On this week’s episode of the Art of the Kickstart podcast, we spoke with Julia Benben of Chameleon Pens. Tune in to learn more about their latest Kickstarter project for the Chameleon Fineliner pens, plus how to build a community around your product or brand and launch a new project using Kickstarter.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How to use crowdfunding to grow your product line
  • How to think about features, pricing and more when designing a new product
  • How to build a community around your product
  • How backing a product on Kickstarter is different from buying a product on a different website
  • Why listening to your customers is critical
  • Why you need to research everything before beginning to launch a Kickstarter project

Links

Sponsors

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backerkitArt 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.

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 100 million dollars for our clients since 2010.

Roy Morejon:
Each week I will 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 Backer Kit and The Gadget Flow. Backer Kit 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.

Roy Morejon:
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.

Roy Morejon:
Now let’s get on with the show.

Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today I am joined with Julia Benben with The Chameleon Pen Campaigns and Company. Julia, thank you so much for joining us today.

Julia Benben:
Hey, it’s really wonderful to be here.

Roy Morejon:
So I always love and enjoy, and I know the audience does as well, speaking to campaign creators that have done multiple campaigns. So you guys are about to launch your fourth campaign, and likely when this episode airs, it will be live, on May the 7th, launching The Chameleon Pen Campaign for The Fineliner, which is I guess a little bit of a broader product in terms of the category that you’re going to be launching in.

Roy Morejon:
So I know the first project back in 2014 I think that you launched and have done subsequent campaigns thereafter, now this being the 4th campaign. Let’s talk about from the beginning. Where does this all start? Let’s talk about the journey that you’ve taken to get here.

Julia Benben:
Sure. Yeah. It was an interesting journey because I think I mentioned to you, I started actually getting interested in the Kickstarter platform back in 2014, and I just thought it was a really innovative way to launch products.

Julia Benben:
Before that, we’d launch most of our products through direct response television we have done before, through a lot of television home shopping channels. And this just looked like a whole new way to be able to launch new innovation.

Julia Benben:
So we had come up with ah, well Terry Bolton, a friend of ours, had come up with this amazing concept to be able to get multiple color tones out of one pen. So we always believed that a marker pen could have so many more colors than just one solid color that’s coming out of the pen.

Julia Benben:
So we launched, well previewed in early 2014 Chameleon Pens, which is a permanent alcohol ink pen that you can actually adjust the color tone of the ink. That means like one pen can give you multiple color tones so you don’t need a ton of pens to create really great artwork.

Julia Benben:
We previewed and launched it in early 2014 with 20 colors and we took it out to a lot of artists and colorists. Coloring was really hot then. Everybody had a coloring book and wanted to be able to have some great pens for it, so it was really timely.

Julia Benben:
Everybody loved the system, but they wanted more colors. So it was like okay. Went back to the management team and said, “Hey we need more colors.” And they said, “You know what? It’s going to be really expensive for us to do right now. We’ve got to formulate all the inks, we’ve got to do all the different foils, it’s gonna cost a lot of money.”

Julia Benben:
And that’s when I said, “Hey why don’t we try Kickstarter and see if the community will help us out in creating more colors for our system?” So that was our first campaign. I think it actually, we launched it in 2015 by that point and we already had an established system.

Julia Benben:
But the innovation that we were working towards was having the community help us fund 30 new colors so that we could have a real complete palette, like more skin tones and gray tones and those sorts of things for artists to give us a 50 color palette.

Julia Benben:
And then with all the different color tones you can get, you can get hundreds of different color tones out of that one 50 system. And it blew us away. I think it was funded in like two days, something crazy like that. So we had amazing responses from that.

Roy Morejon:
After four campaigns now, you guys have done over half a million dollars in just crowdfunding capital. So let’s talk about the new campaign, The Chameleon Fineliner. What inspired you to create this product line now?

Julia Benben:
Well the Chameleon Pen is a patented system so what we work with is a very highly engineered tip to tip color blending system that infuses color. So whether it’s a permanent alcohol ink on a brush tip for artists or a Japanese nib that works for writing, we can use the system for multiple disciplines basically.

Julia Benben:
So we asked a lot of the Kickstarter community in a survey what other products would you like to see from us? One of the key things, I mean they gave us a lot of great product development ideas, but one of them was a fine line writing pen.

