For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we caught up with Phil Croft, creator of ProSteer. Tune in to learn more about his experience with the intricacies of developing a hardware product and preparing for a crowdfunding campaign.
Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways
- The development process for their product, pre-crowdfunding
- Making the decision to take the crowdfunding route with their current prototypes
- Working with third-party manufacturers
- The importance of educating your customers through marketing
- Difficulties for startups in the hardware space
- Making the decision to work with a marketing agency for their crowdfunding campaign
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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. 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 cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now let’s get on with
Roy Morejon: Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am
joined with Phil Croft, CEO of BoxDark and the upcoming
crowdfunding project ProSteer. Phil, thank you so much for
joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Phil Croft: My pleasure, Roy. My pleasure.
Roy Morejon: I know you’re on the other side of the world over in Brisbane,
Australia, so I appreciate you being on the line. I’m also really
excited to talk about this new handheld analog steering
controller ProSteer. So if you would, give our audience a little bit
of background and tell us where does this idea start? What
inspired you to create this product? What was that aha moment
Phil Croft: Right, I guess I was… I’ve always been, let’s say an enthusiastic
gamer as I was growing. I’m part of the generation where we
first experienced the original PlayStation and then the
development and the to and fro between PlayStation and
Xbox and that massive development period where the games
just improved so vastly over those first, I guess, couple of
versions of consoles. I was very much part of that. That was
when I was a young man in the ’90s. I had great frustrations
because I’ve always loved driving games and I do like to draw
cars in real life too. There was a massive disconnect for me, Roy,
between what I was experiencing behind the wheel in my own
car and what I was experiencing in game in that I didn’t have the
control in the face or the realism of what I knew driving was.
This was a constant frustration using gamepads with thumb
sticks to steer a car. That was where it all started.
Roy Morejon: That seems ridiculous now because I know whenever you jump
on a video game like Mario Cart or whatever it may be, your
body just naturally turns with and it’s like, “Why hadn’t done
engineering or product and created yet?” It’s great that you’re
solving this problem for all the gamers out there.
Phil Croft: Yeah, for sure. This is something I’ve always been accused of, I
guess I’m a very physical person. I try and do cerebral activities
and my body tends to take over. I’m one of these people that
leans into the person next to me. I guess my frustration grew as
time went on. The real problem Roy, was that they did such a
great job with the software. I mean, the development of the
software and the rendering and the physics engines they built in.
When you [inaudible 00:03:41] top quality racing games, you
really are experiencing what the car would do in those
situations. If you’ve got a wet track, you’ve got a vehicle, you’re
going to get skatey. Things are going to get loose and you’re
going to lose control of that car and you do need a sufficient
control interface or you’re just not going to succeed at that
Phil Croft: This is where it all started. I racked my brains for… it would’ve
been probably a good 12, 18 months and had a few designs. I
actually had an aha moment when I was actually watching a
MacWorld keynote speech by Steve Jobs and was looking at
gaming controllers on the entertainment unit while doing that. It
just came to me, “Why not articulate the controller? Why not
make the controller a movable device in itself?” That was when I
developed the BoxDark and that’s the start of it. It’s all come
Roy Morejon: When you were creating ProSteer, what was that process like?
How did you go about deciding what features to include, what
designs, what colors, what element, all of that?
Phil Croft: That was very much a work in progress. The initial design was
very raw bones simply because as a… I guess a keen mechanical
designer, the first thing I do is I obviously want to get the core of
that interface fixed and make sure that works. Features just
added as we went. “Why couldn’t we do this? Let’s have a look
at it. Let’s add in….” This is where we… We started off with it
being what I would consider a normal steering controller in that
we were only interested in steering inputs, so throttle, brake,
gear shifting, that type of thing. It was a little way into the
process that we sort of realized, “Hang on a second, we’re
basing this on what everyone knows and understands, a normal
gamepad interface.” Everyone knows those gamepads, whether
they’d be Windows, Xbox controller or a PlayStation controller or
one of the many generic controllers, all use the very same
Phil Croft: We decided, “Look, we’re being radical enough with the
articulation of the controller, let’s not divorce ourselves
completely from what all the gamers know. Let’s add on to what
the current interface is.” We thought that would be the best way,
I guess firstly to ensure our development wasn’t straying too far
from where everyone was. And secondly, we wanted to keep
those games quite comfortable with the interface and then just
add the steering I guess. As we went along, we realized, “Okay,
we need this to be a standard controller format.” So we’ve still
got the triggers, we’ve still got the bumpers, we’ve just moved
the bumpers slightly to make them gear shifters. The function
buttons, the direction button and the analog sticks are all still
there and are all still very much a live part of the gaming. This is
where we then moved into what we call MSAC or multi-single
access control because ultimately, we had to pull the X axis out
of the analog sticks, which were the problem with steering. That
was a whole new development process.
