In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Nycol and Matthew Bevis, the siblings behind Top Shelf. Top Shelf is the first open-layout sling bag that allows you to access your gear in 1.1 seconds. Learn how these photographers secured over 3,600 backers and raised over $1 million on their first product launch.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How Nycol and Matt’s photography experience led them to notice a gap in the market when it came to the styles of bags offered for photographers
  • Why it was so important for Matt and Nycol to get their product patented
  • Why the pair used pre-campaign advertising to test the viability of their product
  • The difficulties Nycol and Matt faced when trying to find a manufacturer and how they found the perfect manufacturer for them
  • What the siblings would do differently the next time they launch a product

Links

Sponsors

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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 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.

Roy Morejon:
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 joined by brother and sister, Nycol and Matthew Bevis. Bevis. God, I messed it up right there too. That is my bad because I didn’t practice that well enough.

Matthew Bevis:
It can happen.

Roy Morejon:
So Nycol and Matthew, you guys are the founders of your very first product launch on Kickstarter. You guys launched The Top Shelf, which is an amazing, super fast all-access camera bag. I’m super stoked to have you guys on the show. Nycol, Matthew, welcome to the show.

Matthew Bevis:
Thanks.

Nycol Bevis:
Thank you so much. Thanks to be here.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. So you guys are photographers. You’re brother and sister, right? So I’m really excited. One, to see how you guys actually started a company together because that, I don’t know if I could ever do that with family or let alone my sisters, but really what was that inspiration, that a-ha moment that inspired you both to create The Top Shelf product, the camera bag.

Nycol Bevis:
Okay, well, I’ll let Matt start with his inspiration. Then we can go into how we came together on this. But, Matt.

Matthew Bevis:
Yeah, I was a photographer doing like events and especially weddings for like three or four years. My passion was landscape photography and everything. And when I was doing weddings, I was so annoyed just with the current camera bags that it was just always on my mind. I was like, “These things need to change.” There’s really only three or four styles of different camera bags. And every company is making a different variation of those four kind of styles. And it just really, really annoyed me. And I love just coming up with ideas. So yeah, it was just always on my mind. And then one day it just hit me.

Roy Morejon:
Boom. It hit you. Just like that. That was your intro, Nicole.

Nycol Bevis:
Boom. It hit him. So he was working on this for a number of years and obviously I was very impressed. And Matt’s always been super creative. I can remember as a child, it started with Lego and that sort of thing, but he was always super creative and could build something really extravagant out of nothing. And you know, here comes this camera bag and he started with building like it out of cardboard, right? So he’s got all these really neat cardboard prototypes, which are amazing, but you know, and I was watching him throughout the years and he’s getting better and better. And then he’s moving into plastics.

Nycol Bevis:
So I think we had always talked about like one day this is going to be something and we would love to work on a project together and keep it in the family, as you say. And so, yeah, he comes up with this brilliant idea. He patented it. And so there’s this whole story. I’m sure we’ll get into it. But back in 2011, it was our mother who actually lent him the $10,000 to get started and to patent it. But it was at that time that we knew that we would or hoped very much so hope that we will be in a position to have a company together one day. And that’s sort of, that was the start of it back in 2011.

Roy Morejon:
So you get $10K of seed capital from mom and then you guys go ahead. Why was the … Because this usually comes up on the show in the interviews is … In terms of the patent process and whether or not to go through it and all of the current issues with the USPTO here in the States and the PTAB offices invalidating patents and things like that. Why was that so important for you guys 10 years ago to go through that process and get it passed?

Matthew Bevis:
Oh, I just think it’s definitely a layer of protection, even though you’re not fully protected. But yeah, when you’re investing all your time and money for years into something, and then you do that first amount of work, and then it’s just scary to think that another bigger company who’s already set up in the marketplace could just see your idea, copy it, and then you’d have nothing to be able to compete against them.

Roy Morejon:
Speaking of big companies, “Okay, let’s talk about Peak Design then and Amazon”. Right.

Matthew Bevis:
Oh, you know about that.

Roy Morejon:
I’m sure you guys are very, very aware of all of that. What are your thoughts on what happened there?

Matthew Bevis:
Yeah, I don’t think they have … We have a utility patent and so that’s like the most secure patent. I don’t think Peak Design has even a design patent on the sling, but yeah, that’s incredibly greasy for Amazon just to like blatantly rip … Like everything’s identical, like all the stitch lines, even the logo patch is exactly the same. Yeah. That’s just like one of the greasiest things I’ve ever seen.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. And unfortunately Amazon has quite a history, extensive history, of doing this to other founders and creators that success on their platform and then they just go ahead and make it themselves, and white label it and force you off the platform kind of.

