For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we caught up with Scott McKeon and Will Scuderi, co-founders of Espresso Displays, the world’s thinnest portable display for your device. Tune in to learn more about how they approached crowdfunding before launching, from consumer listening, manufacturing and development research, and much more!
Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways
- How they evaluated the need for their product before launching a crowdfunding project
- Why they ultimately chose Kickstarter
- How crowdfunding plays into their product lifecycle, initial manufacturing and future development plans
- The frontend work they accomplished before launching on Kickstarter in order to ship to backers by early 2020
- What they considered when choosing the best crowdfunding agency for their needs
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!
Roy: 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 the show.
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am talking with the co founders of Espresso Designs, Will Scuderi and Scott McKeon. Will and Scott, thank you so much for joining us today.
Scott: Hey, thanks for being on the podcast. And it’s Espresso Displays.
Roy: You got it. Espresso Displays. So you guys have created the world’s thinnest USB powered display. I’m really intrigued to always begin these interviews with, you know, where does the inspiration start for this idea? What inspired you to create it?
Scott: Yeah, so it started off when Will and I were working on a project together about a year and a half ago and we’re working on our laptops and it was just a task. We had to create a poster and we had to get the content on one screen and then I had to rearrange and organize on the other screen. And we just got really frustrated that we couldn’t do that task. We’re trying to split the screen on actual laptop and then I was like, Oh, I just want a second monitor for my laptop and Will questioned me and goes, “That exists, doesn’t it?” And then we kind of stopped doing the work that we’re supposed to be doing and started looking this up for the next few hours. And then we couldn’t really find anything that really said yes, that’s what we want. That’s a product that we would buy. And then I went on with with the rest of my life, but Will had other plans. He ended up printing a 3D bracket that sits on your laptop that you can put another monitor in that you can use multiple screens. And then from there we really just started designing different things, speaking to a whole bunch of potential customers, other people who also felt this pain. And eventually that’s what we’ve gone into now, the Espresso Display, the world’s first USB powered monitor.
Roy: So give me an idea of your backgrounds in terms of, you know, before making this product, what were you guys doing? And then, you know, when you started creating the overall designs of it, what was that process like?
Scott: Yeah, so myself, Will, and Matt all know each other because we studied engineering together at the University of Technology Sydney. We were all semi-familiar to each other, but never really worked that closely until our more senior years. My major was civil engineering, so I’ve worked for an engineering company. I’ve done a few projects over in Nepal and Cambodia and also did a bit of teaching at university as well. So I as more [inaudible 00:03:32] aimed I guess problem solving and working on just cool projects. So that’s me. And then I guess Will, you can talk about I guess your background.
Will: [inaudible 00:03:45] engineering [inaudible 00:03:47]. And I met Scott in our final year when we were doing our thesis. And like he said, we were doing a completely different project for a different subject. And then we realized that this was a problem and we had to look at what was around it. You know, the problem hadn’t been solved and the market was there waiting. So we got our heads together and we so started having a few late nights when we came out with something and we started to pursue it, because we thought what we made was really worth putting out there into the market.
Roy: So when you guys began the initial research phase of bringing this product to market, how did you guys go about deciding what features to include in the initial design?
Scott: Yeah, so we’ve gone about this process really over the last 12 to 15 months really. The one that we’re launching with now is our eighth prototype. So we’ve gone through and made a whole bunch of different designs, getting feedback on some of those prototypes. We’ve even sold them as a prototyping concept stage. Really just gathering I guess what we thought was quite a good design seeing else what’s on the market and what needs not being addressed. And going right to the code base. So it’s people who work in coworking spaces, people who had a laptop out at coffee shops, it’s university students. We had a lot of access to people who face these problems as well as having the pain point ourselves. So going through all these different steps and really what we kind of found was that you really want to optimize it for portability but still be as productive as possible. And that’s why we wanted to make it as light and as thin as possible just so that you could take it with you anywhere.
So that was one feature. The other one is that you really want it to look nice. There’s a lot of products you can buy on whatever channels that are very functional but that don’t really look nicer. And that’s not necessarily a tool that you want to be using every day as part of your impromptu office. And then the other one is also like the integration, the way that you use it. So we’ve got magnetic arrangement on the back, we’ve got a range of stands, attachments. They really provide versatility that you can set it up anyway. So really what we’re trying to solve was we started off just by looking at monitors and laptops but really what we’re launching with now is really a way to create an office in a backpack. How you can sit down at a desk, have everything in your backpack, and set up a real comprehensive desk space anywhere in seconds.
