In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Lars Christain, creator of Tiny Treehouses, the DIY miniature wonderland kits. Spruce up your plants and pots with these adorable yet sophisticated DIY flat pack model kits. Available in multiple hanging options and difficulty levels, each Tiny Treehouse also comes with an LED light (batteries included!). Learn about the product’s inspiration, the development journey and its road to Kickstarter.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How the 3D designer’s love of plants and architecture led him to imagine Tiny Treehouses and how the pandemic allowed him the time to bring it to life
  • The prototyping process Lars went through to come up with the final designs on the Kickstarter page
  • With over 3,000 backers on this campaign, how he’s used their feedback to adjust the product
  • The marketing prepwork that went into the launch including PR, social media as well as digital advertising which ultimately helped the project reach over $300,000 in funding
  • The challenges that came along with overfunding the campaign and why Lars would have included early bird pricing if he could do it over again

Links

Sponsors

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Transcript

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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 100 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.
Roy Morejon:
Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Gadget Flow. 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.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today we are talking with Lars Christian, the creator of Tiny Treehouses. Lars, thank you so much for joining us today.
Lars Christian:
Thank you very much for having me.
Roy Morejon:
So Lars, I know you’re calling me in from Sydney, Australia, the other side of the planet, but you’ve created this really cool product that truly does transform your plant pots into these truly miniature wonderlands with your DIY model kits. And we know that Kickstarter has a huge community around the DIY space. So I think you really created a product that really resonates with the overall Kickstarter audience, given the fact that you were able to bring in over 3,700 backers into the campaign, and raising over 220,000 US dollars and 300,000 Aussie dollars. So, I know the campaign recently ended, so you’re taking a breather. I really appreciate you joining us on the show.
Lars Christian:
Cool. Thank you very much. Yeah, that’s actually a really nice intro. It’s nice, actually to hear that to me, you lose the side of things when you’re so caught up in everything. So yeah. Thank you.
Roy Morejon:
No, you’re very welcome. And I know when the campaigns are active, it’s always crazy, and I really appreciate you jumping on the show and giving our audience an opportunity to kind of again, I guess, jump in and tell them where it all started. What inspired you to create Tiny Treehouses.
Lars Christian:
So, I guess to give you a bit of… To get an idea of where it came from, I should give you a bit of context of my background. So, I am a 3D designer. I’m currently working in an experiential agency where I’ve worked most of my career. But outside of that, I’ve always been a very creative arty person. As a kid, I was always doing projects with my mom, and at university, I studied interior architecture and there was a lot of model making, very hands-on things, which I love, so you can kind of see how that feeds into the product idea a bit. And yeah, tree houses is something… I don’t know, I’ve always been fascinated by tree houses because they’re just fun, it’s just a fun architectural execution and it can be so out of the box.
Lars Christian:
But yeah, I’ve also collected a lot of plants over the years. My apartment’s full of them. I counted just before this interview, I’ve just got over 50 plants in my apartment. And I was just sitting on the balcony one time and I was just daydreaming, as I often do, and started creating this little miniature fantasy world in my plants, and I kind of started imagining these little houses where all these little imaginary creatures would live, and that’s kind of the space where the I did was born out of. And it was really initially like a, “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if…” Moments. And yeah, that’s kind of where it came from. I didn’t really touch it for about six to eight months after that because I have so many, many other project ideas and I’ve always got a project on the go.
Lars Christian:
But then when COVID came around, being in the experiential agency world, we were one of the first industries to go down because a lot of what we do is events. So I was stood down pretty quickly and it was at that point that I thought, “Okay, while I’ve got all this free time now, this gift of time, which one of my projects could I potentially try and develop into an idea that I could maybe launch on Kickstarter and maybe get some money out of it?” And yeah, the tree houses idea with a front runner, it was something that sat within my skillset pretty comfortably, and as well as being able to do all the… Presenting it in the market with all the graphic design, I have some editing skills. And yeah, then I set about developing that project. It grew from just exploring and getting a prototype made, and I was like, “Okay, this could actually be a thing.” And yeah, then I went on to launch it in Kickstarter and here we are.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. So when you were creating Tiny Treehouses and daydreaming of what it could be, what was that process like of taking it from the daydream to on paper, to designing it, to CADing it? What features and designs you ultimately launched the campaign with?
