Inspired by the archetypal super-spy, Maison Impeccable set out to create the perfect sock to get you through the day, from the office to the gym and everywhere in between. Learn more about how to test the waters with crowdfunding in this week’s episode of Art of the Kickstart.

Stealth Socks – Covertly Fresh, Impeccably Styled

Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How to get started with prototypes
  • What needs to happen before you launch in order to make the first few days a success
  • Why Facebook ads are a necessary part of every crowdfunding campaign
  • Why you need good press outreach
  • Why launching on Kickstarter works well for product-based companies
  • How launching on Kickstarter can help minimize the risk that can come with minimum order quantities
  • What it looks like to test the waters with crowdfunding
  • How to take feedback from your backers and respond to it with new products

Links

Connect with Maison Impeccable

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 Command Partners, the top crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. 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 with crowdfunding. Now, let’s get on with the show.

Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I’m honored to be joined by Ben Yelian with Maison Impeccable. Ben, thank you for joining us.

Ben Yelian:

Roy, great to be here.

Roy Morejon:

Ben, you’ve got this awesome Kickstarter campaign, the Stealth Socks. Tell us what it’s all about.

Ben Yelian:

Sure. Where to begin? The Stealth Sock is basically about as good as you can make socks. We took every problem you could conceivably have with such a simple garment, and over-engineered them. The core of this really, we have two unique fibers. One is bacteriostatic silver, and one is activated carbon. What they do is they find odor through two different mechanisms. One of them, the silver prevents the growth of microbes that cause odor, and then the carbon kind of sucks away anything else. If you can imagine charcoal, and it helps to wick moisture.

We paired those with a number of construction features that help with breathability, help with durability, like cushioned or added nylon reinforcement. In the end, you have a super stellar sock. It never smells. It’s super durable, super comfortable, never [falls 00:01:36]. It’s pretty much everything you’d ask for.

Roy Morejon:

It sounds amazing, Ben. Is it too good to be true? I mean, where did this all start?

Ben Yelian:

Sure. We hear that question a lot. My background is in consulting. I used to do a lot of business travel. I was living out of suitcase, running through airports, working 80 hour weeks. What I quickly came to realize through all of that was the clothes that we normally wear for work especially aren’t really great. They’re not breathable. They’re not comfortable. They tend to pick up smells. They’ve kind of gotten left behind, because we’ve had so much technological change in the past few years, but the clothes that we wear are pretty much the same as they’ve been for decades. We thought we could change all that.

There has been a number of other players who have made similar products bringing in new fabrics to the market, and we tried a lot and those have been great, but we’ve always had some things that weren’t quite right. We always had ideas for how we could change something or how we could make it better. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for other companies to figure out what we wanted, we decided to take the plunge and do it ourselves.

Roy Morejon:

When you say do it yourselves, tell us the back story in terms of who you started the company with, and any historical references you wish to give.

Ben Yelian:

Sure. My co-founder, his name’s Kevin Shih. He’s a medical student at Northwestern University. We’re friends from high school originally. We were always interested in fashion and street wear and style, and so we kind of got in to chatting about the trend of bringing performance fabrics and features out of the gym and into what you could perhaps wear into the office. As a medical student, he had the same issue. He was running around between clinics and hospitals and classes, so he could got that as well, needing to be dressed pretty formally.

We kind of came together, joined forces, and started researching. We visited factories in different countries, tried pretty much every product under the sun and figured out what worked, what didn’t, what we wanted, and what we thought was most important. So that was … It all started back in early 2015, and we first got prototypes going, I want to say middle of the year 2015. Since then, we’ve been rolling, developing, making sure we have all the logistics and infrastructure in place so that we’re able to develop on time, high quality products to our backers. We’ve been going with that ever since, and here we are end of April, just about ready to finish up our project.

Roy Morejon:

So a disclaimer to the audience, Ben has hired our agency Command Partners to work with him pre-campaign, and now during the active campaign. You know Ben, we’ve reached six figures on the campaign now. We’re over 1000% funded over our goal. Kind of tell some of the back story in terms of what work it took to get to this point.

