Since we wrapped up our Kickstarter campaign in January and nearly doubled our goal by raising $183,000 in funding, we’ve heard from quite a few entrepreneurs and crowdfunding hopefuls who’d like for us to share our advice. We’d love to help. Now, your idea may be a show-stopper but keep in mind that even with a great story and product it takes diligence to really harness the opportunity that Kickstarter offers.
Here are a few key lessons the ATOMS Express team learned that you may find helpful before
launching headfirst into your own crowdfunding campaign:
Fast is better.
As Michael likes to say, we embraced the ‘fail or succeed fast’ mentality. We went from napkin concept to 13 prototypes, 4 kits, and funded on Kickstarter in less than 3 months but many startups over-produce. They end up spending a lot of time and money on dead ends. The main thing you need to know: Is there a market for your product?
For ATOMS, crowdfunding provided real clarity on viability…and fast! We’ll tell you now, it’s better to know sooner, rather than later, if you have a winner. Put simply, don’t worry about making everything perfect. Get your idea out there and see if it’s something people want. If not, you can move on to a better idea and minimize your losses in both time and money.
Take the time to build a real relationship with your backers.
Be proactive about sharing insights into who you are and what makes you and the project special. These insights should take backers beyond the content you share in your video clip and into what makes you tick. Your backers are rooting for you! So, help them connect, keep them in the loop, and empower them to be your ambassadors.
Before you launch think about what rewards you can offer to backers when you hit key funding goals. Those rewards will keep them engaged. We really saw how these bonus offerings excited our supporters, engaged them in the process, and motivating them to spread the word about our project. One of our best calls: asking backers for input on what they most want as one of our rewards. We got a ton of feedback, learned a lot in the process, and were able to offer a cool reward that our community really wanted.
If you have money to spend on something, look to your PR and Marketing.
You can’t expect your Kickstarter campaign to take off just because you put it online. There are THOUSANDS of crowdfunding projects out there – that’s a healthy amount of noise you’re trying to be heard over. Beyond spending time and some funds getting your video right (BTW: you absolutely should do that), consider how you’re going to get the word out. We made the decision to do a focused PR and marketing campaign. Remember, you have a limited timeframe to build support and buzz for your project. For us, an investment in PR absolutely paid off.
Last and not least: Data will help you to learn quickly.
With Kickstarter and crowdfunding sites, you have to be agile; odds are, you’ve never done this before. We were learning on a daily basis and recognized our limitations. Behind the scenes our Kickstarter was extremely data driven. There are metrics built into the site, but we wanted a deeper view with longterm analysis as well as daily tracking to better understand things like the impacts of media coverage and whether our video was hitting the right tone. That helped us to see trends as they evolved. (In fact, we revamped our video a week and a half into the campaign and immediately saw our play-through rate rise significantly.) There was definitely some learning on the fly, but by leveraging team experience and the data we had, we could pivot quickly and give ATOMS the best chance possible to succeed.
Ok, five things: This will be a full time job. (Don’t say we didn’t warn you.)
Be ready to LIVE your crowdfunding project while it’s running. You may luck out and have a grand slam project that rockets out of the park like 3Doodler or Pebble, but it’s more likely you’ll have a campaign you have to fight for. Be prepared for that. If you can, get a good team together to help, be ready for a lot of late nights, and remember…getting funded is just the beginning! Take it from us, even a successful Kickstarter is a lot of work (and totally worth it).
Good luck out there!
Marketing & Social Media for the ATOMS Crew
Last week ATOMS co-sponsored a fabulously geeky gathering, The Rube Goldberg Hackfest at Quickleft in Boulder, Colorado.
Over 60 coders, designers, and engineers faced a common challenge: to make a program that carries out a single task. Sounds easy enough, but of course there was catch – teams were required to integrate unnecessary complexity into their design. Points were awarded for each additional step used to complete the task and, while it sounds like fun and games, every layer of complexity also increased the odds that programs would fail to execute.
The Hackfest was a hotbed of teamwork and creative engineering by people from all kinds of backgrounds. There were triumphs, frustrations, dead-ends, some crazy problem solving, and a lot of mingling. After three hours the smoke cleared and four of the teams were able to present what they’d made.
Props go to “Team 5” and their exceptionally complex creation that interfaced iPhones, search triggers, and a Pebble watch (among other things) to launch a video of “That’s All Folks.” Truly an unnecessary program, unless you count how much fun it was to watch!
