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In another post following up with the IDSA Northeast District Conference that took place on RISD’s campus earlier this month, Zach Jenkins (BFA ID ’13) caught up with Scott Wilson following his keynote presentation on the second day.
Chicago-based MINIMAL and notorious for his massively successful Kickstarter project, TikTok + LunaTik Multi-Touch Watch Kits, Scott Wilson spoke at the IDSA NED Conference on “Entrepreneurship Explored” starting off by humbly admitting that he hadn’t considered himself an entrepreneur until IDSA approached him with the keynote subject. Upon reflecting on his past endeavors, Wilson quickly brought to mind five separate entrepreneurial dabble that more than qualified him to give the presentation.
Jenkins had been one of the backers on Wilson’s Kickstarter Project, and had eagerly watch the project reach and exceed it’s funding goal by 6,278% — a total of $941,718 pledged. An avid watch collector, Jenkins loved the design of both watch kits, and was exceedingly excited to hear that Wilson would be on campus for the conference. With his TikTok securely fastened to his wrist, Jenkins sat down and had the below interview with Wilson.
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What led you to choose to crowd fund your design?
I tried some other venues, other channels or ways of doing it, giving it to another company like InCase or Imation, but they both, in the end, weren’t interested. So it was like one of those things that was going to die on the shelf or in a notebook or on my computer. But it was a simple enough product that I knew how to make it, with the right vendors from Nike, that I was like “you know the only thing I really need is to eliminate the risk of what it would cost to fund, to build and tool. That’s what got me interested in trying Kickstarter, cause I wasn’t going to go and raise money and give up a percentage of the company. I didn’t even want to start a company, I just wanted to make this product and get it out there and maybe end it after it was done, so it was a good alternative way to raise money without the headache of creating a business plan or anything.
Do you think you would use Kickstarter again?
Yeah, it’s a great platform with a lot of potential, I don’t know where they’re going with commercial products right now, they’re on the fence right now. Every time you hear an interview they aren’t sure about it, but I would probably try another one. They would have to fix a few things that became massive nightmares for me because of like, information collection from customers. I had to verify 13,512 addresses manually. That probably cost me 50 to 70 thousand dollars, in contractors and mis shipped orders and lost packages, it was just a nightmare.
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What are your thoughts on Quirky as a platform?
I think it’s just another example of what you can do now. I don’t personally, just from where I come from in the design world, like the kind of products that come out of them. I don’t think things should be totally crowd sourced or voted on, you just lose control of the design. What I do like is that they allow a designer who doesn’t want to deal with the back end to hand off a product and they deal with it. I think though from a design standpoint it would be nice to have a little bit more authentic, and I don’t want to say the wrong thing here, but I think they could have a higher grade of design and execution. That’s not just me saying that, everyone’s talking about Quirky right now, but a lot of people refer to it as ‘as seen on TV’ or Bed Bath and Beyond quality, but it’s something that they can definitely fix.
What was it like having 13000 plus backers involved with the Kickstarter project?
It was great; that’s one of things I love most about creating a product. There’s the first time you visualize an idea, that’s a great moment. Then there’s the first time you see a model of it, and then the first time you see it coming off the product line — those are also great moments. Probably the best moment of all, though, is when the user gets to see it and you make that connection with the user, even if it is indirectly. That is probably the best part of it. What’s interesting about Kickstarter, is it is such a close relationship with the user that they are talking to you and excited about it and feel like they’re part of the process and really passionate about it. When people are passionate about your work that is very validating. It definitely gives you the feeling you are doing the right thing. It’s useful and can definitely let you know that you are doing the right thing. Some people online said it was a glimpse at the future of brand consumer relationships.
Did you take any of the feedback from your Kickstarter backers into consideration in the design?