Lars Christian:
Yeah. It was a slow start, to be honest because it was one of those like, “I’m not sure if this is going to be an idea or not.” But a lot of sketching and drawing and trying to figure out how it all fits together. I bought some other similar wooden DIY model kits of a… What was it? It was like a little carriage and a blimp as well, just to kind of see how all the fixings slotted together. And I spent a long time on the first one in my CAD programs, my architectural CAD programs, literally building it virtually and then figuring out what all the pieces needed to be. And then from that, that’s when I did my first prototype. Yeah, I forgot what the question was actually, I think I’ve gone on a tangent.
Roy Morejon:
No worries. Just talking about the other… Ultimately what you ended up launching with, in terms of a design side, how did you go about tweaking it from that first iteration and prototype to what you presented on the campaign?
Lars Christian:
Yeah, okay. So, the prototypes themselves were actually not that cheap. They’re about 70 to 90 Australian dollars each. And the position that I was in, I didn’t have any savings either, so that was a very big part of choosing a project to do, it was something that I could do that wasn’t going to cost me any money. So I did my prototypes. I had changes to do to each one as I developed each one. Some of them, I had to get re-prototyped to build, because I’d got some of the shapes wrong or they didn’t fit together as I had intended.
Lars Christian:
But ultimately, the products that I launched with, they all look great as they are, but they all had development to do afterwards. Which is what I’m doing now, I’ve got a couple of months of design development time, but I couldn’t really afford to do that before the end of the campaign, sorry, before the campaign launched. Just from a financial point of view, I needed this to either succeed or fail, and if it was going to fail, then I was going to look for another job, basically. And I’m still working three days a week. So it’s still touch and go, I’m not totally in the clear yet, but yeah.
Lars Christian:
And I think it’s interesting that… You see a lot of projects launched on Kickstarter that seemed to be very well rounded, they’ve had a lot of backing and support beforehand, they’ve done a lot of due diligence, and they’re pretty much ready to go after Kickstarter. I’m very much not one of those people. I’m very much a creator on my own, I’m trying to make an idea work, and I have to keep reminding myself that that’s okay, and not to compare myself to a lot of these highly polished campaigns that come out. And it’s nice as well to have that understanding from the backers as well, and the community. There’s been a lot of comments just kind of say, “Hey, you’re doing great. It’s okay. Just keep going as you are.” And yeah, that’s kind of where I am now.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah, I mean, and talking about the community itself, it looked you had, again, over 3,000 backers on this campaign. How have you gone about managing that feedback during the campaign and potentially bringing in some of their thoughts or comments into the campaign or future iterations of your product?
Lars Christian:
Yeah. Okay, that’s an interesting question because… Okay. Yeah. It’s been so amazing to get all these comments from people, and so much love and appreciation and encouragement as well, it’s been so heart warming. Especially in the first few days as well, I was inundated with messages and comments, I just spent hours every morning replying to every single one. And I count myself very fortunate and lucky to have reached people in such a way as well. I think the average drop-off rate, I think someone said it was about 5%. The drop of rate that I got was something 0.4%, or something. So counting myself lucky that it’s gone as well as it has.
Lars Christian:
And then, yeah, as far as shaping my campaign around the comments as well, I had initially planned, as my stretch goals, to release new designs and larger versions of current ones. But some of the comments that came back were, “Oh, can you make larger version so that they’re a bit easier to build.” Because they are pretty small. It’s in the name, they are tiny and they can be a bit fiddly as well. So instead, I did a little pivot. I made my stretch goals… I did a plus size range. So I took each tree house and made a larger version of it, which [inaudible 00:10:26] doing at the moment. And then that 40% larger so they’re a bit easier to build. Now, because this was a whole new range and idea, I hadn’t had it costed either, and I still haven’t had it costed, I’m still kind of waiting to get costs back on that before I know what that’s going to cost, so that’s holding me up a bit at that point. But yeah, that’s how I sort of shaped my campaign around the comments as well.