We love supporting the coders, designers and innovators out there. Here’s to many more hack-tastic events in our future!
Till next time,
Mandy with ATOMS
We’re adding to our crew
Things are revving up at ATOMS and we’re looking for a few truly exceptional individuals with mad skills to add to our growing company in Boulder, Colorado. If you’re not adverse to amazing weather, quality people, an innovative spirit, and working hard, then we may have an opening for you on our staff!
Current ATOMS job openings are: Senior Industrial Designer, Director of Product Development Director of Sales, Director of Operations, Senior Mechanical Engineer, and Senior Electrical Engineer / System Integrator.
The Internet of Things
Have you heard about “the internet of things?” It’s a hot topic in the tech scene and has pretty far-reaching implications for all of us. GigaOM wanted insight from innovators in Boulder’s hardware community and hear what they think about the evolution of connectivity in technology.
They asked our Founder Michael Rosenblatt to share his thoughts at their Boulder Meetup on March 13th. Between him, Matt Bolton of Sparkfun, and Mike Soucie of Mobiplug, there was a healthy serving of tech morsels to chew on. To find out more, check out GigaOM’s feature “To many remotes? The internet of things can solve it.“ and see what Michael, Matt, and Mike had to say.
That’s it for now,
The ATOMS Crew
We know you loved our Kickstarter ATOMS, but the truth is that there are going to be some changes. As great as those prototype modules were, this next generation will be even more awesome and we want to make sure you’re prepared! ATOMS 2.0 will come fully loaded with added durability, a better look and feel, and increased functionality. (We really can’t help ourselves. We hope you understand.)
Our team has searched high and low for amazing Bluetooth technology and we’ve selected our microcontroller and Bluetooth components. It’s some seriously cool tech! We still have a lot of work to do and over the next few weeks we’ll be picking the components for each ATOMS brick’s unique circuitry (things like: power regulation, sensors, LEDs, audio and communication circuits, and a lot more). It’s a big job and you can bet our ATOMS crew is geeking out on all the possibilities.
We’re also in the thick of developing our custom ATOMS connectors and updating our module housing so those little guys will be able to handle the bathtub, rainstorms and the occasional dive into a glass of apple juice (these things happen). It’s a pretty massive design effort, involving a whole bunch of really clever people, but we’re making a lot of progress and are on track to make water feel down right rejected by our ATOMS.
…AND did we mention that we went on a field trip!?
Check out a few photos from our trip to Grandrabbits Toy Shoppe on our Facebook page. (Market research has never been this much fun!)
Michael & the ATOMS Crew
There are some things you can’t put a price on, one of them is inspiration and it’s a powerful thing. We’ve seen how it rallied over a thousand people to join us in creating a smarter toy and that ripple is still flowing into a growing community of ATOMS fans.
We recently joined forces with a very talented Producer/Director who’ll be leading the creation of our ATOMS University Videos. You see, Stephen Sinclair impressed us and not just because he’s a world-class director of commercials with big ideas and a ton of experience, but because he really gets ATOMS and what we’re all about.
He’s so dialed in to the ATOMS mission that, even though we can’t possibly pay him the rates he’d usually get, he doesn’t care. What is more valuable to him is making something amazing and, in that, we’re totally alike. Making things is GOOD. Making great things is even better and together we’re going to make some truly awesome videos that will help launch ATOMS like a rocket into households around the world!
We don’t have any illusions, there’s going to a lot of work to do in the next couple of months to get ATOMS ready for you, but the results are going to be totally worth it.
Want to see Stephen’s work? Check out our Facebook page to see a Director’s reel. (Feel free to like ATOMS while you’re there – It feels so good to be liked.)
All the best,
Michael and the ATOMS Crew
Hello ATOMS fans! Just yesterday we shared some of the cool things happening at ATOMS Express and our company, Seamless Toy Co. We want to make sure you didn’t miss the news that we launched our ATOMS online store for pre-order of ATOMS toys!
That’s good news if you or someone you know didn’t make the Kickstarter deadline, you’ve decided you want to double up on more kits, or you just need one or two specific bricks to complete an epic DIY project you’re planning this summer.
All pre-ordered ATOMS will lock-in early shipping in our first round of post-Kickstarter deliveries. They’ll be shipping in July (and Kickstarter deliveries will be in June). We hope you’ll check out our new online pre-order store and help us to spread the news about ATOMS being available for purchase.
