This weeks guest is Hamilton Perkins from Hamilton Perkins Bags. These are really nice bags made from recycled plastic.
Today we’re going to talk about how you get your startup to get traction, especially when selling direct to the consumer. We’re going to learn what it takes to get a Kickstarter Campaign to work as well as other ideas you can use today to make your business be found on line.
Here are some of the things we’ll be talking about on today’s show:
- Why Hamilton chose direct to consumer over the usual way of marketing through others.
- If you’re going to sell direct to the consumer you need to have a great story to tell.
- How selling online gives you lots of options to tell your story to potential customers.
- Why Hamilton chose to start his company through Kickstarter and some tips for you if you go this route.
- Why a successful marketing campaign always starts with the product and not the marketing.
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.
Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and you’re at The Sustainable Business. Today, we’re going to talk about bags. Now, you’re probably asking yourself, “What about bags might be interesting for me as a business owner?”
Now, we have Hamilton Perkins with us, the founder of Hamilton Perkins Collection. His bags aren’t the made out of just you would think bags are about, they are from recycled materials. He’s done a lot of interesting things. You know, he’s been an investment banker. He’s worked around. He’s got an MBA which we’ll give him a pass on that but that’s okay.
Yeah, you’ll hear about my opinion of MBAs, Hamilton. And instead of me just kind of wandering around, let’s bring him in.
Hey, Hamilton. How are you today?
Hamilton: Hey, Josh. I’m doing well. And thanks so much for having me on the program today.
Josh: It’s my pleasure. And please excuse me for dumping on MBAs, I just can’t resist.
Hamilton: No excuse needed. I mean, I get it. We work super hard but entrepreneurship and kind of startup culture. I mean, right now, it’s exciting just the intersection of it all, I’ll say that.
So let’s start out talking about selling direct to customers because it would seem that most people in your business would want to be doing wholesale and not direct to consumer.
Hamilton: Yes. It’s really been interesting. In the first quarter, there’s been kind of more bankruptcies in retail than all of last year combined, and just online spending really just completely taking off. I mean, well over 300 billion being spent direct to consumer – with that kind of growing to a trillion in the next 10 years. I mean, in our space, really, we see it as kind of an addressable market.
And just the problem that if you walk into a typical retail location it is a challenge to sort of educate a customer and kind of engage them. And then eventually delight them in a way that you might be able to do on your own website, similar to what we do.
So our product and kind of our mission all kind of started out of a personal need. And it’s funny that direct to consumer really kind of lends itself well to what we do. But there is always that option for kind of later stage scaling to still penetrate wholesale and to penetrate retail.
Josh: So it seems to me the hardest thing about direct to consumer, especially online, is how do you get found? So how do you go about helping people find you?
Hamilton: The core of what it is, is starting out with a product that’s kind of worth remarking about. We’re making a product that it’s made out of recycled plastic. It’s made out of reclaimed billboard vinyl. So no two bags are ever the same. And so, that kind of has two unique traits. I mean, the first being the product itself, the presentation is something that is different and kind of novel. But also, it’s a word of mouth engine built in because a customer will look at it and they’ll show it to someone else, and they’ll show it to someone else. And then they start to really build up this like word of mouth multiplier if you kind of look at it that way.
The other thing about being found is kind of the same way business has been over several decades. I mean, even if you kind of think about the local corner store, or the local butcher it’s the word of mouth and it’s the quality product that kept customers coming back in and getting them to tell someone else to try out the goods. And in our case, it’s the same thing. We try to really have a lot of respect for our customers. We want to service and delight them and really make them be fans of not necessarily just our products but our brand.
And so, by repeating that, online today give a lot of options to tell our story, explain it in a way that’s digestible at the customer’s, in a pace that will kind of fit within their lifestyle. So whether they’re on the go and they’re listening to a podcast, or if they’re kind of scrolling through Instagram and they really are attracted to visual storytelling by way of photography or videography, that is a way that we try to provide the value upfront. And at the end of day, the customers are going to decide if it’s something that is worth their time and it’s worth them actually checking out what we sell.
