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How Get the Fort Raised Over 2 Million on Kickstarter

Learn how Get The Fort ran a successful KickoffLabs pre-launch and generated over 2 million dollars for their Kickstarter launch!

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Key Takeaways

Solve a problem that you're passionate about, iterate, and take some chances.

Build a community

They converted 20% of their email list into a private Facebook group.

Study the competition

They joined several Facebook groups and took note of competitor's pain points.

Keep it simple

They didn't complicate the landing page. They had a colorful logo, a tagline, call to action and email opt-in.

Educate your customer

They created step by step videos explaining the pre-launch process to their leads.

Narrow your audience

They ran very simple Facebook ads and targeted parents who had kids of certain ages.

Don't lean into one communication channel

They found that their audience responded more to receiving communication via SMS. Having multiple channels gives several avenues and ways to connect to your ideal customer.

Interview Bio

Conor Lewis - Founder - Get The Fort

Watching my wife and 2 year old making pillow forts with blankets that kept falling in, it struck me that there could be a better way. I wrote "magnetic pillow fort" in a random idea document on my phone and filed it away. April 2020 I lost my job due to COVID, I was just about to have my second child and didn't have any idea what to do.I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but never really felt like I could pull it off - until I saw "magnetic pillow fort" on that random document. It struck me just right and I had nothing to lose. It didn't take long for me to build a brand and work with a designer. After only a month I was talking to factories and FORT was born!

Full Transcript



Josh: All right. I think we are now recording, which is awesome. You can still hear me right?

Conor: Yep. I got you.

Josh: All right. Perfect. Connor, you must feel pretty good right now, so tell me what's going on with you.

Conor: Well, I am on basically day four of a monster crowdfund race basically, for probably the oddest product I could ever think of to raise millions of dollars. I am the founder of FORT, which is a magnetic pillow fort. Basically it's a set of...

Conor: If I dumb it down really simply it's a set of these really basic, like cushions with this really durable fabric. We've worked magnets into all these different places, and created this tower that can disassemble and reassemble in all these various ways that kids can enjoy. We're at just under 2.4 million as I'm speaking right now on day four.

Josh: Wow. That's amazing. I'm looking at the campaign right now and it says 26 days ago, 7,858 backers of this moment.

Conor: That's right.

Josh: And 2,394,952 pledged for the project. To add to your description about the product, the cushions with the magnets, I will say when I first saw you guys creating the campaign on KickoffLabs to collect email addresses I thought to myself, as a parent of two children. I said, "That is awesome," because anybody who's a parent knows, at least in my house, if you have couch cushions, or any sort of cushions, and blankets around, they're almost never where you intend them to be as a parent.

Josh: They're almost always stacked in some sort of fort-like shape, or some sort of building, or wall, or something to play with. That is what the couch cushions are for. They are not for sitting on the couch.

Conor: I don't even think I realized how universal that was until I started reaching out to people on Facebook and other, mostly mothers, but fathers as well. It is weirdly universal that kids are going to rip the couch cushions off, and take the nice throw blanket, and construct something. I just basically made a more expensive version of that.

Josh: Yeah. I also had the conversation with Scott, my cofounder the other day, when we saw your official Kickstarter launch, and we were talking about it. He's like, "Oh, can we get our own discount too?" He was like, "I want it for my kids." I was like, "I'll talk to him about it."

Conor: Yeah. Yeah.

Josh: [crosstalk]-

Conor: Yeah, I can get you one. Yeah.

Josh: I think it's pretty universal. It looks really cool. Let's go back a little bit. Tell me about you and your background. Are you an engineer? Are you somebody who designs these types of things for a living anyway? How did you get to where you are now?

Conor: Yeah. I'm definitely a Swiss Army knife of creativity basically. That's great and terrible at the same time. I started out basically in high school with creative projects learning Photoshop, and video production. Moved to college and was a very, very poor college student until I found out that there was an art school in college where I got to study painting, and sculpture, and mostly graphic design because I had a love of computers.

Conor: I worked my way from there, worked my way into corporate advertising, and marketing. At the time in April of 2020 I was working for basically like a high net worth individual in his, what they call like a family office. He invested in real estate and all sorts of other things. His day job was a lawyer. I worked on a team doing all sorts of crazy, interesting, creative projects.

Conor: Obviously we all know what happened in spring, 2020. COVID hit and the COVID fun, young guys who make videos and do social media projects are usually the first to go. It was a great job, and it taught me a ton about business, but I was looking at my life, realizing I had just lost my job. My wife was pregnant with our second child, and I had a great job.

Conor: We weren't necessarily struggling financially as many across the country were at that time. But I had a limited runway, shall we say, of time to know that I needed to find another job. The market was not great. I was basically a stay at home dad. When you're a stay at home dad the couch cushions get thrown off a lot, right?

Josh: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Conor: I'm at home with my kids, or with my two year old and my pregnant wife. In my Evernote on my phone where I jot down all my notes, is a magnetic pillow fort, literally written magnetic pillow fort which is basically the subhead on my Kickstarter campaign right now, almost word for word.

Conor: It just struck me that, "What if I put a magnetic connector around the side of a big block cushion? What would happen?" All this was happening right with this craze of all these mothers and fathers staying home, being trapped with their kids in this thing called the Nugget Couch, which basically became like buying Air Jordans. Hard to get, and limited.

Conor: I saw this Nugget Couch and I was like, "Okay. That's really cool. It's like play furniture." I was like, "What if I took that a few steps further, made something just for playing, just something that my daughter could run around and knock down?" I remember knocking down forts was half the fun. I made this very odd transition all the way from artist and corporate advertising to entrepreneur, and took it from there basically.

Josh: Your background is much more on the marketing side of things? I heard you say you were creating some videos. I heard you say you were doing social media campaigns for this individual you'd been working for. Can you tell me... What did your V1 of the product look like? How did you go about designing, constructing, building a test version of the product? Because obviously it seems to exist, and so how'd you do that?

Conor: Yeah. That's a great question. I really credit art school in a very interesting way with teaching me how to make things. When you come up through the creative lines like that, if you start in art school, you get a strong foundation in kind of a analytical thinking, thinking differently, so that helps with the problem solving. But then you also learn, quite literally, construction.

