With just over a month until its crowdfunding campaign closes, Sydney startup Espresso Displays has already raised over $150,000, meeting its funding goal more than 10 times over.
Co-founder Scott McKeon tells StartupSmart it took eight prototypes to refine a product idea — a super-thin LED monitor that is easy to transport and use on-the-go — worth basing an entire business around.
“It’s kind of like GoPro,” he says.
“We can make all the accessories and stands and attachments that people could use with it.”
The first $50,000 of the raise was achieved with no ad spending, and even now, 20% of all backers from across 13 countries found the campaign organically.
According to McKeon, the ongoing success is a culmination of developing a community of supporters and mentors, as well as conducting thorough market research before choosing a funding model.
From dining table to production line
The idea for a high-end portable display came about last year, while McKeon was still a final year engineering student at the University of Technology Sydney.
At the time, McKeon and his housemate Will Scuderi — a former mechanical engineering classmate and now his co-founder — were frustrated by the limitations of working on their laptops. Namely, the lack of screen real estate and the products available on the market.
Working with programs that required high colour fidelity such as Adobe Illustrator, the monitors they found online were either not to a high enough standard, or too bulky to carry with their laptops.
“There was a little projector and a whole bunch of other knick-knacks, but nothing that solved the problem,” McKeon says.
On that the same night, Scuderi used his 3D printer to make a sliding bracket to attach his tablet to his laptop.
The idea quickly evolved on the share house’s dining table. As the idea grew, the flatmates found themselves adding a hodgepodge of desks and dining tables to expand their working space.
Initially, the 3D-printed bracket gave the pair the idea to make a slide-out extension for laptops.
The problem was, McKeon explains, there wasn’t “a standalone monitor that was great”.
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McKeon says that’s when they realised they had found a product worth making.
“That’s when it hit us — there is a big opportunity here.”
Like no other
The plan was to make a product that could reach different markets by capitalising on its simplicity. The minimal design can integrate into different office setups and allow users to configure their workspace to personal preferences.
With no startup experience or know-how, McKeon and Scuderi asked a third classmate, Matthew Childs, who was doubling in business and civil engineering, to join the team.
Before joining the team, Childs — sought after for his experience in startups and manufacturing in China — gave the pair “a big list of, like, 20 things to do”.
One year, a trip to China and eight prototypes later, the trio had developed the current iteration of Espresso Display, a viable product ready for the market.
“From there, we went from engineers and became marketers,” McKeon says with a laugh.
Keen to keep costs down, however, Espresso Displays keeps its business operational structure lean.
“We also have a very lean product line,” McKeon says.
“A lot of those other companies have a whole range of other products, whereas we’ve been trying to keep it quite cheap for this Kickstarter campaign.”
“We’ve only just started, but now we’re trying to ramp it up in a cost-efficient way,” he adds.
Learning from the best
McKeon admits he’s still on a learning curve when it comes to PR and marketing, saying, “whenever I speak to people like yourself, I’m always wondering, ‘am I doing it right?’”
So to up the speed and relevance of the learning process, the three co-founders established a local community of successful crowdfunders they could learn from.
“I’ve almost spoken to every person in Australia who’s done a big, $100,000-plus crowdfunding campaign,” McKeon says.
Among them, McKeon spoke to co-founder and then-chief executive of nura headphones, Kyle Slater, who had in November crowdfunded $21 million.
Slater told him to “leave nothing on the table” over the course of a crowdfunding campaign, McKeon says, and this is the approach the three have been following.
Feedback, feedback, feedback
McKeon also stresses the importance of gathering feedback during the product development stage and before launch.
Among its first backers, Espresso Displays found support from the co-founders’ coworking space, where they hotdesked with other freelancers and entrepreneurs.
The coworking community didn’t just become their point of entry into the Sydney startup ecosystem, but it also became their customer base.
Having watched the development process, McKeon says the feedback from those in the coworking space was useful in developing the best possible product because it came from people who wanted to purchase the finished LED display for their own workspaces.
Even now, in the midst of their success, the trio are still taking notes on how to build out their startup.
By trialling which packages appealed most, the team is compiling plans for different specs and accessories they forecast will be best received by the market.
The shoe’s on the other foot
As an Australian startup founder who can now say he has crowdfunded over $100,000, McKeon has a few tips of his own.
He suggests others considering crowdfunding as a means to launch their products first monitor “very similar campaigns” on crowdfunding platforms.
If there isn’t one, or there is little engagement from the community, McKeon suggests finding another funding channel.
If there is a similar product that has gone down the same pipelines, McKeon suggests using it as a basis to see what worked well with consumers and what your point of difference is.
Despite the warning, he also believes crowdfunding is worth the effort of making customers investors.
“These aren’t just any customers, this isn’t just revenue,” McKeon explains.
“This is getting your closest supporters involved in the story and by your side.”