Ben Yelian:

Sure. Crowdfunding is a lot of work. I’m sure you and your listeners are well aware of. It’s a little bit more complicated than it might seem up front. Starting back many months ago, we kind of built a landing page, started collecting emails for a mailing list, and sort of testing a little bit of copy, a little bit of branding at that point. But when it comes to really driving success in a Kickstart campaign, there’s just so many different parts that go into it. You know, the mailing list and having a strong start is obviously really important. The first few days building momentum, being able to hit your goal fast, or at least progress on it very quickly and raise a lot of funds early on, is important. That momentum really carries through, especially with Kickstarter and how they choose to display projects and what’s trending and what’s not. That’s really important.

You know, Facebook advertising or advertising in general has become a really big part of Kickstarter campaigns, and just driving both the raw traffic in terms of page views as well as finding new backers who might not have found you otherwise. One of the big elements of Kickstarter is the more page views and the more backers that you have per day, the better your display on Kickstarter’s own website, which allows you to get a lot of organic traffic. Advertisement has been a huge part of this for us, and I think it’s kind of become almost necessary for most successful campaigns these days.

PR is obviously also a really big component. Being able to reach out to a lot of influencers and media at places that your prospective backers would be reading, being able to get in front of those eyes is always huge because as big as Kickstarter’s grown the past few years, there are so many people who don’t really know what is is and wouldn’t be able to find your campaign otherwise.

Beyond that, there’s just lots of various things that you need to do. We’ve run cross promotions with other campaigns. We’ve posted in forums, and obviously really reached out to our network of friends and their friends. There’s just always things to be done, and that’s kind of what makes it such an adventure, I guess.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely, and Ben we’re glad to be taking the adventure with you. Tell us about why and how you decided crowdfunding was the right way to launch the product.

Ben Yelian:

Sure. Crowdfunding, it definitely has a lot of pros and cons. For a pro though, Kickstarter as a platform is hugely valuable in the sense that there are many people who … You know, Kickstart is inherently a community of people who are interested in new products and seeing things first, and seeing advancements, and things that are kind of pushing the envelope. That’s obviously, at least for us, it was really an audience that we connected with. It was one that we ourselves were a part of. You know, before this campaign, I backed a dozen campaigns myself so I knew what it was about, and there’s just really a strong sense of community here, people who support these ideas. That was tremendously important.

I think the other one, especially for us as a product-based company, it really makes a lot of sense in that … You know, so we sell socks. What Kickstarter allows us to do is take a large number of pre-orders, so basically confirm that we have support, that people are interested in our product. It allows us to test the hypothesis that what we’re doing, what we’re making, what we’re branding as, it really makes sense and people like it in the market.

Then beyond that, it allows us to be confident enough to make a large purchase of product from our manufacturers, because with the product space, you know, most companies who manufacture have pretty high MOQs, or minimum order quantities. In our case, we would have to be buying thousands of socks to make sense from a cost perspective. While maybe we could have done that from the get go, what we would have ended up with would be thousands of socks sitting in a warehouse or sitting in my apartment, and I’m fulfilling them one by one as people make orders. That’s both a lot of risk as an entrepreneur because you have to sit on all this inventory and have all your capital locked up there, and at the same time you just wouldn’t really know whether things are making sense or you wouldn’t know what products are selling well until you’ve already made that purchase. I think one of the big beauties of Kickstarter is you’re able to get those backers, you’re able to get those pre-orders, so to speak, in place and know that you have a good audience before you even really begin the manufacturing.

That’s not to say that we didn’t put tons of leg work in, tons of investment in, before we even got in to the Kickstarter change. That’s obviously super important. But crowdfunding really allows you to test the waters and make … It kind of reduces some of the risk of the entrepreneurial process.

Roy Morejon:

I agree. Have you encountered any surprises along the way, or feedback that you didn’t expect from backers?