Conor: We studied welding in sculpture. We studied 3D design on computers. Then working my way through all of these marketing things, it basically taught me how to problem solve very quickly. When I had the idea I was already trained enough to be able to draw, so went straight to a sketch book, started sketching out ideas based on shapes and things like that.

Conor: I had worked... When I was working for this individual, I had actually done a documentary film. I directed a film that went to film festivals, so I learned how to project manage on a bigger scale underneath someone who was the head honcho. I basically took those same principles that I learned from him and I was like, "Okay. Here's my sketches, so now I need a product designer." Found freelance product designers. Okay. I need to find and source these materials-

Josh: Pause for a second.

Where did you find the freelance product designer?



Conor: Yeah. Yeah.

Josh: Because people will have this question. Where did you find the freelance product designer? How'd you find that person?

Conor: That was, for better or worse I went to Upwork. There's Upwork, and Fiverr, and a few freelance networks. I knew I wanted someone good, and I had a very limited budget. I had a few thousand dollars. I probably haven't put more than 10 or 20 of my personal money into this project to get it going, so it's completely bootstrap which I'm super proud of.

Conor: Yeah. I went to Uplance, and I found someone who... You get a lot of international people. I found someone who spoke English really well. I found someone whose portfolio really jived with mine. We interviewed. I saw what he did. I talked to a bunch of people. I said, "What's your experience with kids' products? What is your experience with furniture? What is your experience with technical drawings," and all of these things, and ultimately made the hire.

Conor: Then it's really just a process of sending... I had a leg up right? I could draw, so I was able to send a lot of sketches, and work with him on that. Gave me a huge leg up, and within almost a month we had almost exactly what you see.

Josh: Mm-hmm (affirmative). The actual construction of it, were you running to the hardware store and buying foam and your own magnets, and the nylon, the fabric, and putting it together yourself? I'm ignorant to this so I'm just kind of curious about the whole process, like how [crosstalk]-

Conor: Yeah. No. Absolutely. What was interesting was that was where I hit my first roadblock. I had never sewn before. I know that I didn't want to do that. Going into this, being kind of like a techy guy, loving entrepreneurship, the startups, and listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast and everything you kind of pick up some things.

Conor: I was like, "I know I want to outsource this. I know that I can't really afford to sit and do this. Honestly, I don't have the time. I have to make money, quite literally to pay for my child's daycare." That'll light a fire under your butt at a certain point.

Josh: Yep.

Conor: All the parents out there... I went straight to, how do I make something overseas? How do I make something in New Mexico? How do I make something in the US? And basically started cold emailing, and using all the various websites, Alibaba, and AlliExpres, and [Made in Mexico], and IndiaMART, and started reaching out to factories.

Conor: I would find people who made foam products. I would look through all their photos, and look to see if the logos matched in the photo of the factory to the logo on the website, and just try and pick up all these little tips about how to find somebody reputable. After about 40 factories I connected with one or two, and was able to get quotes on this product.

Conor: After that you have to take the leap of faith and say, "Will you be willing to make a sample of this," which is one of the scariest parts because you don't know... A, like this is a new product. What if they steal this? You also don't know... Can they actually do this, or are they subcontracting out from another factory and just up charging you?

Conor: There's some resources online. Something that I would definitely suggest to people who want to get into product like this, you can find affordable people to consult on this. I went through a program called Sourcify. It was pretty good for the most part. It taught me what I needed to know, how to source products.

Conor: But I definitely recommend reaching out to somebody even for $100 to pay a consultant, somebody who even may be like a Chinese national, or an Indian national, or from Vietnam for example. You can pay them, and have them walk you through the process, or how to find a factory. It's not too impossible to find.

Josh: You went straight from the sketched notebook and the designs that you'd been working with your designer, and you went straight to getting some samples back from the factories at that point?

Conor: Yeah. We basically took a 3D render from my designer. He hadn't even drafted technical specs yet. He starts... Basically I think he was working in CAD, or... Of the top of my head I can't remember the other one. Basically we had like a three dimensional block set that was very similar to what I had. I presented that to various factories and said, "Hey. Here's the materials I want to use. Here's similar products that I know use these materials."

I started taking it to people's houses. I would literally drop it off on somebody's porch across the street from me who had kids and see what would happen.



Conor: That kind of eliminated most... You got down pretty quickly. Also, "Hey, do you have certifications? What are the safety standards?" This is a children's product to be made in The United States. There's a lot of safety standards. Not only that, but I care about that as well. We were able to take that 3D render and eliminate people, and then have him work up a technical spec pretty quickly.

Josh: Cool. Then what was that moment like for you when you got the sample back?

Conor: It was baffling, and so frustrating in a weird way. It was almost incomprehensible to see the thing I had made, and the perfectionist in me was already like, "Oh, this is terrible. No one is going to buy this." With a little perspective I realized... I started taking it to people's houses. I would literally drop it off on somebody's porch across the street from me who had kids and see what would happen.

Conor: But the super frustrating part was I ran into the first of the biggest challenges that I had to deal with, which was this product is freaking huge. It's like monstrous. It arrived at my door in these two huge boxes from China, and it cost me like thousands of dollars to ship. I got this bill and I was like, "Oh, no. I'm completely sunk. I can't afford to make this product. It's so expensive to ship."

Can I drop this giant box off on your porch, and you just let your kids have at it?



Conor: When I took it out of the box it was unbelievable. It was actually incredibly well made. I was shocked that it arrived at my door how it should. It made me feel a lot better once I took it to people's houses and the parents were like, "Oh, they've been playing with it literally straight since you dropped it off here." It was the weirdest experience to go through, seeing it come in, dealing with the business ramifications, and then seeing how the actual end customer may use it.

Josh: I want to talk about both of those things a little bit. I want to talk about the user testing. You went, and like you said, you literally just looked at your neighbors and said, "Can I drop this giant box off on your porch, and you just let your kids have at it?" You found most of them were probably, especially with lockdowns and COVID, were probably pretty receptive to something their kids could do inside the house?

Conor: Absolutely. I started with little boys, some friends of ours in our neighborhood. We live in a neighborhood in the city of St. Louis, and two little boys were both four years old. I would leave it there for a few days at their house, and their parents would send me photos of just absolute destruction. I mean dive bombing the thing, building something and running into it, and jumping off of it.