Lars Christian:
Also, the stakes that go into the soil were apparently made out of timber, and a lot of people reached out and said, “Hey, what are you going to do about the moisture from the soil rotting it?” Initially I was going to say, “Oh, it’s fine.” But I did check my stakes and they were starting to rot. So I’ve actually made an acrylic stake that you can swap out for the timber one. So you can either have the timber or acrylic. Yeah, and so that’s just another way that I’ve improved the product around the comments.
Roy Morejon:
No, that’s great. I know earlier we were speaking before we started recording, in terms of some of the prep work that you did before the Kickstarter campaign, but I’d love to hear how you were first introduced to crowdfunding and why you chose Kickstarter to launch your innovation with?
Lars Christian:
Yeah, well, I’ve known Kickstarter for many, many, many years and I’ve backed a lot of projects over the years. So, I’ve always been very aware of it and I’ve always had aspirations. I think, as a lot of designers would do, to design a product or something that you can launch into the world. So it’s always been on my radar like, “If I come up with a product idea that would be suited for a Kickstarter launch, I’m going to do it, I’m going to go for it.”
Lars Christian:
In terms of preparation before the campaign, having been listening to your podcast a bit in preparation for this interview, I’ve realized that, actually, I didn’t do nearly as much preparation beforehand as other people or agencies and companies have done, but I also probably wouldn’t have been in the position to afford that if I wanted to. But what I did do, one of my favorite design blogs, it’s called This Is Colossal. I actually submitted my project to them to see if they would feature it. And they got back to me and they actually, they did want to feature it. Which, when I got that email, was probably one of the happiest moments in my life. As a creative designer to get your work published, I think is just a huge life achievement. So that was an incredibly happy day for me. And that was before the project Kickstarter had launched. So at this point, there was still a part of me that was thinking, “The project might not go ahead. There’s always a chance that it’s not going to do well.” So I was being quite modest about the whole thing. So to get that beforehand was great.
Lars Christian:
Otherwise, I was pretty open about the development of my project to my close network of friends on Facebook and the socials. I’m not a huge social media person either, so I needed some help with that from some other friends. But just keeping my friends up to date. And then they were my first point of call when I launched. To be like, “Hey everyone, please help me and back me.” And I think that was a good boost at the beginning as well. So yeah.
Lars Christian:
And then I ran ads on BackerKit as well. Being the creative, I’m not a marketing person or a production person. It’s all very new to me. So, I kind of figured BackerKit offered me to run ads and as I was partnering with them anyway I thought, “Sure, this sounds a good idea because they already have the market. They already have all the contacts.” So I ran with that. They initially said that they would spend about 10 grand in total. And in reality, the end of that was about six times as much. So that’s way more than I intended [inaudible 00:14:42].
Roy Morejon:
Wow.
Lars Christian:
Yeah. I mean, it was like, yeah, it was bringing in money and during the campaign as well, you’re on a speeding train essentially, so to stop that train, it’s kind of like, “Well, do I stop? Do I keep going? It’s bringing in money, what do I do? I don’t know.” So I just kind of went with it. But I based my calculations on that 10 grand [inaudible 00:15:03] with their commission percentage, I just did some quick sums and I thought, “That’s fine, I can absorb that cost in my margins.” But it grew to such an extent that, because I didn’t calculate that properly, it kind of ended up screwing over my margins a little bit. But that being said, on the flip side, it did help me get to the $300,000 mark. And I think that’s put me on the map in so many other ways. I’m not seeing it as a bad idea, it’s something that I could have done better, but like I say, ultimately it got me to this point. And so it’s not wholly a bad thing at all.
