The case study on exactly how Tinitell successfully crowdfunded a wristphone for kids on Kickstarter.
Reading time: 16 minutes
This is the full story about our crowdfunding project on Kickstarter.
‘Tinitell’ is a wristphone designed for kids that raised $100,000 in just 10 days through crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
The campaign closed on $140,933 and the wristphone is now in production. Without any venture capital, we had to bootstrap everything.
This is the story about the project. It contains several interesting and useful learnings for anyone interested in launching crowdfunding projects.
Meeting the Founder of Tinitell, Mats Horn
I first met Mats Horn, the founder of Tinitell, at Espresso House in central Stockholm.
I had met up with a couple of Estonian app developers, and Mats were sitting at the table next to us. He soon leaned in and started promoting his idea of creating a Kickstarter campaign that would pre-sell 2,000 units of his conceptual product, the first of its kind.
I liked his idea, but we decided to schedule a talk since I had to focus on my meeting with the Estonians.
When we met up a few weeks later, I realized that it was a kamikaze mission. Mats were brave, but he had no previous entrepreneurial experience; he was also very young, and he didn’t know all that much about marketing or crowdfunding. And launching a new cell phone in a market that puts you up against big brands like Apple, Samsung, and Sony? Ouch.
And as far as Kickstarter goes, only a small percentage of all accepted campaigns asking for $100,000+ succeed in reaching their funding goals. Most fail. And we had no VC to back us up, only prize money from entering startup contests and a few stipends (most of which the team secured during the months of preparation for the Kickstarter launch). Ouch, again.
Still, I wanted the experience. And Mats were the type of person who was prepared to risk everything to see his product reach the market.
After just a couple of weeks, we decided to give it a go.
In this post, my brother Pontus Silver (Twitter), will tell you the story. He and I were responsible for strategy, marketing, and copywriting for this project.
Enter Pontus Silver
At least a dozen times every year I get a “killer” business idea, as many of us do. But, what’s an idea without execution worth?
My point is this:
It’s not easy to abandon your 9-5 job and put all your time, energy, and money into something, especially when you don’t know when — or if! — it’s going to succeed. It takes guts, some savings, and a good portion of bravery. And Tinitell’s founder, Mats Horn, brought all of that.
The good news is that it’s easier than ever to launch an idea today – without a physical product to sell. With crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, you can test your product/market fit and, of course, secure some of the funds you need to take the next step — without giving away percentages of something that’s only an idea.
There’s more than one way to create a successful crowdfunding campaign. You could do a one-man-show project, simply by describing your idea through a webcam in your living room. Or, you could go all in with your idea, leaving no stone unturned and leave nothing to chance. We wanted to do a campaign that we could be proud over.
It was, however, a very bumpy road…
Phase 1: The Strategy (Take One)
Here’s our starting point for the strategy:
- We thought that the design was fresh and a selling point in itself.
- There’s an inherent conflict in introducing new technologies to very young children. We played around with the idea of putting Tinitells on toddlers in some of our promotional materials just to spark some controversy, but we decided not to go in this direction.
- The product was (at this time) the first of its kind.
- We saw an opportunity to introduce a brand new category of consumer products, wristphones. The Apple watch hadn’t launched yet, but we suspected that it would work more as Pebble, a wrist companion to your iPhone — and not like a standalone product.
- Without an ad budget, we knew we had to produce great content and do a massive influencer outreach.
Phase 2: A List with 1,400+ Media Contacts
My brother Jerry is a Tim Ferriss fanboy, so he wanted to model the project after Tim’s epic Kickstarter-post, Hacking Kickstarter: How To Raise $100,000 In 10 Days. But soon we realized that we had a very specific target audience:
Tech-savvy early-adopter parents.
Reaching crowdfunding parents was potentially a huge challenge since our research showed that the existing Kickstarter tech-audience seemed only to purchase gadgets for themselves and not so much for their kids. To succeed, we had to pull in quite a lot of relevant traffic ourselves — without any budget to spend on ads. We decided to piggyback on existing publicity. If any journalist or blogger on the face of the earth had previously written on mobile tech for kids, they would end up on our media list.
We needed to create a massive media list, an Excel file with 1,400 names and e-mails in it. The divided the list into a few main categories:
Little Piggies. Journalists and bloggers who had previously reported on mobile tech for children. The backbone of our Piggyback Strategy.