Michael and the ATOMS Crew
It’s been a few weeks since our last update, but rest assured, we haven’t been sitting still!
Seamless Toy Company (that’s the name of our company) and ATOMS are shifting into a new phase. The Kickstarter phase of ATOMS was defined by excitement, momentum, and prototyping – getting our product ideas out there and evolving them with your feedback. This next phase, the Product Development phase, will be defined by diligence and attention to detail. We will be taking ATOMS from the proof-of-concept state that it’s in, to a polished and refined product.
We are still moving quickly, but also keeping in mind that engineering that we do now will lay the groundwork for the ATOMS system we’ll be expanding on for years to come.
We’ll be starting up ATOMS University soon, in the form of video podcasts, and we’ll be sharing this product development process with you.
Need More ATOMS? We Have A Store For You (And Your Friends!)
If you or someone you know didn’t make the Kickstarter deadline or you’re dying for one more “smart” brick for that DIY masterpiece, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Starting today you can lock in fresh orders for our first round of post-Kickstarter deliveries of ATOMS in July (Kickstarter deliveries will be in June). Take a look around our new pre-order site and help us spread the news.
IMPORTANT: For those of you who upped your backing to order additional ATOMS or sets, please verify that Kickstarter charged you the correct total amount for your updated pledge. We’re hearing from some backers that their orders weren’t complete. Take a moment to confirm, and if your pledge upgrade amount seems to be wrong, let us know as soon as possible by emailing us at hello(at)atoms-express(dot)com. We want to make sure all intended Kickstarter orders are honored.
Any company or product is only as good as the people behind it, and we’re looking for some great people to join the team. Seamless Toy Company is looking for talented, driven, creative, passionate people to build out the ATOMS team. Many of you have asked how you can continue to help beyond backing ATOMS – this is it! Help us find these great people. (Maybe it’s you!)
All positions are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado and include the opportunity to change the world for the better.
Resumes and portfolios should be sent to: join-us(at)atoms-express(dot)com
This person will re-design and optimize the physical form of ATOMS, and the structural components that make up the boxed sets (i.e. the Monster Set, the Wand Set, etc).
This position will support the CEO by managing his calendars, executive communications, travel planning, and recruiting as we build out our team.
This position will lead the product development team, including all hardware, app, and web app components of the ATOMS ecosystem.
For a complete list of open positions at Seamless Toy Co. visit our jobs page.
Our raffle, which we ran for about 2 weeks, has finally come to an end! We topped out at just over 2,000 entries and, while we didn’t get the chance to add them to the raffle itself, we’ve got two additional Bonus Prizes: Prankster Kits!
Below are the lucky winners of each prize in our giveaway. Winners will be emailed individually and will also be announced on our Facebook page.
Thank you to everyone who participated and to everyone who helped spread the word about ATOMS over the course of it’s campaign. We wouldn’t have been successful without you!
Grand Prize: ATOMS iOS Deluxe Set + 5th Generation iPod Touch (In choice color!)
- L.P. Neenz Faleafine
Second Prize: Monster Construction + Magic Wand Sets
- Brett Nadler
Third Prize: Official ATOMS “I Make Things That Do Things” T-Shirt
- Sarah Lewis
- Fabrizio Giamello
- Andrew van Ees
Bonus Prize 1: Monster Construction Set
- Mark Woon
Bonus Prize 2: Official ATOMS “I Make Things That Do Things” T-Shirt
- Sheila Angell
Bonus Prize 3: Prankster Set
- Michael Rutter
Bonus Prize 4: Prankster Set
- Rebecca Leightman
Thank you again, everyone!
Happy New Year Everyone!
Today is the last day for ATOMS on Kickstarter! Our campaign ends at 11:59pm EST (UTC-5).
You Can Now Add Another ATOMS Set…
I know this is late in the game, with just 11 hours left, but we wanted to open up one more option to our backers…
We’ve had quite a few requests to get “two monster sets,” or “two iOS sets.” While Kickstarter is technically against volume sales (multiple units of the same item) to a backer, we understand that their intent is to prevent bulk wholesaling – some of which happened in the earlier days of Kickstarter.
Many of your requests have been driven by wanting to get ATOMS sets for each of your kids, or for you plus a friend, which we believe is well within the spirit of ATOMS and of Kickstarter. So today we’re announcing that if any backers want to add additional ATOMS sets, you can do that too. Let’s just keep the quantities reasonable – say max 4 of any set.
