Vaporware. This seems to be the topic of the moment.
Over a year ago I had an idea — something I’ve since learned can be a dangerous thing. Together with some friends and the help of many others I launched a Kickstarter campaign from my bedroom. I’m still here.
With only a few months left before we launch and officially ship to backers, I’d like to share some background and insights that might aid hopefuls grappling with their next big idea.
photo: Bart Cortright
A year ago I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t have a full grasp on the matter and every day I’m learning something new, asking for help, searching the definition of the latest jargon or acronym, all the while praying I don’t f*&k up.
Kickstarter really changed my life. Before it, I didn’t know what code was. I thought I did, but I didn’t. Managing a product and teams? Forget about it. I was a theatre sound designer writing transition music and giving directors a bunch of “wind blow” sound effects. If something didn’t work, it was a deficient product; if someone didn’t return my email in 24 hours, it was bad customer service; if anyone did anything that was below my standard of taste, it was poor effort.
Not anymore — vaporware, vaporware. Kickstarter is a major rite of passage for any maker. From being a buyer to becoming a seller, from being the one hoisting judgment to the one receiving it — this emotional and psychological shift is enough to break you. At heart, we’re all consumers of something.
Testing our first Hooke Verse prototype. Talking into mics and hoping they work. photo: Bart Cortright
There is that great scene in The Hudsucker Proxy where Tim Robbins is pitching the Hula Hoop to a dreary board of company executives. With a naïve grin he announces: “for kids.” Kickstarter is no different. Except the board is filled with supporters, believers, backers enthusiastic to see someone succeed, silent participants, potential competitors, and naysayers who whisper from the back of the room: Vaporware….
On the other side, when you become the maker, everyone is looking at you. No one throws tomatoes at the sound designer; the mask of the production and the physical structure of the soundboard protect us. Also in entertainment there is a broader understanding of risk. I bought a ticket, yet I have an understanding that my expectations may not be met, that I may not enjoy the show.
When you’re building a product, all expectations must be met.
The expectations of crowdfunding today have converged with e-commerce. The majority of backers understand that what most campaigns are trying to achieve is impossible. 3D printing, virtual reality headsets, bicycle locks controlled by your phone, laser razors –- this is the stuff of the Jetsons! We have a prototype and a hope to make it a reality. On one side, we need support, we need encouragement to know if we should really continue chasing our hopes and dreams. On another, we need help. Conversations, ideas, social media shares –- you name it –- you can’t have enough.
There are backers who equate supporting a crowdfunding campaign with clicking Buy Now on Amazon. Discount for delay shoppers. They view their pledge as entitlement. They want the future and they want it now.
They’re right! And the entire Hooke Audio team wants it even more than they do. Where hearing those naysaying whispers over and over is enough to make you cry, it also trains you for what’s the next. Where Tim Robbins gets to leave the boardroom -– you must not.
The clichés are all true: Hardware is hard. Hardware is the Trojan horse of software. Hack through the growth hack. Consistency is key. Apple makes things look easy. Think outside the box. The work is never done.
Our first PCB. Aint she a beauty? photo: Bart Cortright
Without going into too much detail, it remains a fact that you will be delayed. You will try and try and still the delays will come. You will not have enough money. You will always be recruiting. You will constantly wear twenty different hats. Every decision will seem like an eternity yet there will never be enough time. “If only, if only, if only” will run on repeat in your head.
Ideas are beautiful things. In their abstract form, they stay safe. Products are ugly. They require blood, sweat, stress, arguments, discussions, calendars, meetings, more meetings, molds, code, development cycles, testing, more testing, quality assurance work, insurance, retail codes, plastics, packaging, certifications, PCBs, wires, wires, environment variables, user feedback, and on and on.
Old me would discard products and consumer electronics on a whim. Present me looks at every packaged good in awe. The time, the effort, the drive, the human sacrifice, the sheer triumph of human engineering on all levels is a testament to the miracle that is a fully packaged product.
Earlier this year we met a Sony Engineer who was proudly displaying his new headphones. In the conversation it emerged that the engineer had spent 10 years developing them. 10 years!
Just after the Hooke Audio Kickstarter was complete the team met some engineers from Texas Instruments. They said what we were trying to achieve would take 6 engineers 3 years to bring to market. This didn’t even take into account the mobile application.
Even today our factory constantly defends its performance saying that this type of project takes at least 14-16 months and we’re aiming to do it in 12.
photo: Bart Cortright
No one wants to see the Hooke Verse delivered to market more than the Hooke Audio team. We’ve already reached our 10,000 hours. It’s a testament to the world we live in today that through all the tools, platforms, and resources available — any of this is possible.
Everyday we strive, work, code, build, break, and test to make the Hooke Verse the best it can be. It is our baby. In the process, new ideas (very dangerous) arise, and difficult decisions are made. Striking the right balance between perfect and good-enough will be a journey I doubt we’ll ever master, though we’re improving.
Vaporware, vaporware, yeah I know I hear you.
It’s real. It exists. You’ll have it. We’re just taking the necessary steps and precautions necessary to deliver something you’ll believe was worth the wait. Thank you, thank you for your support.
They should make Kickstarter survival kits — a ropes course for those wanting to test their ideas on crowdfunding platforms.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
1) Vaporware is your friend. This may be day 1,000 for you, but day 1 is the first day your backers take your product out of the box. Until that day, embrace it.
2) You are only as good as your team. If you’re the smartest person on your team, it’s a bad team. If your team isn’t growing, make it grow.
3) Distractions are deadly. The accolades are not about you or your product, they are about your team and the outside world’s insatiable appetite for content. So move on and stay focused for day 1.
4) Money is complicated. There is never enough, yet you cannot build without it and your team needs it to keep moving forward. Vision may inspire — money just makes things happen.
5) Product is a marathon, not a race. (Another cliché, but–) Make the best product you can and don’t cut corners. At the same time, don’t let perfect get in the way of good.
6) Outreach and help are synonymous. Be constantly picking up the phone and leveraging the people around you for help. Go to meet-ups, share your experience, find out more from your inner circle. It’s amazing what, who, and how the person next to you can make a difference.
7) Exhaust all outcomes. You’re not working at a desk job for a reason. The work is never done. If something isn’t working, try something different.
8) Ego. Get rid of it. Remove it from your team. It breeds anger and vanity. It is a mask for doubt and insecurity, neither of which can help your product or empower your backers.
9) Celebrate. You must take the wins. Go-out and celebrate. Great products and companies were built on the fact that they threw great parties.
10) Mistakes will happen. Own up to them. You’re a small team with no statement of procedures in place. Embrace them, understand why they happened, and adjust accordingly. No one ever won without making serious mistakes.
I could have never done this without the support of so many friends and colleagues. That is something I will never lose sight of. photo: Bart Cortright
Day 1 for Hooke is fast approaching. Money is running out and my backers are beginning to fill-up their vegetable carts.
Would I change a thing? You bet I wouldn’t.
Thank you vaporware and thank you Kickstarter!
From One Ear To Another,