For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we caught up with Sam Whitten, founder of Hemp Eyewear, the world’s first sustainable hemp sunglass line. Tune in to learn more about how Sam set out to create a product with a positive global impact, how he approached design and development when building a “world’s first” product, and how he flipped the script on your average crowdfunding campaign video.
Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways
- How to approach designing and testing a “world’s first” product
- Capitalizing on the virality of their past crowdfunding campaign in 2014
- How the crowdfunding landscape has changed in the past five years
- Their process of vetting the right crowdfunding agency for their needs and what caused them to choose Enventys Partners
- How they made their crowdfunding video and overall branding different from the industry standard to make them stand out
- The importance of pre-launch preparation before you hit the launch button
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!
Art 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.
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 billion 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 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 talking with Sam Whitten, the founder of Hemp Eyewear. Sam, thank you so much for joining us today on the show.
Sam Whitten: Thank you for having me.
Roy Morejon: So, I’m really excited about this innovation. Hemp Eyewear is going to be the world’s first sustainable sunglass line developed entirely from hemp fiber and water. And no of course you can’t smoke them. So, I’m really interested to hear where this innovation started from and what inspired you to create Hemp Eyewear.
Sam Whitten: So, I created the world’s first hemp sunglasses whilst I was at university. It was actually my final year project. So, I studied product design. I’ve always been passionate about sustainability and innovative design. So, I get bored of seeing the same products everywhere.
And on the sustainability side, I discovered the great Pacific garbage patch whilst researching online. An area of 12 times the size of the UK in the middle of the Pacific ocean was just littered with plastic from the surface to about 12 foot underneath the ocean. It was just full of floating plastic. And I thought, wow, this is a massive problem. Why doesn’t everyone know about this? This was five years ago. So I asked the question, “What is the most sustainable material on earth?” And hands down, the answer was industrial hemp because it’s the most sustainable, eco-friendly, and diverse resource on earth.
We can use it to make anything and it usually has beneficial properties than other materials. Plus, it grows anywhere in the world. So, it really is an ideal solution to like all the environmental issues that we’re facing today. So I thought, cool, I’m going to make it a world first product using hemp. And I didn’t know what it was but I was determined to do it. And after researching trends, wooden and bamboo eyewear was a trend, and I was interested in fashion as well as design. So, I thought this would be a really cool product to design out with hemp. And that’s where Hemp Eyewear originated.
Roy Morejon: So when you were doing the designing and creating of Hemp Eyewear, what did that process look like? How did you go about deciding what features to include, how to design it, those sorts of things from a design and engineering standpoint?
Sam Whitten: So basically, the first thing I had to do was test material. There’s no blueprint because this is a world first product. So I did countless tests of material strengths, coatings, how I could make them material thick enough in order to make a 3D product out of it. So, it was really just coming up with a lot of scientific tests on the material itself. Can it be cut? What forces do I need to apply to this material? Yeah, what machinery can I use? Can I even drill into this material? So, it was really, really basic tests at the start material-wise. And then when I figured out how I can process this material in terms of manufacturing, it came down to material finish, to make it look professional. So, the early prototypes were really rough because it’s a plant fiber kind of material similar to wood, but it’s so much harder to process then wood.
So that’s where the biggest challenge was in the material finish and making it really smooth and waterproof. And obviously with the strength properties as well. So yeah, it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of product development. And to be honest, even though I had prototypes in my final year of studying, it’s actually taken me about four years to develop the manufacturing process, invest in machinery, and perfect the material finish itself. So, it really has been a long time coming this launch because we’ve put a lot of work into this process and this product.
Roy Morejon: So, the campaign’s going to launch on October 22nd and you’re a crowdfunding vet. You’ve done a couple of campaigns in the past. You had a campaign that went viral. Talk to us a little bit about that process from running your first campaign to this upcoming launch.
Sam Whitten: So yeah, we’ve already ran two crowdfunding campaigns. The first one was straight after I finished these prototypes. So, I finished university. I always wanted to start my own business, but I didn’t really have the confidence to go ahead with it straight away. So, the first thing we did was we posted photos of my prototypes online. And after three months, it was picked up by a quite large design blog called Design Boom. And just my prototypes that I made at university, which I didn’t think were anything special, but they featured them on their home page and I think they have like 2 million followers or something.
