When Orbii Co-Founder Omar Barlas was shopping for a camera to set up in his home two years ago, he didn’t know it would lead to a brand-new business venture. But when he wasn’t able to find what he was looking for—a single device that was drivable from room to room—he decided to make it himself, a decision which, so far, has led to a showcase at 2016’s Consumer Electronics Show and an Indiegogo campaign that was fully-funded within the first week.
We sat down with him to discuss Orbii’s success, as well as what they learned through the process, including what they would or wouldn’t do next time around.
In the simple time-honored tradition of invention, Orbii came to be because there was a need unfulfilled—Barlas wanted a single camera for home security purposes that he could drive from room to room, but all of the available options required multiple camera setups for full coverage. Barlas moved quickly into prototyping, intent upon creating a working model as soon as possible—something that could not only prove the concept and define future iterations, but something that could also give reviewers and potential customers a chance to experience the idea firsthand.
The first prototype was showcased at CES 2016, and received great response. This confirmed Orbii’s initial market research findings, and it also gave them the opportunity to talk to more potential consumers. Additional market research was done through Orbii’s website, where potential consumers were able to sign-up and offer their insights. One key learning was that there was an active secondary market of pet owners who were interested in the product as a way to monitor their pets when they weren’t at home—using Orbii’s microphone and speaker to interact with them from afar. While this didn’t change the overall focus of the product, it allowed the product developers to keep all of their customers in mind when considering new features, and encouraged them to think about additional creative opportunities in marketing.
Further prototyping and market validation led the way to the launch of the Indiegogo campaign in May 2016. In order to fund the development of the product, Orbii needed pre-sales. In order to encourage pre-sales, they offered a variety of incentives for potential buyers—essentially providing deep discounts to customers who were willing to order early and support product development.
As a result of their success on Indiegogo, the company will continue to develop the product, while also continuing to explore distribution and partnership opportunities. The first round of products is expected to launch in April 2017.
Understanding Their Audience
Orbii’s primary audience is Homeowners and Business Owners, but they are also serving a number of secondary markets, including:
- Children of Elderly Parents
- Pet Owners
- Real Estate Inspectors
- Building Contractors
- Aged Care Services
- First Responders
This audience was defined through early market research and a survey. Orbii’s primary method of research was in simple face-to-face communications: They talked to people. At a variety of small tech events, at CES, at New York Tech Day 2016, they demonstrated the prototype and asked people what they thought about it, how they might use it—what promise it provided them.
This phase of market research also gave them an opportunity to pivot. The core functionality, features, and market remained the same, but based on early feedback they made some changes to the internal design of the product.
Crowdfunding: How and Why?
Orbii chose crowdfunding for two reasons—to fund mainstream product development, and to conduct market research. Because this method involves presenting your idea and selling your future product to actual consumers, it gives you access to additional market research, and a group of dedicated consumers who are willing to support you both in terms of finances and in terms of product feedback and requests.
Crowdfunding? How Does it Work?
Dedicated manager. First things first—consider hiring a full-time person to manage your crowdfunding campaign. It’s not enough to just put something up and see what happens, and chances are good that the core team will need to continue working on product development at the same time. This person will need to prepare weekly updates, and to respond to consumer questions in a timely manner, while allowing for ongoing simultaneous development. Responding to consumers is really key, both in terms of engaging with that consumer, and for the benefit of future potential customers. “If you don’t respond, then you’ll stop getting backers coming back to your site. That’s what people see,” said Barlas.
Creation of assets. Consumers need to see the product in action, and the best way to do that is through professional videos and lifestyle photos of the product in action. Orbii hired an outside marketing firm to do this work for them, knowing that their talents were better left focused on product and business development, while they left the marketing to the pros. It’s also a good idea to provide videos of product testing and use cases—these may be less polished than the other assets, but they help legitimize your claims, and they also involve consumers in the process, providing them with a sense of ownership as well as excitement bout the final product to come.
Incentives. Consumers need a reason to pre-order, especially when a company is new and untested. There are a variety of ways to approach this, but the key thing is to give them something beyond what they’d be able to buy in a store. Orbii deeply discounted the product for early backers, allowing them to not only get the product first, but to get it for a significantly-reduced price.
Results! Orbii’s crowdfunding campaign was highly successful. After meeting 100% of their initial goal of $6,000 by the end of the first week, they went on to raise a total of $35,000 in the first month, from more than 260 backers. There are hurdles to crowdfunding while development is still in process, but in this case it paid off, allowing Orbii to continue to fund development, and letting customers get in on the ground floor.
What Would Orbii Have Done Differently?
Despite Orbii’s success, there are always things to learn and things that could be approached differently the next time around. Barlas told us there were three key things that in retrospect they should have done more aggressively before launching the campaign:
1.Collection of sign-ups from interested customers early on.
During all of those great conversations at tech events, while they were conducting market research and demonstrating the prototype, they could have done more to collect sign-ups from interested consumers. With more effort, a really great contact list could’ve been created.
2.Collection of more social media/facebook followers early on.
Similarly, more efforts could’ve been made online to capture and collect sign-ups from those who’d expressed an interest in the product.
3.Align press/media contacts to write about Orbii on the day of launch.
Timing is key. Orbii had a lot of good press at CES in January, but the campaign didn’t launch until May. Because of this, they weren’t able to maximize their exposure. If they’d coordinated their efforts and had interested reviewers and tech press lined up to write about the product in May, they would have had a larger audience for their Indiegogo campaign, and even more success.
What did Orbii do to get the word out? For a crowdfunding campaign to be a success, it’s important to share your story and your product idea with as many people as possible. Orbii’s primary approach, as we’ve discussed, was to attend tech events and talk to people one-on-one. This gave them a venue to demonstrate the prototypes, but it was also a natural way to let people know about the upcoming campaign. Additionally, Orbii hired an agency to help conduct a Facebook campaign, which brought in new product backers.
Orbii needed to not only determine pricing for its product, they also needed to figure out pricing for incentives. “Whenever you’re thinking about crowdfunding, you’ve got to offer some special deal to the backers, otherwise no one would be interested in ordering in advance,” says Barlas. In Orbii’s case, they went with a price discount model. The campaign kicked off with pricing at 60% off of the retail price. The next week, they offered 50% off, then 40% off the following week. This allowed interested customers to buy in early, and to save in the process. Increasing the price each week, and publicizing those upcoming price increases helped drive excitement and encourage people to buy while the price was still low.
Pricing for the product itself was a more straightforward task. They looked at the market to see how other products were priced, and based on their extensive prototyping and pre-orders, they determined the estimated cost of the Bill of Materials, and the retail price was calculated from that BOM.
Keys to Success
1.Be consistent and aggressive with product development.
Despite hurdles, continue working toward the product that you’ve envisioned, building prototypes and revising along the way. Even when Orbii’s team had to use personal funds and other revenue streams to fund development, they kept going.
2.Build an MVP quickly.
You need a functional prototype that performs the way it is supposed to perform, so move quickly to this stage of development, and create your MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. Consumers will know if it’s real or not, and press will need to evaluate the prototype in order to write about it.
3.Hire good marketers.
Know where your talents lie and hire help for the things outside your expertise (when you can). Orbii’s team is made of developers and visionaries, so they looked outside for marketing, and were able to remain focused on product and business development.
Now that Orbii has been funded, what happens next? Orbii's team remains focused on production and the consumer product launch next year. At the same time, they’re working to build relationships with distributors, and looking for potential partners, such as a Cloud Services Provider. They are also continuing to raise investment for faster production, building on the success of their crowdfunding campaign.