Make It

Crowdfunding secrets: Six tips that get you from start-up to sold

Reza Kazemi, product strategist, Icontrol Networks
Source: Icontrol
Reza Kazemi, product strategist, Icontrol Networks

Crowdfunding has taken off in the last couple of years, from the notorious potato salad that garnered over $50,000 in funding to possibly life-changing solar road technology that gained over $2 million for its own campaign. But despite the viral nature of many crowdfunding campaigns, it takes more to take a project from inception to acquisition in the span of months.

We are fortunate at Piper, a smart "do-it-yourself" home security system, to be able to make that claim, going from inception to crowdfunding in a year and from product launch to acquisition in just three months. But it wasn't just luck or the right marketing. It was about having the absolute best people, at the absolute best time, working the absolute right thing.

This confluence of personnel, ideas and leadership was instrumental in guiding our success. Once in motion, we never turned back; we helmed the second largest Indiegogo campaign in Canada and became part of Icontrol Networks just months later, which has enabled us to grow even further.

In hopes of passing on some of the life and business lessons we've learned on our path to success, here's how we got to the big leagues in the burgeoning IoT market.

Amass your all-star team

Put together a strong team with visionary leadership that can help form a tight-knit culture and a shared interest to push forward. As a small, scrappy gang with trusted, experienced leadership, the Piper team quickly formed a bond, which extended seamlessly to new recruits. Our culture means everything and I'm proud to say this closeness persists today. People and priorities come and go, but our desire to put life-changing products in users' hands has not budged.

Don't be a one-trick pony

Don't confuse focus for inflexibility. You need to be nimble as a company from start to finish in order to take advantage of all opportunities. Our team was composed of people who are amazingly bad at doing only one thing. This unwillingness to be boxed into a single role was a key contributor to our success from day one, and it's a trait that every single teammate shared. Under Icontrol, I'm happy to report that not only has the drive to wear multiple hats continued, it's wholeheartedly encouraged. But versatility is only a means to an end; laser-like focus was critical to our journey. Our goals were precise and our timing was strict.

Be your competitors' fans

From gaining funding to going to market, understanding competitors' flaws and assets is key to fast, honest growth. Become fans of your competitors. Humility does a great job of removing your blinders and seeing what's possible without preconceptions. At the funding stage, we had the benefit of watching the crowdfunding revolution unfold before our very eyes. Watching companies go from nothing to notoriety in no time was a master class in marketing and product development. This amplified our ability to perform effectively on a world stage.

"The world does not stop spinning when you get funding or get acquired—it's just the beginning. Continue to develop the team and foster the same drive that has moved your business forward."

Be at the right place at the right time

Most would construe the "right place, right time" notion as a form of good fortune, out of the control of those being directly affected. But the truth is that you need to get yourself and your team to the right stage, to make the "right place, right time" moment happen. As the saying goes, "You have to be good to be lucky." I believe our incredible leadership, including our CEO at the time, fostered a unique environment that allowed us to push a product to crowdfunding, and then to market, in an incredibly fast and efficient way. Once Piper's selection as a recipient of a CES Innovation Award was announced, we felt our attendance at the show could turn some heads. Lo and behold, given the nascent state of the DIY home security space and our quick time to market, we caught the eye of Icontrol.

Foster continuous creativity and growth

The world does not stop spinning when you get the funding or get acquired—it's just the beginning. Continue to develop the team and foster the same drive that has moved your business forward. Take simple approaches like offering praise and constructive criticism in equal amounts. Be pragmatic when creating; use the wisdom of more seasoned teammates to temper the giddy euphoria of a fresh idea. Also, remember to have fun. It may sound like a no-brainer but it's absolutely essential to the creative process. Our team still draws ridiculous pictures together, every day to work through problems. I've seen the best ideas arise around the unmistakable smell of a freshly cleaned white board and the sound of glorious "Eureka!" laughter.

Instill a "one team, one goal" mentality

Perhaps most importantly, imbue a sense of cohesion. The startup environment should be one of family. You don't always get to choose your teammates, but like a family, you're all in it for the long haul, together. Embrace this and get cozy! Nothing stimulates creative juices more than cooperation and collaboration in close quarters. In our early days, we co-habited an office with two other companies. This arrangement forced us to be creative with how to fit five (and then six, and then eight, and then 10) people into a pretty tiny area. This coziness, with its share of obvious challenges, created a sibling-like environment for us. We'd laugh, fight, code, play and learn together, as any good crew should.

Ultimately, being able to keep up and compete in new and exciting markets boils down to the same thing: your ability to build a team that can hustle while shooting for the moon. You want to come into work expecting that your colleagues are crushing it. This drive pushes each individual as much as the business. Goals are met by putting people together who learn from each other and have fun during the creative process. Not everyone can effortlessly execute a viral campaign for potato salad, but if you focus on assembling a dynamic team and fostering a creative culture, you'll surprise yourself by how far you go. So get going and create!

Commentary by Reza Kazemi, a product strategist for Icontrol Networks, where he leads product development for the Piper all-in-one DIY home security system. Kazemi is the co-creator of Piper, a product of Blacksumac, which was acquired by Icontrol Networks in 2014. Follow him on Twitter @rezakazemi.

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