Roy Morejon:
Got you. After your Kickstarter campaign ended, you moved over to Indiegogo InDemand. Give me a little bit more info on why you decided to go that route and what was that process like of getting transferred over there?
Lars Christian:
Yeah. Well that process was actually pretty easy. They actually contacted me during the Kickstarter campaign. So I hadn’t actually thought about that, I wasn’t really aware of that, but it seemed a logical great idea. It wasn’t going to be much extra work for me at all. And as I mentioned, with the production process, I’m still figuring that out and I’ll probably talk [inaudible 00:16:29] in a minute, but while I’m waiting for those costs, this InDemand platform will be… It’s a really good gap filler, essentially. And that’s sort of what I’m seeing it as before I get to the end of the fulfillment, it’s another opportunity to just keep the project running.
Lars Christian:
And there’s no time limit on it, so I can just have it sit there and it keep going. It hasn’t had that much traction compared to the Kickstarter campaign, but I’m also not running any adverts around it or anything. I’ve already exhausted all of my friends’ input during the Kickstarter campaign. So it’s just sort of sitting there and it’s going to keep going for now. But yeah, otherwise it was a very easy transition. I just put up similar content, just with some tweaks. So yeah, hopefully it’s going to bring in some extra dollars.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. Well, did you have any challenges that you had to encounter from over-funding your campaign by so much?
Lars Christian:
Oh, definitely. And again, this is probably the modest part of me. My campaign target was $20,000 and I thought maybe I’ll get to 50. Fingers crossed, dreaming, I could get to a 100K. And I based all of my costing and production planning on getting my own laser machine. And a decent one, an industrial entry-level one that either can churn out laser cutting sheets. And there were about sort of 30 to 40 grand plus, so they’re expensive machines. But I had intended to get one of those and cut everything myself, produce everything locally here.
Lars Christian:
Now, at the numbers that the campaign reached, it reached 100 grand in three days and I was like, “That’s amazing.” And then it sort of clicked. I was like, “Hang on. I need to check my production capacity because this is way beyond what I thought it would be and what I planned [inaudible 00:18:30].” And what that also meant… If I fulfilled the project with my original plan, I’d be standing behind a laser machine for about 12 months. And I was like, “Yeah, I can’t do that.” So I needed to look at other ways to do it.
Lars Christian:
But my budgets had not accounted for employing staff to help getting a bigger space, renting a studio space, other overheads that had come with all those setup costs. These are costs I hadn’t planned for so I was suddenly then trying to re budget and replan everything while the campaign is live and money’s and backers are coming in. That was a very, very stressful moment for me. And I actually ended up putting the price of my products up midway through the campaign. It was a very difficult decision to do, especially at that speed as well and the rate that the campaign was going, I had no time to make decisions. But ultimately, if I didn’t put the price up, I probably would’ve had to have stopped the campaign only after a few days just due to the capacity of it.
Lars Christian:
Now I did get some negative pushback on that. And I tried to handle it as best I could and my friends read the comments and they said that I handled it pretty well. I just took the time to explain all those things to the backers. And in hindsight, I should’ve done an early bird price and I should have allowed myself that flexibility. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not a production person, so I did everything to the best ability that I could. And I’m good at applying myself, but at the end of the day, there’s always going to be things that I don’t know. And yeah, so that all happened, I’d put the prices up, but the backers still came after that, so I don’t think it was the end of the world for the project. Yeah, so that’s [crosstalk 00:20:34]-
Roy Morejon:
It brings up an interesting comment. What, if anything, would you do differently if you were starting the whole project over again?
Lars Christian:
Oh, I would definitely do an early bird price. What I was trying to go for was looking at… Doing my research and marketing and everything, I was trying to position myself as a product that was a bit more premium and maybe didn’t have all the discounts. Because as a consumer, I actually hate being sold to, so I, I think in turn, have tried not to be so selling, sell-y and like, “Buy my product.” And, “Here’s some discounts.” So that was the angle that I was coming from, but in reality, I think you definitely need to have an early bird and give yourself that extra flexibility to change the price if you need to. And also, don’t be modest about it. Do plan for it in case it does explode and become huge, because that brings about a whole new set of logistical financial challenges that you otherwise have to deal with on the spot, which is a very hard thing to do.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, Lars, 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?
