With Wingback’s latest funding campaign ending, its founder Alasdair MacLaine discusses the pros and cons of Kickstarter based backing for new craft entrepreneurs
A London based leather manufacturer, Wingback’s wallets are the result of playing with and upending the traditional design of this essential accessory. With people carrying ever more cards and contactless accessibility and separate card flaps being ever more important, Alasdair went through 23 iterations of the design to perfect it. From the start a crowd funded idea, he chats about using crowd funding to build a craft brand.
1. Why did you leave your job at Dyson?
I left Dyson just after running my first crowdfunding campaign. It was a tough decision to leave a pretty promising career and the awesome toys in the Dyson workshop, but I’d always wanted to set up my own business and the original campaign gave me enough money in the bank to take the leap and see what would happen setting up on my own.
2. What transferable skills did you find useful?
Learning how to make prototypes myself, understanding all the manufacturing processes and also the resolution to keep testing and refining until something worked perfectly has been really helpful. Being able to take ideas off the sketch book and into even a cardboard model makes them so much more real and it’s really exciting to see your ideas turn into something tangible.
3. What skills have you had to learn since starting your own business?
Wingback was always supposed to be an experiment, a way of learning how to run a business with a product I love, without risking a huge amount of my own or other people’s money. I started the business with £500 investment into some leather from the local cobbler, time on a laser cutter and a camera. I spent two or three months of evenings getting everything ready and the first campaign gave me the cash and confidence to leave my job and see where I could get to on my own. Since then it has turned into my main source of income, I still experiment and try not to take it too seriously which seems to work pretty well.
The main thing I have learned is that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you just do something. I spent four years designing complicated tech ideas in my own time that I didn’t have the experience or money to take to market. I wanted to learn the day to day of running a relatively simple business before trying to get into something more risky.
I occasionally consult new startups and the first bit of advice I give any of them is to break their idea down to its most simple form and start there. It’s difficult not to compare yourself to larger established businesses but they all started with a basic idea too.
4. Why crowdfunding and Kickstarter in particular (twice now), for funding?
Kickstarter has a huge community of innovators and early adopters which makes it a great place to go to validate your idea. You get your market research and pre-sales done all in one with very little risk. The platform drives a huge amount of relevant traffic to your idea that you’d have a very difficult time getting on your own. My current Kickstarter campaign has had the same amount of traffic in a month as the Wingback website has had in the last year which is crazy.
5. What’s the attraction of crowdfunding?
Having a community of people believe in you and your idea is awesome. Your backers are excited about what you’re doing and you build a little community of passionate people who are really engaged. I’ll regularly have conversations with backers about product improvements and new ideas that they would like to see. From a business sense, crowdfunding is great for idea validation from the people who will actually use your product. Instead of raising capital from a single venture capitalist, you’re raising it from the people who actually want to use your product. You can have conversations and build exactly what they want.
6. What are the risks and challenges of a successful Kickstarter? Any top tips?
Kickstarter is very public. If you’re successful and run the project well then it is great but I’m very conscious that a mistake is also very public too. Not getting funded is not too much of a problem – at least you tried. But based on big errors I’ve seen in a few projects, if you mess up the manufacture and delivery then you end up with a lot of annoyed backers and that credibility is extremely hard to get regenerate for future projects.
The two bits of advice I have are:
- Know how you’re going to make it and how much it’s going to cost before you start selling it.
- Presentation is key. The quality of your media is what people are buying into. Everything has to be up to the standard of the product you are selling.
7. Do you feel any pressure or responsibility to the people who have contributed via Kickstarter?
Yes 100 per cent. These people are taking a punt and risking their money on my dream. It’s down to them that I’ve managed to get this far, so I make sure I give them the best product possible.
8. How do you find and reach potential contributors?
The traffic directly through Kickstarter accounts for most of the traffic, then from the Wingback mailing list. After that, write-ups and reviews on blogs add a lot of credibility to the campaign as it shows validation of your product from others. For the first campaign getting the word out through friends and family was key; everyone wants to see you succeed and are more than willing to share your project.