Browsed by
Tag: tech

[Interview] How Vanhawks raised $820,000 on Kickstarter in 30 days for their Smart Bike

[Interview] How Vanhawks raised $820,000 on Kickstarter in 30 days for their Smart Bike

The Valour Smart Bike, by Vanhawks, is a light carbon-fibre bike that is connected to your smartphone. Using Bluetooth and built in sensors, commuters can now travel via GPS without checking their phone, be notified of blind spot traffic, and measure calories burned.  Vanhawks successfully raised more than $820,000 in pre-orders on Kickstarter. We sat down with Vanhawks Co-Founder and COO, Ali Zahid, to find out the secrets behind their successful launch.
Ali Zahid (Right)
Ali Zahid, COO (Left) & Sohaib Zahid, CEO (Right)
Tell us a bit about yourself.

I went to Queens University, studied bio-medical computing, dropped out and went to an incubator called FounderFuel in Montreal.  Spending four months there, I helped launched a Kickstarter campaign for our smart bike – Valour.  Since our initial success, we have now grown month over month, moved to Toronto, and currently have a 10 person team.

Start-ups traditionally face the dilemma of choosing who to target and when.  How did you decide who to target as first adopters?

We did a ton of market research. Yes, although anyone can buy a bike, who can afford one at $1000? I did a lot of customer interviews through my network. For example: at the time I was recruiting for some consulting firms, and was able to ask them about our initial product.  I also flew down to San Francisco and interviewed people who worked at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple etc. In the end, I conducted more than a thousand interviews!

A perfect group we identified were employees of large tech companies. Developers make a good amount of money and since they work in tech, would be intrigued by the idea smart bike. The other group of people we wanted to target were those who wanted the “finer things in life” – People who like Monocle, GQ, Uncrate, and Hypebeast. The last group of people we wanted target were those who were willing to spend money on things for “looks” because we knew our bike was pretty good looking.  From these interviews, we determined that Vanhawks is more of a lifestyle brand over a biking brand.

When we actually interviewed bikers, we realized that bike enthusiasts were not our main target – these were people who cared about every single detail of their bike. “I want this feature, I want that tube..etc.” – this was not our brand. Our brand is for the daily commuter – a person who wants to get from point A to point B.

How did you gather all this information?

When conducting each interview, I used google docs to store my answers and took a picture of the actual person. When designing my interviews, I tried to come up with interview questions that really drove numbers. I ended up asking a lot of questions that may seem mundane but were actually really valuable to me. At the end of each interview, I would get to know each person on a more personal basis.  I really cared about what they are doing because at the end of the day it is for the people.

Vanhawks Phone
Users can connect their smartphone’s GPS to their bike
How did you reach out to potential customers?

Reddit was a huge resource, but there is a lot of trolls so watch out. SF2G – is an online group of people who live in San Fran, work at Google, and love riding their bikes to work. I started the conversation on the forums and got them really excited. A good friend and mentor at Shopify also helped me out by setting up an interview station at the Shopify offices in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto.

Reaching out to Queens Alum was a huge win.  I pinged everyone who worked in big tech companies in the San Fran area and they helped leverage their network for me as well. The biggest thing for me was becoming each person’s friend on Facebook – this helped because once you are friends on Facebook, you can become more personable. I try my best to keep up with my contacts, weekly, monthly and not lose of track what they are doing. If I ever find something interesting I’ll always be sure send them a quick message about it.

Building a strong customer relationship is really important. For example, every customer has my personal phone number. Sometimes I get calls at 3AM and I’m always friendly.  We are also a first mover in the industry – no one has ever done this before – so it’s a really interesting time for us, we created a whole new market for ourselves. One day we gave all our Canadian backers free shipping – although this was not much, it helped create a cultish following of people. We think heavily on investing in the brand and how to turn customers into people that love you so much.

How did you specifically drive traffic to your Kickstarter page?

A really good video helps a lot! We also lined up a lot of press prior to launch – that really helped drive views. I also contacted every person in my contact list, even if I just emailed them once before. I wrote each person a personalized message, asking them how they were doing while telling them about Vanhawks – that was about 2000 people. I did the same thing on my Facebook which totaled about 1200 people.

