On this episode of CrowdFund Genius we have Mitchell from the world renowned Skully AR1. And Mitchell is going to tell us about how he and his brother were able to release a premium product through crowdfunding. Mitchell will take us through the whole process of concept to prototype to a crowdfunding campaign that has raised over 2 million to date on Indiegogo.
Skully Website Click HERE
Skully AR1 Campaign Page Click HERE
Skully YouTube Channel Click HERE
IMG PR Click HERE
017 Skully (IGG)
ZacBob: Welcome back for another episode of CrowdFund Genius. Today I have Mr. Mitchell Wheller, co-founder of Skully and there famous motorcycle helmet the AR1. Mitchell, tell me about yourself and the Skully AR1.
Mitchell from Skully: Yes Mitchell Wheller, Co-Founder and VP of business operations with Skully. I am the brother of the original founder and CEO Dr. Marcus Wheller. The helmet really started as a dream, kind of a public record but a very interesting story. And one of the things that got me gong on it, my brother was riding around Barcelona 2011, heading to an appointment and he looked up right to read a street sign and a small red smart car slammed on the brakes in front of him. He turned around just in time to see himself occupying the same space as that car. It ended up total out the bike and ripping the skin of his palms but left more of an mental impression. You know a young on top of the world Marcus finally met humility. And so a fantastic time for me because being his little brother as a kid was not easy. It started to kind of change him a little bit, brought him down to my level a little bit. At the time I was in the military going through he suck as an infantrymen in the 82nd airborne division. So later on about six months later he had this dream where he was back on a motorcycle but instead of crashing when the car hit GPS navigations was folding out to him like a hologram. So he was able to see the car when he slammed on his brakes and was able to swerve around it and make it to his appointment on time. He had this really immersive experience, which he was telling you about later on for this product. So I kind of jumped on board right away, I had seen some aviation technology that was similar to that. And I thought it was a very interesting product as a motorcycle rider myself. So he brought this to our family and my dad being the entrepreneur that he is was like put this on paper, on a napkin and send it to the USPTO right now. So he went through with that and about six months later he was working with a duct tape prototype that he brought home at Christmas. And I got to try out the first Skully helmet and at that point I was sold and basically told him, “whenever your ready, whenever you need help and are ready to make this a thing give me a call and we’ll make this happen.” So about a year later he finally does, were now at the end of 2013 and he was like “Hey brother, the time has come, I need you out here, I cant scale all these things were doing myself, I cant pay you, and you wont have a place to sleep you will be sleeping on my couch. I may be able to feed you, and that’s about it. I cant guarantee that you will be successful.”
ZacBob: SOLD! How could you pass up on that!
Mitchell from Skully: I could not pass. That was the best sales pitch that I ever had in my life. So I sold all my worldly possessions’ and packed up one OD green duffel bag full of clothing and headed out to sleep on my brothers couch in California.
ZacBob: Early I heard you say that your father was an entrepreneur as well?
Mitchell from Skully: Yes, he has been working on multiple industries his entire life. Everything from automotive maintenance to aircraft maintenance to landscape maintenance. So its kind of just all over the map, so very much a working class man who is self started. And he’s been a pretty huge inspiration for me to get me up and going and build something myself rather than just following the corporate ladder.
ZacBob: So since your father was an entrepreneur and a big influence on you growing up, did you always know you were an entrepreneur, even as a child?
Mitchell from Skully: I mean Marcus and I have both jumped into different entrepreneur adventures as kids. I used to buy and sell Pokémon cards back in the day when those were quite popular. And Marcus used to do a lot of car stereos sales and installations and things, and he would do that out of our garage. So we have both been kind of self-starters our entire lives. It was at that moment when my brother called up our father and kind of explained the idea and he was just so gung-ho and very much a working man and very practical. He jumped all over that and if people in the Midwest understand what it is, and people like us, than this must be something big.
ZacBob: Big it was, lets talk more about Skully. I’ve seen the videos on YouTube, but for our listening audience, what is the difference between the Skully AR1 and the average motorcycle helmet.
