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Episode 41: How to Develop & Execute Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns, with Hamilton Perkins

Hamilton Perkins is the founder and President of Hamilton Perkins Collection, an e-commerce retailer, offering designer travel bags at an affordable price while holding the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Hamilton Perkins Collection has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, The Washington Post, and Money Magazine. Hamilton Perkins Collection has hosted trunk shows at Bloomingdale’s and was the winner of the 2016 Virginia Velocity Tour business pitch competition hosted by the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Prior to starting Hamilton Perkins Collection, Hamilton was an Investment Advisor at Merrill Lynch and, earlier, worked as an Analyst at Bank of America.

He has also served in a leadership capacity with various non-profit organizations and has been recognized for his volunteer work and service hours assisting low-income populations.

Hamilton is also a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University with a degree in Business Administration and he earned his M.B.A. from William and Mary.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Why there is no better time than now for venturing into crowd funding
  • Reaching out to your customer base as a knowledge resource
  • How to craft crowdsourcing campaigns for success
  • Using special offers as a focus group exercise to gauge interest
  • Crowdfunding as an advertising strategy on top of raising capital
  • Reaching out through your network to develop proof-of-concept simulations
  • Exercising caution while entering the online media landscape
  • How to think about crowdfunding as a media company first
  • How to develop and execute successful crowd funding campaigns even with minimal resources

Ways to contact Hamilton:

Podcast eBooks:

The Power of Two

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The Transition to Automation

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Using IT Strategically

In Episode 29, Vera talks with Tom Grooms, Vice President, Information Technology, and Chief Information Officer for CF Industries. This eBook is your guide for seeing IT as more than just a faster way to do your accounting.

Transcript:

Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company, but here, we’ll solve your physical, technological and psychological systems issues. By connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business, and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now here’s your host, Vera Fischer.

Vera Fischer: Today’s episode is sponsored by 97 Degrees West, the brand marketing agency located in Austin, Texas. 97 Degrees West serves regional and national companies in the healthcare, finance, energy and manufacturing industries. 97 Degrees West believes that an integrated approach to marketing, that involves traditional and digital strategies that fit your customer’s buying journey, yields the greatest impact on your bottom line. Go to www.97dwest.com to learn more.

Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using processes and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. Many of you know that business success relies on systems. Systems can be visible, such as a warehouse or factory, or they can be technological, think software. While others are psychological systems, such as checklists or charts, or your daily hot list. Today’s guest is the founder and president of Hamilton Perkins Collection. Hamilton Perkins Collection is an ecommerce retailer, offering designer travel bags at an affordable price, while holding the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Hamilton Perkins Collection has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Washington Post, Money Magazine and others. Hamilton Perkins has hosted trunk shows at Bloomingdale’s, and was the winner of the 2016 Virginia Velocity Tour Business Pitch Competition, hosted by the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Prior to starting Hamilton Perkins Collection, Hamilton was an investment advisor at Merrill Lynch, and he earlier worked as an analyst at Bank of America. Hamilton has also served in a leadership capacity with various non-profit organizations, and has been recognized for his volunteer work and service hours, assisting low income populations. Hamilton is also a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post. He’s a graduate of Old Dominion University, with a degree in business administration, and he earned his MBA from William & Mary.

Welcome to System Execution, Hamilton.

Hamilton P.: Thanks so much for having me on the show, Vera.

More About Hamilton

Vera Fischer: Well, Hamilton, your bio is quite impressive. It is really great to have you on our show. Before we dive into your crowdfunding process, if you don’t mind, please share a little bit more about yourself and your experience.

Hamilton P.: Yeah, no. I appreciate the intro. I’m the founder of Hamilton Perkins Collection. I’m a Virginia native, so started out in the marketing world. I was a marketing major at Old Dominion University. Thought that I could move up in the marketing world, so I started out as an independent consultant, helping out small businesses in the D.C. area. Figured out that I really enjoyed general management, general business, so beyond that I ended up joining Bank of America. I did marketing there for a while, and eventually I switched over into commercial banking. Had a couple career rotations in wealth management, investment management, and ultimately went back to business school to get my MBA.

