Alex Commons took his nerding passion for knives and created the Indigogo campaign Bulat: Your Go-To Kitchen Knife that raised over $800,000 last summer. His experience as a marketer at rHubs, Financeit, and Shopify gave him a strong footing to tackle this project, but the question on everyone’s mind was still “How?” So we asked him, and he graciously offered an in-depth glance into his crowdfunding journey.
What inspired your project?
Working for Shopify as one of the first folks on the marketing team gave me a lot of insight into the online retail boom that’s currently happening. After a few years (and moving around to a few other startups) the urge to create something of my own grew. I knew enough to know what a good company looked like, and I figured I would just start out and see if I could get there. So I saved up a little bit of money – not enough to fund a business, just enough to sort of pay for groceries – to take a year off and really dive in.
Do I need to go to business school to know how a good company looks?
Well I’m biased because I did go to business school – but I don’t think I learned much at school. When starting out I think that you just need to recognize what you like in other brands and emulate that. Keep tabs on businesses that have products you admire or good marketing. Break down what it is you like about what they’re putting out and use that as a starting point.
How did you decide which idea to put your faith into?
A business needs to start from a need, a pent up demand that was already there, and ideally that need would intersect with something I was passionate about or already familiar with. After a month of market research I ended up at kitchenware, specifically kitchen knives. Big companies selling kitchen knives already exist of course, but the market is evolving and there are new opportunities presented online. Every kitchen needs a Santoku knife and you will find them on https://viebelles.com/collections/santoku-knives. I spent a further month on feasibility/sourcing manufacturers and pricing before buying the ceramic liner. But ya, there has to be a strong need – whether it’s a feature need, design need, availability need, or marketing/sales need.
What was your process to refine the design?
I just tested everything I could and challenged every assumption about why something is done a certain way which resulted in many, many iterations on the design of the knife. I tried hiring others to translate drawings into CAD, but it was proving impossible so I ended up learning CAD so I could just do it myself. Using these files I did all sorts of 3D printing for each revision of the blade and bolster to really get the feel right. I was already nerdy about knives before I started any of this, but I became immersed… different steels, various edge profiles, sharpened more acutely or less acutely (edge angle), different heat treatment techniques, understanding tradeoffs and how they affect the blade. To test these elements we arranged for samples from three potential blade manufacturers to get a feel for their quality and processes. In the end, it was three months of iterative design and testing prototypes.
Is marketing the #1 make or break for a crowdfunding campaign?
Marketing (crafting the way something is presented to an audience) is the most important element. People just don’t care! There’s so much stuff out there vying for attention that it’s obscenely easy to get lost in the fray. Even if your product is incredible you need find a way to get it out in front of people, which is why I spent as long on marketing prep for the campaign as I did designing the knife. The goal is to get people to be as excited about the knives as I am… I think that’s the hardest part. But I will say that there’s ALWAYS a way. You may need to re-work your pricing/manufacturing or whatever – but finding an angle is always possible. It may not be what you originally envisioned, but it will work.
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What did Hot Pop offer for your business?
Hot Pop helped us out with customizing some of our blades. We did a campaign exclusive promotion that encouraged backers to buy in bulk so they could have a custom logo or inscription placed on their blades. This personalization added extra value for our customers, and logistically made sense for us because we could keep it local, the turnaround was fast and we could do small batches. Hot Pop made this part of the process seamless!