Mitchell from Skully: So the average motorcycle helmet is essential the same as it was 50 years ago. You get foam, you get plastic, you get some nice cloth and that’s about it. It doesn’t give you anything by means of situational awareness enhancement. Actually many people claim that it reduces your peripheral vision meaning you’re less situationally aware. You can’t hear things as well meaning your not aware of things going on around you. The Skully AR1 is different because it actually takes technology and integrates it into your helmet in such a way that makes you more capable of seeing your environment. Gives you a 180 degree rear facing camera, and GPS navigation and a semi-transparent heads up display that floats out in front of you like a hologram. And it does that at infinite focus meaning that you can see it as in focus as the environment ahead. You never have to actually adjust your yes to the display. So what you essentially end up with is eyes in the back of your head that can see all around you. You have full 360-degree awareness. That coupled with the audio qs for the system that can alert you with danger or turn-by-turn navigation actually primes you with heuristics than you actually having to read the screen, so you can take in the information much easier. It packages the data so you can absorb it very quickly and keep your eyes and mental focus on the road.
ZacBob: Now the Skully is available in different sizes and colors. Do you want to touch on that real quick?
Mitchell from Skully: We offer the helmet in sizes small to XXL and that comes in matte black and gloss white.
ZacBob: So what year did the idea come into existence again? And how long did it take until now? Give us a little a timeline breakdown.
Mitchell from Skully: So the idea came in 2011. About fall, it took about 6 months to put together the first prototype which was the one that I seen at Christmas. At that point it was another 4 months before there was any capitol raised. It was fall of 2013 when we demonstrated the transparent head up display, with the 180 degree viewing angle rear facing camera at DEMO fall 2013. And that’s when we won the DEMO God award and had begun our beta list. Prior to that we only had about 200 people on the beta list, and immediately after DEMO, that weekend there was 2000 people signed up. So that was kind of really the catalyst for Skully as it stands right now.
ZacBob: And this was the very first crowdfunding campaign for Skully right?
Mitchell from Skully: Yes
ZacBob: So I have to ask, why did you choose Indiegogo instead of Kickstarter? A lot of people go with Kickstarter because of how large the viewing audience is.
Mitchell from Skully: Yes, we evaluated many different options. You know awareness, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and even doing direct pre-sales on our company website. But what we found was actually the service, and support and knowledge that IGG provides is just second to none. They really bend over backwards to make sure that everyone is as prepared and successful as they can possibly be by creating FAQ’s, and best practices for campaigners, taking phone calls and doing meetings with them all the way through actual support. They can actually do advertising, it has the potential to be a one stop full service solution and that’s really what we saw from them was that they were really vested in our success far more than any of the other platforms claim to be. So that really made the difference for us.
ZacBob: Now before the interview I was doing a little research as I always do. And I came up with something pretty remarkable and if its true please let me know. I heard you funded your entire 250K asking price within like 8 seconds.
Mitchell from Skully: It wasn’t 8 seconds, it was 8 minutes and 30 seconds.
ZacBob: 8 minutes and 30 seconds! To a 250K.
Mitchell from Skully: Its been a helluva deal.
ZacBob: And its only been three days until you made a million correct?
Mitchell from Skully: Yup, so we hit 1 million in 45 hours and that was the fastest million in Indiegogo history.
ZacBob: So tell me, why did you need 250K exactly?
Mitchell from Skully: I mean were kind of unusual for an Indiegogo campaign, typically you don’t see products in the premium space on the site. Many of them have not raised funding before, some of them have. And we did raise funds before our campaign, we really wanted to, with our campaign demonstrate or validate a market interest for an ultra premium product such as a motorcycle helmet with all these connected features. So we thought that with an interest of a quarter million dollars, a very small production run we would know that people ere interested in a vertical integrated platform verse a retrofit solution which is a common way that motorcycle accessories are done. So were kind of standing on a completely different ground and when we saw the quickness of the response we really knew we had something on our hands.
ZacBob: So more like a proof of concept right?
Mitchell from Skully: Yea
ZacBob: Now you had 8 simple pledge amounts, and can you elaborate what level was your highest performing?
