It still has 12 days to go, but the team behind Boona, a buzzy new tandem showerhead, blasted through its $10,000 Kickstarter goal last month, collecting $619,733 in funding so far. While that kind of response is the dream of every founder who goes the crowdfunding route, the campaign is hardly the scrappy amateur effort typically associated with the fundraising tactic. It took the team more than a year to plan and execute.
Boona, the product, was the brainchild of Brett Skaloud, 38, and Jeffrey Feiereisen, 33, who'd worked together on mechanical and hardware engineering for the cashier-less Amazon Go stores. Their story shows how early success on Kickstarter can lead to buzz and traction, becoming a tandem marketing and sales tool that helps a company gain footing on multiple fronts. But it also illuminates that the air of "surprise viral success" on Kickstarter usually is in fact something that requires careful orchestration--and that a campaign that blows past its funding target immediately is no guarantee of lasting success.
Boona's origin story is the simplest part of the product's journey so far. After leaving Amazon, Skaloud and Feiereisen stayed in touch, and their conversations were wide-ranging enough to include their romantic lives and their personal hygiene, and, more memorably, the intersection of the two. "Jeff mentioned the frustrations of showering with his partner. Turns out, my wife had just required us to have two showerheads in the bathroom we were remodeling," Skaloud says.
As engineers, the pair might have been inclined to start by meeting up in a garage and hacking together a two-headed shower prototype. But they'd been indoctrinated by their product-roadmap education at Amazon and unnerved by raised eyebrows from family members. They decided the unconventional idea needed validation by way of a dedicated market of buyers before they dedicated significant time and money to it.
In March of 2021, they embarked on a yearlong effort that included surveying and testing by friends and family, followed by national surveys fueled by social media campaigns, product testing with 50 individuals, Facebook advertising to build up preorders, and then, of course, the Kickstarter campaign. "We've done a lot of due diligence. Each step of the way we spent a little bit more money and increased the amount of feedback that we're getting, to build up that confidence," Feiereisen says. (The pair did, as expected, meet up, learn fluid dynamics, and engineer dozens of versions of the tandem showerhead that would ultimately become Boona, which is available for preorder starting at $249.)
The Kickstarter campaign wasn't part of the initial plan, but it did become a logical step for the Boona founders, who had already collected 7,000 down payments for preorders on their own website. Even with that number, they wanted additional validation. "Kickstarter gives you a feeling of a safe space for creators and customers to come together," Feiereisen says. "We felt it was worth paying for that trust."
That trust, and the larger audience Kickstarter provides, doesn't come cheap. The platform charges owners of successful projects nearly 10 percent of their earnings, through a fee of 5 percent of total funds raised, plus 3 to 5 percent for payment processing of each pledge. According to Kickstarter, to date less than 40 percent of the nearly 560,000 projects launched on the platform over the past 12 years have been successful; 640 of those have raised more than $1 million.
For Boona's creators, the cost was even steeper, in terms of their labor. When not engineering the product, they spent almost all of their working time on their marketing efforts. A lot of those hours went to creating materials that would be used in their Kickstarter campaign, whose main page alone contains 2,006 words, 12 photographs, 11 illustrations, 10 GIFs, and nine videos.
They also dipped significantly into their own pockets, including hiring lawyers to set up the company, and contracting with photographers, designers, and the San Diego crowdfunding consulting firm LaunchBoom. They vetted 20 film studios before hiring LaunchLight Films, a small video outlet in Atlanta that specializes in crowdfunding videos, to make a splashy promotional short of a laughing couple showering together using Boona showerheads.
For the pair of engineers, perhaps the biggest expenditure, though, was the time they spent learning marketing in the lead-up to posting the Kickstarter campaign. Neither had been active on social media, and Skaloud says creating and maintaining a presence while juggling all the other aspects of the startup was his greatest stress of the past year. To Feiereisen, it was making the launch video. "That was really uncomfortable to us as introverts. It was so stressful. It was a cool experience, and we believe in it and wanted to give it our best shot--but I definitely don't want to do that again."
Feiereisen and Skaloud are pleased that their project has nearly 3,000 backers but are hoping for more over the remainder of the campaign. "We have a way to go," Skaloud says. There seems to be a significant disparity between their stated funding goal of $10,000 and their internal one. While they are still setting up their production and supply chain for Boona, Feiereisen says they can fulfill the current orders, without bringing on any employees, by January 2023.
What they are still wrestling with is clarity on whether their idea has truly been market-validated. How do the Kickstarter orders correlate to orders they could project on their own site through 2023 and 2024?
"If you can establish yourself as a preorder opportunity, that's a pretty solid basis to say, 'Maybe there's a business here,'" Feiereisen says. "But, honestly, every step of the way we're learning and trying to figure out what this means in terms of having a real business. How do sales now convert to sales when you are a real company with a product available immediately?"
It's not something they'll learn in the next 12 days.