Our founder and lead visionary, Vinny, recently sat down with Starter Story to share his story. From how he came up with the idea, building the business, growing the business, lessons he has learnt along the way as well as advice for anyone interested in launching their own crowdfunding campaign.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Chargeasap is my 5th business. Originally I owned Royal Aquamarine, a sunglasses label that was stocked in over 80 stores worldwide. This led me to distribute brands back in Australia due to retailer relationships and expanded to focus on fashion accessories and homewares.
Eventually, I launched Bondi Laces a color shoelaces label with a friend, and since I’ve pivoted to Chargeasap. Technology and crowdfunding have been a huge passion of mine so this was the perfect pairing.
Chargeasap’s products have changed the way I interact with my mobile devices, frustrated with the limitations of current power banks and cables. This is how our first 2 products, Asap Dash Powerbank and Asap Connect cable, were born. It’s been a very challenging journey as my first partner at Royal Aquamarine was a fraud and left me with a huge investment with no business experience, to make matters worse the first company I paid $18,000 deposit for in China shutdown and ran off with the money.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Having been to China every 6 months for the Sunglasses label it was easy to pivot to a new product. The original vision of asap Dash was a power bank hub where you could break off bits of it and bring it with you to charge any device. However, I noticed fast charge power bank technology was being developed so after several trips to China I realized this was the better opportunity to focus development on. Each product Chargeasap develops requires at least 6 months of research and 2 trips to China. However, we have staff in China that handles this process for us now, especially given COVID making it impossible to travel.
We are always trying to push the limits of features available so we often provide a list of all the features we want from a variety of factories, get quotes and work backward to slim down to the final offering. Then we proceed with what’s called the NRE (non-recurring engineering cost) to make the first set of samples. These days with the competition on crowdfunding we have to pay for the mold in advance which often costs more than $30,000 in total.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Asap Dash initially wasn’t a huge success, I think we only raised around $120,000 for the live campaign. Asap Connect did a little better I think about $220,000. However, it was the international PR that catapulted us. We ended up with over 150 million video views across Gizmodo, Forbes, Yahoo, etc in the following 6 months.
The website has been through more than 5 iterations. It has only become a major channel for us since last 2019 as before that we primarily drove adds to the InDemand campaigns.
With the partner defaulting on me and the factory running off, it was a scary start, being $80,000 in debt right up until asap Connect had finished a funding. At that point, I had given up and decided to go get a job due to all the stress I had been through. The best advice I could give is not to get in partnership with someone because they are your friend, find people with complementary skill sets instead.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Building a loyal community has the pinnacle of our success. We post updates weekly and send our surveys regularly as our brand is only here today due to the continued support of our backers.
The best advice I could give to crowd funders’ is not to rush your campaign- we’ve delayed all but 1 of our launches to get things lined up correctly.
Be prepared for delays with samples- all our samples were delayed 1 month at least.
Have a staff/agent in China, it will save you a lot of time and money.
Testing testing testing is the key to increasing sales sustainably. Be prepared to work with multiple agencies at the same time and switch agencies before you see results degrade too quickly.
Customer service is the key to success- for some reason, 90% of campaigns still do not respond within 24hrs, and to make it worse they hire a team to perform customer service. When it comes to comments we always have a core staff perform this role so we are kept in line with any issues or potential pivots based on customer suggestions.
Except for Flash, 80%+ of our campaign traffic has been purely organic- this is where community engagement is key.
We’ve worked with a PR agency the last few campaigns- it's crucial as they have relationships that take years to build. On this note make sure you have at least 20 samples of your product ready to go a month before launch (which can be very expensive but worth it).
You never know what works and what doesn’t - so their sound advice is to test everything and spend cautiously. Unfortunately, Kickstarter has no FB pixel integration or Google Ads integration but agencies have a secret workaround.
Amazon we used to stock on in the past but we don’t anymore there are 2 reasons for this:
- Amazon copies electronics products over time and sells under their brands
- Amazon doesn’t give you the email of the customer so you can’t build a relationship with them
For a while, we had an international sales team stocking in over 12 countries but scaled back as we didn’t find the time to be worth the long term profit. However, we were primarily focussed on magnetic cables back then so that focus is looking to change from 2020.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We have a very high customer return rate- over 15% between each campaign attesting to the quality of our products and customer service.
Our email open rate is over 50%, the key is to keep it simple to text only but always test 3 variations.
Our growth is focussed on launching more campaigns across different product lines. Omega is our most exciting campaign yet and will certainly be our largest to date.
Due to COVID it's become challenging to predict growth and numbers, though for us we’re more concerned with producing quality products than rushing out campaigns.
Our long term goal is to become the premier consumer electronics brand recognized and loved by crowdfunding enthusiasts.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Process, people, and systems are keys to long term success.
Constant iteration, always be testing and pushing the boundaries of the business. If you’re not upsetting people and making noise you are not pushing the boundaries enough.
Ensure you over budget for shipping- shipping has always cost us more than we’ve budgeted often costing us $20,000 to $50,000 more per campaign.
Spend time building relationships with your partners and suppliers, they will be key to your long term success and making scaling easy.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Join as many entrepreneur groups as possible.
Find people to spend your time with who focus on their content and value, not the clothes they wear and items they own.
Don’t expect to succeed right away, the average millionaire takes 4 businesses to get there
Always fail forward and fail fast.
To read the full article, head over to Starter Story.