At that point the design was kind of done, although we did start thinking about longer straps, how do we accommodate longer straps without needing to include a tool that would be somewhat expensive, and then how do you manage the inventory? It could very quickly become a nightmare from a supply chain standpoint. People were asking for Bluetooth too, which would be great if Apple did that, but I’m not in control of that. I think that different types of projects, if you post it before the design is finalized, I think you could get pretty useful input. You just have to be careful, when any company takes advice from consumers they are opening themselves up for a lawsuit later on. That’s why Nike would never allow any employees to take ideas just over email from Joe Consumer. They got sued a few times, like “my six year old kid drew the Air Jordans.” It happened, though!
What first got you into design?
My father studied at Syracuse architecture in the fifties, and they were just starting the design program, and he thought that was interesting. I think after that he just followed design and had design magazines around the house. He was an architect by trade but when he got out of school there weren’t that many jobs, so fortunately he was also a great illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, so he could do it all. He really influenced me. I think my first ‘big boy’ book was Rapid Vis, which was an idea capturing, innovation book. I was always drawing. I loved math too, and physics, my guidance counselor told me to be an engineer, my art teachers told me to be a graphic designer, or commercial artist, but they didn’t know about industrial design, so thank God my father did. It was a good blend of the two sides.
What kind of people did you work with on the Kickstarter project? Was that different at all from your usual process?
For the design phase, we were pretty busy, so I didn’t want to distract my design team, so that phase I did on my own. I was just learning Solidworks, I needed something parametric. I’ve always been a Rhino guy, so it was a learning project for me in Solidworks. So product design, packaging I did all myself. From a manufacturing standpoint, I went to some of my Nike vendors, but I was skeptical if they would really give me the time, so I got some references from some Nixon watch factories. It was a lot easier to get them signed up once they saw the thing going crazy online, so I got to the front of the line pretty quickly, cause they saw it as a new opportunity. I had the ability to pay them up front too, which helped a lot, because once I saw the first day we had raised 60,000 dollars, I can give them all of the money up front instead of 50/50 which they usually ask for.
I did all the design and engineering myself and then just went to the supplier, got it made, and then just had to choose a fulfillment partner. I was thinking about going with Amazon, but ended up going with Apple’s fulfillment partner. Not many projects in design are a one-man show; it’s very rare. This one wasn’t either, I had a manufacturing partner and a fulfillment partner, but the rest was something I didn’t want to distract my team with. Now they do some renderings for me, because I’m pretty busy running the business, but they all were busy with much more important projects than mine at the time. It was funny, everyone would say you know, why are you working on that? And I would say ‘oh you know, its just a little something.’ Then it became the best free advertising ever!
Do you think crowd funding is the direction design is going towards?
I think there will be different recipes, using some of these ingredients that we are seeing right now, everything from Kickstarter to Quirky to overthrowing a government, you know? I think there are a lot of different things happening at this point in time, I think there is definitely a future in this kind of platform. There are issues like time to market, intellectual property — things like that that need to be sorted out. SEC filings, there’s fraud I’m sure, someone will take advantage of this without a doubt, run off with the money. It has definitely made its mark though, and is here to stay.
What advice would you give to young designers going out into the world trying to be successful?
That’s a tough one. The thing that’s different about when I was in school and when you guys are in school right now is the access to knowledge and information. The ability to learn is so great that there is really no excuse for why you can’t know as much as you need to know to be successful. You can teach yourself just about anything you need to know today, including drawing skills and CAD skills, you can almost do it all on your own. So there’s no real excuse for not having the skills. There is this general sense of entitlement, feeling like you just want to be there, right now. In reality it’s a lot of hours. I’ve had a lot of things fall in place for me, because of luck and because of hard work. I married the right woman who is very tolerant of my work hours. It all depends on your work ethic. Work hard and you’ll be fine, there are no short cuts. It can be a very rewarding experience if you can stick with it, and I think it’s a great time to get into design. Everyone appreciates it. Read as much as you can about the business of design, strategy, the more you can speak the other languages of the other disciplines, the more traction you’re going to get, cause if you can’t defend your idea, you know, it’s really tough.