Julia Benben:
And we kind of always had that in our mind to do, but due to the response of folks, we brought it forward. It actually is highly technical when you see the videos. It’s taken us over two years to develop the system, because it’s basically taking our core system and engineering it down to a much smaller refined ergonomic elegant system that is a writing pen.

Julia Benben:
But when you actually switch the caps, it’s a dual ink system. It’s very cool. There’s ink in the cap and there’s ink in the pen, so you can actually blend colors just by swapping up the caps.

Julia Benben:
So we just knew that we had such a great response from people with being a product for people who are artsy and into arts and crafts and coloring, that by adding that additional fine line writing, it really kind of encompassed everybody, because pretty much everybody loves pens.

Julia Benben:
Now you’ve got a pen that can write like an ordinary pen, but you can write in rainbows of colors and it’s just, it’s addictive once you start coloring with it. It’s really neat.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. It looks like it. I mean when you guys were creating these pens, what was that process? I mean there’s a ton of engineering and design and work that goes into this. How did you go about deciding which features to include, what designs, what colors, all of that? Was it based on solely the community feedback or the engineering capabilities that you had at this time?

Julia Benben:
Well it was a combination of a lot of things. When you’re developing a product, you look at the core product you’ve got now. So we had a nice, in terms of colors, we had a nice 50 color palette that we felt was good.

Julia Benben:
Obviously a lot of skin tones or gray tones weren’t really needed for a writing pen. So we tried to follow along a lot of the core palette that we had that we developed that everybody loved.

Julia Benben:
And then obviously you have to take a look at your competition. That’s really important, is what are all the other fine line pens out there? Because there’s a lot of fine liner pens out there, and different values, different qualities of pen.

Julia Benben:
But all of them basically do one thing. So we knew that our pen could do so much more by this whole patented innovation of color blending, the dual ink system that’s in it.

Julia Benben:
So taking a look at that and seeing certain things like, okay, do you want a pen that’s ergonomic? Do you want a pen that doesn’t roll off the countertop? How should it feel in your hand? So we tried, and you’ll see on our campaign and as we develop, we tried, do we want a glossy foil on it? How does that feel? What feels better? A matte foil?

Julia Benben:
And then pricing. How is this going to price related to what’s out on the market? Because it may be great that it can do something really cool, but people aren’t gonna want to pay a huge premium for a pen that blends.

Julia Benben:
So it’s finding that balance in costing as you’re developing it. You know, not to make a Cadillac and make something that is really cool and innovative and disruptive to the category, but at a price point that people will be like, “You know what? I’ll pay a bit of a premium for something like that.” Because nothing else there on the market does what this can do.

Roy Morejon:
Exactly. So in running, now this being your fourth campaign upcoming, talk about the preparation and how you’ve changed campaign to campaign in terms of preparing for the lead up of the campaign, building a community, getting engagement, and more of your holistic marketing approach now as compared to when you first launched.

Julia Benben:
Yeah. I mean it’s changed so much over the past, what’s that, five years now? Initially we were very focused when we first launched the product on, in 2014, on building a Facebook community, which we, with Nick Watt and our Director of Marketing, a tremendous job that was done, basically I think somewhere close to half a million followers. Now that was back when followers were relevant. But we really got some great traction.

Julia Benben:
And then we started a community newsletter which we really wanted to give a lot of free content, a lot of tips about the product. So this allowed us to start building a community and a list of people.

Julia Benben:
So our first campaign, we basically went out there. We went to our community, we posted on Facebook, and then we did some Facebook ads. And we did this all internally. Our Director of Design, Doug Holmer, I mean the graphics he creates are unbelievable.

Julia Benben:
So it really was eye popping and people got interested and they clicked on it. And we were very lucky that Kickstarter featured our product. In fact I think every one of our campaigns, touch wood, has been really well received by the Kickstarter community, but also Kickstarter has projects we love, which has been really helpful for us too.

Julia Benben:
But the second campaign, we were a little bit more buttoned up. We had been through it once before and we kind of knew what to expect, and we basically kept building the list, and then we had the base community that we already created, which I think was about 1,500 backers after our first campaign.

Julia Benben:
And then that really helped fuel between the emails that we had from the creative community, our social media, some paid advertising and our existing community on Kickstarter, it really shot out of the gate. I think we were funded within the first day and hit numbers we were never expecting. Which you’re constantly trying to keep up with the campaign. It’s a lot of work.