Mom- And Dad Bloggers. This global list included any mom- or dad blogger who had written about anything related to technology.
We also wanted to opt-in as many email subscribers as possible before the actual launch, and we named this group (which we kept on a separate list):
The Fans. People who have opted into Tinitell’s email list before the actual launch.
What we learned from doing this:
Some of these publics would prove to work better than others. Even if we got mom- and dad bloggers all over the world to cover the project, their traffic didn’t convert into backers as much. As for the little piggies, many showed interest, and many wrote us up, but only a few of their articles provided us with any real backers in the end.
The Dragons, though … boom! There aren’t that many of them, but those who did cover the project sent lots and lots of backers our way. And given how small group of fans we had scraped together beforehand, their relative impact turned out to be huge!
Phase 3: The Art of Creating Content with No Budget
We wanted to shoot a film to create some buzz before the launch, but also to get a sense of how to communicate the brand. We talked to Jerry’s contact in New York, a professional videographer, but we couldn’t afford to fly him over. He did, however, suggest that we should shoot a film influenced by the movie the Moonrise Kingdom — an idea we loved, and tried:
However, the Kickstarter film had to be more to the point and focused on the Tinitell wristphone. We also knew that we had to add some unique elements to the movie — it needed to stand out in some way.
Our efforts resulted in an animated monster (a nice one, of course). We kept Amy as our leading star, and we used the woods as the primary setting. Jerry wrote the first draft of the script and even starred in the film, playing a father taking the kids out on a picnic. Not exactly perfect, but the team pulled together and got it done.
From there we went on to write the Kickstarter campaign page, the ladder of incentives and copy for the new Tinitell website. We also helped Mats to project manage the industrial designers, the UIX designers, and the WordPress coders. On top of this, we took part in discussions on everything from legal matters to production issues.
A finalized Kickstarter page might not look like it takes much work to put together, but this phase should not be underestimated. Trust me on that one.
Phase 4: Damn those Deadlines!
Circumstances beyond our control pushed the project deadline forward on several occasions.1.
This was bad news for our small crew:
Jerry planned all his client projects around the planned 30-day launch, and suddenly he found himself with no projects in the calendar, so now he had to hustle. Since the deadline was pushed forward about four times in total(!), you could see Jerry’s level of stress grow bigger and bigger with each missed deadline (and I learned quickly to bring him solutions instead of more problems during this time).
But the delays were also a challenge for Tinitell as a brand, mainly because no less than three competitors launched very similar products while we’re still getting our shit together:
The competition was, of course, unwelcome news for our upcoming PR outreach as it weakened our pitch a lot. The key takeaway here is simple but cruel: These types of projects rarely get off the ground in time. Delays are typical, but we thought that we would pull it off in time. Well … we didn’t.
Phase 5: Some Tough Love from Kickstarter
To finally be able to submit the project was fantastic. It had been way more work than we had planned for, but it was a great feeling. And it lasted for a couple of days, all up until the Kickstarter admissions staff got back to us with a massive list of suggested improvements. “Fix these,” they said, “and we’ll run your project.”
The main points of Kickstarter’s feedback were these:
The movie must get to the point faster. Well, we thought that we were getting to the point quick, but apparently not quick enough. Time to alert the film crew and get to work.
Only working prototypes are allowed in the video material. Well, we had used a 3D-printed design prototype. Time to alert the technical crew and get to work.
There must be an infographic displaying the various components. Well, we had completely missed this part. Time to alert the industrial designers and the art directors and get to work.
Phase 6: Pitching the Influencers (The Launch)
Once we got to the day of the launch, we were excited. But we did start pitching 1-2 weeks before the launch (embargo pitching).
Here are some of our key learnings:
The embargo pitch went straight to hell. Our research was clear — you need to secure publicity before the fact. By releasing the news to selected journalists beforehand, you can get those early articles to ensure the media momentum. Plus, Jerry is a big fan of quant-based marketing (see post here). But as we started pitching, we ran into a serious problem: Journalists who used to run stories on Kickstarter projects told us how they had been burnt for covering Kickstarter projects that failed to reach their funding goals. “Get back to us when it has reached its funding goals,” they said. We did get some embargoed coverage, but far from as much as we had hoped for. Stress level: High.