And because we were featured on that page, smaller websites and smaller blogs featured us in theirs and it created this viral snowball effect where we received loads of traffic to our website and I think we received about 7,000 emails within three weeks, which was amazing. And that gave me the confidence to actually start the business because obviously that’s proof of demand. So, we turned those 7,000 emails into our backers on our crowdfunding campaign or some of them turned into backers. We didn’t get the full 7,000 unfortunately. But that was the basis of our crowd funder. And that was back in 2014. We raised about 36,000 with no marketing whatsoever. It was really just an organic procedure where we had those original backers who were interested and we were featured on the Kickstarter project. We love category, which really helped us as well. And like I said, that was in 2014. It’s changed a lot since then. But yeah, that was really successful for us.
Roy Morejon: Nice. So let’s talk a little bit about, in terms of preparation from your first campaigns to this campaign, what’s changed? What’s the prep work look like? What’s changed overall from a marketing standpoint?
Sam Whitten: So yeah, the initial time we started, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We didn’t get lucky per say because we had a product which was really innovative and that’s why we had the press and the virality. But this time, we’re going through it logically. We’ve spent the last few months gathering content, perfecting our new products.
So, we have three new sunglasses styles with three new colorways, with some really nice special lenses as well. So, we’ve been focused on product development and content creation for the past few months. So, that’s the kind of start of our process, if you like, is actually gathering high quality content, working on our branding, working on our messaging, and the copywriting, etcetera.
And at the same time I’ve been speaking to Inventus Partners about the marketing side because you can’t do everything. That’s one thing I’ve learned. You cannot do everything. I’ve tried and you just burn out and it’s a time game really. So, we’ve been concentrating on the branding, content, and product, and working with Inventus on the marketing side as specialists in crowdfunding marketing. So, yeah. So, that’s a bit about how we’ve prepared for this one.
Roy Morejon: Yeah. I mean, you’ve been working with us here at Inventus Partners for the past month to ramp up before the launch. What were some of those considerations that you looked at when you were looking to choose an agency to partner up with on this launch?
Sam Whitten: So, we actually used another agency for our second campaign, which wasn’t really that successful. And so this time, I was determined to find the right agency. And I found Inventus Partners and I was really attracted to the agency because of the track record. For one thing, you have a fantastic track record. And I’m a entrepreneur who is a product designer who has done sales and marketing and startup business experience. And what I love about Inventus is that it’s an all in one crowd funding agency from the product development to the marketing to the running of your crowdfunding campaign, all under one roof. And I just thought that was the coolest thing. So personally, I really liked that about Inventus. And yeah, the customer service that we got before we even officially engaged and started the marketing with Inventus was fantastic. And yeah, I was really pleased with that and that’s why we eventually chose Inventus for our partner.
Roy Morejon: Well, we’re glad you did. So, let’s jump back into the campaign now for this upcoming launch. Let’s talk a little bit about your campaign video. I thought it was unique in terms of the direction that you took with this. What was that process like and how did you decide what to include in your video for this launch?
Sam Whitten: So, we’ve already done two crowd funding campaigns and we chose the standard… We call it a crowd funding aesthetic. So usually you have the founder giving you a mini pitch, a standard shoulder and headstrong interview style clip, mixed with other handmades, photos or talking in the office or whatever. And that works and that’s cool. But we wanted to do something different because our brand and our product is all about being different. These are the world’s first hemp sunglasses and we don’t to be different just in the product category, but we want to be different in the way we do our branding. And that includes the crowdfunding campaign video. So, we didn’t just want to do the standard Kickstarter video thing. We wanted to think about how can we make an impact?
It’s only one minute long. How can we make an impact on potential backers? What can we do which will make us stand out? So, we chose to do our video in a one minute time frame. We decided we didn’t want any talking in our video, so we just have texts on the screen and we’ve chosen a soundtrack which is quite high tempo, which keeps the audience’s interest. And the text on the screen matches up with that music track, which flows really nicely. And again, keeps the audience engaged, which is really important just now. On the modern age, no one has any time or our attention spans are so small. We wanted to create the biggest impact possible in the shortest amount of time.
And yeah, one of our ideas was to try and get featured on a Kickstarter’s projects. We love category and by doing something different, especially in the video, we believe that gives us a better chance of being featured in that category.
Roy Morejon: So, given that you’re about to launch your third Kickstarter campaign, what are some of the tips or things that you’ve learned throughout the whole process of launching on their platform?
