For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we caught up with Clyde Snodgrass, founder of Vino Novo, the wine-enhancing solution. Tune in to learn more about how he used his product development background, networking abilities and entrepreneurial skills to bring his product to life.
Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways
- How to build a team and network as an entrepreneur
- Incorporating voice control into a crowdfunding project and weighing the necessity of building an additional app
- What to consider when determining potential stretch goals
- How he gathered user feedback and tested his product through grassroots efforts before venturing into crowdfunding
- What he took into consideration when determining the best crowdfunding agency for his business and his product
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Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, raise additional funds with add-ons and manage orders for fulfillment, saving creators hundreds of hours. To learn more and get started, click here.
Roy: 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 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 joined with Clyde Snodgrass, founder of Vino Novo. Clyde, thank you so much for joining us today.
Clyde: Thanks for having me, Roy.
Roy: I’m really excited about this innovation and obviously to talk to you about it. I’ve become a winer, I don’t even know what they call, wine snob, something like that, a person who enjoys wine these days. Red wine is certainly my flavor, especially coming into the winter months. I’m really excited about talking about this innovation that you’ve created. Give our audience a little bit of the background of where does this start, what’s your background and what inspired you to create, Vino Novo.
Clyde: Sure. The idea came from a physics journal that I read back in 2008. I was… I’m still a big nerd, but I was a really, really big nerd back in high school and college. Physics really fascinated me. Sometimes I can’t sleep. I’ll just go down go down the rabbit hole of the internet. I found a paper written by three physicists out in China, the university [inaudible 00:02:11] culture. It talked about using AC electric fields for wine maturation.
Years… When I was younger… I come from a pretty big Italian family, a lot of whom immigrated from Italy. My oldest uncle, my godfather, actually used to make wine when we were kids. We used to watch him do it. It was a very laborious process. I had this light bulb went off in my head. My grandmother, unfortunately, just passed away like a month ago, so it’s fresh. We had the last bottle of wine that she had. We drank in her honor, after her funeral.
We started looking into how we could build a prototype out of this. The idea was to build a large-scale commercial unit. When I say large scale, I mean something about the size of a 200-gallon fish tank that just had a lot of cores in it, a pump to pump out freshly fermented wine through it. This… 2008 [inaudible 00:03:01] how we know it now is not how it was in 2008. There was barely any forums to go on to try to find help. There was no Reddit to go and ask simple questions about electric fields.
I tried. I tried hard. I just fell flat. Once a year, I’d revisit it. My wife would tell me, she’s like, “Why don’t you see if you can do it? Why don’t you see if you can do it?” Finally, 2014, after we walked right off… excuse me, sold out our interest in our finance company, we had some money to play with. She’s just like, “Listen,” she’s like, “why don’t you make this work?” She goes, “But,” she said, “why don’t you build something small that people can use?” The credit goes to her for the Vino Novo itself. She was the one that’s pushing me to do that.
I started looking around. It was a lot easier at this point. I met an engineer that worked on the Hubble for NASA, smart guy named Dan [Selec 00:03:49]. He’s down in Palmetto, great guy. We met, had lunch one day, told him what I wanted to do, and he said, “No problem.” The original prototype that you’ll be able to see on the Kickstarter page itself, you’ll see the genesis of where each one of these devices went from to what you actually see now, the very sleek and sexy Vino Novo.
The original device was about an eight, by eight, by four 3D printed box with four transformers in it, or a bunch of integrate circuits and capacitors and step down transformers. It looked like a science experiment. You had to hook it up to this little eight, by eight-inch, by one-inch thick… It looked like a little tiny fish tank for a bigger fish, that I made by hand and coated it with aluminum foil on the outside. That was the electrodes that we used. Which was a mistake on my part because I kept grabbing it when it was on, shock was like put my finger in a light socket.
We got some track. We got some feedback. We had a lot of people come over and do a lot of wine tests. That first step is market validation. Can you solve this? Are people interested? They were. I applied to an accelerator here in Tampa. It’s the Tampa Bay Wave. It’s great group, one of the top 10 nonprofit accelerators in the world. There’s hundreds of companies that come through there, some really awesome tech. I suggest if you’re listening, you really want to know more about, just check it out. I was their first product that they brought on board.