I’ve always been a retailer though, even back as early as a middle schooler, I was creating locker decoration art. I was using old, say, magazines. I’d take posters from inside of the sports magazines and I’d sell those to classmates. Classmates would cover up gum and inside stickers on the inside of the lockers and, you know, Johnny loves Sally ’94. That would be covered up, and now there was a solution to this problem. Eventually, my school shut my business down. That’s okay, eBay would come later for me. I had a nice online business, selling Quickstrikes and reselling sneakers. All these experiences really led me to wanting to contribute, I think, to something that had really shaped me and had a big impact on me. I ended up making leather goods.

I was always a fan of some of the fashion houses that had seemed to have the most impact on the customers that I had served and sold products to. Accessories and luggage was this cornerstone, or this pillar, of a great brand. I felt like that was a natural place to start. Once I got in and started seeing there were opportunities and white spaces, specifically around the mill of that market. Where there’s either very cheap, affordable products that don’t hold up as well, or they’re really over … They’re really expensive. Over the mass audience’s budget. It felt like, with lots of different forces happening at the same time, between the consumer internet becoming more popular and, actually, our sense of individuality taking precedent. Seemed like there was more, there was a better way to make a better bag.

Vera Fischer: I love that story, Hamilton. It is so great. You’ve definitely answered the question I had in my head about, how does someone go from a finance world, an analyst, into the world of retail? I see that it was definitely in your DNA, back in the day.

Hamilton P.: Yeah, absolutely. I think it was something that I’ve always known that I would have a passion for. I think, eventually, I would resign from my position at Bank of America and go full time into this venture. Like you said earlier, crowdfunding is really the way that I got there, I think. There’s never really been a better time for the things that we’re experiencing now and that we’re seeing. There’s never been a better time to address a lot of these problems through the internet, basically.

The First Step to Starting a Crowdfunding Campaign

Vera Fischer: Exactly. Let’s get started. This is a great segue into the process or system that we’re going to be discussing today. You’re going to educate our listeners through this crowdfunding process and how to develop and execute a successful crowdfunding campaign.

While there are crowdfunding platforms out there, such as Kickstarter et cetera, the process around being successful in that process, and how you approach it, really determines if you’re going to get funded or not. Let’s start with the first step that you took as you embarked on crowdfunding.

Hamilton P.: Yeah. Before I actually got to Indiegogo or Kickstarter, I, technically, I had to take a step back. I really just was not ready. There are, at any given time, there’s plenty of campaigns that are live. Several of these campaigns are never going to get funded. There really hasn’t been any groundwork created, and there’s just not a community yet to really consume the content that these campaigns are producing.

As I say, we took a step back and we really got down to the basics. The basics to us were, what does a customer want? We figured that, all right, we knew designers and buyers have always had a great relationship together. Even back to some of the earliest fashion shows, when the designers, the press and the buyers were all present. The customer wasn’t always there, but now the customer is there. The customer is very much integrated, especially with the emergence of technology and platforms like Instagram, and just visually storytelling what’s happening in real-time.

Our representation of that was going to be, we were going to interview existing customers of our company. Because, as a hobby, I had already started a side project where I was making leather goods. I had an initial base. It wasn’t a crazy, large, scaled-out business or anything, but it was a side business. There was something there. We talked to these people. We also talked to prospects and potential customers, people that were in our network. We just explained the idea to them. “Hey, we want to make a new bag. Can you give us your best experience traveling? Your worst experience? If you were in our position, what would you do? How would you do this differently?”