Sam Whitten: I didn’t know this before the first campaign, but it’s true. It’s preparation. So, definitely preparation, focus on gathering emails, focus on gathering needs. Yes, friends and family are great, and they can help you gain traction on the first day, but really it’s customers around the world who are interested in your product who you need to get on that first day of product launch, so email generation is key, I think. I would say try and definitely have high quality content. That should be absolutely standard. You don’t have to employ designers, but just do some research on other campaigns that have been successful and what looks good. There’s a lot of campaigns where… I’m coming from a design background. But yeah, a lot of campaigns I think could do better in terms of the quality of their product photography. So yeah, I would say invest in a designer if you can. And if you can’t, do substantial research and comparison between successful campaigns to get an idea of the aesthetic that they adopt. Yeah, that’s what I would say.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. Sound advice there, Sam. Well, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go?
Sam Whitten: Yep, let’s do it.
Roy Morejon: All right. So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Sam Whitten: Oh, I’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur. When I was younger, I would go to [inaudible 00:15:13] sales. I would take all my old like video games and stuff with my mom and I would sell whatever I could basically on a weekend. So, I’ve kind of always worked myself as well. When I left school, I did gardening work and landscaping. So, I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit and yeah, I loved the idea of being free. I don’t have a massive problem with authority, but I definitely loved the idea of freedom and playing by your own rules for want of better words. Yeah. That’s what attracts me to entrepreneurship.
Roy Morejon: So if you could meet any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Sam Whitten: Jesus Christ. I’m just joking.
Roy Morejon: [inaudible 00:16:06].
Sam Whitten: He was a great entrepreneur. No, but I would say I love Bill Gates actually. I just watched I think a three part series on Netflix and he’s an incredible man. If that’s not too boring of an answer, but I also like Elon Musk, how he works so hard. It’s all to do with sustainability, which obviously I’m really into. Yeah, those two I’d quite like to meet and pick their brains.
Roy Morejon: So let’s say you had a chance to sit down with Mr. Gates, what would have been your first question for him?
Sam Whitten: I would ask what advice would you give me? I would tell him my situation and my history and I would tell him… I would ask him to tell me what to do next or what I should work on probably.
Roy Morejon: Yeah. He’s got quite a few large, horrible issues out there that he’s trying to help out with, right?
Sam Whitten: Absolutely. Yeah.
Roy Morejon: Yeah. That documentary series on Netflix was pretty incredible.
Sam Whitten: I thought it was fascinating. Yeah, he’s an incredible man. It’s really insightful. And yeah, he’s actually giving back, which is I think super important. So yeah, and I really appreciate that. Yeah.
Roy Morejon: Any book you would recommend to our listeners?
Sam Whitten: Yes, actually. I’m a creative kind of person by trade, so I’ve had to work on my organizational skills. And a book that really helped me was at least the first three or four chapters was one of the Dummies books. So, this one was called Time Management for Dummies, and it was brilliant because it got me to write down my 50 goals that I want to achieve in 10 years. And I then segmented them into one year goals, three year goals, five year goals, and 10 year goals. And from that I segmented further. I chose the top three goals in each yearly category that I wanted to achieve. That’s given me fantastic perspective on what I’m actually doing in business and in life. And yeah, that book, even though it’s not one of the most serious sounding books, those first three or four chapters have really, really helped me. So yeah, I would recommend that one.
Roy Morejon: Interesting. Last question, Sam, and given that you’ve run a few campaigns, really interested on your insights on this question in terms of what does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Sam Whitten: Yeah, I thought about this. It’s a tricky one because I don’t actually like my answer. It’s coming from experience. The previous campaign we did when we went viral and we garnered quite a lot of interest from the press. And we had good organic reach on the Kickstarter platform itself. Then in our second Kickstarter launch on the platform, which wasn’t as successful. And I think that was because Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general has got more corporate and you have larger companies using this platform to promote their products, which is fine, but it makes it a lot more competitive, especially for small businesses with small budgets. So, I think the future is actually more like that. It’s going to become more corporate, with the larger companies using it as a platform. Which I don’t like because I always say I want the small entrepreneurs with ideas, creative types to use it for their projects. So yeah, I actually see it going that way. Yeah.
Roy Morejon: Interesting. Well, Sam, this has been great. 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.
Sam Whitten: So, I am the founder of Hemp Eyewear. We have made the world’s first hemp sunglasses. It’s a material, it’s a plastics alternative and the world definitely needs that right now. We launch three new sunglasses on Kickstarter, 22nd of October. And yeah, please visit our campaign, check out our video. And if you like what we do, please back us.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign once it goes live, and of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and Product Type. Sam, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Sam Whitten: Thanks for having me. Cheers.
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. 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 love 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 Inventuspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.