We recently discussed Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns with hardware guru Enzo Njoo.
Let’s just go ahead and dive in here. Can you give us a quick run-down of Indiegogo?
Indiegogo is an amplification platform that plays a very central role in helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into market viable product. We consult on strategy in how to go to market when it comes to crowdfunding, but also in going all the way up to the e-commerce level. With the things that we don’t do, like in the case of manufacturing or distribution and fulfillment for customer products, we have partnerships that work to complete the picture—for example, with Arrow Electronics and Ingram Micro.
As far as your personal background, can you tell us what led you to get involved as the hardware lead at Indiegogo?
So, I actually come from a design background. I started getting involved in hardware and bringing consumer hardware to market while working for a small boutique PR agency here in San Francisco. I got involved as a web designer, and through that process I also learned about marketing and narrative creation around bringing early-stage consumer hardware products to market. That was around 2013, 2014—which was a very hot time for crowdfunding. At that time, crowdfunding emerged not just as a way of helping to fund your product before you manufactured it, but also as a way to test market need and consumer demand for the product—based on the response you’d get as an inherent part of the process.
Early on, we approached it through a platform-agnostic point of view. We didn’t initially work with any platforms to launch these products, but the media—especially the PR media—were very excited about covering such products. Some of my early campaigns include Coin (the card that allows you to put eight credit cards into one—that was a record-breaking launch) as well as Tile, Navdy, Teforia. All of these did platform-agnostic campaigns. But then, around 2015-2016, there was a proliferation of campaigns or products that turned out to be either delayed or fraudulent. One big example of that was Lily Robotics. They ended up raising 13 million dollars in funds to manufacture this drone—and they did it all platform-agnostic, so on their own website—and they never delivered, even up to this point. There was a very unfortunate proliferation of these campaigns that ended up not fulfilling around that time. I decided that I needed to be a part of a bigger company that could play a more central role in helping to change that status quo in the industry.
With Indiegogo, we are doing just that in many ways. For one, we’re educating the entrepreneur side on how to communicate with backers when there are delays in manufacturing. Our research finds that consumers aren’t mad when there’s a delay, they’re mad when they don’t hear anything about it. So, we encourage these entrepreneurs to provide an update at least once a month to their backers. In addition, we provide them the tools with manufacturing and then distribution and fulfillment services to hopefully avoid those sorts of barriers into fulfillment.
Would you say your background in economics and art makes for a good combination for your role there as the hardware guru?
When it comes to the economics side, I’d like to think it certainly helps format things into realistic expectations. When a potential campaigner comes to me and mentions they need to raise X amount of money to manufacture X units of products, the economics side of me immediately puts that into perspective. Is that a realistic number, or do they actually need more? So, when we consult for campaigners on Indiegogo, we don’t just think about the benefits of how much they’ll raise (and therefore how much revenue we’ll raise), but we also think about whether that is to their own benefit, in terms of building their company. Will X amount of money be enough? Or could it actually hurt them? We think about that before we advise them to launch.
Indiegogo is an amplification platform that plays a very central role in helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into market viable product.
So there’s an element of a consultative approach in there, which seems to be quite important. What would you say differentiates Indiegogo from other similar platforms, like Kickstarter?
Mainly, we offer much better customer service. The number one comment we get from potential campaigners who are choosing between Kickstarter and Indiegogo is how relieved they are when they contact us that they at least get to speak to a representative who helps to guide them through the process of crowdfunding. We also provide a comprehensive offering, specifically for hardware electronic consumer products that are ultimately trying to go all the way into brick-and-mortar stores.
Other platforms tend to focus solely on the crowdfunding side. The Indiegogo platform provides services that help campaigners not only before crowdfunding, but also continuation services such as Indiegogo In Demand and the Indiegogo Marketplace after you’re done with your crowdfunding. So, prior to crowdfunding, our platform also allows campaigners the ability to build a pre-launch page where they can build that community, which, as we all know by now, is critical to generating the initial momentum of any campaign.
Campaigners are then able to build a pre-launch page where they can also A/B test their marketing assets—all before they launch a crowdfunding campaign. In that way, all of the success that comes as a result of the campaign can be measured and repeated for future campaigns.
Can you think of any markets or industries that seem to be more prevalent on your platform than others?
Yes. We certainly have a huge focus on technology consumer electronic products. Recently, other platforms like Kickstarter have pivoted more towards independent artists who are raising money for their next album, movie, or video game. We’re focusing more on hardware products that consumers can enjoy in their homes. But, within the hardware electronics vertical, there are certain special niches that we’ve seen some really good results with, in terms of how they perform in our community. Those would be outdoor products, travel products, smart home products—any electric transport products are really huge on our platform.
Actually, earlier this month, we launched the most successful campaign of all time on the Indiegogo platform—and that was for a foldable electric bicycle. Currently, it’s raised just a little bit over 13 million dollars. If you measure that success against our competitor’s platform, it’s also up there within the past few years. The product is made by a couple of siblings from Copenhagen who decided to build their own brand. They’re just super pros at marketing their brand and focusing in on their conversions when it comes to doing digital ads. It’s been a huge success.
Indiegogo has become, in a lot of ways, the go-to choice for people to not just get their funding, but also to test proof a concept and the viability of their idea. What would you say it is about the platform that enables this to happen?
You’re instantly getting consumers’ proof of payment, and with it, their proof of demand for the product. And there’s no better proof than actually selling or pre-selling a product to see if there’s a demand.
Beyond that, I think a big part of it is our community. We’ve been nurturing a community in the millions for the past ten years. But the quantity is just as important as its reach—we are in over 230 countries and territories. So, if we bring up the example of one big Fortune 500 company called Lego—I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Lego brand—
I’ve stepped on a couple pieces in my day.
