Minnesota tech entrepreneur Zach Supalla experienced an aha moment when ideating a method for his deaf father to be notified when he had an incoming text message.
The solution is Spark, a hardware + software startup that connects lights to the internet for control from a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Supalla and crew launched their fundraising campaign on the massively popular Kickstarter platform last month, but only closed on $125k — just half of the $250k target sought.
While Kickstarter funding is an all or nothing pursuit, entrepreneurship is not, and Spark is moving forward as Supalla explains in this Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur interview:
Why did you decide to pursue crowdfunding in the first place and why Kickstarter specifically?
With a hardware startup, investors are weary of hardware because it’s expensive and typically you don’t really know if people are going to want your product until you’ve already invested hundreds of thousands into it.
Crowdfunding is great because you can get that customer feedback before investing into manufacturing (tooling, cert, first run, etc.) and it’s a perfect place for those people who want to buy new and tangible things
As for Kickstarter it’s the one that people know and it comes with it’s own traffic; the flaw with Kickstarter now is the limitations on the volume orders – their no multiple rules (came into effect 2 weeks before launch) was damaging for us.
How did you determine the financial target? How did you fund the launch on Kickstarter?
We worked with a supply chain partner called Dragon Innovation in MA who also helped us put together a budget and we had some preliminary angel investment for prototyping.
How much did the campaign cost overall in terms of resources invested?
We basically had two people working full time on the campaign, although neither of us were drawing salaries. We had a bit of travel overhead and some misc. demo costs, but really the main expenses were the hundreds of hours the team put in.
In retrospect, what’s the business outcome (+/-) and how do you measure it?
The outcomes was amazingly positive considering that we were really just a concept pre-Kickstarter. Now, we have interested investors, we have supportive early adopters, great press, a bunch of potential business deals and relationships with could be distributors and vendor reps. All together, we now have traction.
What was your biggest learning experience?
I think the biggest learning experience is seeing what peoples reaction were when they saw the product. Tweets….comments…messages…we really were able to find out what people liked and what they did not like about it. For example, they like the simplicity, they didn’t like the price (so we lowered it now).
What would you do differently next time?
I don’t know that there’s anything that we would have done differently. Moving forward, the things that we are changing were learned by our mistakes, which are naturally what you get by trying something new and different.
Were now taking pre-orders directly on our site, and have already raised more than $30k with the average customer buying 2.3 sockets. Were going to continue developing the product through private investment and are going to an incubator in China called HAXLR8R for three months starting in January. We’re still planning on delivering the product in the middle of next year.
What general advice would you have to a peer tech entrepreneur considering going the crowdfunding route?
Get out there and do it. No crowdfunding platform is perfect but the experience you gain by goinf public with your idea, concept or product is enormously valuable.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
If anyone reading is thinking about crowdfunding campaign, and there’s anything I could do to help, contact me: zsupalla at gmail. Also, check out a more in depth post-mortem here.