Kickstarting Entrepreneurs in San Diego by Testing Market Demand
In the six or seven years since Kickstarter and Indiegogo launched their crowdfunding sites, the way entrepreneurs raise money to finance their endeavors has fundamentally changed. These two companies have become the gold standard for helping entrepreneurs get their startups off the ground.
In the old days (before 2008), an entrepreneur would typically come up with an idea and then seek some way to produce it. Many would risk their life savings only to find out that they made a costly mistake, because there was no demand for their product. Crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo enable entrepreneurs to mitigate this risk by allowing entrepreneurs to pre-sell their prototype—so they can test the demand for their product.
The overwhelming majority of people who raise money through online crowdfunding are small teams of entrepreneurs or solo entrepreneurs. To many people, crowdsourcing amounts to a process that seems like, “If you build it, they will come.” But that’s not how it actually works. Rather, it’s “If you build it, they will come—after you do your prelaunch marketing.”
But here’s the problem: Most projects on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding websites are created by makers. Makers are typically industrial designers, inventors, engineers, and programmers, etc. They were born to build. But they frequently lack much sales and marketing experience.
The maker’s challenge comes when they’re face to face with a customer, asking them to pay for the product they’re selling. It can be excruciatingly difficult. Makers tend to be logical and analytical introverts, while sellers are often more intuitive extroverts. Sellers know how to create a need for your product, an “itch” as Mad Men’s Don Draper called it—and the seller knows exactly how to pitch their product to scratch that itch.
A successful solo entrepreneur must be very good at both making and selling. They are the ones who make their product and then learn on the fly how to market it. But that’s such a rare combination that most entrepreneurs need to assemble a team that has both sets of skills (and more.)
In San Diego, inventor and entrepreneur Pete McConnell has addressed the maker’s challenge by organizing an inventor and kickstarter meetup more than 18 months ago. McConnell owns the 3rdSpace co-working offices in University Heights. Co-working offices are a relatively new concept of shared workspaces that are alternatives to working from home or the local coffee shop. To McConnell, 3rdSpace is not just a place for people to work, but also a place to build communities.
Several years ago, McConnell invented a product he christened WasteBAGsket. It was an ideal solution for converting small plastic grocery bags into simple kitchen trash bags. The challenge for McConnell was how to sell it, and so he licensed it to a manufacturer. Patenting and licensing an invention is a great accomplishment, but selling it is every entrepreneur’s aspiration.
McConnell realized that, since he owned the entire 3rdSpace office building, he had the perfect venue to hold regular meetups on crowdsourcing. Unlike other co-working offices that cater to professionals, 3rd Space has been a home for the creative class of entrepreneurs that includes inventors, designers, marketers, advertisers, writers, and artists. It has been the perfect place for building a community around Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms.
As a result, the San Diego Inventor’s and Kickstarter Meetup has generated a wealth of actionable information for entrepreneurs.
I joined 3rdSpace about two years ago, when McConnell told me about his idea to start a Kickstarter meetup. I became one of the co-organizers and mentors of the Kickstarter meetup, along with Marc Chew, the 3rd Space manager.
While many makers approach their Kickstarter fundraising projects as a purely logical or analytical exercise, our group provides an added dimension.
Instead of thinking only in terms of such metrics as average number of days for a successful Kickstarter campaign, we focus on other key points, such as: “How big was an entrepreneur’s marketing campaign before they launched?” “How should I use Facebook advertising to promote my product before I launch my campaign?”
Let’s not forget the important point of having a useful product. The entrepreneurs who attend the 3rdSpace Kickstarter meetup have highly useful products with novel solutions. But, in their enthusiasm to bring their product to market, they rush through the marketing prelaunch necessities. The San Diego Inventor’s and Kickstarter Meetup not only answers these question, but they also provide solutions and working sessions where entrepreneurs can plan out their campaigns.
This Saturday, September 26th, 3rdSpace will open its doors to the public, and the San Diego Kickstarter and Inventor’s Club Demo Day will be open to the public. The group currently has six campaigns in progress, so San Diegans can get a taste of what it’s like for an entrepreneur to launch a crowdfunding campaign:
–—The Up Light, an LED light bulb alarm clock, launched by former software engineer turned product manager.
—JetComfy, a travel pillow that attaches to an airline seat, designed by an engineer with a successful Kickstarter campaign, and two patents, under his belt.
—QBall, a soft rubber ball microphone designed by a former CTO.
—The Garbage Can Fly Trap attaches to a kitchen garbage can. It was developed by a husband and wife team while raising a kid and working full-time jobs.
—Bar Dog, a humorous, crowd-plotted webcomic about a dog who lives in a Brooklyn bar, created by a copywriter.
—Our Story, a coffee table book covering the history and description of Jewish customs around the world.