Lars Christian:
Yep.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Lars Christian:
I actually never really… That was never really my aim. My aim was just to create something and bring it into market, but that is something that I have always wanted to do as a creative person.
Roy Morejon:
All right. Well, if you could meet with any creative person throughout history, who would it be?
Lars Christian:
I was certainly ready for you to ask me which entrepreneur I would meet.
Roy Morejon:
Well, it’s the same thing, right?
Lars Christian:
Yeah. Okay. Well, I’m going to go with my original prepared answer, sorry. Sara Blakely, I listened to her MasterClass series. She is the inventor of Spanx and she does this whole series on-
Roy Morejon:
Yes.
Lars Christian:
Have you seen it? The MasterClass episode?
Roy Morejon:
I haven’t seen her MasterClass. I just-
Lars Christian:
As an entrepreneur-
Roy Morejon:
… have seen her many times on Shark Tank and all of her entrepreneurial journeys.
Lars Christian:
She pretty much breaks down the whole journey from her start to where she is now and it is just such an awesome wealth of knowledge, inspiration, and tips. So I got a lot of my insights from that, from her. Yeah. And probably to [crosstalk 00:00:23:12]-
Roy Morejon:
Nice. What would be your first question for her?
Lars Christian:
How to cope with… A lot of advice out there is building brands slowly, and gradually over time, I’ve managed to have skipped that and how to deal with that and go from zero to 100 and manage it in just a good way.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. All right. Random question. What’s your favorite plant out of the 50 that you have?
Lars Christian:
Oh, I’ve got to say my bamboo on the balcony. It’s just so big and bold, and yeah, I’ve had it for a long time. So yeah. That one.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. Any book you would recommend to our listeners?
Lars Christian:
I’m not actually a reader, but I’m going to go back to Sara Blakely and the MasterClass series. It’s like reading a book, but watching it so it’s a lot easier. Yeah. I’d recommend that.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. Well, I know this was your first Kickstarter creation, but as you said, you’ve backed dozens of campaigns in the past, so I’m very interested to hear your take on what does the future of crowdfunding look like?
Lars Christian:
I think there’s a lot of people jumping… It’s becoming very popular, especially in certain areas like games and such. And actually, another project idea I had was to come up with a board game, but the reason why I decided not to is because it’s verging on cluttered, I think. There is just so much out there and people are now going, “Well, I can’t back that.” Or, “I have to choose that one out of five of these projects that I like.” So I think it’s going to get very popular, but I think it’s also then going to be harder to cut through with original project ideas. But one space that I do think is quite wide open is this a real creative, innovative products. Because a lot of products out there, they’re solving problems and issues, but yeah, there’s just a lot of that at the moment, I think. I don’t know if that really answered the-
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well, Lars, this has been great. Yeah, no, I really appreciate that answer, because I hope it goes in that direction more where the innovations do truly come out and there’s multiple platforms, potentially more segmented, maybe that allow the creative entrepreneurs out there to launch projects as innovative as yours.
Lars Christian:
Yeah. Thank you.
Roy Morejon:
You’re welcome. Well, Lars, this is the end. 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.
Lars Christian:
Cool. So, I’m the creator of Tiny Treehouses. They are little miniature wooden model kits of tree houses for your pot plants. They look super cute. I’ve got a bunch of styles and ranges available, and I’m so excited to keep developing this project and come out with new designs and new ideas, so all your support would definitely help bring this project to life and even further and established myself as a company. So any support would be hugely appreciated. Thank you for listening. Yeah, this has been an incredible journey, so thank you all.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well audience, thank you for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign and everything else we talked about today, and of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow and ProductHype. Lars, thank you so much for being a guest on Art of the Kickstart.
Lars Christian:
Thank you so much for the opportunity. I really appreciate it. Thank you.
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 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.