We went design thinking from the gate. We had post it notes. We were ideating, prototyping, and eventually we had an actual sample. We reached out, we got samples made, we partnered up with an organization called Thread International. Thread was already doing a lot of work in Haiti and Honduras, to basically help end poverty through creating new textiles. On our end, we went out and we found billboard vinyls and posters to make the lining of our product. A bag that’s made out of recycled plastic bottles, the inside of it’s made out of recycled posters, recycled vinyls, recycled billboards. We made this two in one bag, so it was going to be a backpack and a duffle bag.

What we did, we had a small gathering at an art gallery, local art gallery here in Virginia. Norfolk, Virginia. We invited about 200 people. It wasn’t like a concert or a conference or anything. It was just 200 people throughout the night. We had a glass case with the sample in it, and we made these very pared down order forms. It literally has our address from a PO box and a little place for you to put your shipping address. We just said, “Hey, we’re looking to make this new product. It’s going to take us six months. If you want one, you can pre-order it. Rest assured that if we can’t deliver this, we’ll refund you your money.” We got some orders, we produced the bags and we actually delivered them. We got them out in time.

Then we said, okay, let’s take this online. Let’s take this to a community that is already obsessed with virality, or is already thinking about early adoption. To us, Kickstarter just stood out as one of the world’s great places for bringing a creative project to life. It really turned into making a project that was going to be compelling to people, even if they couldn’t touch or feel the product. That was a challenge. That’s something that we spent a lot of time going over. In the beginning, we knew one of the most important things was going to be the video. There was a, and I don’t know the stats off the top of my head anymore, but there was a big stat about video. If you don’t have a video, your campaign success rate or actually getting someone to pledge, I mean it was very low if you don’t have a video. We knew we needed a video.

Vera Fischer: Right. You know what, Hamilton, I’m going to have you hit the pause button there for a minute, because I want to rewind. I think the fact that you went and did this initial litmus test, if you will, with the 200 folks that you invited throughout an evening and had them pre-order, is brilliant. That is amazing. You already had some dollars in which you could actually produce the bags. So you delivered it before you started the actual online crowdfunding campaign, or during?

Hamilton P.: Before we started the online campaign.

Vera Fischer: You already had, in essence, a very small proof of concept.

Hamilton P.: Absolutely. Very small, but actual and tangible.

Why Proof of Concept is So Important

Vera Fischer: I just wanted to point that out, because that is step one. A lot of folks are just jumping into the online place, thinking that it’s going to work immediately. I just really appreciate that. Now I will get you right back where you were with the video, because I agree that’s really important. Carry on.

Hamilton P.: It’s so tempting. It almost looks like these campaigns, and you see them, they do seven figures, six figures. It looks like they just showed up and just went live. We wanted to prove a concept, and we knew we didn’t have the marketing dollars. We knew we didn’t have an ad budget or anything like that, to really drive home this crazy amount of success. A success to us would’ve been hitting our $10,000 goal.

$10,000 was going to allow us to make the product. It was going to allow us to actually get the design, renderings, get the patterns cut, get the fabric, get all the parts. It wasn’t necessarily going to cover shipping to customers, but it was a start. I guess that’s how they call it, why they call it Kickstarter, because it was going to give it that initial boost. Luckily for us, we finished with about $30,000 of crowdfunding revenue, when it was all said and done.

If you look at, for example, our video. That started with a scripting process. We had to come up with a storyline and try to make sure that the music and the words, and the scenes, all these kind of things, had some synergy. That’s not necessarily our background. We’re coming into this from a bag perspective, from a retail perspective. I think what we learned was, we had to think about the campaign more like a media company first, then we’re the bag company second. We felt like we did a good job getting that done.

Luckily for us, we applied for a local grant in our city. That gave us just enough to get a video shot and to just have the very basic amount, to just cover overhead expenses. It was very, very tight budget.

We did end up getting, in house, we did all of our copywriting, all of our creative images. A lot of those images, I took them on my cell phone. I didn’t have a DSLR or anything. I was trying to get the project to a point where we could get people to see it. Once it was at a respectable level, where it was going to have a story, it was going to flow, it was going to make sense, then there was really an uphill battle of getting awareness on the project. Basically, that is how we spent the most of our time, once we actually got it going. We came up with our rewards bundles. That was really important to make sure that, it sounds simple, but make sure that customers know, what are they getting? If they pledge, for example, for one bag. Is that going to have any added bonuses, any features? Can you bundle them together somehow?