Sets and extra T-shirts can be added at their respective pledge level prices.
Since the math is getting a little complicated now, with the various upgrade options we’ve announced, we’ve created a simple spreadsheet to help calculate your new pledge total, if you want to upgrade.
Here’s the download for the spreadsheet: ATOMS Pledge Upgrade Calculator
Time to Call Your Celebrity Aunt or Uncle
You’ve all been chatting up ATOMS with your networks, your friends, and family, and that’s been totally working to get us to waterproof + free Earthquake ATOMS (backers who have pledged $59+)! Thanks, you’ve been great!
We are closing in on that $175K goal, so we have a different kind of request for those who still want to help get the word out in these remaining hours.
If anyone has a personal relationship with a celebrity – engineer or anyone in a creative field, please reach out to them, and ask them to back ATOMS, even for just $1. Tell them how ATOMS could be potentially world-changing, and could be life-changing for kids interested in making creative things.
This will really help us when we go out to the venture capital community in the spring, and when we announce ATOMS for retail sales later in 2013, especially if they might be interested in continued engagement.
Thanks! 10 Hours to Go!
Michael & The ATOMS Team
PS: Here’s a screen shot of the simple Pledge Calculator Spreadsheet, that you can download as an excel file here. If you don’t have excel, it’s easy to just work out on paper too.
Just last week, ATOMS’ founder Michael Rosenblatt had the honor of having his first-hand account of designing ATOMS featured on MAKE Magazine’s Blog. MAKE, available both online and in print, helps anyone and everyone with a D.I.Y. mentality make the most out of their technology at home and away.
Check out the awesome post below, entitled: Designing ATOMS: How Do We Enable Young Makers, Without Hiding the Details of How Things Work.
Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great team to design a new electronics construction set called ATOMS. The design goal for ATOMS was to create a plug-and-play construction set that required no experience in electronics or programming. We designed ATOMS to be simple enough for a 5-year-old, and powerful enough for a professional — which means that making table-top creations isn’t enough. You have to be able to build “real” things with it — like a cake with motorized elements, or a nightlight that you can switch remotely with a the shake of a “magic” wand. We designed ATOMS to enable more people to make great things, and particularly with kids, we hope ATOMS will seed a curiosity for how things work.
However, there is an inherent contradiction in these goals — tools that help users extend their capabilities almost always abstract away the true nature of how things work. ATOMS is no exception, and that leads to a number of design decisions we struggle with on a regular basis. We want ATOMS to both empower users, but also be transparent, and oftentimes those objectives are at odds.
Take, for example, the most basic project a user might build with ATOMS — a knob that controls the brightness of an LED. ATOMS uses a “signal flow” analogy throughout its architecture: signals flow from “arrows” to “boots.” and routed with a wire (in our system this is a 4-terminal cable that carries serial data, power, and ground). The arrows and boots blink when a signal is present, and blink faster when a signal is stronger. A stronger signal is generated by turning the knob up, and a stronger signal to the LED ATOM makes the light shine brighter.
ATOMS provides a great logical representation of what’s happening that is easy to understand, but is a significant abstraction of what is actually happening on an electrical level. Still, it’s a start. By thinking in terms of signal flow, we think that kids and non-electrically minded makers can get started faster, and build more powerful creations sooner.
Take a more complicated example, such as a self-balancing robot (think Segway). This is typically a challenging project, even for an experienced maker. With ATOMS, by abstracting the complexity of signal processing and motion control into our modules (each has a microprocessor), this project can be built with just two connections from opposite sides of the Accelerometer ATOM. If I’m falling one way, run the motor clockwise, if I’m falling the other way, run the motor counter-clockwise. So you can see, ATOMS can be a powerful maker tool (which we want), but currently we are adding a lot of abstraction (which we probably don’t want).
Even so, I think ATOMS is off to a good start. We launched in November, and hit our kickstarter goal to fund production in a just over three weeks. We have introduced 13 modules, ranging from a Record-Playback ATOM, to a Bluetooth Smart ATOM, and we’ll be building out the library in 2013.
Our challenge, as we grow and expand the ATOMS system will be to enable our users to also grow and peel back the layers of abstraction as their comfort level with electronics and their curiosity increases. I think Little Bits may be onto something by making their modules open source – and that model might fit us too. We’re considering several design directions to enable our users to “get under the hood”, but for now, we are just happy to be helping more people play and make things.