At the time I didn’t… I had a basic prototype. I didn’t have any design files. I had a CAD… basic outline CAD of what it looked like. We 3D printed the original version called the Volt. It was too many parts. It was way more expensive to make. We probably tested about five or 600 times. There are a lot of people that loved, loved, to try to come up to me and be like, “This isn’t going to work.” People’s face give them away; their eyes, the way they squint. The micro expressions in someone’s face I like to pay attention to. They think… I’m a physicist and a sommelier. I’m like, “Great let’s get this thing, try.” They try it and their face would betray them and so I knew I had something.
It took us about 18 months from the date we started at the Wave, to get to the point where one of the components on the inside of this that actually powers it… There’s two little transformers that power the electric field. We basically had to invent them. They make transformers for what we’re trying to do, but they’re gigantic. They’re the size of a computer. We had to figure out how to do it. We had to find a company that made special, custom, insulated wire. There’s a couple that do it.
A very laborious process, it took about a month each time we had a new iteration of a transformer that we tried. Because we haven’t done printing circuit board, we have to make the blinds or have the blinds made then assemble it by hand. When I say by hand, I mean with tweezers, but with an SMT pick-and-place machine that we have access to. Again, you’re going to see pictures of that in that Kickstarter campaign.
One day, the engineers that are working on this, which is NightShade Electronics out in Melbourne, real good guys, Jordan and Aaron, they’re like, “We have an aha moment.” He’s like, “We’ve been running this thing for hours, and it works great.” They sent it to me in December of last year. Right after Hurricane Michael, I was actually Panama City doing some a relief work, because that’s where I’m from. My family was there. I was up there five days after the hurricane hit, so I had to take some time off to help friends and family.
The device came to us in December. We did a soft launch at Synapse in Tampa in June, where… I think it was the 22nd. We set up a booth and then we probably did a thousand tastes, taste tests, just random. Every [inaudible 00:07:15] was coming up and just trying it and people would bring their friends back. We’re already at work, but this was just like the final aha moment. They got to see what the finished product looked like. It still wasn’t finished-finished like what you see on Kickstarter production ready.
At that point we’d just gotten our design files, just got our manufacturing files, just got our CAD, all the manufacturing partners were lined up. So that was when we made the decision to try to… or to launch, not try to launch, to launch on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter is a really good way to get market traction and market validation and prove to any [inaudible 00:07:49] that you have that… what you did, you can do.
We’re a very small team. Everybody else that works with us is all part-time, so to speak. They’ve all got their own gig. It’s just been me trying to figure this out on my own with the help of a lot of really smart people down the line. Finally, we’re here. We’re at the point where we are ready to launch. We wouldn’t have launched if we weren’t ready to go. We couldn’t be any more ready, which is why we put the marketing PR in the hands of somebody a lot smarter and better than we are. Hope that sums up, not too long of a… long-winded answer, where it came from, where I’m at, where we’re going. I can elaborate or anything else if you need me to.
Roy: No, that was great. I know the audience will be hearing this likely when the campaign goes live on October 13th. Really excited to hear more about when you guys were designing and developing the product and changing or including new features and designs. One of the features that I’m really excited about is voice control basically being compatible with products like Alexa and potentially other ones. How did that evolve into the design and development process from initial prototypes to now?
Clyde: The original prototype was just going to have a multifunction button on the front, that you have to hold for a certain number of seconds. That was a little tricky. Then, we were going to bring the app into play. Then my… friend of mine says, “When I go to make toast,” he goes, “I don’t want to pull an app to do it.” We started to incorporate, excuse me, both sides of the coin. Can you use it without an app? Do you need the internet or do you need…? Can you use it just on its own? You can use it on its own.
I think the Hue, the Alexa integration, the color-changing, controllable the LEDs on the base of it… There’s about 22 million colors in RGB LEDs. I mean, it looks great. Part of it, for me was, well, I don’t want to this utility device sitting in someone’s cabinet that they take out when they’re having a party. I want it to sit there. I want people to walk in and see it. If you came into my condo and walked right in my kitchen, you’d see two of them, the black one and the white one. They look fantastic. Alexa and Hues have really good SDKs that allow you to do almost anything and if you’re really good, you can download a grid, when you use the FTR/FTT. There’s so many things that you can do with it.
I get credits. A friend of mine, [Todd Kennedy 00:10:12], goes, “You need to gamify the app.” I’m like, “What do you mean by that?” He goes, “Well, give people incentives to want to use it, social interactions each week.” We’re actually doing a first… At least I think it’s a first time, I haven’t seen it anywhere else. We’re going to do one buyback. Once we get this out to customers, we’re going to set aside 10,000 bucks and we’re going to do up to a thousand individual buybacks of wine. It encourages people to use the app, go, and purchase anything under 10 bucks. Take a picture of your receipt, upload. Really simple form, you have to do it, make it automated and then just give us a shout-out somewhere on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram whatever your favorite social media, to get us some exposure.