Roy: Yeah, I love that you mentioned versatility of the product. I’m really intrigued with all the different use cases for the product in terms of the background research that you guys did, but going into designing the product itself, what challenges have you guys encountered in trying to make this the thinnest possible display?
Will: Yeah, there’s a few challenges there. It comes down to two elements. You have your mechanical design and then you have your electrical design. So mechanical design wise, you’re trying to get something first of all as soon as possible. So that really limits your selection of displays and what that means is it’s really hard to do it if you’re not in China. So what that meant for us is we had to go over to China to Shenzhen and actually see how things work for ourselves. And then when we were there we were able to select a panel that was right for us and right for this product, that was was really thin to cater to that core product requirement that we set for the product. And then for electrical design and the same thing. Everything that we did was around the fact that this was going to be the thinnest monitor and so we had to go over there and design the circuitry in a way that it would accommodate for that product requirement.
Roy: Beautiful. Now transitioning into the upcoming crowdfunding campaign launch, let’s talk a little bit about the preparation for the crowdfunding campaign and what made you guys decide that crowdfunding was the right means to launch this initial product out there with.
Scott: There’s a few things. One about really lane methodology. So this was encouraged to us, but we also know this method ourselves that early, as soon as you get a product, you want to validate that people actually want it. And rather than having to invest in a lot of money designing an original product from scratch and putting all the tooling and pricing up front and like how do we even know whether to buy 1000 screens, 2000 screens or 5,000? That’s a lot of upfront capital and the difference is very important. So it’s firstly about aligning the number of customers that we can get during this fixed period of time so we can be very lean and efficient without funds upfront. The second thing is also it’s a very effective way to reach out globally and get a very specific profile of who your customers are, which gives you essentially a roadmap for beyond the Kickstarter about what channels you should progress with.
And then thirdly, it’s also a very efficient way to launch a product. And so we also wanted to be very efficient and quick with our time as well to get this out to the right people as well. So for us in particular as our product is a portable monitor that you can plug into laptops and phones, tablets, [inaudible 00:09:32], our early adopters are basically tech savvy professionals who work on the go all over the place and that really is something that Kickstarter is a great community full of those types of people too. So they are our type of people and the right type of early adopter, which is incredibly important for us.
Roy: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean this is the nature of Kickstarter and Indiegogo itself is where all the early adopters and trendsetters typically are and want to get the latest and greatest in technology, fashion design, et cetera. So definitely excited about the launch and the feedback that you’re going to get from the consumers as well. How are you guys going to play that into your product life cycle?
Scott: Yeah. So we’ve already got a couple of channels set up post our Kickstarter and that’s how we’re going to use the Kickstarter basically as a big launch pad. And then from that that will allow us to get the first few orders in and at the same time work with those additional channels that we’ve got our beyond after the Kickstarter to really I guess sell as many of these as we can and get these to the people who need them the most over the next 12 and 18 months whilst also creating a new pipeline of products.
Roy: Yeah. What I’m impressed with as well is given this as your first launch, that you guys will be able to start production pretty much right after the campaign ends and then potentially be shipping rewards first thing January, 2020. How are you guys able to build in, you know, the pipeline, if you will, in terms of, you know, getting the product out so quickly?
Scott: Yeah, so it’s really come down to basically having everything ready to go for us. So I was just in Shenzhen in June, July for six weeks and that’s where all the prototypes were being assembled. All the ones that we’ve kind of shipped out to influencers and everyone was assembled there. And then collecting all the materials, putting it all together. We joined a whole bunch of maker spaces, so became really familiar with I guess the Shenzhen ecosystem as well as visiting a whole bunch of factories doing kind of … going to them saying, “Hey, this is what we want. This is what we want to work with.” Obviously, we still need to go through that production process, but we have a lot of confidence. Before we launched to any and provided any promises to customers, we wanted to have the most assurance we could possibly have without going to that next step of actually putting it into production. So it was really about we didn’t want to make any promises that we couldn’t fulfill and that was quite important to us. Still is.
Roy: Absolutely. Now, I know the project hasn’t launched yet, but any tips you would recommend to our listeners on wanting to bring their first, you know, product to market?