Nycol Bevis:
It is a shame. , on the flip side, I hope that it’s getting this extra exposure and of course there are going to be those people that want … Well, they’re buying a lesser of a product, right. And that should be known that Peak Design’s going to put out the ultimate product and if there’s somebody that comes along a copy copies that it’s probably not going to be as good. So you’re going to get those people that don’t want to spend money, but then there’s also going to be a good amount of people I believe that want the quality products. So they’re going to spend a little bit more

Roy Morejon:
So keeping on the Peak Design trend of things, what gives you guys the right or what gave you guys the confidence to launch a … Let’s say camera accessory bag, where Peak Design had already had so much success on the platform, building a massive community of camera and photography enthusiasts.

Matthew Bevis:
I don’t know how to say this without sounding really cocky, but like we are … I think that our function is like three to four times better than any other camera bag on the market. So I think Peak Design bags look incredible and great quality … By the way, we share a factory with Peak Design in Vietnam. And so I think their build quality is great, their designs are freaking phenomenal. But yeah, I think that our function is far superior than any other camera bag out there.

Roy Morejon:
You’re right, Matt. , you’ve got over 3,600 backers just on the Kickstarter campaign alone, raised over 1.2 million Canadian. So that’s just over a million US dollars these days to bring this project to life. So obviously the photographers and early adopters and innovators on the platform truly agreed with your opinion as well in terms of the product that you guys put forward, in terms of them potentially switching or adding this to their accessory repertoire.

Nycol Bevis:
Yeah. We’re solving a real problem out there that … Well, camera bags are lacking and photographers are needing and wanting. And obviously with a lot of the pre-campaign advertising that we did and such, we really were able to gain the knowledge of what we … Like was is this campaign going to go somewhere or not? So we had a bit of a … What’s the word I’m looking for?

Matthew Bevis:
We tested the waters. And we look good.

Nycol Bevis:
We tested the waters beforehand. Yeah. So we got a little bit of security that way. Yeah.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. Which is always key. , in terms of on the design side, you had mentioned that you’re sharing a factory of Peak Design, like for a first time founder to have such great success, talk about that process that you guys went through together to not only come up with a good idea, figure out how to design it, file a utility, and it get a utility patent for it, find the factory, do the shipping, the manufacturing, the logistics behind it. Talk about that process and maybe some of the hurdles you had to overcome and some of the things that you might do differently when you launch the next product.

Matthew Bevis:
Oh man. Like when we first started, I had drawings and everything, the schematic for what we wanted, and finding a manufacturer at step one, I thought was going to be the easiest thing. I was like, “Oh, go online type in Google search ‘best manufacturer'”.

Matthew Bevis:
And we picked one there in Oregon and we had a big meeting or two and they were like, “Yeah, we’ll have you a prototype back in like three or four weeks”. Three or four weeks went by, they had nothing. Then like a month and a half went by, two months, three months. I think it was four and a half months they finally had a prototype done. And so we drove out to Oregon and we’re sitting there in the board room and they come out and it’s pretty much like a plastic box just wrapped in fabric. And it literally looks like they like put it off to the last moment. And then the last couple of days, they’re like, “Oh shoot, like what do we do here?”

Matthew Bevis:
So it’s like, be very wary about manufacturers because they obviously want your business and everyone says that they can do it. So I learned at that point, you actually need to find like the top guys in the world.

Matthew Bevis:
So I … Yeah. Really put the word out there and kind of stalk the CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op and I got his email and his personal phone number that I found on the internet. And I left him a couple of messages of being like, “Hey, we’re not looking to like sell our product in your store. I just like want to referral to like a really good manufacturer.” And he didn’t get back, didn’t get back. And then one day he did answer and we talked for a couple of minutes and I ended up convincing him to meet up with me. And I … He agreed. So I flew down there and met with them. He saw my plastic prototype and he was like really impressed by it. And yeah, he gave us a referral to our manufacturer in the Philippines.

Matthew Bevis:
And so the top manufacturers, they don’t advertise online either. They’re kind of like … They try to keep themselves a bit of a secret because they don’t want to be peppered with people all day being like, “Hey, blah, blah, blah”. So you typically need to have five to 10 million US in purchase order guarantees per year for those big manufacturers to respond to you unless you get like a really good referral. So if you can get a referral out that’s the best way to do it, my advice. And don’t just think that because the manufacturer says online that they can do anything … I wouldn’t trust that.

Roy Morejon:
You mean you shouldn’t trust everything that’s on the internet?