I also made this unique sharing mechanism – when clicked on, people would be taken to a sharing page which made them share the project on Facebook/Twitter before taking them to the actual Kickstarter page. I even wrote a unique personal message on the share text that spoke about my story.  This worked really well because even if my contacts couldn’t support me financially, they were able to share it across their own networks as well.

Kickstarter Vanhawks
Surpassed initial funding goal by 800%
How long did it take to do all this?

*Laughs*  You gotta hustle. These things you can’t cheap out on. Two days before launch I didn’t go to sleep because I was so busy writing out all these messages. And then for the next three days, I barely slept as I was replying to all the emails that I’ve gotten. In total, I didn’t have sleep for week – it was crazy! You have to put in the hustle and you have to put in the time.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to launch a Kickstarter campaign?

There is no hack to Kickstarter, it’s like any other product launch. It’s a lot about customers, it’s a lot about creating a want for a product, to find what the perfect target. Remember to create something people want and it isn’t always something that we [the founders] want. Put a lot of work into it and put a lot of passion. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you will learn faster. Be humble.

Pet Peeve:

When people can’t make decisions.

Cups of Coffee a Day:

Usually 1 – Americano either in the early morning/evening

Morning Ritual:

Well before my bag got stolen, I used to do this thing where I would write down three things before going to sleep that I wanted to do the next morning.

Book Recommendations:

The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Transformers or Ninja Turtles?

Ninja Turtles – They were my kid cartoon!

Favorite Quote:

It’s not really a quote but I live by this thing: if something is not making me happy, then why am I doing this? I’m very keen on happiness and driving value by creating happiness.  I wrote a medium post about this.


If you enjoyed this interview please be sure to follow Ali Zahid on his next big steps.  Vanhawks is a great example of the hustle entrepreneurs need to take in order to achieve financial success.  In my 30 minutes with Ali, I could tell he was a down-to-earth, hardworking, and generally awesome guy. How could you not help somebody who always smiles and wants to help others?

Future crowdfunders take note – although engineering and business acumen are important when running a Kickstarter, building a strong community of supporters is just as important as well. That all begins with the right attitude, and Ali Zahid scored 100%.

Understanding RSS and Its Transformative Role in Content Marketing

Understanding RSS and Its Transformative Role in Content Marketing

Understanding RSS and Its Transformative Role in Content Marketing

If you are a content curator or a content marketer, you probably use RSS, even if you don’t even realize it! Social media professionals are constantly looking for great content to share, with the intention to build their reputation and convert their followers to customers. In order to do this, they drive traffic to interesting or helpful content to deliver value through social media. One of the most challenging parts of this process is finding the best content to share. To solve this problem, most people use a tool that offers streams of content that they can sort through to find the best articles, videos, and images.

Whether people realize it or not, most of those tools are built on top of RSS feeds. RSS (which stands for Rich Site Summary) is a standardized way for a website to tell a computer what content is on the website. For the techies out there, it’s an extension of xml, a language used to transfer data, frequently used in web-based APIs. What that basically means is that it is possible to write a computer program that can understand what content is available on a site if that site features an RSS feed. And thus, RSS readers are born.

So what does that mean for you? It means you can use a great app like feedly to browse the content from all of your favourite sites all in one place. This is even more powerful than most people realize; did you know that Facebook creates RSS feeds out of all their pages and notifications? Every major publication has an RSS feed – and so does almost every blog (don’t believe me? Here’s the Sniply RSS feed: http://sniply.wordpress.com/feed/). Using all these feeds, you can pull in all of the online information you actually care about into one place for easy browsing – what a time-saver!

The time-savings become even better when you think about curating content. Not only can you see all of the best content all in one place, but apps like Buffer’s Feeds or Hootsuite Syndicator allow you to immediately share that content across your social networks. Content curation has never been so easy!