We ended up going with a combined reward tier. You could get two bags. You basically were getting 20% off of the bags, and we were going to do this event. We are doing this event, and it’s going to happen next month here in Virginia, where we are bringing in this premium stakeholder backer. Basically, it’s a small group that pledges at the highest level and bought all products that we were offering. It’s also going to include a showroom tour. You’ll get to come here to our show room, and we’ll walk you through what we’ve been working on for the last year. We’ll really get it, just this moment of personal time with our amazing backers. We had to think through the execution of that and how that was going to actually play out.

We had to think about stretch goals. Stretch goals were going to allow us to offer new colors. Because when we started this, we only had one color, and that’s the trick. We only had one color photographed, and we only had one bag photographed. It may have looked like there was multiple colors and bags, but there was only one. That was a big thing for us. I think, just starting out with it, a small network, for example. I started in my cell phone and I went through the people that had text messaged me last. I texted messaged them back and just said, very simple and sweet, to the point.

I just said, “Hey, we’ve been working on a new product. It’s called the earth bag, made out of recycled plastic bottles and upcycled billboard vinyl. We are launching a project on Kickstarter. If you’d like to be added to the notification list when we launch, let me know.” That was how we developed our very first email list. We collected near 500 emails from that simple exercise.

Vera Fischer: That’s where you really learned that you don’t overlook that network that’s right in front of you, that doesn’t necessarily scream network, right?

Hamilton P.: Absolutely. A lot of people had an opinion on, I guess, working in their own personal network, whether that’s college or former colleagues, family. To us, we pretty much embodied our own target audience. We’re the customer that we wanted to sell to, so why not start there from a target audience standpoint? Why not ask friends and family to support your project, or to purchase your product that you’ve created from the ground up?

Vera Fischer: Right.

Hamilton P.: If you can’t get them to support or to purchase that, not to say that what makes you think that others would do the same, but that is the question that should theoretically be answered. If you hope to scale to be a global brand, which is what we were aspiring to be. That’s what we still aspire to be, is a global brand.

Vera Fischer: So Hamilton, whenever you went through the process, what I’m learning is that really the time that you put yourself out on Kickstarter, and you have your profile, all of the hard work has already been done. This is the culmination of it.

Hamilton P.: Exactly.

Why it’s So Important to Prepare for Both Worst Case and Best Case Scenarios

Vera Fischer: How long did it take you to get funded?

Hamilton P.: We were funded in about six days. Just under a week.

Vera Fischer: Well, and I would attribute that to the preparedness of your campaign.

Hamilton P.: Absolutely. In hindsight, we knew you need to treat your campaign as if it’s live, before it’s actually live. We probably would’ve doubled down on that, even if we would have thought about it, to really expand on our email sequences. We had a countdown sequence that went into the launch of the campaign, but I think that when you look back, hindsight is 20/20. You’re absolutely right. It took us six days to get funded, but it took us 60 days to really lay the groundwork. We started out with local blogs. We were reaching out to blogs in the State of Virginia. There was a couple hundred blogs we reached out to.

It was really hard in the beginning, because all we really had was a landing page. By the way, we were still crafting the sales copy and the creative images and the video. All that was getting made at the same time that we were starting to reach out, and put our feelers out there, to see if we could get some promotion. In many cases, we were leading people to a landing page, or leading people to a preview page of the Kickstarter campaign. It wasn’t in its final form. There was, ultimately, more questions being prompted than being answered by the content that we were making.

Vera Fischer: Right.

