4 Amazing Startup Lessons I’ve Learned from my Kickstarter Project


This article is Part 2 of my 2-part in-depth exclusive on my upcoming Kickstarter project.  You can check out Part 1 here.

Maybe because I’m writing a blog on the wonders of starting a company, you think I’m a super-genius who just naturally had everything about business figured out from the start.

Maybe you just think I’m a piece of work.

I can assure you that, at the very least, the first one of those 2 things is definitely not true.

Everything we’ve done to gear up for FusionCase, the cool new cell phone case that we will launch on Kickstarter in early 2013, has been nothing short of learning pressure-cooker style.

It’s already been a helluva roller coaster ride, filled with success, failure…and hilarity at every turn (read below!).

The best way to learn about entrepreneurship, of course, is by just doing it.  I write here about FusionCase because I want you to understand what I learned the hard way–the successes and failures–so that you can skip the learning curve, and make better decisions with your ventures.

Lesson #1: Any idea can sound good on paper, but the difficulties of execution can be insurmountable.  You have to pick a venture you can actually execute on.

I was at my business partner’s condo in late September 2012.  We’re both the “budding entrepreneur” type: each in our early 20′s and eager to do excellent things with our careers.

We were both working on other projects; but we recognized a problem with our current projects- the monetization period for each was long.  Focosos wouldn’t be ready to go for about another year…and his project (working on a medical device) was potentially years off.

We needed to undertake that could be validated quickly, and that had a very direct monetization model.

After about 1/2 hour of pondering, my friend came up with an idea:

“Why don’t we make an iPhone case?”

Boom.  This was an awesome idea, for these reasons:

  • An iPhone case was feasible to make (from a manufacturing perspective), and a great way for 2 burgeoning entrepreneurs to sharpen their teeth and bolster their credibility in the startup community.
  • Proven market demand.  Sure, the phone accessory market is probably one of the most saturated markets out there.  But to me, that proves that  there is demand–and a helluva lot of it–for a case that is cool.  What better way to get started?
  • We were a great team.  He had the industrial engineering background.  I had the marketing background.
  • We were both on the same page in terms of what we were looking for in terms of time commitment, work ethic and desired financial investment. (finding good people is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, of things about starting a venture).

But, as we quickly found out, our orgininal case concept was almost out of this world…and not in a good way.

We decided to make an iPhone case by taking old plastic toys (think GI Joes, for example) and melting them into the back of a case.  We surmised that the image of the melted toys would stay somewhat on the back.

We liked this idea because it was literally unlike anything else out there (anyone want to guess why no one’s tried this before???)…

And so our “ToyShell” concept was born.

Melted Lego Lamp

Think a case with this sort of melted-Lego texture.

But unfortunately, the excitement of “ToyShell” started to wear off…fast.

We called manufacturers, and essentially got laughed out of the room–if they bothered to return our calls.

We started to figure out that, from a manufacturing / supply chain point of view, it was highly unlikely we’d ever be able to execute on this (our goal was to be able to manufacture ToyShell in mass production.  Clearly, if our goal was just to make hand-crafted cases and put them on Etsy, we could probably make ToyShell cases all day long).

Not only that, where would we get the toys from?  If we were just randomly buying recycled toys, how could we ensure pricing and quality?

I started to get my traditional mild headache that said “this is….probably not gonna work”.

In retrospect, I realized we were smitten by the Medusa of startup founders- an idea that sounds great on paper, but is complete shit in execution.

We thought that because our idea was “new” and “no one had tried it before”, that we had a good shot.  Truth was, we hadn’t really considered the difficulties in manufacturing at first (we just assumed we could do it).

If there was a way for us to make ToyShell, I still think it would be a great concept.  Maybe that venture can come later when we have access to more capital and manufacturers.  But there’s no way a couple of guys in their garage could do this right off the bat.

Reflect: Is your startup idea something you can actually do, given your resources?  Of course, you said yes.  Think again…  Try to start with something simple and that is within your ability.  Save the trickier stuff for later.

Lesson #2: Don’t count on others to be able to do everything for you, because it’ll either be a.) expensive, or b.) wrong (it was both from our personal experience!).  

Well, we decided not to give up on ToyShell just yet.

Why not go talk to a consultant, the people that know anything for the right price?

We found a guy on the internet who was supposedly a plastics expert.