Conor: It was incredibly satisfying to see just the joy and the ease of use, and the creativity that was coming out of it. Almost immediately user testing it validated the product. I certainly had concerns about cost, and price, but it was really hard to deny the fun that kids were having. We certainly had things that we were looking at that we could improve immediately.

Conor: For example, I undershot the strength of the magnets, which is kind of the key selling point. It turns out magnets are not only very expensive, but very hard to work with with the sizes, and strengths. So we had to develop a custom magnet just to be able to support, basically, the perfect strength. Because if you have too strong of a magnet a kid's finger may get pinched, something like that.

Conor: Obviously you don't want them to support weight because that would be super dangerous, but you want them to be able to hold your structure without falling down. We found that we were holding it, but they could still be bumped and fall down. That was like the first thing we reassessed. But really the shapes, and all of it, the kids just took to immediately.

We were profitable from day one which is amazing.



Josh: Cool. Now tell me about the cost concern, because you got a sample product back. It cost you thousands of dollars to get the product back. I can tell from the Kickstarter page you've got kits you can get that start around 250, 270, 299. Obviously not thousands of dollars per one of these kits, so how'd you overcome the price factor and the fear there?

Conor: Yeah. That was a huge, and still is a huge challenge. From a business perspective the Kickstarter itself, if I can start there and work backwards, we were profitable from day one which is amazing. Not many Kickstarters are able to do that. We launched with a 50% off discount, and we were profitable on day one. Part of that is the economy of scale.

Conor: But we're on a super tight margin unless we can continue to scale the Kickstarter up. Working all the way back to the beginning, I received that sample, and the sample itself was not super expensive to produce, but the shipping was astronomical. That brings up a lot of issues. As a marketing person I'm thinking, how am I going to ship a unit to a reviewer or an influencer, right?

How can we profit on this and still make a really great product? What is that balance of pricing that we can walk?



Conor: That's going to be potentially hundreds of dollars. How am I going to get it to the end consumer? People want two day shipping for free right? In the world of two day shipping, a small eCommerce business like mine, how am I going to work with the customer? What price am I going to be able to sell it at that I can actually make a profit on this?

Conor: Because it is so expensive to ship. Then the magnets themself add about 25% to 35% of the cost of the product. The product itself, if it was just foam, is much cheaper, but with the stronger magnet. Those were issues we ran into right away. We immediately started talking to fulfillment centers, and looking into, "Can we compress this? Can we ship this in separate boxes? And what prices can we charge?" We wanted to be really unapologetic about...

Conor: This company has to profit. We're not here to do the tech, "Let's scale and make something for free basically." We're like, "We need to pay for daycare first of all." I can't reiterate that enough, because that's actually true. I'm in this to pay for daycare, kind of jokingly but really. How can we profit on this and still make a really great product? What is that balance of pricing that we can walk?

Josh: Cool. It sounds like it's kind of a combination of both figuring out the economies of scale, like doing the initial orders and everything for the product, and the magnets. I saw that you guys offer a version without the magnets which obviously probably helps a little bit if the magnets are 25% to 30% of the cost. Then also, just working through the shipping logistics of how you're going to get it to people, and figuring out what the right price needs to be.

Conor: Yeah. Container shipping obviously is the cheapest, so bringing over containers, and then also obviously expanding, hopefully, to maybe some sort of US assembly, or factory. All of those things you look into, but economies of scale obviously, yeah.

Josh: Yeah. Cool. We spent a lot of time to getting to where you are today with the product. I want to talk about... A product alone doesn't raise almost $2.4 million. I'm just watching it tick up as we do this. You must do that. You just leave it open, right, and it just ticks up?

Conor: Yeah. Yes. I mean the first day it was going crazy. We can get there, but yeah... No, definitely.

Josh: Let's talk about... The product itself, I mean it's an amazing looking product. I imagine that the tests went really well like you said, dropping off at friends' houses. But there's 7,859 people right now that have backed the product. That came from an audience that you've built, so let's start at the beginning in terms of when you started to think about building the audience for the product, and what were the first few things you did around audience building?

I kind of secretly snuck into these Facebook groups, kind of got to know who was in there, and what they were wanting, what they were frustrated with Nugget, who's the market leader.



Conor: Yeah. That actually goes right along with the kind of pricing and shipping concerns I had from the business perspective, was what I'm referencing with those concerns was about in August of 2020. I still hadn't launched publicly. I had built a brand, the support logo that you see with the colors. I hired a friend who was a really good designer-illustrator to help me with all that. I was really researching the markets.

Conor: What I learned was with this Nugget Couch craze that was happening online, where these Nugget Couches became in so high demand that moms would resell them for twice the price, or this Facebook group about the nuggets had tens of thousands of members, and was crazy active all day. I kind of secretly snuck into these Facebook groups, kind of got to know who was in there, and what they were wanting, what they were frustrated with Nugget, who's the market leader.

This is actually where KickoffLabs comes in is I built my landing page, and I had some simple photos based off of my first sample.



Conor: Then realizing that there's a lot of these Nugget knockoffs that were coming up, people basically making the same thing as the Nugget but making it a little bit easier to get ahold of. Capitalism at work there. Ultimately Nugget will probably win that game. They're the strongest brand.

Conor: But I was just seeing all of this and thinking, "My product probably fits into this. It's a little bit different, but I think this may be my Kevin Kelly, first thousand true fans, or first fans." What I did was, after learning in Facebook groups, understanding those people... This is actually where KickoffLabs comes in is I built my landing page, and I had some simple photos based off of my first sample.

Basically I had found my audience, just through simple Facebook ads and targeting.



Conor: I think I may have even launched without the sample in my hands in the US. I started running really simple Facebook ads targeted to parents who had kids of certain ages, and pretty quickly I was getting emails from people wondering what this was, and wondering if they could share it in a Facebook group. Basically I had found my audience, just through simple Facebook ads and targeting.

Conor: Actually basically within almost 24 hours I got 1,500 leads on KickoffLabs because someone had shared it in this Nugget group, and I had built off of the back of this other brand by differentiating myself.

Josh: Okay. I want to recap what you said because it's a great step-by-step. You had basically zero email addresses collected?

Conor: Yes.

