Lorenzo Buffa grew up in an apartment above his Italian immigrant parents' pizza shop in rural Pennsylvania. He was on his hands and knees cleaning toilets, a year out of college, when something clicked for him.
Sure, Buffa knew he had to make a change, and he knew it had to do with crowdfunding the launch of his business on Kickstarter. But how do you go from cleaning toilets to founding a Philadelphia-based design company that has raised $250,000 in crowdfunding over the last five years? How do you make sure each of your campaigns reaches their goal on the first day and, moreover, how do you land your designs in the stores at the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Smithsonian?
Buffa, who founded and built Analog Watch Co., faces many common entrepreneurial challenges, like the juggle of bookkeeping and product development and creative marketing, navigating foreign manufacturing, being nimble, and being able-to-pivot on the proverbial dime. Like each of us, too, he brings a unique and personalized skillset to the startup mentality.
Here are three ways he balances the two, and how they enable him and his team to win at Kickstarter every single time.
1. See with an artist's eye.
This is easier said than done, especially for those of us who aren't trained as artists or for whom, frankly, "seeing like an artist" is an utterly foreign concept. But this isn't about knowing the color wheel or understanding how to accurately portray perspective. It's more about thinking like an artist, which means identifying what isn't obvious.
Buffa has benefited from exploring a specific market, then designing products to fill what he perceives as the gap in that market. That's led to innovations such as being the first to put real moss in a watch and dying watch bands with red wine and fruit wines.
Earlier this month, Analog Watch Co. released the Somm Collection of watches, which feature bands made of cork. The bands are dyed red (with red wine) or blue (with blueberry wine), or they can be natural, white or black. The watch comes with variations of bands and faces: the Chard line features a golden face; the Rosé line shows a pale pink; the Cassis line is inspired by the depth of blackcurrant wine and sports a striking dark face, and the faces of the Sake line are clean and silver-gray.
2. Communicate with a clear, creative voice.
Every entrepreneur knows we need to listen to our audience and iterate our products and services in response to their demands. But that responsiveness also needs to be counterbalanced by a strong, articulate voice that originates in a place of authentic reality.
"Having a clear creative voice has allowed us to really gather a strong base of fans and followers who share our vision to inspire the world with nature," Buffa said. That voice, and stance on environmental issues, cascades throughout the business and its communications, including natural materials, funding environmental program, planting trees, and cycling a portion of every sale back to nature-based causes.
Though partnering with non-profits for each collection is a lower priority in Analog's marketing messaging, Buffa recognizes that the public appreciates having such partners involved in each campaign.
3. Build meaningful media relationships.
"The bulk game just doesn't work," Buffa said in reference to building meaningful connections with media outlets whose influence can tip the scale on crowdfunding efforts.
What does he do instead?
Research. There's no easy or fast way around it, though: it takes time to find the right outlet and to champion for your ideas. Once you do hit upon the right connection, however, the resulting coverage, like the product or service itself, comes from a place of authenticity.
Holding onto your startup's authenticity, and your own "reasons why," can be a challenge in itself, especially in light of the easy temptation to compare your success to others. "It took me a while to stop the comparison complex," said Buffa. "'Why haven't we grown? Why haven't sales increased? Why haven't I gotten my decks together and pitched for capital investment?' Now I just want to be happy, and that means finding balance."