Never underestimate your home market. When we started to push, we soon realized that lots of backers came from Sweden. They were The Fans, and they came from our modest email list as they had been following Tinitell’s journey from way before the Kickstarter launch — and from our followings and social circles. In fact, it was this group of people who gave us the initial momentum we needed to keep going. Stress level: Moderate.
Dragons, dragons, and, even more, dragons. We quickly turned all our attention to the dragons. Not only did they send us substantial amounts of backers directly; their articles sparked masses of social media buzz that in turn sent us, even more, backers. However, many complained that the Tinitell wasn’t the first of its kind and that they weren’t as interested in covering an early-stage Kickstarter-project all the while three comparable competitors had their products out on store shelves already. Stress level: High again.
Initial interest dropped faster than we anticipated. After the first couple of days, we were still feeling somewhat happy. We realized it wasn’t going to be a multi-million dollar Kickstarter project, but we had managed to secure some great reactions and some initial momentum through hard work and by leaving no stone unturned. However, on day three, we started getting, nothing. We had hoped that we would get some backers “for free” from the existing Kickstarter community, but everything just slowed down very rapidly. Stress level: Insane.
Phase 7: The Strategy (Take Two)
We didn’t get much pull from the Kickstarter community, nor did we get any sustained social media buzz. As soon as the dragons stopped pushing their articles on Twitter, the sharing died out. And we felt that we had activated all the assets we had at our disposal. If there were any budgets, this might have been the right time to do a massive ad push.
We felt as if we were sitting in an advanced racing sailboat, but with no wind in our sails. At this time, Jerry decided to change the strategy. “Back to basics,” he said.
He said that we needed to create a series of news cycles and then work our lists over and over again:
The launch cycle. I felt like this cycle was now over, but according to Jerry’s new strategy, this was only the first small step of the outreach effort. He said that we should be happy with the outcome of the launch, but instead of trying to prolong it, we should start to focus on creating the next news cycle.
The Swedish cycle. There is an interest in exciting startups from Sweden, especially amongst journalists who have covered the journeys of companies like Spotify, Klarna, Skype, Narrative and so on. We put the founder, Mats Horn and his story front and center, and we all started pitching from his personal email account, somehow dishonest and dirty – but we got results. It didn’t result in quite as much publicity as the launch cycle, but it was a step in the right direction.
The success cycle. As we were getting closer to getting funded, we put in higher gear and as we reached the project’s funding goal on day 10, that in itself became the pitch. Suddenly we could contact everyone again and proudly declare that the project now was a success and that the wristphone will get manufactured. Safe to say, it did breathe some new life into the launch effort.
The mini cycle. As the success cycle started to wind down, we went out on a limb. The Tinitell didn’t exist other than on paper, but if it existed, it would be the smallest consumer cellphone on the market. Jerry quickly wrote a press release, had it translated to a couple of languages, and then we pushed it out through a couple of wire services. “Spray and pray,” Jerry called it. Then we got back to pitching the smallest phone-angle again.
The meta-cycle. At this point, with about a week left of the campaign, we gave it one last push. Since we had gotten some coverage, we pitched journalists and bloggers telling them about the coverage we already had gotten. A bit strange we admit, but it did work above our expectations.
Phase 8: Keeping Our Shit Together
With all the pushed deadlines, all our hours had leaked out long before the launch even started. For Jerry and I, this wasn’t even a full-time project. We had lots of other clients to take care off. From this perspective, a 30-day launch period is bordering on insanity. Since we had installed a Kickstarter War Room at the Spin Factory office in Stockholm, there was some tension between us as we worked on our other projects. We had to manage our stress levels through the many ups and downs of the launch.
On top of this, several American agencies who had specialized in contacting the companies halfway through their Kickstarter campaigns and offering them some quick-and-dirty publicity for high percentage shares. Tinitell did accept one of these offers, but they reported back on existing publicity and tried to take credit for it. In retrospect, those resources had been better spent on adding a serious advertising push on Facebook. Still, for me as a junior project manager, this was an emotional project with tons of exciting learnings and takeaways!
Closing Words by Jerry
Even if you’re bootstrapped, you too can hit $100,000 on Kickstarter. For Tinitell, it took the goodwill of a total of 1,102 backers to carry us across the finishing line and a bit further than that, too. We didn’t have a unique product once we launched, but through hard work, we managed to push the project through the many months of getting ready and the stressful 30 days of launching.
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Published by Doctor Spin on January 10, 2016.
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