Josh: You start out and you say, "Hey, as part of market research I'm going to embed myself into these competitor groups basically," so like the Nugget-

Conor: Yes.

Josh: ... groups, and the parent Facebook groups that were talking about building, or doing DIY, like similar things. You embed your-

Conor: Yeah, Montessori, all sorts of stuff. Yeah.

Josh: Yeah. You embed yourself in those groups to do market research and then also build a little bit of a reputation in those groups. You-

Conor: Actually I tried to connect with people in those groups, and self promotion in Facebook groups is-

Josh: Yeah.

Conor: Yeah. Actually I almost did no... I almost just was a silent [crosstalk]-

Josh: Okay. You were lurking to do market research.

Conor: I was lurking. Yeah. Yeah.

Josh: Okay. You're lurking to do market research. That's a great clarification. Then you put up a KickoffLabs landing page for the product. What I'm looking at right now is the KickoffLabs landing page, launch.getthefort.com. I don't remember looking at it right when you guys launched it, but I imagine you went with a very similar simple design right? I mean it's-

Your landing page very simple..you've got your bright, colorful logo. You've got your tagline, says, "Magnet plus foam equals kid magic." Then you've got a call to action which says, "Sign up now to get The FORT with Kickstarter discount."



Conor: It is not that different from probably... Yeah. I think about 30 days in we got to this version which is very, very simple. But yes, it did not change much.

Josh: Yeah. Literally it takes up just one screen, for anybody that's just listening to this on the podcast. We'll post the images of this stuff in the recap so people can see it, but just to describe your landing page very simply you've got your bright, colorful logo. You've got your tagline, says, "Magnet plus foam equals kid magic." Then you've got a call to action which says, "Sign up now to get The FORT with Kickstarter discount."

Fort landing page



Josh: And then just a checklist of product benefits. Really simple. Magnets mean builds don't fall down easily. Saves your couch cushions. Don't need parent help. Easily wipeable and stackable for storage. Then you're getting people with this bonus on the bottom. But that's literally the page I think I just read through.

Conor: Yeah.

You're only asking for a first name and an email address.



Josh: You're only asking for a first name and an email address. I think that's important to call out the simplicity here, because a lot of people get overly stressed when they're marketing a product like this, and they'll feel the need to take each of those bullet points you have before you've launched the product and just expand. "Oh, I have to explain the science that goes into the magnets," and they create this whole section on the magnets.

Josh: "I have to explain the problem, and the couch cushions," and they have the whole section that goes into the couch cushions. But at this stage you realized you didn't need that? You knew that? Or you just said, "I only have time for this, and so I'm just going to put up the really simple version?"

Conor: That's a great question. I will say for this product specifically customer education is super important, but I was giving what seemed to be the four main points that people wanted, and previously instead of sign up now for the FORT Kickstarter discount it gave the actual offer I was offering. At the time it was sign up now for, or get on the list for 50% off, when we launched.

After they go through this page, we send them the email that KickoffLabs does, and we try to get them almost immediately into our Facebook group



Conor: Then the call to action button after first name and email signup is, "Get the discount," or, "Get 50% off," or, "I want 50% off," those types of things. We kept it really, really simple. The reason was after they go through this page, we send them the email that KickoffLabs does, and we try to get them almost immediately into our Facebook group, right?

Conor: Because I knew that Facebook groups is where all of this built. I was able to convert almost 15% to 20% of my email list into a Facebook group, which because I knew the Nugget group had so much power... They actually, the Nugget company, does not actually own or run that group. It's a fan account. I knew I wanted my own owned channel, and I wanted to be able to teach the customers there, and evangelize them. And then have them go out further.

78,000 emails collected on KickoffLabs



Josh: Yeah. That's one thing I noticed when you posted a tweet a couple days ago, and I've been following along where you said, "My prelaunch stats." And it says, "Email list, 78,000," those are leads you mostly collected on KickoffLabs I imagine?

Conor: Yes.

Josh: Then you just talked about the Facebook groups. You converted about 13,000 of those people into a Facebook group by encouraging them in the email to join up. And the follow-ons, I imagine, from the initial email collaboration. Then 10,000 to an Instagram page. Then also you're collecting an SMS list, so people were giving you their phone numbers? How were you going about collecting that information as well?

Conor: Yeah. That was something I looked at doing through KickoffLabs. I got really nervous about the compliance issues. For anyone doing that I highly recommend looking into compliance. It can get sticky. We brought on SMS late. When we had reached our first, like thousand email list members and first few hundred members on our Facebook group, we learned pretty quickly that specifically moms of young children, email is not super important to them like it is...

Conor: I'm not trying to over generalize, but a lot of the mothers may not be in the professional work field full-time, so email isn't their lifeblood all the time. But their phone number may be. We got a lot of, specifically mothers, who were like, "Hey, can we get an option so we can get updated? Even if you just text us, 'Hey, there's an email in your inbox?'" Because they're just so busy with kids and everything, and life, that we knew we wanted to offer that. We didn't offer it right away. We actually built that in January, so we started in early January just before launch.

Most of our conversions of course came through our Facebook group right, the people who we had been nurturing, and educating, and becoming friends with.



Josh: Yeah. So you just basically emailed the list and said, "Hey, if anybody wants to be notified via SMS you can sign up here?"

Conor: Yes. And we used Postscript for that, really easy to use. We're using Klaviyo for email and basically, yeah, blast the email list. Most of our conversions of course came through our Facebook group right, the people who we had been nurturing, and educating, and becoming friends with. We said, "Hey. We've got an SMS option to sign up here," and made up a thing... Everything was compliant, and super easy and breezy. It worked out really well.

I think it's a really good best practice, is not to lean 100% into one communication channel when you're building an audience



Josh: Yeah. The takeaway I had from that when I read your tweet, and I think it's a really good best practice, is not to lean 100% into one communication channel when you're building an audience, for several reasons. I think the benefit for you guys is one, it's harder to get locked out of one in particular, so if something happened with email domain, or just you're not able to reach out for whatever reason, you're not just tied to email.

Josh: If Facebook says, for whatever reason, "We're going to shut down your Facebook group," you don't just have the Facebook group audience. Then you also have people that you say like, "Hey. I want a more intimate connection." You get that SMS connection. You've got multiple avenues and ways to connect people. From your perspective that's beneficial, and from a consumer perspective everybody has their preferences.