Josh: So, I get word of mouth. But word of mouth, if you’re going from 1 to 3, is a little bit slow. And I’m assuming you want a little bit quicker than that.
Josh: So I’m assuming you do something besides word of mouth to get some sort of traction originally so people would start talking about you in a level that would be at least meaningful.
Hamilton: Yeah. So we started out on Kickstarter which, for the research that we did was, one of the world’s largest built in viral platforms. What that means is all the traditional business rules apply. I mean, you still need to have awareness. You still need to engage. Ultimately, you still have to sell your product. But the environment itself was really key because there were people that were looking for new things. There were people there that were— they show up to Kickstarter so that they can discover a new bag brand, or a great film that’s being released, or any category that they may be interested in seeing a creative project come to life.
So what we did was we started out with really grassroots. I mean, honestly starting out in my cellphone and text messaging the last people that had just texted me and just said, “Hey, I’ve been working on a project for the last few months. We are thinking about running a Kickstarter campaign in the next couple of weeks. Would you like to be added to the notification list when we go live?” And so that was the beginning of the very first, call it, 500 emails to really get a little bit of traction and just have a communication line open with, if you want to say, prospects.
From there, we set up to really get all of our initial setup costs and really just whatever it would take to kind of get the project completed. And what we estimated was that would be $10,000. So that ended up being our actual goal for the Kickstarter campaign. And then from there, we actually hit that goal in about a week. But it was unbelievable, kind of one-to-one, hand-to-hand marketing and hand-to-hand combat, really, in the early days to be like the growth engine. And then, to some degree, we’re still doing a lot of that before we really can start to do the more advanced Facebook advertisements or kind of Instagram advertisements. To this point, a lot of what we’ve done has really been all organic to really generate the word of mouth buzz.
Josh: It’s cool.
So I’ve been told that most things that go up in Kickstarter are horrendous failures.
Hamilton: Correct. By the statistics, absolutely.
Josh: And it seems to me that you’re not a horrendous failure.
Hamilton: We’re still working on that. We’re not trying to be that. So it’s a tough ecosystem in Kickstarter because today there are so many projects that are live and there are so many potential campaigns that one could potentially back. And it takes a lot of effort to really stand out and to see a campaign through.
And I think, if you speak to anyone that’s ever kind of run a campaign, it’s just increasingly harder now especially with other companies that kind of show up and have ton of extensive ad budgets to really drive traffic and to drive sales there. So, in our case, we really didn’t have a budget. We had a very sort of modest kind of budget which really was going towards like all of our creative assets and kind of just general admin for the entire campaign.
So we really took an approach where we took guest blogging opportunities, and we reached out to bloggers, and we reached out to traditional press. And we earned media that way. So when it was all said and done, we ended up being featured in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Fast Company Magazine, Money Magazine, Forbes and others. And all of those became kind of multipliers of scale of what we were doing at the grassroots level.
Josh: So what I’m hearing is that you did stuff that the other folks often don’t do.
So if you were going to give me a list of three to five things that you need to do if I was going to bootstrap a Kickstarter campaign, since you seem to have already done it, what would your advice be?
Hamilton: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, if you start with the product because no matter how advanced your marketing is, or how great your sales copy might be, or any of these kind of third party tools that you may sign of for, if you don’t have a solid foundation of a product – what people are actually coming to consume from your or coming to buy from you, then it’s going to be an uphill challenge. And, frankly, it may fall into that category of disasters.
And I think that, assuming you have a great product and you have something that you can physically ship, that you can actually execute on, I think it comes down to really honing in your campaign copy. I mean, that’s headlines, that’s descriptions. It’s creative assets. The video itself is a big indicator. You have to have a video that basically will tell the story. And the better that you actually have told the story in the video, you have a higher likelihood of actually converting sales.
You really want to have your rewards nailed down as well. Really, think through the pricing and kind of what people get in exchange for backing your campaign. It can’t just be, we want to see you—we just want to see you succeed, so here’s a dollar. It really needs to be something that you give in exchange. Even if you can do a hand written thank you note, or even if you can do a report, or if you can do an actual physical product, that will help you kind of secure more trust in your campaign.
