morejon:

I was going through the archives. You were episode number 123 three and a half years ago, basically December of 2015. This was my first episode after acquiring the podcast, so I’m really excited to have you back on the show today.

Wylie Robinson:

Yeah, it’s crazy. It feels like yesterday.

Roy Morejon:

It does, I’m sure. In that time, you’ve now run a total of four successful Kickstarter campaigns. You’ve raised over a million dollars in capital just from the Kickstarter community. You’ve now got, as we were talking offline, 22 full time people at your offices in Portland, Oregon. We’re really excited to hear about what you’ve been up to since then and all these lessons that you’ve learned since running your first crowdfunding campaign back in January of 2014.

Wylie Robinson:

Yeah. It’s been an insane, I guess, five years now, and a lot has changed. I think that the company’s developed a lot. I think I’ve personally developed quite a bit. It’s really just a whole different beast than when we launched that first campaign.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, I bet. Let’s start by giving our listeners a little bit more background. Tell us where this whole thing started again, and how after these four Kickstarter campaigns came to be, and what you’ve been doing since we’ve last talked.

Wylie Robinson:

Okay. Well, from the beginning, sort of the first campaign we did was for our marquee kind of signature product, the original puffy blanket. It is a blanket that’s made out of the materials you’d typically find in a premium sleeping bag or a puffy jacket.

Since that campaign, we actually did three others. We did one which was called the Super Fleece blanket, which was a fuzzy fleece on one side and then it’s sort of a denser weave on the top with DWR coating and everything. That product was really meant to emulate your favorite cozy hoodie. The third campaign was actually a battery-powered electric blanket that we did with two other crowdfunding companies, Radiant and Power Practical. That was a pretty interesting one. Then our fourth was called the Puffy Poncho, which is essentially a insulated poncho, and that was in 2017.

Roy Morejon:

What have been some of the biggest challenges that you’ve encountered as you’ve been designing these products, scaling your company, growing, having shifts in management? What’s been going on there? The live challenges.

Wylie Robinson:

I mean, well, for one, since we last spoke, I had a co-founder and I no longer work together with that person. We had a different opinion about how to grow the company, and the partnership, while we’re still friends, it didn’t work out the way that we thought it was going to, which I think is a very common thing. But we got through it, and we’re both, I think, in a better place as a result. That was a huge challenge that we went through.

Additionally, I would say that the biggest one lately has just been head count scaling. At the end of 2017, we had 10 employees, and by the end of 2018, we have 21, so doubling in size again in 2018. That was really challenging. We’ve introduced an HR capacity to the company to just deal with communication and just very standards in office politics and stuff like that. That’s been a really kind of out of nowhere, out of left field challenge that I wasn’t expecting.

There’s all sorts. I could go forever about the challenges.

Roy Morejon:

Well, let’s talk about some of the challenges during these four crowdfunding campaigns.

Wylie Robinson:

Yup.

Roy Morejon:

In terms of the preparation for these campaigns, and given that you’ve done four successful campaigns, we obviously love doing interviews with people that have done it and learned what to do and what not to do. Let’s go into a little bit of preparation, based on your experience there. How has your preparation changed over the years from launching all of these projects?

Wylie Robinson:

I think it probably just gets a little tighter. It’s not like we’re solving any problem differently. I mean, we’re doing more or less all the same stuff. We just sort of know what the formula is a little bit. We have all the boxes checked in advance of launch. The whole thing is just a little tighter. All of our communication channels have the right assets ready to promote. We sort of primed our media sources and PR outreach opportunities.

The product, of course, is more dialed in advance now than it was in the early ones. In our first two campaigns, really our first three campaigns, the product wasn’t totally complete. We just had a prototype in hand, and I would call it 80%, 90% there. Then there was kind of 10% development left to go. But for the fourth one, it was like, “This thing’s done, ready to go, ready to ship.” And we were able to fulfill it much faster. So, everything just tightens up a little bit, I would say.