Ben Yelian:

You know, a little bit. I think we’ve been really impressed with the community of backers. We’ve gotten a lot of support, a lot of interest. We’ve gotten a lot of requests, so I think it’s very good to have a vocal backer community. In our cases, backers were really interested, they had their own ideas about what patterns we should be using or, you know, new designs that we should be using. We’ve really listened to that feedback, and that’s kind of shaped our own direction. One of the ideas that we had originally and kind of shelved was to create more low-cut or running style socks, or low-cut no-show socks for summer or for wearing boat shoes, shorts, that kind of thing. We kind of put that off a little bit, and as soon as our campaign had gone live, we just got a huge torrent of feedback. Lots of people were requesting exactly that. That kind of lit a fire under us. We’re like, “Oh, people really want this. Let’s get it going.” We’ve been really happy that we’ve been able to get that kind of feedback from our backers, and been able to respond immediately and kind of get things going and making products that kind of fit their needs.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. What do you guys plan on doing next for the Maison Impeccable brand?

Ben Yelian:

Sure. That’s a big question for us. We always never liked to say we’re a sock company. We see ourselves more as a clothing company that simply started with socks. Socks are important because we had a very clear idea of what we can improve, what we wanted to improve, as well as the fact that they’re relatively less expensive to create samples of and to bring to market. Our real move is we want to really stretch our legs and kind of grow as a clothing company. In that sense, we started from the ground up with socks at your feet, and our next move is really going to be in pants and slacks. From there, we can transition to shorts. We want to build out the full business style, even business casual wardrobe.

At the same time, we’ve also gotten a lot of requests from women, because while there are a few brands that have been bringing performance features into office wear for men, women have kind of been a little bit neglected in that sense. We have a lot of friends that have been really, really interested, a lot of backers that have been really interested, and I think that’s another direction that we’re definitely looking at as well.

Roy Morejon:

Sounds like an untapped market there, Ben. Definitely excited about the future, and obviously working with you guys. That gets us in to our launch round, where I rapid fire questions at you. Are you ready

Ben Yelian:

I guess so.

Roy Morejon:

Let’s do this. What inspired you to kind of quit your day job and become an entrepreneur?

Ben Yelian:

I think for that, I had a great job. I was a consultant. It was a great experience. At the same time, I think after a little while … I went into it knowing that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I knew for a fact that I wanted to do something for myself, and when the opportunity kind of presented itself to leave the corporate world, I took it. I didn’t look back.

Roy Morejon:

Killer. If you could have a beer or dinner with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be

Ben Yelian:

That would be … That’s a good question. Yeah, I would say probably the co-founders of Warby Parker. I think beyond having the social entrepreneurial angle, they’ve always had a good finger on the pulse of retail and e-commerce, and how that’s really been changing rapidly over the past few years. They took a gamble with what a lot of people thought was a really risky business model, and they’ve made it work and they’ve made it work spectacularly. I think they have a lot of great insights. I’m hugely a retail and e-commerce kind of nerd I guess myself, and I think we could have some pretty good chats.

Roy Morejon:

All right. You’re sitting at dinner with the four founders of Warby Parker. What would be the first question you ask them?

Ben Yelian:

First question would probably be … Yeah. The classic question that I always like is, “What do you wish you knew when you started that you know now?” I think that’s always a great question for looking back on any experience, and I think it’s particularly valuable for entrepreneurs because entrepreneurship is something where you can read all the books you want, but you never really know how things go until you kind of jump in. I’m sure they’ve got a lot of lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Roy Morejon:

I’m sure they have. What’s your favorite business book or life book that you would recommend to our listeners?

Ben Yelian:

Business or life book? There’s a controversial one that gets kind of called out a lot, and that would probably be The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. I think it’s a great book in the sense that it has a lot of valuable suggestions just in terms of … I like the idea of always working to optimize your own work and your own time. The exact methods that are represented in the book and some of the ideas might not be for everybody. They might not always make the sense in every situation, but I think fundamentally the idea of thinking about everything you do as something that can be optimized and has to be tested, and the idea that whatever you’re doing, if it’s not really working or it’s really painful, just find ways, just find any way possible to fix it. I think it’s a good mentality to have, and one that’s really important especially in the current age of entrepreneurship.

