Interview with Wintersmiths’ founder Chris Little
On July 20, 2013, Wintersmiths reached and then significantly exceeded its funding goal on Kickstarter for the Ice Baller. Co-founders and brothers, Chris and Pat Little successfully completed their Kickstarter order fulfillment and have since gone on to establish an ecommerce business selling quality barware products in Vermont. Their debut product, the Ice Baller, is an ice mold that creates large crystal-clear ice spheres which keep your drink colder for longer without over-diluting, and bring an elegance to your glass unmatched by standard ice cubes. We interviewed Wintersmiths co-founder Chris Little to discuss their Kickstarter launch, order fulfillment solution, transition to being an ecommerce business, and goals for future growth:
Why did you choose to launch on Kickstarter?
We chose to use Kickstarter for our initial product launch for three main reasons. First, Kickstarter was a vehicle to raise money for our initial production runs. There is a significant upfront cost to manufacturing consumer products for the first time and Kickstarter was a great solution to this. Second, Kickstarter also provides real world vetting of what you’re setting out to do. We were able to prove the market demand for the Ice Baller, which in turn justified our subsequent investments in the business beyond Kickstarter. There is something to be said for proving demand with an actual base of customers, and having them be a part of forming your company- we are truly grateful for the support of our awesome backers. Third, as a marketing tool Kickstarter provided an easy way for people to find our product, share it with friends, and raise their hand to say “I would buy that”. Raising money through venture capital or private investors does not offer these benefits.
What were the biggest challenges you faced with your Kickstarter campaign?
The best advice I can give is to be prepared for your project to be successful and plan ahead. If you overachieve what you originally set out to do, you will need to scale up your entire strategy which can introduce unknown costs and delays. If you know all of the different variables upfront that are going to be important as you set out to manufacture the product and fulfill orders then you will be in great shape. In our case, we were reliant on several different vendors to produce different components, so managing expected and unexpected variables became quite complex. I would definitely recommend building in more time than you think you need to account for the unforeseen and make sure you meet the expectations you set with your backers.
What was the transition like, going from Kickstarter to being an established ecommerce business?
The transition was great for us. The last of our Kickstarter orders shipped out in January, and since then our business has shifted from fulfilling thousands of orders at once, to smaller quantities on a daily basis. From the beginning, we knew it was going to be important to set up streamlined operations so we would be ready for ecommerce beyond Kickstarter. To do this, we chose to work with Excelsior Integrated for order fulfillment, and Shopify for our online store.
Shopify has been everything we needed and more- allowing us to easily create and manage our online shopping cart. Excelsior Integrated provided 3PL fulfillment services and streamlined our operations by establishing integration with Shopify via APIs. Now order detail information from Shopify is fed automatically into Excelsior’s fulfillment system; and Excelsior’s data on order status, inventory levels, shipping and tracking information is fed automatically back to Shopify. With Shopify and Excelsior, we have a front-end web app and a back-end web app, both allowing us to easily manage our business and smoothing the transition from Kickstarter to ecommerce.
Why did you outsource order fulfillment?
In addition to our desire to streamline operations, we also knew that handling the initial thousand Kickstarter orders on our own would not be an efficient use of our time and any delays would have been unacceptable to our backers. Excelsior Integrated provided quick order fulfillment for both our Kickstarter orders and our subsequent ecommerce orders, all on a per-usage cost structure. They also brought overall quality and consistency to the fulfillment process.
Ultimately we knew we should be spending our time building the business, connecting with customers and making our products better, rather than packaging and shipping orders. We’re super focused on making great products at Wintersmiths, and if we have to spend our time packing and shipping orders instead, our product development process slows down and suffers.
How do you plan to grow this year?
Our current ecommerce storefront and supporting fulfillment operations are a great foundation off of which we can grow. We’re currently focused on expanding our distribution network beyond our website, improving our current products and developing new products. We are looking forward to a very exciting year ahead.
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