If you really think about the cost per clicks on certain things, five to ten bucks. It cost me $10 to have somebody sit there and watch prolific about a product that I put my heart and soul in; really, really cool features. Amazon’s taking over the world, so it just seemed like the right thing to do. The Philips Hue integration, that’s just simple. If you have few light bulbs in your house, which I do, the light bulbs will blink. You can’t control the device through the Philips Hue app, but you can have it linked to your home lighting system if you want to. It seemed like a cool thing.
The more we talk about it, the more people are like, “All right, that’s a cool feature. Sign me up. What does this thing cost?” When we tell them they’re like… they think it was… Someone thought it was $400 yesterday. I’m like, “No, it’s… You can get on Kickstarter for a little over a hundred bucks, MSRP is 179/169. I think with all the features, with all the things that we’re adding to it, being that they’re all software and cloud-based, it’s easy. If there’s anything else that we can add to the stretch goals during the Kickstarter campaign, I’m all open for suggestions, because those things are things that won’t affect the production. Those are all firmware and cloud-based stuff that are taken care of them in the app itself.
Roy: Absolutely. Yeah. Obviously once the campaign goes live in… on the 13th of October feedback hopefully should start pouring in, if you will. We’re able to cultivate the community that’s been built for the campaign launch and then get some feedback from them to make this thing better or add some additional features that we might not have thought of yet.
Clyde: Yeah, I know 100%. There’s a lot of things we… [inaudible 00:12:23] the University of Tampa has a really good entrepreneurship program. I think it’s one of the first, in the nation, you can actually get your MBA specifically in cohort startups. Every year, they do a showcase for their final thesis, where the whole class gets to talk about a company. They were looking at companies all over the world. Someone suggested that they come to us. They did and I met with them, bunch of great guys. They did a very solid, 130-page market analysis of the things that people would like, what it would… what are the best colors, the name. This wasn’t originally called the Vino Novo. That was one of the suggestions that they came up with. It means new wine in about 16 different languages.
And so there, there’s tons of things. I hate to use the word myopic, that I’m myopic, but when you’re working on something for such a long time you need to step outside the box. I’m really good at doing, but when you’ve been working on something for this long, definitely get feedback from people. I can think of a thousand stretch goals that I would like, but I’m anxious to see what other people would say. As long as it’s not a hardware constraint that would require us to retool the mold, which would be the most difficult part, the rest of it’s pretty easy. The software’s the easiest part. If there’s… if you guys are listening to this and there’s some feature or some way or something that you want this to interact with, by all means let us know.
Roy: Absolutely. We talk a lot about the upcoming crowdfunding campaign. Obviously you’ve been working on the product for years now. Let’s talk about, a little bit, about the prep work that you’ve done outside of the tastings or focus groups, if you will, in terms of leading up to this eventual launch here in a couple weeks.
Clyde: Where do I start? You’re asking about the actual manufacturing and production, the…
Roy: No, let’s talk more about on the marketing side, or the customer feedback side. What have you guys done there to make sure that, again, this is the right product, and it’s a good fit that’s out?
Clyde: Easy. We’ve done dozens of tastings. We’ve been to, thanks to the Wave, there’s a bunch of pitch competitions they do every, let’s say, every six months, when they bring a new cohort online. I’m one of the original [inaudible 00:14:28] cohorts from 2017. Just for the record, I would like to clarify this. Why I didn’t bring this to market was, like I said earlier in the podcast, was that there was this one component that we had to figure out. That took forever. Everything else was done long before that.
We went to Synapse, you can look them up, Synapse in Tampa. They’re Tampa’s version of a South by Southwest, getting a lot bigger. There’s a lot of really, really bleeding edge and disruptive techs there. We presented there. We were out of wine, the first day, at like two o’clock. People kept coming back, bringing their friends, hundreds of people in the first hour.
Part of what we’re trying to do for Kickstarter is get a bunch of people to do some testimonials because there’s thousands of them, easy. We’ve done… There’s a lot of a, I live downtown Tampa, there’s a lot of apartment complexes here that are run by friends of mine. We do a lot of wine nights. I’ll do impromptu taste testings. We’ll actually be live on the 18th from Synapse in Orlando. People will actually get to see, unabated, unscripted, just random people walking up, listening to me talk and see for themselves.