Roy Morejon: Impressive. When you were designing and developing this
product out, somewhere along the lines you’re like, “Hey, we got
to fund this thing or find some customers for it.” How did that
conversation begin with deciding that crowdfunding was the
right fit to launch this product out into the marketplace?
Phil Croft: This is a really interesting story because we actually started with
the big guys. We took our alpha prototypes over to San Mateo,
that would be the team at PlayStation. They were immediately
positive towards the product. We demonstrated it there for them
at their head office in San Mateo. The guys there were, as I say,
they’re very positive. They said, “Look, this is exactly the kind of
product that we would welcome onto our platform mainly
because we can see that it would add value for our users. This is
a valuable addition. Now, we will not manufacture this.” My
original plan was to immediately [inaudible 00:08:15] with the
likes of Sony PlayStation and then Xbox. It’s my own naivety. I
thought that would be a way we could proceed, but they soon
explained to me that they don’t actually work with other
people’s intellectual property short of licensing it.
Phil Croft: I had a process to go through at that point. They were really
supportive. Upfront, they gave me as much advice as they
could. They actually referred me on to third party manufacturers
who would then be able to manufacture the product for us and
handle all of the marketing. Very early on in this Roy, we would
nearly not in. We nearly stopped before we really began and
handed over to someone else. I did have discussions with those
third party manufacturers. And to be honest, the reason we
didn’t go with that was simply because it wasn’t a viable
business model for us. You talk about we needed money. Well,
the first thing we did do was put together a little company
summary once we documented our intellectual property and
done our initial drawings and we did go and get some funding
from friends and family. It was those people that really got on
early and it was the concern for those investors that actually
stopped me from I guess opting out at that point and selling this.
We decided to develop ourselves and to market ourselves.
Phil Croft: At that very earliest stage of that decision, we knew straight
away, “Look, the only way we’re really going to be able to do
this is through crowdfunding,” because hardware development is
Roy Morejon: Indeed. Let’s talk about the upcoming crowdfunding campaign.
Talk a little bit about the preparation and work that you and your
team have done leading up to the upcoming Kickstarter Launch.
Phil Croft: Okay. We’re constantly developing. I mean, any moment we’ve
got spare, we’re developing. We’re testing or developing or
looking at the next step. There’s so much to do for us with this
and there’s so much more to come. I guess the difficult thing for
me, Roy, was actually putting a full stop on our development
and saying, “Okay, this is it. We’ve done enough. This is an
excellent product as it is. Yes, there’s more. We can always add
to this and we will continue to do that with versions down the
track.” But one of the most difficult things for a CEO of a startup,
especially in the hardware spaces, is to actually say, “Look,
enough is enough. This is now a product we can go to market
with this.” Would be very easy to just keep going back to the lab
and hiding ourselves away and making the best product the
world has ever seen in inverted commerce. But at the end of the
day, you’ve got to get it out there and you’ve got to get your
users using and giving you feedback properly.
Phil Croft: We had a number of testing sessions which had proved to us
that we were on the right track, even with the early interface. I
don’t want to get too technical on you, so stop me if I’m going
down the wrong track talking about thisRoy Morejon: Sure.
Phil Croft: But one of the major things we had to do, Roy, was… I
mentioned earlier we were basically breaking out the X axis from
the analog sticks. That’s how steering is effected in a standard
controller. It’s your left analog stick, left, right? So we had to
break that out and put that into the BoxArk for the articulation
so we could use it for real steering. The difficulty there was
those, those X axes, they’re only programmed through to move
22 degrees left and in an analog stick. Now, we’ve got 80
degrees of movement, so we had to go away and… The initial
prototypes where we just, we moved the potentiometers into our
Phil Croft: It was awful. It was like having a car where you steer the
steering wheel a quarter turn and you’re in full lock. It was
overly sensitive and just didn’t work. That was when we realized
the size of the task and we had to go away and… That was when
we were developing our software obviously, and the firmware to
create the correct ratios to… So not only are we breaking out
that X axes, but then what we’re actually doing is we’re
increasing it from 22 degrees to 80 degrees and then having to
take it back again when go into the other mode and it’s acting as
an analog stick.
Phil Croft: The development work was extensive. One thing we’ve always…
I guess our policy is we’re not experts at everything so make
sure we find the right people to give us the best advice
whenever we get to a hurdle or we arrive at a new segway in
this development. Marketing was definitely that. I mean, I have a
little bit of marketing experience from my previous life as a
corporate advisor in BDM, but it’s very much cold face business
to business marketing. I’ve never been involved in a situation
where we have a company with a product trying to engage with
thousands of users globally. It’s a completely different ball game
and this is what brought us to you guys.