But if you get that far, wouldn’t it also be great to be able to measure the ROI (return on investment) you get from curating that all of that content for your followers? With Sniply Feeds, now you can! Sniply Feeds allow you to automatically snip entire streams of content so that you can generate an ROI on your curation without changing your workflow at all. All you need to do is a little set up:

  1. Tell Sniply which websites have content that you like to share
  2. Sniply will generate a feed of that website’s content, but replace the links to the content with Snips featuring your message and call-to-action on top of the content.
  3. Hook up the feed Sniply generated to your sharing app of choice and share from the Sniply feed as you would any other feed.

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of setting up a Sniply Feed, check out the instructions here.

This enables you to provide value to your followers through great content curation while simultaneously capitalizing on your social capital without changing your workflow – now that’s a win-win. And it’s all thanks to the power of RSS!

The Single Biggest Problem with Content Curation

The Single Biggest Problem with Content Curation

A lot of people ask me how we came up with the idea for Sniply. It all started with a simple observation as I was curating content. For those unfamiliar, content curation has become an integral part of social media marketing. This is the act of sharing great content, thus providing value for your fans and followers through curation.

Many experts suggest that at least 50% of everything you publish on social media should be content from others. Not to mention, content creation can be costly and therefore many companies start with content curation as their only social media strategy.

Add-text

Once upon a time, I was working on social media marketing at another startup. We, like everyone else, relied on content curation as one of our core strategies. It took a lot of time everyday, going through heaps of content and struggling to find the right things to share. At some point, I began to question whether it was worth my time. The scary thing was… I had no idea. I intrinsically felt like it was important work, yet I had no evidence or reasons to prove it was actually working. This was when I realized the big problem with content curation:

Content curation offers no measurable return on investment.

As you’re curating content, you may carefully select the ones that are most relevant to your brand. Maybe you’ll share an article reporting on an internet security problem, implying that your company offers the solution. Or perhaps you’ll share a blog post about the importance of good design, hinting at the fact that your company is the right firm to hire for the job. The problem is… do your followers know that?

We click through links all the time, opening them in new tabs, and often forgetting where we found the link in the first place. We read tons of articles per day amidst an ocean of online noise. What are the chances that your followers can actually see the correlation between your shared content and your brand?

Even though there are plenty of tools out there to help you measure the engagement for your shared content, none of these measurements seem to offer a clear ROI. For example, Facebook Insights will tell you how many times your posts have been clicked. Social dashboards like Buffer and Hootsuite will tell you how many times your links have been clicked. You’ll also be able to track retweets, reposts, likes and favorites. The big question is… so what?

buffer-analytics

So what if you posted a link to TechCrunch and generated 1,000 visits to their website? So what if you got 5 retweets and 15 favorites? None of these numbers have any direct impact on your business. It’s not easy to measure the value of driving traffic to other people’s websites.

The general argument is that content sharing boosts your credibility and establishes your position as a credible source of information. This, in theory, leads to more followers and perhaps higher engagements. However, this doesn’t change the fact that there’s still no real measurable impact from any of the aforementioned outcomes. What is the impact of having 10,000 followers? What is the value of having 500 clicks on your posts?

After failing to answer the above questions, I realized a simple fact…

Content curation offers no measurable return on investment.

This was the observation that sparked the birth of Sniply. How do we introduce relevance between shared content and your brand? How can we offer a measurable return on investment for every link you share? What can we do to transform content curation from an art form into exact science?

The answer was simple. In order for there to be a measurable return, an action needs to take place, and the most directly measurable action is a click-through. Whether it’s to your landing page, an Amazon page, or an Eventbrite page, there simply needs to be a click-through opportunity.

laptop

By using a simple iframe, Sniply lets you embed a call-to-action directly into content from others. This call-to-action links to a destination URL of your choosing. With every page you share with Sniply, there is a click-through opportunity. This means that every link you share will have a tangible conversion rate of click-throughs to your destination URL.

Having recently breached 2,000,000 clicks while sustaining an average conversion rate of 7%, it would seem that Sniply may have actually solved the biggest problem in content curation. Things are looking bright, but it’s still too early to celebrate. I have a feeling we’ve only scratched the surface of the impact we could have on the whole concept of content curation. As our journey continues, I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted on the impact of what we’ve built.