I can’t say who it is, but there’s a very, very, very big blind person in the Southeast side of States that’s that we’ve been talking to. He had one of his sommeliers come into town and he brought in… I brought in the bottle of wine that I use, which is really cheap. He brought in like a hundred-dollar bottle, 500-dollar bottle and then, I want to say, like a 1,500-dollar bottle. His sommelier who’s been doing this, he flies with him everywhere he goes. It’s what he does for a living. He looked at this person and was just like, “I can tell the difference 10 times out of 10.” He’s like, “Do you want to bet? He’s like, “Absolutely.”
I’ve had sommeliers try this. The only person that said he couldn’t really taste the difference in the beginning was my stepdad, but I think he was just giving me a blast to my chops. There hasn’t been anybody else. The difference is immediate. I could blindfold you and put 10 cups in front of you and you would know which one was different. You can taste it. The only thing it doesn’t do is change the way that it looks, doesn’t change the color.
If people… if I’m talking about it in the elevator of my building, someone wants to try it, I always have one on hand. I always do a demo and half the people in my building have tried it. We had a… We’re doing a wine thing on the ninth, next week. We sent, as far as the chemical side of this, we sent before and after samples in sealed wine bottles to a lab to have the amino acids tested, which is where the change actually comes from. We [inaudible 00:17:09] that later.
As far as the… how did we do it, how do we test it? Just the most critical people that I could find were the ones that I asked to try it first. I wanted people who really weren’t into this tech or really weren’t… just acquaintances, not really friends, the kind of person that like to look you in the eye and say, “I don’t know if this works.” None of them did, not a single person. There’s a lot of… The testament goes to all the other people that have been supporting this. There’s a lot of people that are tied to this success, that have helped along the way. They’ve done it on stack or for whatever, and they all know it works.
They wouldn’t be doing what they were doing and waste…That’s like wasting your time, spending hours and hours of their day helping something that they knew wasn’t going to launch for a year or two, if it didn’t work. I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought this was snake oil. There’s a lot of science behind it, which I’d love to get into with people that understand the physics behind it. Because this isn’t like a magnet that you put in your cup, this isn’t an aerator. This is actual physics that’s going on inside the device, so…
Roy: In talking about the physics and obviously the amount of product development that’s gone into this, any tips for someone looking to develop a techie product like this?
Clyde: Yeah, don’t do it.
Roy: Fair enough.
Clyde: I’m totally kidding. I got my PhD in product development. There was another company that I was consulting with that they have a really cool, really, really cool product. We got that to prototype in like 60 days. This took a lot longer than that. I didn’t know where to go. My background’s finance. I’m very heavy into finance, mortgage-backed securities, securitization.
While I’m a big tech guy, it’s like building something from scratch is difficult. You got to know where to start. You got to know the right questions to ask, and I didn’t. It’s hard, when you’re trying to do something that involves electric fields, to just find a random person that understands this. Luckily, I was… after probably speaking to 30 different engineering companies to actually do the design work, we settled with the guys at NightShade, and they’ve done an awesome job.
Roy: Nice. You’ve been working with our agency here, Enventys Partners, for a while now. What were some of the considerations that led you to choosing our marketing agency to partner with?
Clyde: You guys have… There’s not a lot of competition in this sector, as far as people that are on your level. It was a little easier for me, knowing what I wanted to get out of this and how much we were trying to raise to find the bigger players. Part of it was Reid Phillips was very consistent, very casual, wasn’t pushy at all. He knew the situation that I was in with having to cover the engineering costs. This is a patented product and that’s not cheap. As much as I would have loved to launch previously, he got that. You guys actually sent somebody to Synapse. I forget her name, but she came and actually tried the device, then-
Roy: Yeah, Tiffany.
Clyde: Yeah, reported back. You can look and see what companies you guys have worked with. You can log in Kickstarter right now and just casually browse through and see your name listed at the bottom of some of them as a partner. I paid attention to some of those. It was just, I don’t know, I just felt comfortable.
Roy: Right on. With all the work leading up to this Kickstarter launch, what are some of the biggest things that you’ve learned?
Clyde: That I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. You guys do a pretty… not pretty, a very solid pre-market ad campaign. Every day, I get an email saying, “You’ve 65 ads approved today.” I was just… At first, I’m like, “What? That’s a lot.” But I realize that there’s a science behind it and there’s a way to tailor those ads to make sure that you’re getting the right result. I think we’re down to two now that are performing extremely, extremely well. I think our… I don’t know if I want to talk about cost per clicks, but it’s way under what we’re getting for contact signups. I think I looked this morning, there was like 1,700. We’ve only been doing this for what, 16 days/18 days? Looks pretty solid, if you ask me.