Josh: I'm sure you have people that only ever followup on Instagram. I'm sure you have people that only ever followup, read the SMS messages and not the emails. I think there's a benefit... I'm just trying... Because there's a cross, for people listening. There's a benefit to building more than just one audience, and the focus should be on building multiple channels to your audience.

We knew that Facebook groups were the most powerful. We started in Facebook groups to get them to email which is where we knew we wanted to capture them.



Conor: I think that was something early on that I knew when I was studying the strategy behind all of these things. That was something I knew I wanted to focus on early on. I knew I would work my way there, and I knew I continually wanted to own my own channels more. I knew email was our bedrock, and I went out from there.

Conor: I think it is really interesting thinking about where your customer is, and then how you can transfer them to other places, and where to move in how you're marketing. We knew that Facebook groups were the most powerful. We started in Facebook groups to get them to email which is where we knew we wanted to capture them. Then after Facebook groups, when we had felt that we tapped that for the most part...

Conor: People were getting tired of people using the viral sharing KickoffLabs links in their other Facebook groups. We were like, "Okay, it's time to move to Instagram for the channel. Let's continue to build that next channel." It kind of kept going like that.

We always had the share link. We always had the leaderboard, the very simple leaderboard you offer which is the total number of entries.



Josh: Did you do anything to encourage the viral sharing? Because KickoffLabs as a product obviously enables people to... Once you've collected the email address, in your case I was brought to, at this point, a page that says... I love this tagline for a sharing page. It says, "Getting discounts makes it easier when you tell your spouse," and then links to share the product on Facebook, Twitter, email, with the copy link. Was that all you did to encourage the sharing? Did you do anything else to encourage people to share along the course of the campaign?

Fort thanks page



Conor: Yeah. We did a few different strategies, some that worked, some that didn't. We always had the share link. We always had the leaderboard, the very simple leaderboard you offer which is the total number of entries. Which at a certain point people actually really enjoy seeing how many emails you have when they're rooting for you, the position that you are in.

Conor: But on the first page of our KickoffLabs landing page we say, "Kickstarter backers are automatically entered to win a free FORT." I go into more depth. This is an updated... You're actually looking at an older, or a newer thank you page that just goes to Kickstarter, so it's not quite the one we had. But basically I said...

Conor: I kind of outlined the details of like, "We are going to give away five Forts to the top five sharers," trying to incentivize people to climb the leaderboard. We got a little bit of pushback about that sometimes, people saying, "Oh, this is like one of those kind of scammy..." Whatever. But for the most part that didn't happen too much, and people kind of enjoyed trying to share.

Conor: We were going to try and offer a giveaway to everyone who shared with at least one email as well to incentivize people to share, which I think is also something you can do, especially if your leaderboard is unattainable right? Our top five sharers, I shared with quite literally over 500 or 1,000 other email addresses, which is unattainable for someone else coming in. But it really is a really powerful engine, and you just keep educating people. Yeah. I think it's pretty simple for the most part.

I think that can be a powerful thing if you're creating a product that can get fans behind it to have a movement.



Josh: I want to just recap what I heard you say, is one, you weren't shy about showing the total entries of people that had signed up. In fact, in your case it feels like a benefit because it gets people involved in the mission. They get excited like, "Oh, because I shared now there's 95,000," or, "Because I shared, now the number is going up there."

What could we do to potentially keep engagement?



Josh: I think that can be a powerful thing if you're creating a product that can get fans behind it to have a movement. That in and of itself is probably motivational. Then you were giving... You were offering, giving away a free FORT to, you say a few backers who share the most. I was a little bit confused, and you probably changed this a couple times. You were going to give it away to the top people sharing which, as you pointed out, most of those numbers are probably unattainable to the average person. Then you were also going to do a general drawing amongst people that had at least one share so that you had something for anybody to possibly enter?

Conor: Yeah. That was definitely a later addition. We wanted to... We tested a few different giveaways, but when we were looking at... At a certain point raising that email list was getting kind of fun right? We crossed 50,000 in December and it's just a crazy number. What we did, especially when you get people complaining, "There's no way that I could actually win a free one," we thought, "What could we do to potentially keep engagement?" Really when you look at the stats, and you know this better than I, I think less than 5% of our total list had actually-

Josh: Yep.

Conor: ... shared. Is that about right? What is that stat normally?

Josh: It averages about 5% to 7% of people end up getting a successful, verified share in [crosstalk] campaign. That's a good number. You really are happy to get those kind of numbers for engagement.

Conor: I'm guessing that, especially with our... I'm guessing that a lot of the times there are maybe a full nother percent of your email list that had shared but not used the special link, or something like that?

Josh: Yep.

But we sent out the educational email with the walkthrough of how to do it



Conor: We've gotten those emails, of course. But we sent out the educational email with the walkthrough of how to do it and said, "Hey, we'd love to offer..." It's a much smaller pool. I think it was only about 2,000 people had actually shared out of 60,000 people at that time. We had said that we were going to offer one or two units, maybe, to one or two random people on the actually had verified shared list. It's just another way to engage and maybe keep those emails flowing.

Josh: Yeah. It's something we often recommend as a best practice is to think about the two different sides of your audience. One is people that you may have known or discovered through the process are really just influencers in the space. If somebody is able to get more than five other people they probably have some sort of undue influence in the space.

Make something that feels attainable to the person who's not an influencer.



Josh: Or maybe they run a local toy store. Or maybe there's something you don't know. We always find out that people end up discovering these people they didn't even know in local markets that were influencers, and building a stronger relationship with those set of people but then making sure you don't forget about what's in it... Like what feels attainable to the average person?

Josh: And to get that 5% to 6%, to get that number up a little bit, it's really beneficial to do what you did which is to, say, make something that feels attainable to the person who's not an influencer, who's just a mom who is just... Not just a mom, but who's-

Conor: Yeah, sure.

Josh: ... not in the industry, who can't get you a thousand connections, but they might be able to get you three to four connections. You want to be able to activate that person with a little bit of motivation. A, I think you did a great job realizing that, and putting out the simpler promotion, and then B, the thing that you mentioned which caught my ear [inaudible] some people miss is that you reinforced it through education.