Julia Benben:
And then on top of that, you got to figure, you’re trying to run an everyday business. So it was a lot of work. I will say we had a lot of people come out of the woodwork and want to offer us a lot of things for percentages of the campaigns, which can be helpful.

Julia Benben:
But I think you really have to do a lot of due diligence on that. So that’s one thing I definitely recommend if you’re looking for outside help, to do a lot of good due diligence.

Julia Benben:
And the third campaign we did was for kids, which it was not as big. But we really had a lot of the Kickstarter people want the same product for kids. They’re like, “My kids keep wanting to take my pen, so do you have something for kids?”

Julia Benben:
And we did. So that’s where we created the Kickstarter for the Chameleon Pens for Kids, which was really again, for a kids’ product, was quite successful and we got a project that Kickstarter loved too.

Julia Benben:
So it’s evolved as we’ve gone along. We’ve kind of gone, had some outside help here and there. The Gadget Flow has been great for us as well. And then this campaign, our business has leveled up so much that we knew we could not take care of this in house and we needed some outside help. So we actually decided to go to Enventys Partners.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. We’re obviously really excited about this upcoming launch with you guys. One of the interesting things you brought up is the continued communication with the community that you built and all these backers.

Julia Benben:
Yes.

Roy Morejon:
So how have you gone about dealing with feedback, customer experiences, now delivering product and getting feedback, and then managing, promoting new campaigns or new products as well as working on the manufacturing side of that? How are you guys juggling all those balls?

Julia Benben:
We have a great team. I mean it has grown over the years definitely. I think the biggest thing is to try and understand the community from the get go. So I get so many people, when they hear you’ve done like three Kickstarters that are successful, and all of them really successful, we didn’t really realize it’s a bit of a unicorn.

Julia Benben:
So they’re like, “How do you do it? Can I Kickstart my product?” And I always tell people, “You’ve got to go do the research. You have to understand the community. Back products. We back like 16 or something projects. We’re part of the community.

Julia Benben:
So you have to understand what it’s like to be a backer and go through the ups and downs of development. This isn’t buying something off of Amazon and having next day shipping.

Julia Benben:
So this is the community that the true Kickstarter community comes from, is that people are wanting to be conscious consumers and they’re wanting to support and to help you make the project come to life. So everything from the language as you’re talking to people. It’s a reward. It’s not a product. They’re backing, but not necessarily buying.

Julia Benben:
So it comes to starting with making sure you understand the community. And then keeping up and listening to them. I mean I know our first campaign, like we didn’t get a lot of sleep. You have to be there and respond immediately and be engaged and be there to answer the questions.

Julia Benben:
We now have customer service folks across the world. So we have an office in the U.K. that will be able to deal with answers early in the morning, where the folks in the U.S. can deal with answers later in the day. So it’s close to around the clock that we can answer people.

Julia Benben:
But you’ve got to listen to the customers. You’ve got to really hear what they’re saying and respond to them, and sometimes it’s not good. So you really have to temper that as well. Sometimes people want a lot and you have to be mindful of the community as you’re answering.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So with this being your fourth Kickstarter project, you guys have just this wealth of experience crowdfunding awesome products. What tip would you give for someone looking to do their first crowdfunding product?

Julia Benben:
Oh, I would 100 percent say research, research, research. That is, you have to take the time to first make sure obviously… , and I’ve dealt with over the years a lot of inventors. You have to make sure that your product is relevant and that you can make it at the price point you think you can make it at and that there’s a definite need for it. So it has to start at the product level.

Julia Benben:
And then are there other campaigns that have done this before and were they successful? And then basically it’s a matter of, in addition to research and knowing. You would not want to build a campaign and not know whether you can make this.

Julia Benben:
So you have to be very buttoned up before you go in, knowing exactly where you should be prototyping, making sure that you’ve got something that can be produced at the price that you think it can be produced at, that you’re offering for.

Julia Benben:
And then you can’t just show up that day and say, “Okay, push the button. We’re ready to go.” It takes months of time to be able to develop a campaign that will be successful. Between the product, the video, the pre-marketing. It all depends on the budget.

Julia Benben:
If you don’t have a lot of a budget, sometimes it’s just a matter of doing as much free work. Like reaching out to people over and over, like if it’s Instagram or Facebook or whatever, and telling them. That’s just legwork if you don’t have the money to do it, say, by doing a Facebook ad out of the gate.

