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.
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.
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.
When people can’t make decisions.
Cups of Coffee a Day:
Usually 1 – Americano either in the early morning/evening
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.
The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Transformers or Ninja Turtles?
Ninja Turtles – They were my kid cartoon!
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%.