Daniel Cowen: How a Pen Raised $1 Million Overnight on Kickstarter

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Daniel Cowen: How a Pen Raised $1 Million Overnight on Kickstarter

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The 3Doodler is a 3D printing pen and it changes everything! No longer are we bound by the flat surface and 2 dimensions of a piece of paper or canvas. The 3Doodler allows you to create objects and art by moving the 3Doodler in any direction; left; right; up or down. After it's first day on Kickstarter it raised $1 million.

Here's how it happened (from co-founder Daniel Cowen):

Q: What inspired the creation of the 3Doodler?

A: One of the core characteristics of WobbleWorks, 3Doodler’s parent company, is the desire to take an idea and make it into physical reality - whether that be a new product, process, or design.

This was the essence of our work prior to 3Doodler, when we were using 3D printers to rapidly prototype our own ideas and inventions. We frequently used our own 3D printers for that purpose. One day, 3Doodler’s co-founder Pete Dilworth was watching his 3D printer printing away when it made an error. This meant there was a gap in the print, which normally means having to start from scratch again. It struck Pete that the process would be so much quicker and “freer” if he could take the item off the print platform, fill in the gap, and put it back on to finish the print. So he did just that, placing the parts of the 3D printer in a handheld form. The first iteration created was what we called “the teacup”, which was an extruder with a handle (it worked horribly, but it did work).

The team then added to this, creating a unique cooling mechanism and evolving to the 3Doodler to the pen like form you see today. It’s a simple idea, but one that hadn’t been done before – creating a 3D printing pen. A pen is such a powerful tool; there is no quicker way to sketch out an idea, and its universal accessibility means people instinctively know how to use and manipulate them.

By placing the power of 3D creation in such a simple and accessible form, more people who previously may not have considered themselves makers, creators or even artists will become exactly that, and the 3D printing industry will continue to become more and more accessible for the everyday consumer. The birth of the 3Doodler was created out of a shortcoming in the industry, and the need to find a solution.

Q: Who does your demographic base consist of?

A: Combining the various data out there, from Kickstarter to Google Analytics, and our own surveys and analysis, we now have a solid breakdown of who our backers are, and ours were almost 50% female; 61% American, 39% international; and ranged across hobbyists, teachers, professionals, engineers, designers - you name it!

Since we retailed globally this year people have been using 3Doodler in a variety of ways, but to give you some insight here is a selection of some of the suggested use-cases: engineers for "sketching" models before moving on to time consuming and costly detailed models; choreography of human movement for dance instruction; teaching design and geometry; as a teaching aid for the partially sighted/blind community, particularly spatial and tactile awareness and object creation; repairs; decorating everyday items; jewelry making; 3D calligraphy; gardening (plotting out layouts, etc.); home decor (including decorating basement pipes); wedding cake adornment; used by animators for stop motion creators; making substitute board games pieces; correcting errors or adding to 3D printed items (our original inspiration); and self-expression of object-based ideas for those without access to CAD or who don't draw well. We’ve even seen an array of homemade smartphone cases! We expect there may be some other amazing uses that we never conceived of.

Q: How has the 3Doodler transformed art and imagination?

A: Something that has surprised people was that almost half our Kickstarter backers were female; many had never backed a project on Kickstarter before; and most did not have a 3D printer. This fact didn’t shock us in the slightest, as 3Doodler is about democratizing 3D creation, opening the market out to people who don’t understand CAD software or have the experience and budget to afford an expensive 3D printer.

The 3Doodler frees the user to create whatever they can imagine. There are no constraints such as software or complex (and expensive) equipment. This makes the 3Doodler the perfect introduction into 3D creation and imagination. 3Doodler has the ability to create a bridge for those who otherwise would not have gotten into 3D printing at all, and help transform how we can communicate our ideas and visions to one another.

In essence, 3D printing can communicate an idea in physical form quicker than ever before, and what you can create with 3Doodler really is limited by your own imagination (scale model bikes, Brazilian parrots and even small-scale models of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Brandenburger Gate are just a few of the works that have been created).

One example of the way the pen has been used is by some of the most well-known names in architecture, art, fashion and design is on our artist page here, which shows some of the best work to date and just how it can be used as a tool to aid wonderful creations.

Q: What were your business goals and objectives for your Kickstarter campaign?

A: The initial Kickstarter goal (initially US$30,000) would actually have meant that we would make a loss. But as a team we believed in the idea of 3Doodler so much that we were happy to go ahead with that goal just to get 3Doodler out there to the public. The fact that we were able to raise more than $2.3 million left us god smacked.

