Lessons from a Pen
Its been a little while since I’ve written a post. As some of you know, I’m currently (as my friend Darren would say) a “free agent” and spending most of my time figuring-out what’s next. However, I thought I’d take a bit of “Hurricane-time” to write a quick post on a pen. Yes, a pen … but not just any pen – the Pen Type A from CW&T Studios. It started as a kickstarter project (a very successful one), and its not just a really cool pen, but also provided a lot of great lessons in its campaign.
Lesson 1: Be Passionate About What you Doing
CW&T is the design shop for Che-Wei Wang and Taylor Levy and they introduced the Pen Type A kickstarter campaign in July 2011. The pen was based upon the Hi-Tec-C pen, a pilot pen that Che-Wei and Taylor had a passion for. It was this passion that was transcendent, and led the campaign to success in rapid fashion. Just 12 hours after launch they met their initial funding goal and by the end of the campaign they had crushed it. Personally, I came across the campaign a few days after launch and despite having never seen a Hi-Tec-C pen, was so impacted by their passion, that I purchased a basic model of the pen. After understanding what the passion was about, I decided to put in my kickstarter pre-purchase.
The passion that Che-Wei and Taylor had for their project was inspiring for those with the same passion and contagious for others. Ultimately the campaign not only blew-away the goal, it exceeded it by over 100x. The product they ultimately created is a beautiful and well-built writing tool that more than matched their original designs and lofty goals.
The important lesson here is to be passionate about what you do. If you’re passionate it will be clear and will shine through in your marketing, pitches and other interactions. It will be contagious both to those with similar interests and to others: even those who may not have been aware of your market and product, or even the problem your solving will be infected as they start to research and better understand why you are so passionate. Additionally, if you’re passionate, it will shine through not only in your original plans, but also in the product you ultimately build.
Lesson 2: Your Early Customers are Investors Too
Unfortunately for CW&T, Pen Type A proved far more difficult to manufacture than originally estimated, and the team met challenges throughout the process. By the time the last pens were delivered, it was well over a year since the campaign had ended. However, despite a far delayed shipping cycle, the team was able to maintain support. Having built an enthusaistic “fan-base” with their passion (as noted above), they were able to keep the enthusiasm high by communicating throughout the process. All in, the Company sent 31 updates and answered thousands of e-mails and user comments. They kept the community informed, and made everyone feel like a part of the team – enough so that not only were there few complaints, but kickstarter backers even showed up at the CW&T studio to help!
Like many other Kickstarter campaigns, CW&T underpriced their initial production run for early backers. The Pen Type A cost $50 when pre-ordered through Kickster, was intended to be $99 once released and is now $150 through their online store. It was important for them to charge for the valuable product (at least at cost), but rather than making a large profit, for the initial product run it was more important to recoup their cost to get up and running – to get their product in people’s hands, start building a user-base, begin gathering feedback and getting their processes in order. To that end, they were able to do that in spades and their next generation is improved, faster to ship, and indeed more expensive.
This lesson is a bit easier to visualize with Kickstarter, as backers are a combination of investor and customer, but its important for any business. Its critical to remember that early customers are a type of investor as well. They are taking a “flyer” on your business; perhaps because it appealed to their passion, perhaps because it appealed to a problem they have, or perhaps for another reason, but whatever there reason they took a chance. You need to keep them close to the business and need to prove value to them, because no matter what, they can always go back to what they were doing before. If you are big and established, you can price and provide customer service for optimal profit and capture optimal value, but when you are young and unproven, you should aim to exchange some of that profit and value for rabid customers that evangelize, provide feedback and help you grow.
Lesson 3: Good Design is Critical
Part of the appeal of Pen Type A is its design. Not only does it look very cool (as the picture below shows), there are elements that make it a really awesome product. CW&T spent significant time ensuring that the pen felt right in the hand, created a vacuum seal to prevent leaks and provide for better use (plus the pop sounds cool), and was manufactured properly and to last. As a user I can say that the pen is a pleasure to use and looks great on my desk. Its something I want to use and it’ll be a long time before I buy another nice pen. In fact, the only pen I’ll likely buy is this one, as a gift for others or maybe another one for my office.
The lesson here is pretty simple: good design matters. For software businesses, things are a bit different than a hardware product, or a tool (like a pen), that can’t receive updates. However, design is something that is often overlooked in a rapidly iterating business. However, as Pen Type A proves, good design can keep you loyal and make you want to use a product. Even if they both solve the same problem, a user is more likely to use the better designed product – the one that is more intuitive, easy to use and quite frankly, fun. One doesn’t need to look much further than Apple to back-up that theory.
All in, I’m really enjoying my Pen Type A and I thanks CW&T for making it. Its not only a great pen, but also crystalized some valuable lessons for me. I’m stopping at three for now, but I know there are even more lessons buried in there that I’ll think about each time I use it.