Roy Morejon:

Nice. Let’s talk about the campaign video creation. How has that process changed, and how have you guys gone about deciding what to include in the videos, and what not to include, now that you’ve kind of refined that process down?

Wylie Robinson:

Video process for us has actually been almost entirely unchanged. We’ve always used one camera, one cameraman. The first video was edited by someone else, but the subsequent three I edited, so, just sort of learned that skill. We honestly don’t put a ton of energy or money into video production. I would say that in total, we’re probably spending less than five grand on the video, and I sort of do all the editing and all that stuff myself. So, that really hasn’t changed a whole lot.

There’s definitely videos I’ve seen on Kickstarter that are just beautiful, and I’m sure take a lot of energy from a lot of people, which is cool, because it’s great. We just haven’t allocated that much time to the videos, to be totally transparent.

Roy Morejon:

Interesting. Well, your product photography’s pretty amazing. How do you guys go about getting all those amazing shots?

Wylie Robinson:

That’s usually the videographer just kind of whips out a still camera and shoots a few behind the scenes. On the last one, we had one videographer holding a motion camera and one still photographer, so there was two cameras firing. Then when we go to market with the products, and they’re actually in the wild, we outsource a lot of photography. We do have an in-house photographer at Rumpl, but we get a lot of our content from just the community we’ve created around the products and the brand.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah, absolutely. I’m glad you brought up the crowdfunding, or your community. I know a lot of them got their first exposure to you guys through these multiple crowdfunding campaigns that you guys have grown. How have you gone about continuing to empower your community to build the business and the brand around them?

Wylie Robinson:

I would say that the community empowerment is almost entirely done digitally. We do events periodically. We have a nice space behind our office here in Portland where we have done a few events, but generally speaking, I mean, those are very, very small relative to the size of the audience we’ve built online. So, it’s pretty much all done digitally. Instagram is definitely our most popular platform. Facebook would probably be a second to that.

But yeah, it’s really just kind of staying consistent over the last five years. We always throw a post or two up a day. We respond to all of the direct messages. We respond to comments. It’s really just been a very organic growth in that way. It’s not like we had this big crazy campaign where we just tried to acquire new viewers and new audience in a very short period of time. It’s just been sort of nice, slow, steady growth.

Roy Morejon:

So as a brand and as a company, you guys have always strived to put the customer first. Tell me a little bit about your experience with your crowdfunding backers, and all of the feedback that you’ve gotten before and after these campaigns, and how you’ve managed all of that feedback, promoting the product, and also getting ready for the product … ready for manufacturing.

Wylie Robinson:

Usually the feedback is very direct on Kickstarter, which is great. It’s great for feedback about how people are perceiving a brand, how people are perceiving the products. I would view our electric blanket campaign as unsuccessful, actually. We funded … I think we raised 300 grand or something like that, which was great, but we delivered the product late. The products didn’t turn out as we had promised, and of course the backers were very vocal about that.

We just did all we could to make it right. We gave them a lot of free stuff, a lot of discounts to inline product that we had on our site. Really just tried to be as apologetic and open with them about the challenges we faced as possible. That was a really tough one. That was like a big customer service exercise for me specifically, even though we had a dedicated customer service person on the team at that time. I thought it was really important that I jump in there and speak directly to the backers and tell them the challenges that we were going through.

Feedback for the different campaigns has been really varied. We’ve had some campaigns that have gone great and delivered on time, or ahead of schedule, and feedback has been really good. Those are easy ones. We don’t have to deal with too much customer service there. But the ones that don’t go as well, you really need to allocate time to make it right with all your backers. We’ve had both ends of the spectrum for sure.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. Any tips there for how crowdfunding creators can avoid ending up in a position where potentially they’re unable to fulfill rewards, or extensive delays in delivering product?

Wylie Robinson:

I think for us the biggest challenge came just because we didn’t have the product totally, totally figured out by the time we closed the campaign. Candidly, that’s an irresponsible way to do a Kickstarter campaign, or crowdfunding campaign, rather.

