This success story is part of ExportWise’s crowdfunding series.
Alex Commons is Founder of the Bulat Kitchen Knife, a product that raised more than U.S. $700,000 on Kickstarter this June. ExportWise talked to him about his crowdfunding experience.
Why did you choose to start a crowdfunding campaign?
You get to test products in the market before you put up money for a production run. That’s a big deal, especially for a product that is expensive to make like the Bulat knife.
Tell us about your preparation process for your crowdfunding campaign.
I researched everything. I bought all kinds of knives and talked to chefs and home cooks and asked what they thought the characteristics of a good kitchen knife were.
The result is the Bulat Chef Knife, a hybrid knife that fills a huge gap in the market. It’s a great knife and it’s affordable. In total, it took me a year to organize before I launched the product.
What are the key success factors for a crowdfunding campaign?
First and foremost you need a good product that people will buy. Then you have to plan and plan some more.
Crowdfunding is about telling a story better than anyone else. Part of that is creating a professional video that inspires and engages your backers.
Leveraging your network is also important to build momentum, as is doing as much public relations as you can.
Did you look at other successful crowdfunding campaigns for inspiration?
Yes, absolutely. As many as I could. I think it’s important to see what makes a campaign successful and to borrow from those and employ (those attributes) in your own campaign.
What was your biggest target market when you started?
It was definitely North America, but in particular the U.S. I had no idea the campaign would be so successful internationally, which has posed a few shipping challenges.
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How did you set your target?
I wanted to be realistic. My initial target of $25,000 was a break-even point. I said let’s do it and see what happens. If people are interested in this knife, I will do one run and break even, but I will build a community in the process. To have this many people love the product you made is very humbling.
What is your biggest lesson learned?
Actually two – there are always going to be surprises, and international fulfillment is hard. I was naïve in thinking that – with companies doing e-commerce all over the world today – the problems with shipping should be worked out by now. I was wrong.
What would you do differently?
I would do a lot more research on international fulfillment, plain and simple.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a crowdfunding campaign?
Do your research. If you are building a hockey stick, go out and buy every hockey stick at the high-end price range as well as the low-end price range to understand the range in product. Learn what makes a good one and what makes a bad hockey stick. Without really diving in, you can’t define the gaps and the gaps may not be what you think they are. Maybe you haven’t created a better product. Maybe a niche product is already filling that gap.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who want to start crowdfunding campaigns, but they don’t know the market as well as they should, because they don’t do the research.
If you could summarize your journey so far in one word, what would it be?
Surprising. I did everything I could to succeed, but it was still very surprising to be this successful. Shooting for the moon would have been $100,000 when I started.
What is one characteristic every successful crowdfunding entrepreneur should possess?
Perseverance. Keep trying and don’t give up. You are always going to run into issues, but the way to win at business is to be persistent.