Part 1: Alice in crowdfunding land
Growing as a company is always a challenge. Everything requires weighing pros and cons, making financial projections, and generally researching anything that might give you an edge. Most of this is pretty meticulous and uninteresting work. However, sometimes (just sometimes) a new market falls into your lap and the learning process is a fascinating journey. This is how we felt jumping into the Japanese market with Elos. Everything we thought we knew was TURNED UPSIDE DOWN!
Okay, that sounds a little dramatic…right? But, truly this was an experience like no other that we are still adjusting to more than 6 months after launching. We don’t pretend to be marketing gurus, but after two highly successful Kickstarters and having riders in more than 20 countries, we thought we know a thing or two about how to sell our board. Growing our Japanese market should be a walk in the park…right? WRONG. That’s not to say that we didn’t do well, but it was an eye-opener into who really rides our boards across the pond.
We made it but the journey took the unbeaten path for sure!
Towards the 3rd quarter of 2019, we were approached by a fresh-faced Japanese crowdfunding platform, Makuake, that had seen our success on Kickstarter and a few other country-specific crowdfunding sites. They wanted to launch at the end of 2019 with a bang and get their name out there. They were backed by a sizable corporate group company in Japan that had solid relationships with the media. All-in-all it sounded like a good deal. We had sold a few boards in Japan through Kickstarter and a skate shop, but didn’t really have a foothold yet. So we ironed out the details with them and began prepping yet another crowdfunding launch. This was the last time the process would look recognizable to us.
If you know anything about our team, especially CEO Spring and Founder Tom, there is nothing we love more than testing, iteration, and rapid adjustment. We go into every marketing situation with the mindset that we are going to adjust and tweak incessantly. Every tagline, description, or header is going to be A/B tested and optimized. On Kickstarter, you will see each line on the page go through a dozen optimizations when it’s live. Well, that was until we met the Japanese market. We were told once the page goes live we could make…ready for it…you sure….ZERO changes. Yes, we mean less than 1 change. What was live was live. Now, this was not a technical limitation, it was a cultural nuance. Japanese feel that changes made after the page was live might be dishonest. If you’re going to make it public, you better have said it well and honestly the first time around.
Okay obstacle #1, we’ll survive because we can test beforehand through some ads or doing some research. Which would be easy except for obstacle #2, which should be obvious but yuh know, no one on the team speaks Japanese. Outsourcing a translation is an option, but we would have 0 ideas of how accurate it was. Thankfully, a random job listing on Craigslist gave us an angel, Namiko. A native Japanese living in New York who is as detailed-oriented as the Elos founders you say? Sign that girl up yesterday! Thankfully Namiko was quickly onboarded and got to work turning our English marketing gibberish into Japanese attention-grabbing poetry.
Our eloquent Japanese angel, Namiko
A few weeks of tweaking and constant negotiation with the crowdfunding site project manager gave us a viable product page and start date. To be honest the work up to launch the page was hectic and stressful. If you can’t tweak after then you must optimize first. That involved tracking down any previous rider in Japan and interrogating them (well we told them it was an “interview” but there were alllloooootttt of questions). We ran ads to see what worked and researched the market. Best of all, almost everything we decided on got immediately challenged by the crowdfunding project manager and we were back to square one a lot. But, in the end, we made it and had a page to be proud of. The nice thing about doing it this way is there is a time to breathe once the campaign goes live. If you can’t change it then you get to just walk away for a few weeks and trust you did the right thing. Whether by luck or pure skill, the campaign went very well, but the new riders that we brought into the Elos universe were unlike any other that came before. And that’s where the real adventure began.
Join us next month for Part II: Young at Heart?