If you’re 90% there, and you have maybe one or two more tweaks to do on the product, just do those tweaks. Don’t launch the campaign until you’re done doing those. Even if you think it’s going to be a big deal if you delay a month or two, it’s a much bigger deal if you deliver product that you don’t think is satisfactory.

Roy Morejon:

Interesting. So what tips would you have for a company about to move into the, let’s say, assembly and manufacturing phase of product development?

Wylie Robinson:

Well, definitely make sure that your factory and whoever’s producing your goods can do it at scale. Definitely make sure that their timeline estimates are accurate. Make sure that your final top-of-production sample is perfect and meets all of the needs that you promised. Really just make sure it’s really tight and don’t leave any room for error, and have all that really buttoned up before you hit go on your campaign.

Roy Morejon:

Right on. What’s been the biggest thing that you’ve learned throughout this whole process of launching multiple products on Kickstarter now?

Wylie Robinson:

The biggest thing I’ve learned is … I mean, it’s really the same thing that I felt the whole time about crowdfunding is just that it’s such an awesome platform to test your ideas, get direct feedback, really just test yourself too and see if you have what it takes to make this product or this offering really successful. You know, a lot of people always focus on raising money and getting money in advance, and that’s really not the biggest advantage of crowdfunding. I think the biggest advantage is the direct communication with hundreds of people that are eager to use the product.

I wouldn’t say that anything has changed, really, in terms of my perception of what crowdfunding is good for. It just sort of gets reinforced every time we do it.

Roy Morejon:

Nice. You guys are now selling globally. I was checking out your website and looking at all these places. You’re even selling in my home state of Maine, I couldn’t believe it, which is great. How’s that growth been, again, from going from maybe a single SKU on Kickstarter as a first launch to now multiple SKUs and multiple, dozens of team members?

Wylie Robinson:

It’s been really challenging. I mean, it’s sort of a classic growth story, I guess, all the growth challenges that most companies face. Definitely the biggest one, I would say, as it relates to companies that are crowdfunding native, or digitally native, is now that we’re participating in a lot of wholesale business, we just really need to continually try to get onto the right cadence and calendar. And we’re still working through that. There’s still fire drills before selling season for the next season.

We’re always kind of barely making it in time, making our catalogs in time, because you have to produce something much, much further in advance when you’re selling into wholesale. We just didn’t have that experience because we started on Kickstarter. It’s like you get the money first and then you produce. Now it’s kind of like we need to get the orders in, and we need to get commitments from our retailers. We need to make sure that every product’s just totally dialed before we show it to them.

We’re kind of working towards about a 12-month calendar right now, so, I mean, we just kicked off Fall ’20 season. We’re developing that right now, and we should be showing it to our retailers in a couple of months here.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome. I’m really excited to see what you guys are going to be doing next. I’ve got to ask, considering you guys have launched a campaign usually every other year, so are we going to see another Rumpl Kickstarter campaign this year?

Wylie Robinson:

That I don’t know. There’s definitely some products we’ve talked about, and I actually mean that. I don’t know. I’m not trying to be elusive or anything. We have a couple products that we think would be good fits for Kickstarter. It’s really, right now for us, about what the in-house capability is. Even though we’re a lot more people now, we’re 22 people, it’s still everybody’s working super hard. It’s very difficult to carve out time to allocate resources to something like a Kickstarter campaign with all the stuff that everybody’s doing.

It’s really going to come down to if we think that Kickstarter or crowdfunding is the best platform for launching products. We are fortunate in that we have some really good partners at retail that have told us that they’re willing to launch products through their channel, and that could be something that we try too. We’ve never really done that.

I don’t know. I really don’t know if we’re going to use Kickstarter or some of our retail partners that we’re working with now.

Roy Morejon:

Interesting. Well, we’ll certainly be keeping an eye out of all things Rumpl in the coming year.

