We saw it all in our first two crowdfunding campaigns. As we set to launch our second device soon (sign up for updates here!), we’ve been reflecting on the lessons we learned with the Mark I.
We ran our first Kickstarter in September of 2015 and finished successfully at 128% of our goal. Over the following months, we completed multiple prototypes, worked with the FCC, found some great suppliers and dealt with some bad ones. We learned a lot about international shipping and something called VAT. The result? In July 2017 we shipped out the last of the 1,500 advance prototypes.
During this entire period, our software team worked hand in hand with the Mycroft community to build open technologies for wakeword spotting, speech to text, natural language processing, and speech synthesis. We released our first alpha in August 2017 and are on track to release the software to beta in February of this year. The software is starting to get good.
Now that we’ve shipped the Mark I and the software is coming together we are confident we can ship the next generation of our technology in a much shorter time frame. We have working software, supplier relationships, a better understanding of shipping and, of course, now we know what VAT is.
We can’t thank our backers enough for helping us and staying connected with us as we navigated an extremely difficult process. What some don’t realize with crowdfunding campaigns is that you are buying into an idea, not an off-the-shelf product. Backers and creators go on the journey of bringing an ambitious idea to life together.
We learned two things about suppliers. First, you need them if you are going to keep prices down for customers. Jobs might take less time to do in-house, but they often cost twice as much. Second, suppliers need time to source components, set up assembly lines and build proofs. They need to be brought in early if the product is going to ship in a reasonable timeframe.
Deep in the text of our original campaign, we let international backers know that shipments were $20 + remaining shipping cost. We didn’t call this out clearly and some of our backers were confused. Going forward we are going to take time to calculate shipping for each country in advance so backers know exactly what shipping will cost. We are also working with 3PL's to streamline customs clearance and certifications.
We’d never done international business before Mycroft and, coming from the US where inter-state shipping is free of customs, we were a bit surprised by the complexity of international customs. Though many countries let in prototypes with just a customs charge, a few were unsure and took much longer, and our friends in Germany denied a sizeable amount of shipments outright. We now have a better understanding of international certifications and requirements for clearing customs so next time items should clear customs quickly and with little hassle.
The team we started with was small and we didn’t allocate enough time or resources to answering questions, sending updates, and working out miscellaneous shipping and product questions. Our team now has 17 full-time members including a head of the customer service who is dedicated to helping customers with problems.
There is a saying in Silicon Valley “hardware is hard”. We certainly learned many lessons with our first Kickstarter and we were happy to have the support of a patient and passionate community.