I think education is the reason we raised 2.2 million in under 10 hours. I think if you're looking at the middle American mother, and father, or family like our target is, I think education is essential. There's so many questions they have, parents of young children. I mean, I have young kids. It is so important we educated them on how to use these technical things, like a share link, that they may not have done before.



Josh: It sounds like you were sending out, through Klaviyo, followup emails during the campaign to remind people to do it, and educating them on how, why, and where they can share correct?

Conor: I think education is the reason we raised 2.2 million in under 10 hours. I think if you're looking at the middle American mother, and father, or family like our target is, I think education is essential. There's so many questions they have, parents of young children. I mean, I have young kids. It is so important we educated them on how to use these technical things, like a share link, that they may not have done before.

kickstarter 2 million



Conor: We educated them on magnets on the product itself. A lot of this happened in the Facebook group. A ton happened over email. I got Loom, the screen sharing app, just to do screen shares. We educated... We literally did three or four walkthroughs on how to back a Kickstarter. I would go back... I actually backed a Kickstarter.

That was just so essential for us, and actually the stat backs that up. I tweeted, I think this morning, about I think 75%, 65% to 75% of our backers had never even been on the platform before. That is almost completely opposite of what most Kickstarters do, which means we've got a lot of room for organic growth. But that just tells you how much education we did up front.



Conor: Funny enough, this is kind of a funny story. I made a Loom screen share for my Facebook group and email list to walk them through the process of how to back a Kickstarter, because I knew I was bringing new people who had never even heard of Kickstarter to Kickstarter. I backed this project, and on launch day when we launched I got the product I'd backed within like six weeks.

Conor: I was like, "That is a great omen for me shipping my Kickstarter on time." I felt really good about that. But I think that was just so essential for us, and actually the stat backs that up. I tweeted, I think this morning, about I think 75%, 65% to 75% of our backers had never even been on the platform before. That is almost completely opposite of what most Kickstarters do, which means we've got a lot of room for organic growth. But that just tells you how much education we did up front.

You don't assume that your customer knows everything you know, which is extremely important.



Josh: Yeah. I think that that part is critical. To dig in a little bit more, you talked about you filmed videos, how to share, how to back Kickstarter, just every little thing. You don't assume that your customer knows everything you know, which is extremely important. How often were you reaching out to the list throughout this process? That's another question we get all the time because people are scared.

Josh: They say, "Oh, well I don't want to send too many emails and scare them off of my list." They're really paranoid about that. Can you explain for each channel how often you're reaching out in each of the channels that we've talked about, the email, the SMS, the Facebook group and the Instagram?

I would just shoot an iPhone video answering a question personally about maybe a potential customer had a concern, so there was that point of contact there. I actually also did what I call the Tour de FORT. I had a plan to drive around the Midwest, where I'm based in St. Louis, and visit people outside at parks, and have them drive by and show them the FORT pieces.



Conor: I would say earlier on, a month out we would try to convert them very quickly to the Facebook group. That would be one or two emails within the first week. If they didn't quite go there they would get, basically one email a week from Klaviyo. Then if they were in the Facebook group we were doing videos all the time, screen shares.

Conor: I would just shoot an iPhone video answering a question personally about maybe a potential customer had a concern, so there was that point of contact there. I actually also did what I call the Tour de FORT. I had a plan to drive around the Midwest, where I'm based in St. Louis, and visit people outside at parks, and have them drive by and show them the FORT pieces.

We would basically send one email a week. We started ramping that up about six weeks before with about two emails a week, starting to really try and push accessories, talk about colors, and release new information to really get people excited.



Conor: Most of it was canceled because we had some issues with shipping, and obviously COVID challenges. But we did actually leave town to go do one of these, and it was very interesting to do a boots on the ground thing. But we would basically send one email a week. We started ramping that up about six weeks before with about two emails a week, starting to really try and push accessories, talk about colors, and release new information to really get people excited.

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Conor: Of course our unsubscribe rate went up. I was torn all the time. But for the most part I think if they're going to unsubscribe they're going to unsubscribe. I think with this audience they were so hungry for information, you have to really know your audience, that they wanted more from us. We just kept giving them more. We found out who the true people were.

Josh: Yeah. I think that's important to realize as a lesson for people is that yeah, you're going to get unsubscribes, but if you had said nothing. The worst case scenario, and this has happened, sadly, way too often, I see is people will collect 10,000, 20,000 email addresses on KickoffLabs. They won't be following up.

Josh: Then when they launch they'll say, "Hey, I didn't really make that much money off of the launch and the email list." I'll ask them after the fact, and I'll say, "Well, what emails did you send?" They said, "Well, we sent them a thank you email for signing up, and then we sent them an email on launch day."

Conor: That's baffling. Yeah.

Josh: I'm like-

Conor: [crosstalk]-

It takes seven touches to make a fan, or get somebody to purchase.



Josh: ... "I don't know what else to say but that's a recipe for failure." Because I sign up for tons of stuff, and if it's anything more than a week later I'll have forgotten what I signed up for. When the email comes like two months later I'll be like, "What is this thing? I don't remember this." But if you're constantly top of mind yeah, you might lose a few people but the people who are interested and even potential buyers are probably just not...

Josh: They might just delete the email. They might not read it, but they're not going to unsubscribe. Then they might read every third email, or every fourth one that comes in. Then they're going to be... They say it takes, like the classic thing is it takes seven touches to make a fan, or get somebody to purchase. You've built up that series of touches, some of them personal, some of them less personal depending on the channel, so that when you hit the launch button and said to your blast to everybody, it says, "We're live now," you had a bunch of people that were already activated and ready to take action on what you were doing.

Josh: I think we've now led up to the part we mentioned earlier, so what was that launch day like for you? You obviously pressed launch on all of these channels and said, "It's live. Go get it." Is it that simple? How did it go, and what happened next?

That move to 45% off spurred a crazy influx of people wanting to get the discount in case it moved up again. It's almost a scarcity thing.



Conor: It was... I mean as you could imagine it was absolutely insane. We had... Because our email list scaled so much we actually... Our original product, our original discount offering, was 50% off. When we hit 10,000 emails we realized we actually would potentially lose thousands and thousands of dollars on 50% off, so we had to readjust really quickly and say, "Hey, listen. For the next part of the future the discount we're offering now is 45% off."