Roy Morejon: Yeah. And obviously our team’s been working really diligently on
the upcoming launch. Everyone’s super excited about this
product and the obvious launch and the growth of the esports
industry as well. It’s just super red hot for us to be targeting and
trying to find new consumers and also just those folks that are at
home that want to have a better gaming experience on their
own. I think this product really well for those early adopters that
the Kickstarter community has, as well as those folks that just
casually game at home that want a better experience.
Phil Croft: Exactly. It’s only when you start… I guess when I started this, I
thought I was someone in isolation with this issue. I had this
problem around racing games and it was my personal journey to
fix this problem for myself. That was really how it started Roy.
But it’s only as you get into these things a little bit further and
other people say, “Yes, I agree this is [inaudible 00:14:27],” and
you start to build I guess a following and you start to grow in
confidence because you realize it’s not just you. This is
something we’ve certainly noticed with the gaming industry. We sort of have tested quite a lot, was recently at E3 in Los Angeles,
a wonderful experience and really first time I’ve engaged with
the industry as a whole to see how it… I guess conferences and
what it’s showing its users.
Phil Croft: The industry is ready for this now. I think about it and there’s a
time and a place for everything. This is currently the season for,
“Let’s look at new hardware interfaces,” because as I mentioned
in a lot of our marketing, it’s been about 24 years since there’s
been any significant change to control interface for gaming. It
really has been a long time since the analog sticks came in.
Since then, it’s been business as usual. There’s been no change.
Roy Morejon: Well, I’m glad innovation is coming to the marketplace. And Phil
that you guys are bringing in over here from ProSteer.
Phil Croft: Yeah, absolutely. We’re loving it too. It’s very exciting. I guess we
work away and we’re working on the product but we don’t really
always step back and see what’s really happening. That
happened… We had the opportunity to do that when we were at
E3 and it really is… I’m very excited about the product since
we’ve come back because it was really shown to me that we’re
occupying a massive space here Roy. There’s such a big gap
between your standard gamepad and what people would
consider a competent racing setup being pedals, steering wheel,
seat. This whole setup is quite a big financial committee, as well
as a space commitment for people. We were occupying a really
big gap there where we’re providing a big part of the control
with none of the expense or obviously the bulk. Yeah, we’re
Roy Morejon: Awesome. As our we. Well Phil, this is going to get us into our
launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions
at you. You ready to navigate the course?
Phil Croft: Yeah, sure. Let’s [inaudible 00:16:45].
Roy Morejon: What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Phil Croft: Boredom.
Roy Morejon: Fair enough. If you could meet any entrepreneur throughout
history, who would it be?
Phil Croft: Geez, that’s a good question. Probably DaVinci.
Roy Morejon: Interesting choice. What would’ve been your first question for
Phil Croft: What motivates you to make changes?
Roy Morejon: Nice. What’s your favorite video game?
Phil Croft: Grand Theft Auto.
Roy Morejon: What book might you recommend to our audience of listeners?
Phil Croft: Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Roy Morejon: I haven’t heard that one yet. Now, I know what you haven’t run
the crowdfunding campaign yet, but I’m going to ask you this
anyway. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Phil Croft: Well, I think it looks really good. I think that we’re a more
connected society. I think we live online more than ever and
that’s where crowdfunding is. While I can’t see it going
anywhere, I think it’s going to continue to be a really good filter
on what’s valid and what’s not.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. Well Phil, this has been awesome. Please give our
audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where
they should go and why they should check out ProSteer.
Phil Croft: Okay, so we’re the next big thing in hardware input. If you’ve
ever had frustrations with gaming controllers, especially if
you’ve got a racing game or racing games, we occupy that
massive gap between a gamepad and a full steering setup. But
we’ve also got other technology built into our controller being
that you’ve got a three in one. We’re a standard gamepad. We
have a mode where you’re a racing controller, which we call
ProSteer. And then there’s a third mode called shooter, which is
ideal for rapid targeting for first person shooters and also
platform games. Please check us out on Kickstarter. We’re
commencing very soon and we’re very excited. The products
looking good, testing is excellent and yeah, we’re very
enthusiastic about getting it out there to the world.
Roy Morejon: Awesome. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure
to visit artofthekickstart.com for all of the show notes, the
transcript, links to the campaign once it launches. And of course,
thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget
Flow and BackerKit. Phil, thank you so much for joining us today
on Art of the Kickstart.
Phil Croft: Thank you, Roy.
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.
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