I didn’t have a lot of the media elements that you guys needed and, which we’re finishing the rest of the videos this afternoon. While we have some awesome, awesome footage, it still has to be edited. That’s my only concern. I wish I would’ve waited maybe another week, had the video done, had the shots done. Because it’s the only thing that I’m scrambling for right now. You guys are on the ball. I’ve got a folder specifically for you. Every day, there’s an email from someone about something. I don’t have to worry about anything. It’s set it and forget it. I guess the only caveat to that is that I don’t like not having anything to do. You guys are doing everything and I get bored.
Roy: Fair enough. Well, you’ve got a launch that’s coming up very quickly, so you won’t be bored anymore.
Clyde: Oh, I hope not. I know we won’t. I know we’re going to crush it.
Roy: Absolutely. Well, Clyde, this gets us to our launch round where I’m going to rapid-fire a handful of questions. You good to go?
Roy: What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Roy: Fair enough. If you could have a glass of wine with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Clyde: Nikola Tesla.
Roy: All right. What would have been your first question for Sir Tesla?
Clyde: God, oh man, I don’t know. He’s my favorite person in the planet. That’s one question I can’t answer quick. I’d want to know about the wireless electricity and how it worked, since we lost all those… most of those records, and we only kind of know, have an idea, but yeah.
Roy: Who did you look up to growing up?
Clyde: My mom.
Roy: Any book you would recommend to our audience?
Clyde: Dark Matter. It’s a book about quantum entanglement and time travel. It’s super based in science. It’s the first book I’ve read from start to finish.
Roy: That’s a deep one. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Clyde: Hopefully, we’ve exited from this particular product. Hopefully, the goal is to license our IP to a larger company like [inaudible 00:23:20] or KitchenAid or even a larger winery. Then, parlay those games into the rest of the other things that we’ve got lined up. Then hopefully, again, another exit. Hopefully, when I’m 45/46, I’m sitting on a boat, and I don’t have to do this anymore.
Roy: There you go, just enjoy the fruits of your labor. Last question, Clyde. I know we haven’t launched the campaign yet, but I’m excited to hear your insights in terms of what do you think the future of crowdfunding looks like?
Clyde: It depends on the types of things that are being brought to market and whether or not they actually get brought to market. I think in the beginning a lot of people took it at face value and were less skeptical. I think a lot of the people that just… I hate to throw them under the bus, but the coolest cooler raised 15 million bucks, and they may need another 22 to put things out. It made a lot of people salty. I hope that Kickstarter and the Indiegogos of the world continue to make it easier for guys like me to raise money. Because this is, without going to Silicon Valley, this is the one way we can do it. We can’t do it unless people believe in us personally and believe in what it is that we’re doing.
Roy: Absolutely. Clyde, this has been awesome. This is your chance to give our audience your pitch. Tell people what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should check you out.
Clyde: Vino Novo is the only device of its kind that can change the way that a bottle of wine tastes. Our original slogan was making cheap wine better, but it doesn’t do that. It makes any wine tastes better. In under 10 minutes, you can change the overall [inaudible 00:24:53] profile of a bottle of wine in silence. You can leave the bottle in there with the cork on. It’s a great conversational piece. It works. There’s science behind it. It looks good. It’s solid. It’s a solid piece of equipment.
I’ve invested in, and I’ve bet the farm, so to speak. I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t know for sure that we could bring this to market in the appropriate amount of time, accurately, to be manufactured in the United States. Everything’s QC tested here in Florida, one of our engineering firms. There’s not a… We’re taking a loss to make sure that we get this to you and it works. We get it to you in time.
Amazon distribution services is handling all of our shipping and all of our distribution, so it all goes seamlessly. The partners that we’re working with right now, all of which you’ll be able to see on the Kickstarter campaign, feel free to call them, vet them and look and see what their portfolios look like. We’ve got a solid, solid team behind us. Now, we just got to pull the trigger on the 12th and got 40 days of hopefully getting a lot of support from the rest of the loaning community. I want to change the way the world drinks wine, Roy.
Roy: Absolutely. Well, this has been great, Clyde. 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 that we talked about today. Of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors The Gadget Flow and BackerKit. Clyde Snodgrass, founder of Vino Novo, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Clyde: Roy, thanks for having me.
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 art of the kickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it. 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.