While many entrepreneurs struggle to meet their crowdfunding goals—only 4 in 10 Kickstarter projects succeed—Alex Andon
, dubbed the "Jellyfish Entrepreneur"
, has blown past his goals twice.
The Duke University graduate successfully raised about $98,000 in his recent campaign for the Chargerito
, arguably the world’s smallest phone charger at 2.1" x 1.3", and raised well into six figures in his Kickstarter campaign for a desktop jellyfish tank three years ago.
Andon became an entrepreneur after he was laid off from his job at a biotech company during the 2008-09 recession. Having observed how public aquariums visitors were captivated by the rhythmic pulsating of jellyfish in the exhibits, he decided to explore the possibility of a market for jellyfish as pets. He started with a $100 Google Adwords advertising campaign, which led to his first sale to a Vietnamese restaurant in Seattle.
And that’s how Jellyfish Art,
a company that initially built custom jellyfish aquariums that cost up to $25,000 each, was born. But business was slow and did not scale well. Andon knew he needed a more affordable product, so he retrofitted another company’s tank to make it jellyfish compatible, and sold those for about $500 each. Sales took off.
Eventually, Andon knew enough about fish tanks to design his own product, a $350 desktop jellyfish tank. He went on to raise $162,917 on Kickstarter in 2011, well surpassing his $3000 goal (also earning funding from Y Combinator). This made Jellyfish Art one of the 10 highest grossing campaigns on Kickstarter. The $350 tank is now sold through major retailers like Amazon and ThinkGeek.
Jellyfish Art and Andon have received a ton of press coverage, including stories in the New York Times (twice)
and several popular blogs. An in-depth account of Alex’s inspiring story can be found here
. Boyd Enterprises, a manufacturer of aquarium cleaning supplies, acquired Jellyfish Art earlier this year.
From Jellyfish to Phone Charging
For his next opportunity, Andon looked no further than his mobile phone, which always seemed to drain of charge at inopportune times.
The large size of the problem—166 million people in the U.S. have smartphones—motivated Andon to create Chargerito, an ultra-portable phone charger that makes a useful addition to a keychain. There’s one for Android devices (micro-usb connector) and another for Apple (Lightning connector).
Chargerito is the product of the single-minded focus of a team of engineers to make the smallest outlet charger possible. A secondary concern was to make it as flat as it can be so that it fits better in pockets. This meant no wire—a charging cable would have doubled the size. Instead, the micro-usb/lightning connector can be flipped open from the body of the charger.
Andon admits that Chargerito is by no means a huge technological leap, but insists that it is nonetheless a product that will be useful to many. Chargerito also has a bottle opener, which the team threw in because it is a common accessory guys carry and including it didn’t add to the cost.
Crowdfunded, but not Kickstarted
Once again, Andon turned to crowdfunding to raise money, but this time to prove the concept. Had he not reached a goal of $50,000, he’d have known that there is no market for Chargerito and his team would have stopped development of the product.
Despite that Kickstarter has since become somewhat synonymous with crowdfunding in the U.S., Andon chose to not fund his product through the site this time around. Instead, he opted for Tilt/Open
, one of the more obscure platforms that emerged as crowdfunding went mainstream in the last few years.
This is because Tilt/Open allowed him to run the campaign from his own webpage, letting him include features such as a live chat box to interact with customers. He could also tinker with the campaign’s aesthetics. In a guest entry
for the Tilt/Open blog, he describes a compelling argument for hosting a campaign on your own URL:
“Many products launch to a lot of press fanfare that links to their crowdfunding page, but after the crowdfunding is over, that traffic often gets lost trying to find the actual product website. I still regularly get people messaging me on my old jellyfish tank crowdfunding page asking where they can buy the product even though that campaign ended almost three years ago. Running the campaign on my own URL allows me to seamlessly switch to selling the product once the campaign is over without losing traffic.”
Andon goes on to argue against the perception that running a campaign on a better-known platform equates to a significantly higher chance of success.
Kickstarter on its own provides very little traffic to a campaign page; you have to get almost of it yourself from the press and your social networks. So using a popular platform does not confer as much of an advantage as one may think. A campaign could just as likely get lost among the many others.
According to Andon, there is only one strategy to crowdfunding: get the press. Which is what he did. Through his years of running Jellyfish Art, Andon had built up press contacts, and he plugged Chargerito to all of them. Being the simple, practical product that it is, Chargerito does not draw attention the same way a flashy desktop jellyfish tank does, yet the campaign managed to raise just a hair under $100,000.
Clearly, the strategy worked well for him. Andon modestly thinks that they did “OK but not amazing” in crowdfunding owing to the nature of the product. Nevertheless, he’s confident that Chargerito will sell well when it goes to market because it caters to a very real need.
Now that the campaign is over, Andon’s team is building mass manufacturing prototypes, getting safety certification, designing retail packaging, lining up fulfillment and quality control, and moving towards production. The campaign dollars will pay for the large up front costs for mass manufacturing, in addition to the materials for production. Chargerito will be available for sale in early 2015.