SussMyBike is a suspension setup tool that gathers data and helps you make decisions on tweaking your fork or shock settings. Alan Mason launched it on Kickstarter in November 2015. Since successfully hitting the funding target, he’s been following through on making it both a real product and a fully fledged business. They recently notified their backers of a shipping date for the final product, and we caught up with Alan to ask him a few questions about the crowdfunding process – and what he’d do differently now.
ST: If you could travel back in time from now, to the moment just before you hit the launch button on Kickstarter, what advice would you give yourself?
AM: Oh goodness, good question! Be prepared for the raft of emotions – excitement and panic that you will feel as the campaign runs. It’s an emotional roller coaster and you feel like you are on high alert for the duration of the campaign. It’s exhausting. Also, even though we did a section on FAQ’s – people will have loads of questions for you to answer. It was only me answering questions – but I’d get more help in place if I was to do another crowdfunder. Also I’d get a good development organisation with deep links into the industry you are targeting to work with you. We got great support from the Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland who helped with business advice, connections, focus groups and surveys – invaluable. Because of this even before we had even run the Kickstarter we knew we were on the right lines.
ST: How long did you spend prototyping before you took SussMyBike to Kickstarter?
AM: We took just over a year to do the product validation i.e. is this a problem that needs solved, build early concept designs and finally settle on a chipset and measuring technology.
ST: What’s your day to day been like this year? Did you have any idea what it would be like when you started the campaign?
AM: Every day you get up and put one foot in front of the other – it’s a lot about perseverance. You just keep the development moving in the right direction. You coordinate all that happens – it’s down to you. When I started I knew I’d have to build my business skills so I joined a business accelerator – Entrepreneurial Spark who help you ‘adjust’ to how to build a business. It was immensely useful. No, I didn’t fully appreciate what it would be like to build something or especially how many hats I’d have to wear.
ST: Have you managed to have any time off at all?
AM: Does one holiday in 3 years count? A week in Poland! Nice country and people. You do feel you should always be “on it” but that is the norm I’m told when someone starts a new venture or is building something new.
ST: You were pretty quiet in October, and in a recent update you mentioned better communication with your backers, has this been a difficulty?
AM: Yes, its tough sometimes to keep sounding positive and reassuring backers that stuff is happening. A lot of the time you just don’t feel you have anything to report and it’s not until someone on the outside says well actually you have got this done – you could have reported that. I think if I could afford it I’d get someone to help with the updates from outside our startup. Going quiet does nothing to help backer confidence even though you are working hard on the product – they don’t necessarily understand that. Lesson learned!
ST: It seems to be very consistent that crowdfunded projects involving physical manufacturing slip back from their initial delivery date, and SussMyBike is no exception. What kind of roadblocks have you hit over the past few years?
AM: Agreed – we thought we’d be much faster. We’ve made quite a few mistakes certainly. However, this means we have learned a lot, which you can’t put a value on. Biggest roadblocks are building the team. Getting good engineers is hard at prices a startup can afford, keeping those engineers all moving in the right direction and solving problems as you go along. Unexpected technical challenges which essentially means it costs more to develop. Hand in hand with that goes paying everybody and raising additional funding which is almost a full time task – don’t underestimate how much everything will cost and the effort required to get the monies over the line – especially if you are a solo entrepreneur and don’t have partners.
ST: Are your backers absorbing all of your present manufacturing capacity, or are you going to be selling SussMyBike to everyone soon too? If so will you be going by direct sales, or retail?
AM: Yes, the backers have absorbed all the current capacity until the end of February but we have lined up production to take it from there and start to build up stock levels for the new year and be able to supply on demand. It will be direct sales, initially anyway. It seems so many bike related businesses are all moving this way. Direct makes sense for us right now.
ST: Once you get all the backer units out there, what’s next?
AM: We plan to build our market presence and our brand and continue to export globally. We have sold units to over 35 countries. Whats next? We have some other product ideas which we can use our hard won experience to build. We have an idea for an electronic product aimed at commuters and road riders which we think would be well received – but one thing at a time!
ST: We probably have a bunch of readers contemplating crowdfunding for their own ideas. What’s it like running a Kickstarter? Do you have any advice for them?
AM: I’d say go for it. The stats are that over 70% of crowdfund campaigns fail – but don’t let that put you off. A good video is key to capture peoples imagination. We used Morrocco Media who totally nailed our message (Mark Beaumont can’t be wrong!). Preparation is key. It’s your job – nobody else’s – to drive traffic to your campaign. You have got to generate buzz and interest in the community interested in your product – then direct that interest to your campaign. The timing is crucial – you want to reach critical mass just as your campaign starts. People need social evidence of other people buying your product so they will pledge – so you want to create a pledges avalanche at the beginning. Nearly all successful crowdfunding campaigns succeed or fail in the first 3-5 days of the campaign where you need to get a good ramp up in pledges of probably 30-50% of your target figure. We got 55% in 4 days and the target of £20k in 11 days of a 35 day campaign. Its hard to keep the momentum going though after that so you need a plan – we could have done that part better arguably. Have all your press resources including copy and pictures easily available on a dropbox link somewhere so it is easy for editors and bloggers to get info on what you are doing.
ST: Thank you Alan.