Matthew Bevis:
No, it definitely a … Some sound advice there in terms of warm intros, referrals, all of that doing your due diligence. You’re lucky because you got to visit the designers of the factory itself and see that it wasn’t what you were sold. I think a lot of folks, especially when you look at overseas development, don’t have that opportunity, especially given the world that we’re in now. But certainly there’s a light at the end of the COVID tunnel that we’re coming into, but for everybody else that’s out there looking to make something, certainly doing your due diligence, especially for your baby, your product that you want to bring to market is certainly critical.

Matthew Bevis:
So as first time founders, what was the decision or what was the process of making a decision to use crowdfunding as kind of your litmus test or to prove market validation for the innovation itself?

Nycol Bevis:
I think that was just it. These crowdfunding sites are a really good way for market validation and also to get people’s comments and questions answered. And you find in this time, if there’re any tweaks that need to be made, you’re able to do that. You’ve got a bit of time, like you’re essentially pre-selling your product and people aren’t expecting to receive their product immediately. There is a timeline there’s a three to six month window. There were … If any kinks need to be worked out, you can do that. If any changes that you saw from comments that you got during the Kickstarter you’ve got time to make those changes. So I think again, just being first-time entrepreneurs, this seems like the smart way to go.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So before the campaign launched, you guys mentioned that you were doing some testing of the waters, if you will, and you got some market insight and some validation from them. I’m assuming you set up the landing page drove some Facebook traffic to it and then saw kind of what folks did there. Talk a little bit about the process there to give you guys the utmost confidence that this campaign was going to be successful.

Nycol Bevis:
I guess it was just … It was the amount of interest we were getting. We were collecting emails. So we did work with a marketing firm and it proved to be very beneficial. They had a sort of avenue that they … was tested and proved proven. So we collected email addresses and reservations sort of, and yeah, we just … We did really well there. We collected something like 14,000 email addresses and I think it ended up being by the time that we launched it with something like 800 reservations. So we … That’s a really good …. It’s a really good number to think that you could sell it.

Nycol Bevis:
We didn’t think necessarily it was going to be all 800, but if half of that. If we got 400 people entrusted to make a purchase, like in the first couple of days of your campaign, that was really good and promising

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Yeah. 17% conversion rate on pre-campaign engagement is definitely solid. But again you’re looking at a community that does fund and they are typically early adopters, right. The camera folks out there and Kickstarter has been known to continue to cultivate a community around camera accessories, photography, and that sort of lifestyle. Right. So you guys were fishing where there were a lot of fish already, right?

Nycol Bevis:
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Roy Morejon:
So after the Kickstarter campaign ended, you guys finally took a breath. Anything that you would have done differently during the campaign that you might do on the next one?

Nycol Bevis:
Matt? Any thoughts there?

Matthew Bevis:
Yeah, like I think we should have had a couple more people reviewing the bag. And it was difficult because … Because of the whole COVID thing, I can’t travel to the US and work with someone to do a review. And we only had a couple of final prototypes, so we weren’t even able to ship them out to anyone. And I wouldn’t … I would rather drive a couple hours and give it to someone so they can do a review and then I could drive it back home to just eliminate it being lost in the mail.

Nycol Bevis:
Or damaged.

Matthew Bevis:
So because of the COVID, we didn’t … We weren’t able to have anyone like fully review the bag, but we’re working on that actually right now with a couple local people.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Yeah, definitely. It’s always tough, right. With those golden samples, if you will, getting them into quality folks’ hands that are going to leave reviews and it’s tough obviously backing a Kickstarter campaign, you don’t have the opportunity to touch it, feel it, put it out to work and see if it is going to be a right fit for you. And when you have those third-party testimonials and reviews can certainly help push a consumer over the edge to pledge and trust that you guys are going to deliver what you promise.

Matthew Bevis:
Yeah.

Nycol Bevis:
Yeah, definitely. I was going to say having a good team of people obviously to help with all of the … There was lots of emailing, lots of questions to ask, answer lots of commenting. And it was really just me and Matt actually. And we didn’t realize how … I don’t know why it didn’t occur to our … why we didn’t think of it, but like the first week of the campaign it was full-on customer service. So having some extra team members to help with that would be good too.

Roy Morejon:
Did you have any idea that Tokyo was going to be your top city where folks were going to be backing it?

Nycol Bevis:
No, we’ve had so much interest in Japan. That was really surprising.

Matthew Bevis:
Yeah. I know Japan is one of the top like camera-related countries. But yeah, I didn’t think that.

Roy Morejon:
Interesting with your campaign is over a third of your backers were first-time backers that had never backed a project before. So congrats to you guys for bringing new early adopters to the platform for your innovative invention.

Nycol Bevis:
Yeah.

Matthew Bevis:
Yeah, I was really impressed. How you even know that?

Nycol Bevis:
He’s got his ways.