And I think the last thing is kind of related to your marketing and how do you want to get people into your funnel. Are you going to really be comfortable reaching out to all of your friends and family and really having a lot of people on your behalf advocating for your campaign? Because that’s really like kind of what it takes.
I’m not saying that you can’t be successful if you can’t get the closest people to you to purchase from you. But I think that it’s certainly an indicator. If you can get people that are— whether it’s colleagues at work, or cohort members of school, or customers from maybe a different line of business, like anything that you can do to really get the attention of people that are in your first-, second- and third-degree networks will really help you because you really want to become a “project we love” by Kickstarter. That is going to help you basically get visibility on the home page.
And now we’re starting to get into like homepage economics. And if you’re above the fold, you have a better chance of getting conversions and more sales than if you’re four or five pages deep in a certain category. So you really want to strive to hit that “projects we love”. Kickstarter doesn’t really give that away on like what it takes. It just has to really be a good campaign.
We actually got the “projects we love” stamp. And then, from there, it kind of led to us being featured in the newsletter for Kickstarter which went out to their newsletter. So they have a ton of projects that they take the opinion of the staff and then they send that out. And so, for us, that was huge because it gave us more touch points.
So, I’d figure out like kind of those three stages as best as you can. And then the final piece for crowdfunding, I think, from just seeing it firsthand was treat it like it’s live before it really is. You know, really plan your campaign, I would say, at least as early as like probably 90 days out. I would really treat it as if it was already live at that point as far as like the rigor and like really just spending every moment of your time.
If you can, kind of come up with a schedule so that you know the certain amount of time in a day that you want to be on offense and proactive and reaching out to people with bigger audiences, influencers. People that have kind of thought leadership in your space that maybe you can get their attention for a moment and see what you can do to bring value to them so that they can hopefully, in exchange, give you some awareness for your campaign.
And I would really like plan that as much detail as you can so that you can really always know where you are in the process. And so that, on Day 1, once you go live, you can really be in a good position. And you can hit your goal earlier than later because for Kickstarter it’s almost like if you’ve ever seen the meme of the guy who’s like pushing a ball up a mountain and it like keeps falling over him. And it’s like he’s trying to get momentum. And then he gets to the next level. And then he gets to the next level. And Kickstarter is very similar.
It’s like you have to have momentum and you have to keep it going because everyone kind of experiences a mid-campaign slump where traffic is just hard to get. People are already— they’ve already backed you in early part of your campaign. You inevitably will have people that are going to wait. It’s just like a distribution curve, you’re going to have a lot of people that are going to show up on day 1. You’re going to have some people that are going to show up somewhere in the middle. And then you’re going to have a lot of people that will probably show up closer to the end. So try your best at the end there to really try to keep the momentum going, keep the excitement going. From my experience, I think that will help you really do well in crowdfunding, particularly on Kickstarter.
Josh: I hear all that. And you’ve also got yourself a ton of earned media. Was that earned media before Kickstarter or after Kickstarter?
Hamilton: It was actually a mix. And that’s a great kind of a dilemma. I think a lot of like project owners and business owners kind of face this. The question is, do you embargo that media and say, “Okay, I just wanted to– everything on day 1. And on day 1, I’ll launch with all of this awareness.” Or, do you want the brand awareness and the recognition prior to your launch? And then it’s more of a, “Okay, I’m familiar with what this company does. I’ve seen it before. So, therefore, I’m more likely to buy now.” And it become like just more of a traditional advertising play.
For us, we ended up doing articles, and press, and blogs before we actually went live. So I’ll never forget, we had a feature on a website – takepart.com. And that was one of our like largest mentions. This really drove a ton of e-mail signups for us. We didn’t have an actual live campaign, didn’t even have an actual checkout option at that time. We were just getting started. But we had been covered and featured there so it actually kind of gave us strong awareness and momentum that lead to other press mentions in other blogs to feature us. And it kind of just added to our credibility. And it was important. So if I could do it all over again, I think I’d still do it the same way. I think I would create awareness at the earliest moment because I think there’s always going to be opportunities.