All right, Wylie, you made it to the end, so you know what that means. It’s the launch round. You ready to go?

Wylie Robinson:

Sure. Let’s do it.

Roy Morejon:

What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Wylie Robinson:

I mean, it wasn’t like I was thinking I wanted to be an entrepreneur, really. I wanted to build this product, and I made the product, and it did well and received positive feedback. It sort of forced me into being an entrepreneur, to be totally honest. I didn’t have aspirations of being an entrepreneur. I had aspirations of making this one product and seeing if other people liked it. It definitely was cart before the horse a little bit there.

Roy Morejon:

Nice. If you could go on any outdoor adventure with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Wylie Robinson:

Oh, man. I mean, I’m sure I’m not the only one saying this, but got to be Yvon Chouinard.

Roy Morejon:

Yes.

Wylie Robinson:

What a legend. I think that he’s … Well, for one, he’s maintained ownership in full of Patagonia, which is incredible, without needing to draw on significant investors and sell his stake in the company that he created. I think he’s really maintained a really high integrity throughout the entire process. The brand itself is really an advocate for the things that he believes in, and that’s really hard to maintain as you scale, and over time. I mean, just huge respect for what he’s done. I would have to say Yvon Chouinard.

Roy Morejon:

Nice. What would be your first question for him?

Wylie Robinson:

How did you accept really slow growth in the early years? Because I had sort of studied that business quite a bit. They didn’t really hit a serious traction point until six, seven years in, so for the first couple of … six, seven years, it’s kind of like, why did you keep going if it wasn’t really biting? And how did you deal with that financially? How did you pay your employees? How did you continue making products? At what point did you either decide or acknowledge that you needed to scale, I think.

Roy Morejon:

Yeah. What’s your favorite national park?

Wylie Robinson:

Probably Yosemite. I mean, I just spent the most time there. It’s for sure the most epic. I mean, there’s a lot of people there these days, so that’s challenging, of course, but if you get out of the valley, it’s great. And yeah, it was always the closest to me when I was growing up. I grew up in San Francisco, so yeah, we’d get to Yosemite at least a couple times a year.

Roy Morejon:

Nice. Outside of Yvon’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, what other book would you recommend to our listeners?

Wylie Robinson:

I always recommend this one, but it’s Tim Brown’s book, Change By Design. He’s one of the principles of IDEO. It’s really just a book about design thinking, and about how asking the right questions really leads to new and better solutions, and just about the design process and design thinking in general. That’s a must-read, I would say, for anybody, entrepreneur or not.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely, solid read. All right. Last question, Wylie. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Wylie Robinson:

Well, to be totally honest, we haven’t done a campaign since 2017. I know how dynamic and agile that network is, so I’m less plugged in to it probably than I was even a year ago. I’m sure it’s changed quite a bit since then.

But I would say that the future, we’re seeing equity deals happen right now, which is really interesting. We talked about that briefly before we started recording here, but equity deals into companies where people can actually crowdfund equity money. That’s really interesting. I think that there’s probably a lot more growth that platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, et cetera, can do. Yeah, I think it’s going to keep growing. I think that it’s all a big community, and that’s just such a great place to get feedback and resource and test your product, test your ideas. Yeah. I would just say it’s going to keep getting bigger.

Roy Morejon:

That’s the hope, right?

Wylie Robinson:

Yeah. Definitely.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome. Well, Wylie, 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.

Wylie Robinson:

Okay. Rumpl is a company that takes active performance materials that you typically find in outdoor gear and active wear and applies them to an everyday blanket. You can buy them at Rumpl.com or at a variety of national retailers such as REI, L.L.Bean, Orvis, Scheels, and a handful of other specialties all over the country.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome. Wylie, this has been awesome. Audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to Rumpl.com, and everything else we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow and BackerKit.

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

Wylie Robinson:

Thanks very much.

Roy Morejon:

Thanks for tuning in to 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.