Julia Benben:
So yeah. I would definitely say a lot of research and be buttoned up and make sure that you’ve got some preexisting list or awareness so that when the button goes and pushes, you’ve got a fighting chance out of the gate, rather than just thinking you can show up to the platform and suddenly people are going to fund you. You know?

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. It’s not a if you build it they will come, right?

Julia Benben:
No. It’s not. But the thing is is just really making sure that you’ve got those lists and you’ve got those people ahead of time. And do the best you can for the budget that you have.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well Julia, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. Are you good to go?

Julia Benben:
Sure.

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

Julia Benben:
That’s just all I’ve ever known. I think, and I know I’ve heard other entrepreneurs say this, but I’m really not good with having a boss and I have a specific way I like things to be done.

Julia Benben:
So I’ve found that’s usually easier just to do it yourself, and that’s an entrepreneurial kind of spirit. But then obviously yeah, you’ve got to get people behind to help you. But yeah, I’m not a great employee.

Roy Morejon:
Fair enough. So if you could meet any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to draw pictures with?

Julia Benben:
Oh, I’d have to say Oprah Winfrey because she just blows my mind how far she’s come.

Roy Morejon:
What would be your first question for Oprah?

Julia Benben:
How does she keep focused with all those things on the go? I mean that’s incredible.

Roy Morejon:
Talking about juggling a lot of balls. I’m sure she is pretty good.

Julia Benben:
Yeah. Definitely.

Roy Morejon:
Any books you would recommend to our listeners?

Julia Benben:
That’s a tough one. I love a lot of them, but thinking about it I’d probably say Blue Ocean Strategy is probably one of my favorites.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. That’s a good read. What’s your favorite color Chameleon Pen?

Julia Benben:
Oh, YG3. The Spring Meadow Green.

Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. Last question. What does the future of crowdfunding look like?

Julia Benben:
That’s an apropos question. It’s the 10 year anniversary today for Kickstarter.

Roy Morejon:
It is.

Julia Benben:
It is. So we haven’t done a project in two years, so I’ve been told that a lot has changed in the last two years so I’m excited to see that. What I’d like to see for the future is really having the platform being, taking wider spread. Having more people understanding about it.

Julia Benben:
And every time we do a campaign and pull in Carol the colorist from Iowa who has never seen what Kickstarter is about, I think we as people who run campaigns, can help create a broader awareness of what Kickstarter is about.

Julia Benben:
And hopefully make it more of a mainstream platform that people know, “Hey I can go to Kickstarter and I can get stuff that I can’t get anywhere else and it’s really innovative.” Yeah. It’s not an Amazon. They know. There’s more product awareness and incentive to make it grow.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. It’s amazing that there’s only been 16 million people that have backed a campaign.

Julia Benben:
I know. And the thing is there’s just so many great ideas that are out there that it’s just obviously trying to get more people to know about it and making sure that more… , and I look at it as a responsibility who have created products or projects on Kickstarter is making sure that we educate more of the people who are creating projects so that there are more successful projects and happy backers not feeling that they’ve been taken advantage of.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well Julia, this has been awesome. Please give our audience your pitch. Tell people what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should check out Chameleon Pens.

Julia Benben:
Awesome. Well if you want to see what all our products are about, you can go to ChameleonArtProducts.com or just Google Chameleon Pens. The new product we’ve got coming out on Kickstarter on May 7th is the Chameleon Fineliner pen.

Julia Benben:
It’s a writing pen that contains ink in a cap as well as ink in the body of the pen. And if you want to create an amazing rainbow blend, you just pop the top and you basically can blend color on the fly. It’s just incredible.

Julia Benben:
You can see how it works on our site, and you’ll see it on Kickstarter too. We’ve got some amazing early bird specials. It’s like, I think some of the stuff is almost 40 percent off or something like that, on the early bird specials. So definitely get in on that.

Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit ArtoftheKickstart.com for all the show notes, the transcript, links to the campaign that we’ll be launching, and everything else that we talked about today.

Roy Morejon:
And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, The Gadget Flow and Backer Kit.

Roy Morejon:
Julia, thank you so much for being on Art of the Kickstart today.

Julia Benben:
Thank you. It’s been great.

Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning in to 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.

Roy Morejon:
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.

Roy Morejon:
It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs and startups find the 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.