Maybe you have an idea for a new toothbrush, or maybe you want to reinvent the wallet. How concerned should you be that there are already thousands of innovative toothbrushes and wallets available? Is it possible for your product to stand out in a crowded market?
Not every product idea is unique. And it doesn’t have to be. Google wasn’t the first search engine, but they seem to be doing alright. Mate X wasn’t the first eBike, but their crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo shattered records, earning more than $17M from over 31K backers.
So how do you make your product stand out? To answer this question, we talked to the pros at Nomad Lane. They found incredible success as entrepreneurs on Indiegogo not by developing an entirely unique product, but by reinventing a staple—the travel bag.
Bento Bag Success Story
The travel bag is a relatively modern invention. Although the wheel was invented way back in 3500 B.C., the travel bag didn’t come along until the late 19th century. What took so long? Apparently, no one had a need for a modern suitcase until the age of mass tourism. Before then, people relied on heavy wooden trunks.
In 2017, entrepreneurs Kish and Vanessa founded Nomad Lane with the idea that travel accessories were due for another upgrade. They noticed that there was not a travel bag that was both fashionable and functional. Despite all the travel bag options available, there simply was no product that could fit under an airplane seat, charge your phone, organize your belongings in convenient pockets, and also look sleek enough to carry from the airport straight into an office meeting.
And that’s how the idea for Bento Bag was born, a product that would fulfill its Indiegogo campaign goal in its first hour and ultimately earn over $2M. However, it was a long road from concept to market. Along the way, Kish and Vanessa became experts in crowdfunding and the art of standing out in a crowded market. Here’s what they learned:
Tip 1: Find a Problem, Create a Solution
In the 19th century, someone recognized that heavy wooden trunks would not suffice in the age of mass tourism. Recognizing this problem led to an invention: the travel-ready suitcase. Similarly, Kish and Vanessa recognized that travel bags weren’t suited to the needs of modern travelers.
“We started to look at what was out there in the market,” Vanessa explained, “and we saw functional products, but they weren’t very good looking. Or we saw products that were beautiful but weren’t very functional and didn’t have any of the pockets that you needed. So, we thought about combining the two aspects.”
Recognizing this problem gave Kish and Vanessa a concrete solution to work toward. It also helped to ignite their ambitious vision: to create “the most thoughtful travel bag ever.”
The advice to find a problem first may seem obvious, but many entrepreneurs actually do the reverse: they create a solution and then go searching for a problem. This method can work too—unless there is no actual problem, making the “solution” superfluous. If that’s the case, it will be extremely challenging to find consumers who are eager to purchase your specific product when there are other options available.
Tip 2: Read Negative Reviews of Related Products
You might be intimidated by the realization that Amazon is flooded with products similar to the one you want to make. However, you can easily use this to your advantage. This was the approach taken by the team behind Bento Bag:
“We went on Amazon and saw the travel bags,” Kish said. “We read all the one-star reviews to see—oh, people didn’t like this, or we should incorporate that. We spent hours doing that, which gave us some great insights.”
This was only a small part of the market research conducted by the Bento Bag team, of course. They also interviewed friends and conducted a survey of nearly two thousand people who travel frequently.
Tip 3: Focus on Distinguishing Qualities
If you’re trying to stand out in a crowded market, it will be a problem if your product looks like everything else. It’s important to design your product to have clearly distinguishing qualities—either in terms of functionality or aesthetics, or both.
The Bento Bag, for example, has a very distinct shape and a classy, streamlined appearance. This makes the product immediately recognizable. Kish relayed an anecdote about his friend from Paris: “He was in the airport and saw someone else with the bag. He said he saw the shape and knew what it was immediately.”
That’s the goal for a distinguished design: to pass the stand-out-in-a-crowded-airport test.
Tip 4: Highlight Your Story
Apple isn’t just a company that makes the iPhone. It’s the company Steve Jobs co-founded in his childhood garage in Los Altos, California. People who buy the iPhone don’t really care how it’s made. They want to read about Steve Jobs or watch one of the many films and documentaries about his life.
Steve Jobs might be a unique case, but all entrepreneurs and inventors have a similar rock-star mystique to those of us who have never even imagined creating an original product. By highlighting your story in your crowdfunding campaign, you can capitalize on that mystique. Kish and Vanessa learned how valuable this can be with their Bento Bag campaign.
“We made our campaign very personal,” said Vanessa. “On the crowdfunding page we showed pictures of our own travels. We showed that we were people who were on the road constantly, so we knew there was a need for it, and that’s how we designed it. Also, in addition to product features, we talked about how we came up with the design and why we came up with it.”
Kish added, “If you watch the campaign video, you’re basically getting our life story.”
Be sure to follow best practices when telling your story on your campaign page. That means: put the most important information first, keep it short, explain why you are raising money, and share key events that shaped your project. If you do this, backers will be excited to join you in the journey of bringing your product to life.
Tip 5: Visit the Factory
A central part of telling your story should be showing that you mean business. You should demonstrate that you have gone above and beyond to bring the best possible product to market. If that means you need to leave your garage and visit the factory where your product will be produced, then that’s exactly what you should do.
This was crucial to the success of Bento Bag.
“For first time manufacturers, actually go visit the factories. A lot of people think you can kind of do it remotely, but a lot of the business, especially in Asia, is done in person. That’s where you can actually go and negotiate and get them to lower their minimum quantities.”
Kish noted that there are trade shows in Asia that happen during certain times of the year. If you don’t know where to start, visit one of those events. In particular, plan to meet with manufacturers who produce products similar to yours, so you know they can get the right materials and complete quality work on time.
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