Conor: We raised the price by $20. We had this very odd situation where we had 10,000 emails of our thousand true fans who were getting this for 50% off, and then weirdly that move to 45% off spurred a crazy influx of people wanting to get the discount in case it moved up again. It's almost a scarcity thing.

Josh: Yep.

Every email came from conor@fort. It didn't just come from FORT. Everything was super personalized.



Conor: On launch day we were launching on Kickstarter to this 50% off crowd first who we knew were our most rabid fans, and all that education and everything... Every email came from conor@fort. It didn't just come from FORT. Everything was super personalized, all the education.

We did hundreds of thousands of dollars within the first 30 minutes, something like $500,000. We knew our email list, that those 10,00 people, would potentially convert as high as 10%. I think it ultimately converted higher than that.



Conor: Once I launched that 50% off I had people who were in what we call the 45% off group just waiting on Kickstarter, refreshing, trying to get the 50% off discount. It was bananas basically. We did hundreds of thousands of dollars within the first 30 minutes, something like $500,000. We knew our email list, that those 10,00 people, would potentially convert as high as 10%. I think it ultimately converted higher than that.

Conor: Then we knew that the 70,000 other emails would convert almost the same, maybe just a little bit lower, more like 8%. I think we did do that. We basically just got on our emails, and on the Facebook comments, and just rode that wave all day typing until our fingers hurt responding to people.

Josh: When you say, "Rode that wave," and were responding to people were you getting questions? What were you responding to during that day?

Conor: Yeah. Most of the questions we got were in relation to the discount tiers that we had offered. We had done a tone of education, but we still, even with all of our hard work we still fell a little bit short. We probably got 100, 150 emails that day, mostly from people who were familiar with FORT, who were in the Facebook group, who knew about us.

Almost 75% of our audience had never even heard of Kickstarter befor



Conor: We were just dealing with that. The other ones were, "Hey, I don't know how to do this. It doesn't say..." For example, "It doesn't say, 'Purchase,' on here, or 'Checkout,'" right?

Josh: Yeah.

Conor: If you're familiar with Kickstarter you'd be like, "Oh, that's because it's called a reward, and it's called a backing, or a pledge. We kind of had to do... Those were usually the people who obviously didn't watch my screen shares, which you can't blame them. It was also customer stuff like that, like I said, almost 75% of our audience had never even heard of Kickstarter before, so we really had to do day of.

Conor: I hired actually my best friend to do customer service for me. He's a former Apple employee, and he knows all that crazy customer service stuff having dealt with it. He built out this huge document, literally copy and paste. We also had to deal a lot with international, and Canadians. Unfortunately we weren't really able, with obviously our shipping challenges, to go there as well, so there was a lot of kind of fielding those questions. "Hey, are you [inaudible] to the UK? Hey, are you shipping to Australia." Those types of things.

We even have a few thousand people on our email list to Canada waiting and ready to buy.



Josh: That's got to make you feel good though. I mean you start with this idea, and you've got a, now worldwide audience of people that are interested in the product?

Conor: It is insane, especially when I'm looking at the future and how to be competitive in the market. This product's price is 399 at retail, and I feel very good about that. That's a product that we can sustainably build a business. I'm certainly nervous, but knowing that people in Canada...

How can we approach these customers that they haven't quite gotten to yet?



Conor: We even have a few thousand people on our email list to Canada waiting and ready to buy. I'm just super excited to scale there. Because when I look at Nugget, which is definitely the market leader, I think Nugget in my mind is Uber. They've got all this press, maybe a little bit of drama.

Conor: If they're going to do that, we're going to be Lyft, so a little more fun, a little more pink obviously, because pink is like our color. That's kind of what we're going for is how can we approach these customers that they haven't quite gotten to yet?

Josh: Cool. Kind of gotten through my list of questions. I'd like to end this, round up our conversation, to say, "What haven't we talked about that you think is really important for somebody who's looking to do something similar, maybe somebody who's got a physical product who wants to start a Kickstarter campaign who knows they need to build an audience?" What haven't we talked about, or what advice do you have for them?

Conor: Yeah. I think my story is an outlier in that there are things that coalesced to make this such a viral product, mostly COVID, the Nugget craze. I was lucky to capitalize on that and use that. Not everybody is going to have that, but there will be an audience somewhere. You have to find them, and find how they work.

Self promotion in Facebook groups is not what you do, but what you can do is find out a way to target those people with ads, and try to reach them, or reach out one on one.



Conor: I see people too often going into where they found the audience, but not working with the audience. For example, the self promotion in Facebook groups is not what you do, but what you can do is find out a way to target those people with ads, and try to reach them, or reach out one on one. That kind of thing is doing the marketing the right way, and really personalizing it.

Conor: I always put my name and my face in front of the brand, not too much so as to totally disassociate it as Conor instead of FORT. But that was really huge. Then I can't encourage people enough to really look at the finances of things. Kickstarter is not... It's really fun to be glamorous about it, but at the end of the day if you're running a business Kickstarter is a really challenging platform.

Conor: You're offering a discount for something that you don't even have money to make in most cases. We've had to be really cautious. My goal is to be bootstrapped, and we are thus far. I have borrowed some money from family members that I've already accounted for paying back, but I think it's, think really hard about those crowdfunding platforms.

Conor: There's a lot of really cool options out there, things that you can launch on; Shopify. There's plugins that you can do a crowdfund on Shopify. Shoot for different goals, things like that. I don't think a million dollar raise is for everyone, having done it. It is really, really cool. It's kind of that tagline like, "Oscar nominee," whatever.

Josh: Yeah.

Conor: It's, "Conor Lewis raises two million dollars on Kickstarter." But I really think, think about what is best for your business. We knew we wanted the media attention. we knew we wanted to get as many units of these out as cheaply and efficiently as possible, and then hopefully people wouldn't balk at the price later on when we were offering full price, and we could continue to scale that way.

Josh: Yeah. You reminded of one followup question I had from earlier. I've heard... Some people have given me numbers with Kickstarter projects and they said, "You know, to raise whatever number you want to raise, expect to spend 20% of that number on advertising." Did you spend 20% of $2 million on advertising?

