The team behind Quad Lock—the phone mount and case products that keep cyclists close to their devices at all times—has recently added a couple of new staff members. That’s a big deal, given the company behind the brand, Annex Products, had been just three people strong since it was founded in 2012.
It’s been five years since co-founders Rob Ward, 35, and Chris Peters, 37, launched a crowdfunding campaign to bring their products, including an iPhone bottle opener and the original Quad Lock phone bike mount, to life and the business now turns over $8.8 million a year. Annex Products secured 15th position on this year’s Smart50 list with a three-year growth rate of 211%.
The success of the products may have grown, but several other elements of the business have stayed the same since launch. Around 80% of business comes from international customers, and this week is a big one for Quad Lock sales, with the company’s annual sale to celebrate the US’ Thanksgiving “Black Friday” retail event. SmartCompany chatted to Rob Ward about bringing a “cool product” to market through the investment of others, and how to tackle one of the biggest online sales on Earth.
It was the early days of crowdfunding; in our opening video, we were explaining the actual premise of crowdfunding when we launched.
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Back then it was like: “We have this idea, and there’s this thing called crowdfunding”. It wasn’t as clear for people what it was as it is now.
At the same time though, half of the media we did at the time used that, especially as an opener. What we were funding was a quirky idea that’s easy to understand, but the easy thing was how were funding it. I think that helped it.
We didn’t really get the stats at first, but then I remember looking back later, and for 98% of the people who had backed it, that was the first thing they had [supported on Kickstarter].
We had the idea [for Quad Lock cases] a long time ago, but it wasn’t that feasible at the time.
There’s a few things that got us started – it’s not really a story of one idea that we really wanted to bring to market.
It’s more of a story about the fact that we saw the barriers to running a global business falling down around us. Things like crowdfunding, payment gateways, that sort of thing.
If you weren’t a large company, you couldn’t use those things originally. Now you can scale these things up and they grow with you – we saw those things and we thought: “How do we use this?”
We always had a desire to do something that’s our own. But when all these barriers were falling down around us, we thought “we can actually do this”.
At a certain point, it just felt like “this is it”.
There seems to be this idea of a correlation between a successful business and a business with a lot of people. It’s funny – I find you bump into someone and people will ask: “How is the business going, how many people do you have now?” And I’d say: “We still have three people”.
We don’t want to have people for people’s sake. It’s just that we need enough people to keep it working.
Right now, we can move fast. We only do things that move the needle. We’re able to adapt.
If you have the right amount of people, you can do that. We did just add people recently, but right now, we’re quite happy with where we’re at. It’s not just people for the sake of it.
We had almost 100,000 people through the websites during the Black Friday weekend in 2015, and we are hoping for double that this coming weekend. With the world being so small, we find it really hard to run one sale on one site – we have six sites now in different currencies and we run [The Black Friday sale] in all the stores.
It makes it easier and it’s fairer for the customer. It’s the same thing as we don’t go and have an Australian-only Boxing Day sale.
We only have one sale a year now and our customers don’t just expect it, they appreciate it. You know when you see products that are always on sale, you think “people have probably never bought those at that price”.
It’s a good opportunity for us to do these sales, and they add value to the customers. Last year, we grew the scale of our Black Friday sale by 195%.
When this one event comes along, it gives them that sense of urgency. They know if they don’t go now, they’ll have to wait another year.
From what I’ve seen, the companies that start with no legacy seem to do these things [with online sales] better and faster. A lot of those people are not bound by old systems and legacy.
You see it with department stores and even other smaller businesses that have been predominantly 20 years offline – they decide to go online, it’s hard.
Online is a necessity for us, and it’s what we grew the business on.
It’s hard to tell what this year will be for us, there’s a lot of different factors. It’s a really wait and see but our business model is “do everything we can”.
We don’t have to report to anyone, we just do the best we can.