Our business goal was essentially to raise enough funds to complete tooling and get production fully underway, and thankfully the Kickstarter community gave their support to take 3Doodler into the final stages of production and produce it on a mass scale.

Q: Why did you decide to seek funding on Kickstarter as opposed to seeking funding from investors or other more traditional sources?

A: We’d all been fans of Kickstarter for some time and we have all backed several projects. There were several ways we could go to get 3Doodler off the ground, including licensing to a larger company, getting investment, or crowd funding.

After exploring all the options we had, we felt passionate enough about 3Doodler to go at it alone, and confident enough in our idea to believe that we could build a community around it. Kickstarter’s reputation, screening system and user-base made them an obvious choice. It meant that we could nurture our invention with people who would develop and progress the idea with us, rather than inhibit its evolution.

The birth of the 3Doodler was only possible because we opened out our idea to the right community. Crowdfunding helped us reach unimaginable heights, and also meant that we didn’t have to cede our concept to anyone else’s control.

Arguably, inventions can hit a brick wall when taken under the wing of a much larger company or investor, as there can be a discrepancy between their vision and the vision of the company’s founders. But in the era of crowdfunding, anything is possible for people who have ideas and motivation, but lack the right resources. Backers are out there waiting for you; and can not only financially support your project, but become an integral part of it.

We have gained so much from working with Kickstarter and our backers, and it’s allowed us to build a product, a community, and a longer-term business. It provided proof of concept and marketability much earlier than would have traditionally been the case.

Q: Did you seek investor funding before or after the launch of your Kickstarter campaign, or were the funds raised from Kickstarter enough to sustain your growth?

A: Up until 3Doodler’s Kickstarter campaign, WobbleWorks and 3Doodler had been self-funded. We were able to operate this leanly due to the infrastructure support we have had from the Artisans Asylum, a shared maker space we work with in the US, and due to the fact that we do all of our own R&D.

We retailed globally this year, meaning that our growth and fantastic sales are enough to sustain 3Doodler moving forward – 3Doodler is now the most popular 3D printing device on the market. Over the coming weeks we’ll be announcing our sales figures, so watch this space. It’s been quite the year!

Q: Why did you choose Kickstarter over other crowdfunding platforms?

A: We chose Kickstarter as it's a tight-knit community who are both early adopters and people generally interested in helping a team create a project. It meant that we could bring 3Doodler to market - people help to fund your project, but at same time the community can help to mold it, and this is exactly what Kickstarter had to offer. Kickstarter also carefully pre-screens projects and makes sure there are no obvious snafus pre-launch (which was incredibly helpful); that stamp of approval carries weight and instills trust in backers.

Q: Many crowdfunding campaigns have difficulty gaining traction. Did you do any marketing or promotion to draw more traffic to your campaign?

A: We had an overall idea of what we wanted to achieve and we prepared for over three months in anticipation of launch. This included giving press and bloggers a heads up early on, and carefully planning out what we would do if launch didn’t go as hoped. We got into the fine details of what we’d do on social, how we’d use our updates to spur momentum, and even had some fun stunts planned mid-campaign. When things took off at the pace they did most of those plans fell by the wayside (largely due to lack of time and a change of focus), but the planning still helped a lot and some of those ideas came back to life later on. There were staples that we stuck to though, for example our work with some of the fantastic wire-artists on Etsy - that really helped frame for people what the 3Doodler could be used for and gave them a strong reference point.

And we’re also lucky enough to have had enough people behind the project to create buzz and excitement. Reaching out to people early is always a great way of getting people on your side ahead of launch!

Q: You surpassed your Kickstarter fundraising goal by over 7,814%. What do you attribute this to and were you surprised by your campaigns’ level of success?

A: We approached the media ahead of time, and used the learning’s that we’d acquired from other projects we’d worked on to get the battle plan right. Press hates nothing more than last minute notice of something, and giving them lead time meant we were able to get the news out there, which was crucial to the success of our campaign.

We were taken aback at just how wildly successful the campaign was, and it became more than a full time job. We did plan for lulls, but the insane pace at which our campaign launched meant that we didn’t really have to use any of those plans.

The project crossed the $1 million mark on Day 2, having been awake for over 48 hours, $1 million represented over 10,000 pens and was an amazing achievement for us. But I remember the moment quite clearly (it couldn’t have been much more than an hour or two), where we suddenly all mentally shifted from “Awesome! We made it to $1 million” to “Oh boy, now we really have a lot of pens to produce, we’d better not screw this up!”. No doubt we were ecstatic, but we simultaneously felt the responsibility of what lay ahead on our shoulders, and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t let any of our backers down.