Conor: No. I think you're setting me up for this, because you probably saw my tweets.

Josh: I did see your [crosstalk]. I'll admit that.

I spent under $3,000 to get 80,000 leads.



Conor: Okay. The real... You can post this if you want. I can send you the screenshot. I spent... It's on my desktop. I'm going to verify this right now. I spent under $3,000 to get 80,000 leads. It's a great example of first, the virality of the product. The product sold itself in a lot of ways because of this Nugget craze, the kids' play furniture.

Then it's great for KickoffLabs right, because your engine powered that... I just bought a year membership just because I was like, "I think I'm probably going to use this again." We're looking at maybe using it again for a launch in May kind of doing the same thing. I think there's something really powerful, maybe doing it a little bit differently.



Conor: It's a great example of the virality of sharing in the right market. Maybe board gamers aren't going to share the moms who like play furniture, you know? Then it's great for KickoffLabs right, because your engine powered that. Not to over-promote you on your own podcast, but it certainly helped.

Josh: We are sponsored by KickoffLabs so...

I didn't use growth hacking techniques. I didn't use sneaky PR. I just reached out to people, and the virality of the product mixed with the virality of the sharing, and putting them into the right place, that Facebook group, educating them and then moving the Instagram, that's what changed it.



Conor: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. At this point I am... I just bought a year membership just because I was like, "I think I'm probably going to use this again." We're looking at maybe using it again for a launch in May kind of doing the same thing. I think there's something really powerful, maybe doing it a little bit differently.

Conor: But yeah, we got really lucky in that. Not everybody will be that lucky, but there is a way to do it. I didn't use growth hacking techniques. I didn't use sneaky PR. I just reached out to people, and the virality of the product mixed with the virality of the sharing, and putting them into the right place, that Facebook group, educating them and then moving the Instagram, that's what changed it.

Josh: Yeah. Were you spending all of your time in one on one communications, or were you always responding publicly generally, like if somebody would ask a question you'd post the answer broadly on Facebook?

Conor: In the Facebook group I was in there a lot until it go overwhelming. It kind of actually became my full-time job. I had to hire someone to help me manage that. Most of it was pretty public, posting and making videos for people. But of course there was tons of emails.

Conor: But for the most part those questions that got emailed to me would come up in person, and what I would do is I'd make a video. I'd post it to our Facebook page. I'd post it to the instagram page. Things like that just helped a ton.

Josh: Yeah. No, you should absolutely do similar launch things. It's been pretty common and successful for people that have had a first launch like you guys to then say, "Okay, well when we do the actual launch we're going to do it this way," and then to do the regional launches as well. We've had people have a lot of success saying like, "Get on the Canadian wait list for when this ships in Canada, or when this ships in the UK."

Conor: Brilliant.

Josh: That's been fairly successful for people as well, to do like a more regional approach of when you know you're launching in specific regions.

Conor: Okay. Yeah, that's brilliant. Yeah, we're looking at May to do kind of like a product release, and maybe do like a limited edition, a run of 2,000 FORTs in a special color that we'll only do one time, and so maybe using a sort of sharing campaign or engagement campaign of some sort. Follow on Instagram, and get on the list to get this product. A little bit of a scarcity... Well, real scarcity. We actually do make genuinely 2,000.

Josh: Sure. That's what fits in the container.

Conor: Yeah. Well, yeah. At a certain point it's also what you can afford. There is that. But yeah, absolutely. That's very interesting. Yeah. I think those are the things that I'm thinking are the big things that I learned. I definitely want to encourage people to go for it. I think I'm really about being realistic, but also there is a healthy level of delusion that comes with this.

Conor: I've been joking with my wife, my story in local news in St. Louis is basically like, "Local man loses job, sells foam on internet." That's my story, right? Or, "Local dad loses job. Sells foam on internet." There's a healthy level of delusion to think, "I'm going to make a magnetic pillow fort and sell it on the internet."

Josh: That's like every kid's dream when you're asking them, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" "A toy tester." You're like, "I now build toys."

Conor: You know what the sad things is about owning a toy company is, is you don't play with your own toy very much at all because you're always doing businessy things. It's terrible. All the kids have way more fun than me. But, yeah. No. It's been really interesting, so I'm super grateful and really excited by everything obviously. Now we're just in the slump of trying to figure out how to run those ads.

Conor: We do have some cash set aside. I mean we obviously didn't spend. What would it be, $200,000, 10% of two million. That'd be like five times as much as we even put into launching the company. We do have some cash set aside to help scale up Facebook Ads for the Kickstarter. It is going to be a real grind. I won't lie. Most of our growth is the email list, so that's something that we're encountering right now is how do we scale through PR, and Facebook Ads? That is my current very real challenge.

Josh: Yeah, I think it feels like you've had a lot of success getting real personal with your leads and your customers as you've started building the business and the audience. I think you've got a really compelling story to tell. I think there's probably a good market for you to just get that story more broadly out of the St. Louis area, and tell it more broadly. Hopefully we can be part of-

Conor: Yeah. Absolutely.

Josh: ... expanding that story, and sharing it. I would look at leaning into that if I were you guys, because I think it is a really... Like you said, it's a viral product. It's one where there's a need either with or without the pandemic. I honestly think there's a [inaudible] space and a need.

Conor: The pandemic doesn't hurt. Yeah.

Josh: Yeah. And it doesn't hurt to have that as the extra motivation when you're looking around saying, "What else can the kids play with today?"

Conor: Absolutely. Yeah.

Josh: Well, this has been a lot of fun, so thank you for spending the time. I'm glad we waited, because it was great to see the success and talk to you right while you're in the thick of it, having just launched the Kickstarter campaign.

Conor: Yeah. No. I really appreciate it, and I definitely learned a lot early on when I learned about KickoffLabs. Shout out to Sheets & Giggles, Colin McIntosh. That's where I heard about you guys. He has kind of become a buddy. I listened to the On Growth Podcast, and read all the stuff. It was super helpful to learn that stuff. Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Josh: Cool. Yeah. Thanks for sharing again, and have a great day.

Conor: Yeah. Absolutely. I'm going to go try and figure this thing out. All right, thanks Josh.

Josh: Yep. Later, Conor. Bye.

Conor: See you.

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