Roy Morejon:

Got it. No, I’m a big fan of Tim. I had a few conversations with him in the past. He’s got killer work, and I think it works for quite a few people. In terms of where do you see yourself in five years?

Ben Yelian:

Where do I see myself in five years? I think, you know, fingers crossed we’re able to transition the momentum from Kickstarter from the Stealth Socks campaign, and kind of really grow to be able to see our creative vision through with Maison Impeccable. You know, I’d really like to see ourselves grow to become a much larger company with a full product line, and one that can really stand on its own and that has its own follower base and base of customers. At the end of the day, all commerce – e-commerce, retail – it’s all about the customer and having people who you understand who understand you and like what it is that you’re doing. I think we’re just starting with the Stealth Socks and our Kickstarter campaign. What I’d really like to grow and see ourselves in five years as having that community built of people that we’re able to work with and who love our product and love our brand. That’s really what I want to strive for, you know? It’s not really about sales or profits or anything like that. At the end of the day, what’s really big is for me is that community and that relationship with our customers.

Roy Morejon:

Absolutely. That’s definitely what it’s all about with crowdfunding. You know, actually tapping in, taking their feedback, and embracing them. Final question on the launch round, Ben. You’re doing awesome. What does the future of crowdfunding look like in your eyes?

Ben Yelian:

That’s a difficult question. I think the future of crowdfunding, it’s … Well, it’s bright but it’s changing. The way that I’d put it is crowdfunding has got a lot more competitive these days. It’s very, very different from perhaps what it was just a few years back when you could just kind of just do something yourself, shoot a video on a cell phone, put it up, and make a million dollars. Things have changed. The game has changed. There’s a lot of companies and industries that have just built around crowdfunding itself, and I think it’s become more and more necessary to pick good partners and work closely with them, understand all the details and the raw process for how everything gets done in the crowdfunding world.

On one hand, I think that’s a little bit unfortunate because it’s perhaps a little bit harder to succeed as a truly small company and individual than it used to be. But I think at the same time, it’s grown to the point where it’s also allowed people to reach such a huge audience and a large number of people that they really wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise. I think it’s becoming more structured, it’s growing, it’s become more competitive, but at the same time I think the rewards to it have grown as well.

Roy Morejon:

Well said, Ben. That ends the launch round. You’ve made it. You survived. Just to finish up here, give us your pitch. Give the audience … You know, kind of tell them what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should back the Maison Impeccable Stealth Socks.

Ben Yelian:

Sure. With the Stealth Socks, as I said in the beginning, we really spent over four years looking at every single element of socks. They’re something that people don’t really give a lot of thought to unless something goes wrong. They smell funny, they feel kind of gross, they’re falling down all the time. I think a really well designed product is one that you never have to think about unless you want to, unless you’re admiring how great it is. That’s really what kind of drove us to design the Stealth Sock and make it … You know, I have a biased opinion, but as perfect that it is. You know, never smells, breathes well, dries quickly, highly durable, lasts forever, haven’t been able to put a hole in them. We had them tested in the office with investment bankers working hundreds of hours a week. We have them boots on the ground with local law enforcement. We even have Olympic … You know, I don’t want to say his name, but an Olympic athlete who’s kind of been putting them through the paces at the gym. They’re pretty much the best socks you can ever imagine. At this point, they make everything else in your top drawer drawer kind of obsolete.

That’s the Stealth Socks in a nutshell. Packed with technology. We spent a ton of time designing them, but you can find them live on Kickstarter.

Roy Morejon:

Awesome. Ben, you’ve been great. Thank you everyone for tuning in. Remember to visit ArtOfTheKickstart.com for more show notes, links to what we’ve talked about today, and a full transcript.

Thanks for tuning in to another 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, be sure to visit ArtOfTheKickstart.com and share it with your friends. If you need more hands-on crowdfunding marketing strategy, please visit our website at CommandPartners.com and request a quote. Thanks for tuning in. Catch you next time.