Now, fashion’s a little bit different because we’re in a world where it is, typically, you get one impression – the first impression and then that kind of turns into what you live by and die by. But I think, in our world as well, now that we kind of also have like a third pillar. You sort of start with style and design and then you have quality. And now, you have impact. So because with kind of have combined and kind of blended our business model in a way that, as a certified B Corp, we’re able to use business as a force for good, we’re actually working towards a mission. So it ends up giving us a little bit of extra credit, I guess, you could say that the more that we can get featured in different publications.
Josh: Yeah, I would say. I used to blog for the New York Times and people would contact me at a pretty regular basis about wanting to get featured in a post I was writing. And unless they had an interesting hook or something I happen to be personally interested in, it was a tough road.
And you have a couple of really interesting hooks. Ones is you’re using recycled materials to make your bags. So I assume that gets you a little bit of traction. And being a B Corp, I’m not sure that’s an interesting hook to get people but it is something that’s interesting. So could you just take a minute or two and explain, first of all, what is a B Corp and what has the value been for you?
So we’re a certified B Corp. A B Corp is actually a certification that comes from the nonprofit B Lab. And what they do is, they come— well, a little bit about them in a nutshell. I mean, they come from business. They come from legal backgrounds. And they really have really deep domain expertise in helping companies use their business and use their profits in a way that is kind of better overall for not just business but for the overall world.
And so, it’s almost like fair trade is for an individual product. Like, a product could be fair trade. You can have a whole company be certified as kind of meeting certain standards, and a certain amount of measurement, and a certain amount of rigor of being applied to a lot of the like methodologies.
So it starts with an impact assessment. You do have to hit a kind of minimum score to basically be certified. And then you’re checked on that. And then it will last you for two years.
And for us, I would say, it’s really helped us do what we were already doing. And it allowed us to really, in a business sense, let a specialist really step in and help us really examine what we’re doing and to really figure out where we’re going based on what we’re measuring today.
So we’re really in the travel bag business. We’re selling shirts now, so we’re in the accessories and fashion apparel business. But when it comes to really having impact, we already were creating dignified income opportunities with each product that we sold.
But what B Lab has done for us is really giving us an advanced framework on them looking at so many different cases of companies whether they’re social enterprises, or organizations that are nonprofits, or what have you. They have taken a lot of the repeated success patterns– you know, pattern recognition to really help companies, whether you’re early stage or very mature, adopt that. And at the end of day, I think, it has made us a stronger company. And it’s helped us to do better for all stakeholders – customers, employees et cetera.
Hamilton, unfortunately, we are out of time. And I’m going to bet there are some people that might want to find your product and some people that might want to talk to you about what you’ve done with Kickstarter, or B Labs, or any of the fun stuff you’ve talked about today. So if somebody wanted to find you, how would they so? And how would they find your company, if they wanted to do that?
Hamilton: The easiest way to find me, I’m at HamiltonPerkins.com. And, Josh, I’ve actually done something for your audience today. We’ve actually set up a discount code. We’d love to have you check out our products and try them out. So if you actually put SUSTAINABILITY in at the checkout, you’ll get $10 off of your first order. And we’d love to have a review of it. So we’d love for you to review it after you’ve received the product. And if you actually do that then you’ll get another 5% off your next order. And you’ll get 10% if you actually share that review to social media. So we’re here to support you and to help you if you ever get on the site or if you have any questions about what we do. So feel free to drop us a note.
And thank you again, Josh, for the opportunity.
Josh: Great. Thanks so much, Hamilton.
And I also have an offer for you. We have our 1-hour free audio CD. That’s free. It’s an audio CD you physically get that you can listen to in your car or if you still have CD player at home, you can even do it at home. But to get it is really easy, you take out your smartphone and I don’t want you to do this if you’re driving. But take out your smartphone and send the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222. That’s the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222. And you’ll get our 1-hour course where we review The five things that you need to be doing to create a personally and economically sustainable business.
This is Josh Patrick. You’ve been at The Sustainable Business. Thanks so much for spending some time with us today. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.