Hamilton P.: We parlayed those early blogs that gave us coverage and featured us. It all led up to this one blog. That was a turning point for us, I would say. It was called takepart.com. We got this feature and they showcased it, and it was just overnight. Just hundreds and hundreds of emails added to our lists, literally over just a week’s period. Where I’ve been collecting emails one by one, through text messages. Through actually emailing people and just saying, “Hey, can I add this email list, email address to our email list?”

Because we wanted to be respectful of people’s privacy and that kind of thing. We didn’t want to just spam on people. We really earned every email that we had on our list. Wow. I think after that, that’s when the night before you’re going live, you’re just sitting back and you’re looking at the go live button. It’s a little nerve-racking because, it’s literally, it’s a button. You just click this button, and then there’s going to be a timer after that. Forever, you’re going to be publicly … This social proof is going to live that, whether you succeed or don’t succeed.

Vera Fischer: Exactly. Exactly.

Hamilton P.: It was hard to hit that button, but eventually I hit the button. Then the work started. We had to get people to pledge. It took six days, but every single day we were working to keep the momentum. If you’ve ever run a crowdfunding campaign, you know there’s the, I can’t remember the exact name. I think they call it the trough of death, or maybe the lull of the campaign or something. It’s basically, there’s a lot of excitement in the beginning, there’s a lot of excitement in the end of a campaign.

The middle, if you ever go to Kicktraq, which is another very handy resource to see how you’re trending and to see what’s happening in real time. You will notice that most campaigns have this dip in between the start and finish. Because for whatever reason, the middle of a campaign, people, they snooze on it. They just say, “Oh, I just missed the launch. I can wait until the end.” That’s a good time to get creative. Start getting your friends over for pizza, or get them over for wine and cheese or something, and get them to invite their network to check out your campaign. It works over that period. You still have to actually make the thing that you set out to make, and that’s a whole different story.

Next Challenges for Hamilton & His Team

Vera Fischer: Exactly. Well, Hamilton, the information and the insight that you’ve shared with us around your crowdfunding process is super educational. We’re going to wrap up our discussion, but before we do that, what’s your next challenge?

Hamilton P.: Our next challenge right now is ramping up our manufacturing. We have found that, by making the products that we have, and us being so word of mouth oriented, it really is, it’s just the function of actually having the products that customers want. Once we have the products, we’re able to actually sell through of those products.

Right now, we’ve got a few thousands pounds of parts and waste, and recycled materials, and posters and vinyls and plastic bottles. All these different parts that are getting turned into bags. We expect to get those in this fall, really soon, so that we can really gear up for the holiday season. You can check us out at hamiltonperkins.com.

We also prepared, just a mini code for you there. It’ll be execution. You can enter that at checkout and it’ll offer you 10 dollars off your first order. We’d love to have you try us out. Leave us a review and let us know how we’re doing.

Vera Fischer: Well, Hamilton, what a great, great offer. I really appreciate that, and I’m sure our listeners will jump all over it. You’ve shown us that processes are needed to get the work done, and have provided a few of the nuances that our listeners need to hear, regarding the execution of a successful system. Before we go, would you like to add anything that we may have missed in the conversation? Then, again, repeat how the best way for our listeners to get in contact with you.

Hamilton P.: Yeah, no. I think we hit it pretty good. We’re making products, they’re bags. They’re made from recycled plastic and repurposed billboards, so every bag is different and unique. Our shirts are made of recycled plastic and reclaimed cotton. Each bag and shirt, it does support dignified income opportunities in Haiti and Honduras. We’d love to answer any questions you may have, or try to find as many touch points as possible. Whether that’s dropping us a line on email, or even if that’s on social media. Our handle is @hamiltonperkins. You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat. It’s all the same handle. Just, thanks again for the opportunity.

Vera Fischer: Well, System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took, or how often you re-listen to this episode, remember every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome. Hamilton, it’s been great to have you on the show. Thank you for sharing your insight with our System Execution listeners.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution enlightening. For free examples, case studies, eBooks and more, be sure to visit systemexecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at vera@systemexecution.com. Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.

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