Scott: Yeah, so wanting to bring a product to market as well as suitability for a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, the first thing is to have the product, understand who the market is, understand who your customers are. The second thing is to understand is there a similar or is that market active on Kickstarter or Indiegogo? I think that’s quite important because here in Sydney, Australia where crowdfunding isn’t as big and popular, a few people are now all speaking to us and coming to us for advice about should I launch on Kickstarter or I’m thinking about doing a crowdfunding platform. And the first bit of advice I always give is is there a similar product that’s already on Kickstarter or Indiegogo or is there a peripheral similar type of product that validates that the market that you’re trying to reach is active on that platform? So if so, that’s generally a good indication. And is the amount that those campaigns have raised a level of success in your eyes?
Roy: Solid advice there. Now I know you’ve been working with us here at Enventys partners for awhile now, I think all summer. What were some of your biggest considerations when choosing an agency to partner with on your upcoming Kickstarter wallet?
Scott: For us, it was really well just one or two things. It was in the same kind of understanding similar crowdfunding campaigns. It was looking at the profile of the agency and whether they had done similar campaigns. They kind of had experience with similar types of products, achieving types of results that we were very happy with in our eyes. So that was probably the main factor and then the other is just going through all the assets, looking through all the campaigns. I reached out to a whole bunch of the founders and teams that have done campaigns with different agencies before and was happy with in Enventys.
Roy: Awesome. So what’s been the biggest surprise of your preparation leading up to the Kickstarter launch?
Scott: Yeah, I think it’s just about ramping everything up so quickly. So for us, we know that we’re three engineers, not three marketing experts. So it’s really about making our communication style. We know what the vision is. Will and I live together, we talk about this all the time and it all makes sense in our heads, in our engineering brains. But trying to translate that across to, I guess the rest of the world is a bit more … is a different language really. So that’s what we’ve really had to transition to and build out this whole pipeline and that’s what we’ve been working with you for.
Roy: Awesome. Well this is getting us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. Scott, you drew the short straw so you good to go?
Scott: Yep. Good to go.
Roy: What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Scott: It was really about working on problems that I didn’t see solved elsewhere. Like in my bedroom I have a white board of all these problems or things that I’m interested in. They keep on getting added to the whiteboard and I have to put them there so they get out of my head.
Roy: There you go. So if you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to have an espresso with?
Scott: Oh, DaVinci.
Roy: Oh, interesting. Haven’t had him on the show for awhile. So what would’ve been your first question for him?
Scott: Oh, I would’ve just let him talk the entire time.
Roy: Fair enough. Who did you look up to growing up?
Scott: Oh, right. My dad was a great tinkerer, always working on different projects. Same with his father, my grandfather. So it was always great seeing different projects being working on together in the backyard at my cousins house. We have a little farm property that they’re always working on things, creating things based on what was there.
Roy: Nice. Any book you would recommend to our listeners?
Scott: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. It’s the story of Nike and the unsuspecting journey that Phil went through in order to create what we all know is Nike now.
Roy: Yeah, that is a great read as a startup going through this process. Last question, and I know the campaign hasn’t run yet, but I’m definitely interested in your opinion here in terms of what does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Scott: Yeah. Crowdfunding is still growing quite a lot. I think that it’s increasingly becoming flooded and there’s different techniques that you can use to still shine out. It all comes down to having a great product with great messaging so that people understand what problem it solves and how it solves it. I think with crowdfunding, it presents a great opportunity of getting from concept to launch as quickly as possible. Manufacturing is very democratized in electronics. A lot of people think that it’s limited to the giants of Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, Acis, and whatnot, but it’s really becoming easier and easier for small people and startups to go and get started and crowdfunding is one of those platforms which are enabling it.
Roy: Absolutely. Will and Scott, 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.
Scott: Yeah, great. So Espresso Displays has created the worlds thinnest USB power display. What we’ve made is something that plugs into your laptop, your phone, your tablet, any device that you can set up a full workstation on the go. What this really means is that you can take with you everything that you need to work productively in your day just in your backpack. So what we’re creating is an office in a backpack. Once we have our crowdfunding campaign coming up in the next week, we’re offering the cheapest price, so our earliest backers, cheapest price it will ever be. And then alongside that, throughout our fulfillment and everything, we’re going to offer a whole range of additional perks that align with our longer term vision of enabling the future workforce.
Roy: Beautiful. 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 everything else we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors the Gadget Flow and Product Type. Will and Scott, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Scott: Cheers mate. Have a good one.
Roy: 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 EnventysPartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.