Roy Morejon:
Now that the campaign is over, what’s been the biggest surprise now that the campaign is over?

Nycol Bevis:
Oh. I don’t … Well, so we’ve rolled now from Kickstarter into Indiegogo and it’s continuing to do well there as well. Not nearly as well as it did in Kickstarter and we knew this, how it would kind of go, because in Kickstarter, you’ve got just the 30 days to really get it out there and everybody wants to jump on the thing early, we were offering special discounts and that sort of thing for early backers. We’re in Indiegogo and it’s still doing really well. So we’re happy there. And I don’t know that we knew what to expect at all. Being first time campaigners, as you’ll say, it’s all new and it’s all surprising and it’s all amazing. It’s all really fun.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. I’m interested to know where you guys headed next with you.

Nycol Bevis:
Well, we’ll get through this part of it. We can’t wait to get the products into the country and start selling on our website. And then we’ve got a few other ideas up our sleeve that we hope to roll out in the next little while.

Matthew Bevis:
Yeah, a couple more exciting products. But yeah, we want to blanket the entire industry as much as we can, obviously.

Roy Morejon:
So who came up with the name?

Matthew Bevis:
I did.

Nycol Bevis:
It was Matt, yeah.

Roy Morejon:
Solid name. Well, listen, you guys have survived the interview so far, but now we’re going to get into the launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. Nicole, you drew the short straw to begin with. So are you good to go?

Nycol Bevis:
Oh. Sure.

Roy Morejon:
So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Nycol Bevis:
Well, I’ve had a number of jobs and all were really great I would say. But working for yourself is really something special and the motivation you get behind working for your own product, your own invention, your own company, there’s something really special there. And we’ve …Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do this so.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So if you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to have a coffee with?

Nycol Bevis:
Throughout history? Oh my gosh. Throughout history. The person that comes to mind really, funny enough is Peter Derrick from Peak Design.

Matthew Bevis:
Me too.

Nycol Bevis:
Yeah. We’ve been following his story since the beginning, obviously. Again, when Matt came up with this idea, it was coincidentally around the same time that Peter got started. And I see a lot of similarities in the way he runs his company, who he is as a person, like he seems like a very down to earth and modest person. And I’d love to sit down and have a coffee with him one day.

Matthew Bevis:
Great head of hair,

Roy Morejon:
There you go. Get the photograph, right.

Nycol Bevis:
It’d make for a good post, sure.

Roy Morejon:
Well, if you had a chance to sit down with Peter, which I’m sure you guys will soon, what would be your first question for him?

Nycol Bevis:
Oh, just what advice he has for us moving forward. I think … Navigate these waters. Yeah.

Roy Morejon:
All right. Well, Matthew, you drew the longest straw, so you’re up next? What’s your favorite spot to photograph?

Matthew Bevis:
Globally or locally?

Roy Morejon:
Either.

Matthew Bevis:
I’ve never been, but maybe Ireland.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Haven’t been either, but I look forward to it. What about a book that you might recommend to our listeners, our entrepreneur startup founders.

Matthew Bevis:
I have never read a book in my life.

Roy Morejon:
Oh my gosh.

Nycol Bevis:
Favorite podcast…

Roy Morejon:
Is that true?

Nycol Bevis:
You know what, Matt think he prefers audio books. So Matt, that counts podcasts, documentaries, and that sort of thing. That counts, I think. Do you have a favorite?

Matthew Bevis:
No.

Roy Morejon:
None. All right. Fair enough.

Roy Morejon:
All right, Matt, then you get the last question and I know you guys just ran your first crowdfunding campaign and it was ultra successful raising over a million dollar, so I want to hear your take on what does the future of crowdfunding look like.

Matthew Bevis:
I think it’s going to grow and grow. Yeah. I love the idea that you can be the engineer and then sell straight to the customer, not have greasy people wearing suits in the middle kind of dictating everything. Yeah.

Roy Morejon:
Fair enough. Well, this has been fun. I really appreciate you guys coming on the show.

Roy Morejon:
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 guys out

Matthew Bevis:
The Top Shelf by Bevis Gear on Indiegogo at the moment, or our website will always be up bevisgear.com.

Nycol Bevis:
Yeah, and we’re on Instagram @bevisgear and Facebook. So find us there.

Matthew Bevis:
And there’s a lot of fraudulent sites already pretending to be up and selling our product for a lot cheaper. And be aware of them. That’s another big issue.

Roy Morejon:
No, it definitely is. But yeah, no, I appreciate you guys being on the show. Audience, thanks again 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. Nycol and Matt, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Nycol Bevis:
Thank you.

Matthew Bevis:
Thanks a lot.

Roy Morejon:
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@artofthekickstart.com slash 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.