Q&A: The Man Behind Kickstarter’s TakTik Success Story
Scott Wilson, the designer of the rugged iPhone case, talks about product design and manufacturing in a world of crowd-financing and social networking.
Courtesy Michelle Litvin
When the call to crowd finance a product called TakTik on Kickstarter closed recently, 4,597 backers pledged $680,568 to produce the rugged protective case for iPhones. The brains and entrepreneurial spirit behind this successful venture, Scott Wilson, is the founder and principal designer of the Chicago-based design consultancy MINIMAL. In his fearless embrace of disruptive thinking in new product development Scott has recognized that 21st century technology—and popular use of it—are, together, changing the game in product development, financing, and marketing. Scott’s first venture into crowd financing raised an unexpected $1 million, expanding MINIMAL’s business model. With a modest goal of raising $150,000 for TakTik and the pledged amount the exceeds four times that, I thought it was time to get Scott to talk about product design, manufacturing, and the industrial design consultancy in a world of crowd financing and social networking.
Susan S. Szenasy: I was looking at Kickstarter where your TakTik phone case was gaining pledges at a brisk pace. To what do you attribute this groundswell of interest in TakTik?
Scott Wilson: It’s a combination of things. Obviously anything well designed and connected to the iPhone naturally gets some attention and the rugged protective case market is huge if you study the numbers. I have to believe another contributing factor in this market is a lack of premium solutions. People always respond to a company, brand or product that goes above and beyond to deliver a great product and raise the bar in any category. Lastly, I think we have a loyal group of core LunaTik fans that will sign up for anything we do because they know we will deliver and do what it takes to make them happy.
SSS: You have had phenomenal success on Kickstarter, from the very first products you posted, TikTok and LunaTik which created a whole new market segment for your design practice. Can you talk about your initial decision to go the crowd financing route?
SW: To be honest, it was just curiosity. I had designed the LunaTik as a pet project to teach myself Solidworks and create a precision watch case for the Apple iPod nano. When I got the prototypes back I thought others might actually want it. I showed it to some big accessory brands and retailers who weren’t interested. So out of curiosity, I wondered what would happen if I applied the same storytelling and visuals that we create day in and day out for our clients at MINIMAL, to a crowd-funding site like Kickstarter. It was fairly simple for me to put together the pitch and assets compared to running around talking to VCs and Angels. Plus, keeping complete control of the company and vision was appealing.
SSS: Tell me what your learned from that first experience in terms of developing new markets, crowd funding, follow-ups, working with manufacturers, etc.?
SW: Kickstarter was a completely new platform where I was able to leverage 20 years of previous consulting, corporate, and start-up experience. And with any new venture you always learn new things. It’s what I love. Learning. I get bored easily.
What I learned from the first experience was that crowd funding brings a lot more value than just raising seed capital. For instance, validation of your idea so that everyone in the chain has confidence–from internal resources to press or retailers–is very important. All the retailers and distributors came to us. It also gave our manufacturing partners and supply chain both excitement to be part of something new as well as confidence that we were not going to leave them hanging. But the biggest eye opener was to never underestimate the interest in our work and insights. If we trust our instincts, there are probably interested customers out there today and we can access them much more easily. We validated and brought new momentum and interest to wrist-based technology across the industry with our TikTok+LunaTik project. We, and the crowd, established the nano watch category and possibly influenced Apple’s nano roadmap.
SSS: What are the benefits of going to Kickstarter to finance product development, as opposed to selling your designs to manufacturers?
SW: It’s a trade-off. It all depends on what you want to do. Unlike the traditional route of selling your designs to manufacturers, successfully crowd funding a product comes with the responsibility of running a business for each new product or brand you incubate. There are risks, such as building and carrying inventory and dealing with global supply chains. But the upside of this for us has been maintaining complete control and benefitting financially. Alternatively, selling your designs to manufacturers can come with the headache of negotiating your product into market as you envisioned it. But, you are more free in some ways to move quickly onto the next project and let the company you’ve built handle the back-end and execution. Neither crowd funding nor traditional product development is better or worse, it just depends on the outcome you are looking for.
One critical point I have learned is, don’t underestimate the execution after funding. Many designers on Kickstarter have, and it isn’t fun. Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. Even though we’ve successfully used Kickstarter three times now, we still sometimes wonder why we‘ve signed up for this! It is tough work, but in the end, the crowd excitement and passion helps us keep the faith.
SSS: Your posting on Kickstarter is very sleek. It has all the sings of a sophisticated industrial presentation to a discerning client. It’s personal, technical, detailed, smart, well researched, and showing a clear understanding of a market niche. How do you see crowd financing evolving in the next few years for your business? How much of your business is built by this method?
SW: This is a very good question. We have been thinking and debating this since our first Kickstarter project. Now that we are 3 for 3, each time substantially exceeding our goal, we’ve thought many times why we don’t just move to crowd funding for all of our products. But for now the 3 sides of MINIMAL –fee-based consulting, royalty/equity-based partnerships, and crowd funded self-manufacturing–seem to inspire and inform each other in a very positive way. We are also talking with several groups around evolving crowd funding in a number of directions. We are getting approached quite often as well and are just trying to figure out the right formula. Right now, crowd funded projects make up about one-third of our business, resource-wise, but 2x our consulting business revenue-wise (and trending on 3x this year).
SSS: It’s interesting that your successes on Kickstarter are all electronic products, adaptations to existing systems that somehow need to be tweaked to be truly user friendly. Your designs seem to come from someone who is an avid tech user, who knows, intuitively, what is needed to complete the gee wiz products of today. How much of a role does intuition play into your tech adaptations?
SW: We work on everything from consumer products to med-tech, from furniture and lifestyle to software and applications. It’s very diverse. But it’s all connected at the same time. I believe this diversity provides clarity and the ability to connect the dots. After 20 years of working across various industries, you develop a pretty honed instinct into what people want. Sometimes the solutions just pop into my head whereas other times they take time to gestate and coalesce. But eventually the missing piece falls into place, whether it’s a material, technology, a partner etc., and it’s the right time to take an idea into reality.
SSS: Do you see other design practitioners adopting the new system as freely as you have done? If not, what do you think holds them back?
SW: Everybody I talk to around the world is interested in this new model. I think there will be many attempts and versions of this platform in the future. It just makes sense. Whether or not most designers and firms will move this way will be interesting and exciting to watch. The thing that separates entrepreneurs and visionaries from dreamers is courage.