Fulfilling a Kickstarter Campaign: An Interview with Kevin Hayes of Blank Forces

Fancy looking machine

I first interviewed Kevin just as his Kickstarter campaign for the X1 and X2 pens was getting going. The campaign proved to be highly successful, raising $78 621 (on an initial goal of $10 000). The pens themselves are wonderful. Of course, once the pledges are in, the hard work really begins. What’s it like, suddenly finding yourself with an order for over a thousand pens, when you’ve never done anything like this before? Read on to find out!

How are you feeling, now the Kickstarter pledges are all fulfilled?

In a word “RELIEVED!” It really has been a crazy journey, way more work and time than expected, as well a great learning and growing experience. I feel fortunate to now be connected to so many people that enjoy the work I am doing. I’ve really enjoyed the input and feedback I have received along the way.

I have to say it is a bit scary to promise a super high quality product and have to deliver it to over 1200 people. Not only making each pen, but packing and shipping is even scary… hoping that the packages is correct, actually makes it to their destinations.

The best part has been all of the support and great feedback I have received during the project, and after people have received their pens. you can see some of the great comments here.

What were some of the challenges that came up during the project?

For me the design and engineering of the pens was the easy part, since that is what I have done my entire career.

The biggest challenge was estimating what to charge, then creating the entire infrastructure of a manufacturing and consumer product company in only a few months. When creating a company from scratch, it is very easy to miss many things in the original estimation.

There is so much that goes on behind the scenes to get everything working properly, and keeping everyone happy and informed. It is just me handling everything from the design, engineering, material sourcing, vendor sourcing, customer service, production, assembly, packaging assembly, shipping software, shipping, photography, videography, video editing, website, e-commerce setup, email, social media updates, advertising/promotion, marketing outreach, and the list goes on.


What would you have done differently if you were able to run this project again?

I have to say that I am very fortunate that everything went as well as it did. I think the biggest challenge I faced was the manufacturing delays from the machine shop that was making all of the parts. The machine shop did a fantastic, high precision job on all of the parts, but since it was a small shop they underestimated the amount of time it would take them to make all of my parts, while also doing all of their other work.

I would have also reduced the number of options. I was trying to offer a lot of options and this ended up really complicating things. I had two different size pens each with multiple engraving options, that equaled 17 different pens, then with the option of blue or black ink created 34 different options. Also, the way Kickstarter works, there were a lot of work-arounds if people wanted to add multiple pens or accessories. This is a lot to figure out when ordering inventory, managing the project, assembling, keeping everything organized, and shipping… especially when doing it all for the first time.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a similar kind of Kickstarter project?

Be very, very prepared, then Do it!
Make sure you can deliver what you promise or it will come back and bite you!
Try to estimate everything including your time… then add a little more.
Be sure you can answer any hard questions.
Keep the project simple and don’t try to have too many options
Be prepared to spend a lot of time emailing and communicating.
Don’t be overly optimistic: Estimate delays, problems, and rejected parts.
Stay on top of the communication. The backers are VIPs! Communication is key to making sure everyone that has backed the project is happy.

It is very easy to look at the campaigns that have raised a lot of money and think… “Wow!” they are doing so well. The side that isn’t easy to see is how quickly that money gets spent. Right off the top Kickstarter takes 5% then the credit card companies take another 3-4%. There are also taxes in many cases. Only then do you have the final amount to start spending on actually making and shipping what you promised. It disappears very quickly.

For the most part my pens are not too complicated in comparison with many projects that include electronics, certification, and/or regulatory testing, etc.

The other scary thing is that you have now paid a vendor you have never used before to make these parts for you, using the expensive materials that you purchased. And you hope that they maintain the high tolerances needed to create the product that you promised.

Even with a schedule, you really don’t have much leverage with a vendor. You pay a deposit then hope that they deliver the parts on time and to specification. Also, keep in mind that when vendors quote the parts, this is also an estimate, so they may also want to increase the prices if it takes them longer than they expected.

I could definitely go on 🙂

Steel deliveries

What are your plans for the X1 and X2 now?

So much has gone into perfecting these pens and since the feedback has been so positive, I would really like to continue offering them.

There are several challenges… one is how to keep the demand strong, so it isn’t just a hobby. When ordering custom machined parts, you have to order a significant batch size to make it worth all of the setup time and cost for each vendor required to make the pens, so it is a significant investment just to have the inventory on hand to offer.
I currently have a limited quantity of the EDC Ink pens in inventory, and am debating building a retail network or limiting sales just directly through my website www.BlankForces.com.

No idea what this is

Are you planning to use Kickstarter again?

Kickstarter is an amazing platform. They have a very large user base that keep coming back to find new and innovative projects to support and help bring to life. It has been a team effort including each of the original backers to make the EDC Ink pens a reality.

I’m very excited to say that I’m finally back to working on some new designs right now, so I think the answer is yes! I’m making prototypes now of several pens and other items. I am trying to figure out a way to get my supporters to see the new ideas and provide input as well.

What are you most proud of about the X1/2 Kickstarter campaign?

Keeping everyone happy. In the end it is about making sure that everyone’s expectations were met and hopefully exceeded. My goal is to foster a community of people that like the work that I do, and get satisfaction from seeing how their products are designed and made, as well as having an item that they use and treasure.

Kevin Hayes portrait

Many thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions. I think it’s clear that Kevin takes care over every aspect of what he does and that shows in the quality of the pen that he’s been able to produce.

All photos provided by Blank Forces.

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