Yeah, exactly. Everyone knows Lego. So, using that as an example—one of their biggest challenges was how do you test a whole new line of Lego brands to look at the market before having to manufacture all of these plastic bricks. So, they employed our platform to see if there was any demand for the new line. They ended up finding that not only was there was quite a bit of demand, but they were also able to find out where the demand was coming from region-wise. Furthermore, they were also able to determine which version of that product they should be manufacturing more versus the others, specifically to the product line.
So you mentioned the foldable electric bike that brought in upwards of 13 million. What are some of the other bigger success stories from Indiegogo?
Mate X, the brand behind the foldable bicycle, they have two of the top five campaigns on our platform. So this campaign was actually their second one with Indiegogo—they had an earlier campaign that raised somewhere around eight million.
There was a very successful father and son team from Australia that raised a little bit over 12 million dollars for a beehive that allows you to tap honey without having to interact with the bees directly.
So, with Mate X having more than one of your most successful campaigns, could you deduct that it’s less about the idea behind the product and more about the approach of the campaign and how you conduct it?
I think it’s equal sides with all of that. First, you need to have a compelling product; and the idea should be one that can be enjoyed by anybody, so it’s not a niche product. I think to be successful on this platform, you want to come in with a product that anyone can leverage—regardless of their age, social class, income class, gender. These are the type of products that can go viral because they have the largest potential audience.
So that would be the idea side of things. In terms of execution, I think it should be a good balance of price and availability. How soon is it going to be delivered? How much is it going to cost? And then, obviously the actual feature set itself. Is the price worth what you’re getting?
With regards to the brother and sister team behind the Mate X bicycle, they flew over to China and picked an original equipment manufacturer who was able to mass produce these bikes at a strong margin and slap their brand on it. So it was that good combination of being able to offer something with so many features. Foldable, high-capacity bike, high range that you can bring anywhere with you, and also at a very competitive price point.
This actually ties in perfectly with my next question here. So, Chinese manufacturing, software prototyping, 3D printers, laser cutters, all of these technologies have provided amazing capabilities for early stage startups and even hobbyists. These are things that previously only the largest corporations had at their disposal, and now they’re available to pretty much anybody. What tools do you see on the horizon as the next game changers to give your average person even more power to build their hardware ideas?
I think the tools are actually already out there. It’s just a matter of people getting more and better access to them from around the world.
In terms of tools, I do think 3D printing is going to make things go a lot quicker. The accommodation of VR and AR is going to make the design process they use a lot faster and more approachable from multiple locations around the world. People won’t have to be at the same place anymore to bring their ideas together and make them into something through those technologies, but I think it’s just the proliferation of it that needs to happen.
First, you need to have a compelling product; and the idea should be one that can be enjoyed by anybody, so it’s not a niche product.
Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of potential still in those two endeavors.
Right. I mean, here in San Francisco where I’m located, you know, the other day I had a chance to tour the Bolt IO accelerator, and I learned they have about 22 million dollars worth of modeling equipment in that one building. And so, we’re a little spoiled over here, but if we could have those type of machines decrease in price and increase in availability around the world, maybe modeling could go a lot faster—especially if you need to make any tweaks to your molds. Those things can be worked out a lot faster than it currently is.
As you see it, what have been the biggest hardware trends or emerging industries this year, and what do you see really pushing forward in 2019?
Right now, we’re really excited in terms of electric mobility. It’s a growing global trend to reduce emissions, to go green with daily modes of transportation, and there are so many applications to it that haven’t been explored. So, seeing some of the more unique applications, the latest ones—one right off the top of my head is a company called Lift Foil. These guys created a motorized electric surf board that looks so cool. Unfortunately, that one is not particularly good for crowdfunding because it’s a little bit higher in its price point.
We’ve got a few campaigns popping up in this sector, Segway is one of them. They were actually bought out by a Chinese company earlier in the 2000s, and they’ve recently launched three campaigns on the Indiegogo platform. One of them looks very similar to the traditional Segway, but without handles. Another is for these electric roller skates; and they also have an electric go-kart on the platform. Those have been very popular.
Electric mobility—skateboards, bikes, scooters—are very popular. Things that they call “the last mile” transportation devices. Other than that, I would say I see these in-house gym solutions also becoming fairly popular as of late. Everybody’s trying to copy the success of Peloton. We just launched a company called Hydro, which is similar to Peloton but it’s for rowing. There’s also Tonal, those guys are part of Bolt. They they have a strength-resistance training sort of entry into the market with their product.
So, I have one final question to leave us off. We like to ask this to all the people we interview. Can you give us one productivity or life hack that you use on a daily basis to achieve success?
Well, I depend on my Google calendar all the time. But who doesn’t, right?
Beyond that, I would say, I go cycling quite a bit. I ride bikes outside—not indoors. Out here in the streets just north of San Francisco we have these really great mountains that you can just clear your head of right after work. So it’s a good sort of “in-between,” something between work and life where you can just sort of clear your mind and be ready for life after you’ve done a full days’ work.
Enzo Njoo is a hardware outreach manager at Indiegogo who graduated from UC Davis. Before he became the hardware lead at Indiegogo he was involved in web design at VSC Consulting. He started getting more involved in hardware while working for the PR agency and quickly learned how to bring early stage consumer hardware products to the market through marketing and narrative creation. Enzo also helped develop the strategy and narrative around the launch of record-breaking crowdfunding campaigns including Tile, Coin, Moov, goTenna, Vessyl, and Teforia.
Keep up with Enzo on LinkedIn
Illustration by Tomek Płonka.