This is post #1 in a series I'm preparing on how I ran the Hamtun H1 Kickstarter campaign. I got some stuff right, tonnes of stuff wrong, and lots of stuff right enough that I got away with it. I'm sure some of this will be helpful to anyone considering taking the same route. I honestly believe that anyone can run a successful Kickstarter on a tiny budget with the right plan in place.
Part 2: Designing and prototyping a watch is now online
For those of you who weren't around during the campaign, a few basics. The Hamtun H1 campaign went live on Kickstarter on September 30, 2016 with a target of £20,000 (around $26,000 USD). It was fully funded in around 15 minutes and went on to raise £167,000 (nearly $220,000 USD) in pre-orders.
I suspected that the campaign would fund as buzz had been positive on social media in the run-up to the launch, and sign-ups to my mailing list were consistent. In my day-dreams as I walked the dog on the days before launch I thought about how cool it would be if I could do a post an hour or two after launching saying we were already funded. I thought I might end up raising 2-3 times the target amount, and I'd have been delighted with that. In fact the H1 was fully funded before I'd even had chance to finish sending out the emails saying the campaign had gone live, and it ended up raising more than 8 times the target. It was a success beyond anything except my wildest dreams, but looking back I don't think it should have been such a surprise. It had been more than a year in preparation and it was clear in the run-up that it had hit a level of buzz that many similar campaigns never reach. I'd never run a Kickstarter before and I'd never built a watch before, yet here I was with a runaway success. So how did I get there?
A year before
For me the Apple Watch changed things in the watch world. Suddenly people who wouldn't have previously have considered it were now buying a watch that cost hundreds of pounds. It became a far more normal amount to spend. High-end watch buyers were going to stick with their crazy expensive pieces, but everyone else suddenly became a more realistic target for a quality watch at an affordable price.
I'd just moved my family away from London and all our friends, to the south coast of the UK near to where I was brought up. We knew nobody and I was still commuting to London to work, so I had a lot of free time and nothing to do with it. I'd always wanted to start my own business, I liked watches, and I had time to fill. That was the full thinking behind starting the project. No customer research, no consultations. Just an idea and some dedication. I knew I couldn't spend much to get the project launched, so I started thinking about how I could do it on a tiny budget (I'll lay out the costs in a later post).
Becoming a blogger
Step 1 was simple and very cheap. I started a blog about watches. I didn't spend a fortune setting it up, but I did it right. I found a .com domain that I liked rather than using a Wordpress subdomain, I paid for a professional logo rather than trying to make one myself, and I spent days getting the theme setup so that it looked professional. I started as I meant to go on, with the attitude that if you appear to know what you're doing, people will assume you do. My blog looked professional enough that it should be taken seriously, even if my writing left a lot to be desired.
Once it was set up I spent months writing reviews of any watch I could get my hands on. I started with my own watch collection, took decent quality photos, and shared via all the platforms I could think of. I ran giveaways in return for people signing up to my mailing list and following me on social media. After a few months other brands started sending me their watches to review, which I did honestly. I wanted to be taken seriously as a reviewer so that I built an engaged and responsive audience. Soon I'd built a decent audience across mailing list and social media follows, so was ready to move on to stage 2. At this point I'd spent a couple of hundred on a logo, but that was it. No promotions, no advertising. Just lots of writing and lots of sharing of content.
Was it an honest way to go about building up a market? I think so. I gave genuine opinions on the watches I reviewed. I said some were amazing, I said others less so. But I didn't attack anyone and I stayed away from anyone I thought would be a direct competitor for my future models. People clearly found value in my posts as they came back for more and signed up to the newsletter. With almost no budget I had an audience of people interested in exactly the product I was about to make. It's a technique that could be rolled out to almost any product in any market. If you can't get people interested in the market you're going for, how are you going to sell to them? Make something else that you're passionate about instead!
Building a brand
So I had an audience and I had an idea. There was a long way to go and I had no idea how to get there! There were a few things I needed:
- A brand (name, logo, image)
- A spec list, including requirements and nice to haves
- A high quality image of my design, which was currently only in my head
- A factory to make me a prototype and then manufacture the final order
The hardest part of the project for me was coming up with a brand and product name, and the branding to go with it. I knew I wanted to make something that was good quality, but affordable. And I knew I wanted to use my own voice. If I was going to build something, it was going to be done my way. This had to be something I’d enjoy and be passionate about spending time on. I started thinking about brand names, and the things I cared about. I considered names (me, my family, my relatives) but my name didn’t make a good brand, and using some old family name felt wrong. They had no watchmaking history, so just picking one with a good sounding name meant nothing to me. I didn’t know these people. So I started researching the town I lived in and wanted to base the company in. Finally I found that “Hamtun” was an ancient name for the settlement that went on to become Southampton, and it wasn’t registered as a business or brand in the UK. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do. I’m still not 100% comfortable with it as a brand name - it’s not a “pretty” word - but it means something to the area.
Now I had a name, I got to work on the branding. I wrote a spec for a logo and put it on 99designs, which is a website that allows you to post a design project and receive lots of submissions before choosing one. If you’re on a budget and can’t afford a big consulting design firm it’s a good way to work as they have a money back guarantee. If you don’t get a submission you like, you can get your money back. I got a few that I liked, and finally settled on the one you’ll see on this page. At first glance it’s the head of some little creature, but it’s actually an H on top of a W (for Hamtun Watches). It’s visually pleasing, fun, and unique. Importantly it wasn’t stuffy or traditional looking. It would work as the image of a young, fun brand. I could picture it on a baseball cap.
Once I had a name and a logo I set up a very basic webpage to capture more email addresses. That’s all it did. A landing page with the logo, a couple of lines of text to draw people in, and a box to collect email addresses. I used launchrock.com, which make this really easy. You just pick a template, customise it, and you're done. They handle the tech side and collect the email addresses for you so that you can just download them whenever you want. They also run a basic referral scheme to help the word spread.
This was the first time I’d presented the brand to the public at all and I wanted to start off as I meant to go on. I thought long and hard about how to word that page, but again came back to just wanting to be authentic. If I was explaining to a friend why I was starting this business, what would I say and how would I say it? In the end the wording I settled for was along the lines of “Nobody should have to own a crappy watch”. A few people mentioned to me that they weren’t sure a company should speak like that. But why not? I do, and this is mine. I wasn’t trying to create some generic “me too” brand, I wanted to do something that I was confident I could run. That meant it had to be an extension of my own personality so that I could trust myself to make decisions on it in the future. If I was trying to be like everyone else I’d have to look to how they did things. That’s both boring and pointless.
So I had a logo, I had a very basic website, and I had a small audience. Next time I’ll go over designing and prototyping a watch.
I hope you find these posts useful or interesting. I'm leaving comments off, as more often than not comments sections get filled with crap. If you've got questions or have comments you can email me ([email protected]) or the Hamtun Twitter and Facebook pages are constantly monitored.