“This’ll only be a couple hundred bucks”, my partner assured me.  ”And this will put our idea right back on track”

The consultant e-mailed us a proposal.  What we saw made our jaws drop:

Not only was his computer-rendered design completely different from what we were looking for (he literally made a box…a briefcase-looking thing to carry the iPhone in…WTF?), but he also wanted to charge us…

$11,000.  At least.

I think this e-mail exchange between me and my partner accurately describes the situation:

Partner Initial E-mail

Hmm, really??



RC E-mail

The consultant snafu was good for some hearty laughs.

As you can see, we got a good laugh out of this.  But it also served as a vaulable lesson: your modus operandi can’t be to whimiscally hand shit off to others and pray that they’ll solve all of your problems.

Clearly, a huge part of success in business is successful delegation and management (take it from a guy who gets burned out from trying to do too much at once).

But my point here is that, if our only hope for even launching our product was outsourcing development to a counsultant that wanted to charge us $11K and couldn’t even get the concept right after multiple phone calls and e-mails, then we were probably going down the wrong trail.

We definitely had to start from scratch.

used car salesman

There’s tons of shady, unhelpful people out there just waiting to take your $11k. (Source: HowToPersuadePeople.net)

NB- Check out this awesome article about outsourcing key components of your company’s development.

Reflect: Latent in your startup idea, is there a huge piece that you would have to pass off to someone else?  If yes, how will you manage the situation, and ensure quality?

Lesson #3: Even when an idea can be executed, it will still be as hard as shit to get everything together, because actual execution is 10x harder than you thought it would be.

After the ToyShell fiasco (early November 2012), we started to descend from orbit to land and come up with an idea that would actually work.

The next iteration of our idea was the same as our current FusionCase idea, except with the idea of making different-sized snaps.  That way, the back of the phone could be completely customized with 1/4 sized, 1/2 sized, or full-sized snaps.

This would add a sort of collectible and engaging angle to the product.

This idea would seemingly actually work…the manufacturing was feasible.  Simply have a plastic manufacturer make the case, and have some craftspeople we hire make the case backs.

But we started running into another problem…

Making all of these different-sized backs was going to be a complete nightmare.

The idea itself was fantastic.  But how could 2 guys–myself and my business partner–pull this off all by ourselves?  The multiple snap sizes would give us so many inventory-management issues that we’d be spending our post-Kickstarter days being pissed off and running hacked-together Excel forecasts.

We realized that we needed to launch with something simpler, and something that the oft-told “2 guys in a garage” could actually do!  We decided to save this for the future.

Do you really have a good grasp on how complicated your venture will be?  Do you know what you are getting yourself into?

Lesson #4: Learning that Kickstarter (or anything, really) isn’t a cure-all pill for getting your idea funded, and the amount of back-work that goes into building a presence is outstanding.

When we first came up with the idea of putting SnapCase on Kickstarter, we thought of the idea in an “of course!” way…like just throwing it on Kickstarter would basically guarantee its success.

And it’s tempting to think that Kickstarter is a cure-all pill to getting a product launched.

But then, you start to replace your assumptions with facts, and you realize the truth is much more dire.

In general, Kickstarter is useful for folks who already have a level of establishment to keep launching new products.  For example, this product was backed by Tim Ferriss.  This project, done by a good friend of mine, was already backed by TechStars.  And this one, which raised $10 million, already had VC funding.

It’s tough for a completely “new guy” to break in and launch a product.

It’s doable, but the secret sauce lies in the marketing done beforehand.

How did I figure this out?  Hours of researching other Kickstarter projects.  The ones that did super well were generally from folks who had decent connections and excellent pre-launch marketing (think of Pebble, which raised $10 million on Kickstarter.  The team had already made other products, including those backed by venture capital money).

That’s why we have a monthlong pre-launch marketing campaign already planned out, with plans to hit startup events all over the New England area (NYC, Boston, Providence, Hartford, New Haven, and Philadelphia).  We also have a maddening campaign set to engage our personal networks, and push traffic to our Kickstarter.

This was the closest I’ve come in recent times into being tempted to believe that an “easy solution” existed to launch a venture.  And if I hadn’t figured it out earlier, our Kickstarter would have been D.O.A.

Reflect: Do you think some part of your venture will be “easy” because there’s this “one tool” that will “save you a lot of time”?  If so, you might be falling for a self-set trap.  


 The best way to learn is to try to launch a venture yourself.

In the comments below, let me know:

1. What other questions do you have about my Kickstarter project?  Anything else you want me to expand on?

2. Are you planning on launching on Kickstarter?  What do you need help with?

3. Have you launched on Kickstarter before?  How did it go?  What did you learn?


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