The team knew it was a great product, but the pace really amazed us. We did not expect to make $1 million in two days. We’d gone to factories, reached out to press beforehand, and staffed up. We tried to prepare as much as possible, but you can only prepare for so much. Overall, we were very humbled by the whole experience.

Q: What do you feel are some of the most common misconceptions with the crowdfunding process?

A: One of the things Kickstarter is great for is providing feedback and getting your project off the ground. But you just need to be careful and make sure you have resources to cope with the torrent of emails and media attention.

Make sure that you have a concrete sense of the goals and budgets of your project before going on Kickstarter, since you're putting it into public eye. Make sure your delivery dates are realistic, and be prepared to set aside a lot of time to keep the communication up with your backers. There should be an on-going process and long term commitment to your backers, rather than just using them as a means to an end.

Q: What do you feel was the secret to your crowdfunding campaign’s success?

A: The secret sauce was simple - having a great idea and the support of the right people at the right time!

Another important factor is prepare, prepare, prepare. We originally wanted to launch a few months sooner, but we decided to take a step back, plan everything properly, and give ourselves time to execute and respond to a better-planned campaign.

Q: If Kickstarter or a similar crowdfunding platform like it didn’t exist, how would this have impacted your ability to bring the 3Doodler to the market?

A: Kickstarter was a very positive experience – we were able to get some fantastic feedback from backers, and what you get with a crowdfunding project is so much more than just funding.

The community also shaped the product that they received at the end of it all – without crowdfunding; 3Doodler may have never become a reality, or become the product it is today. It’s as simple as that.

Q: Your website features tons of incredible doodles created by customers. How has your community of doodlers helped expand the presence and growth of your brand?

A: Building a 3Doodler community has always been central to the 3Doodler vision - sharing, accessibility, and a wealth of exciting content.

Building on the community aspect of the product, and ensuring that our users have the content and support to create truly amazing things with their 3Doodlers, has always been crucial to us.

The 3Doodler community page (http://www.the3doodler.com/project/) means that backers can submit their project and share them with the whole 3Doodler community, and they spread the awareness of 3Doodler, helping us get the pen into as many people’s hands as possible around the world. And it’s a great place for us to see what people have been creating, and for people to get inspiration from each other’s designs!

Q: What have you done after the success of your Kickstarter campaign to keep sales and momentum going?

A: After the Kickstarter campaign we pulled out all the stops. We built up our team; some of us even relocated to Hong Kong to be closer to our factories so that we could monitor things night and day.

The other great example of how we use marketing methods is our mailing list. On launch we had a list broken down by country, and as countries woke up we would systematically get the news to them - and we’ve continued to look after this loyal mailing list, as well as our community who feed into the 3Doodler community page. Our blog is a key part of this, where we showcase the latest inspirations and creations coming from our community and communicate how the 3Doodler can be used in ever expanding ways.

At the same time, our PR team had more time and room post-Kickstarter to work with us on longer lead, in depth reviews, meaning that (thankfully!) we’ve kept the momentum up and buzz around our product (and we've been able to give press and bloggers longer with the pen - gone are the days when we had to nervously steal away the handmade prototypes!!). It helps to attend some of the biggest tradeshows around, such as CES in Vegas and IFA in Berlin - come by and say hi, if you’re around!

Finally, we have been choosing our distribution and retail partners carefully. These aren’t just sales channels, they are brand partners, and with such a new product we have to work closely with them to ensure consumer education and awareness. This was very much the case with the MoMA Design Stores in NYC, where we worked closely to showcase and demo the pen, even designing their store windows around the 3Doodler for a period of three weeks!

Q: What advice would you give to other individuals or businesses who are considering setting up a crowdfunding campaign?

A: Prepare, take your time, get it right – make sure your idea’s great, and you have the right people to launch it. The exercise of asking all the right questions up front makes the plan much easier, as it’s vital not to ask questions too late. Think about your niche, and focus carefully on your core audience, particularly if you’re moving into a crowded industry.

A key point here is to be responsive - every backer is a key ally to you, and potentially a lifelong fan if you treat them well. They were there first, so reply to their messages, hear their comments, and give them your respect. They will stick by your side if you have good communication, show that you are on top of things, and can execute your idea effectively. Remember that they are making your idea possible.

To balance that, stick to your plan and keep the backer audience in perspective - you can't change your whole project on the feedback of just a few comments! Keep a good understanding of what’s constructive feedback and make sure that you can still deliver.

If you Kickstart a successful project, you are in for a crazy time. As you set about building not only a product, but also a company, enjoy it as much as you can. It's an amazing ride and it's one that few get to take.

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