Mitchell from Skully: Yea so our highest performing one was actually the helmet itself, we did a 100-dollar discount for people that pre-ordered during this campaign. That guaranteed that they would get the first helmets off the line when they finished being manufactured in May. So that sold over a million dollars worth of product, and many other ones were just facsimiles there off. The 1499 perk for the helmet shipped internationally, that including the $100 dollar charge for international shipping. We also had 2 packs for $2649 so it was little bit more of a discount for purchasing to helmets. And then we had some distribution packs that went out as well, and the things were moving very very well and that made up three quarters of our sales all the discounted perks. The discounted ones were not that big of a draw, which was surprising to us because we thought those would move very quickly and then everything else would move very slowly. But the interest stayed high and the energy stayed high even through a $499 deposit model which allowed people to pay 1/3 of the cost up front and the remainder when their helmet was ready to ship.
ZacBob: Sorry to interrupt but I wanted to ask about that model. You had $499 up front and the rest at shipping, that’s one of the only times I’ve seen that with a crowdfunding campaign. Had you seen that before you launched Skully? Did you discuss this in advance or did you wing it and Indiegogo allowed it?
Mitchell from Skully: This was actually something that Indiegogo was playing around with at that time. They have multiple different ways to kind of boost pre-sales and pre-orders in their campaign, because recently they enabled their platform to support these kinds of features. We wanted to see how that would work and what the interest was. A lot of people indicated that they were very interested in pre-ordering an AR1 but didn’t know if they could pay the full price outright. So we opened up this option to allow people to secure their place in line and make sure they got one out of the first production run. The response was immediate, we had a huge number of people jump on right then, I think it was 100 in the first day that pre-ordered at $500 dollars. And a lot of people after the campaign asked, hey can I upgrade and pay the remainder now and get my helmet sooner with the first run. So it was one of those things that really opened it up to people that were risk adverts, or didn’t necessarily have the money to get on the technology and become early adopters possibly for the first time.
ZacBob: Did it have any reverse effects? Did people start cancelling or withdrawing their contribution before the end of the campaign?
Mitchell from Skully: I mean that was a concern but the surprise was we actually did not. There were no returns based on wanting to do the 500-dollar pre-order. Most of the people that jumped on early really wanted to get it as early as possible and that was really one of the benefits is if you paid the full price up front you would get it at the beginning of riding season because we could guarantee all the pre-paid orders to ship at that time. So it was actually the reverse, we saw more people coming in after the campaign and saying that they wanted to pay more or do a pre-payment system so they could be fully paid at the time of ship so they could get their helmets early.
ZacBob: Okay so you really had some star power in your crowdfunding video. If anyone is familiar with the Show The Great Food Truck Race! Then you might recognize some faces from your Indiegogo video. So tell me how you were able to reach out to these people and mainly, give us a behind the scenes look at the Skully Crowdfunding video.
Mitchell from Skully: As I said before we were looking at a lot of different platforms to run crowdfunding. And watching a lot of other peoples videos, you know what really makes a campaign successful, what are the things that people really care about, and what is the information that people take in visually and what do they need to experience. And a lot of that came down to the social proof, knowing that the product was a real thing it wasn’t just a concept on a piece of paper that were trying to get the money to build. But rather that this is something that exists in the physical space and were getting ready to you know send it out to people. And showing people what that experience was really like. We had a prior video that we shot in house over a weekend, and that video generated almost all of the 100,000 beta applications that came prior to launching our campaign. And it you know just focused on you know what its like to be inside the helmet. The experience of driving around and having that full situational awareness be able to listen to music, take phone calls, and be more focused on the road. It really allowed you to, the second or third time you watch it, to not even pay attention to the screen, you just paid attention to how beautiful the landscapes were and that experience of riding a bike and that really resonated with our community. We actually did this large early sneak peek for many people that were on the beta list. And Tyler actually signed up to beta test the AR1, so we did some private tests for our selected beta users. And just had them talk very candidly not staged, but on the spot. Here’s the helmet, give it a shot, what are the things you would improve, what are the things you would change, what are the things you like and what do you think this means for the motorcycle industry. And Tyler’s response was something that we saw quite a lot of but very impassioned. It’s the future, you know it feels like the next step in the story and he felt very passionate about it so he was willing to be featured in our video, which we was very fortunate to have. You know we had a lot of people reach out, we even had a second video were beta testers were allowed to come to an event and sit on a motorcycle and see the functions there and they were getting a private demonstration for them. And then they also volunteered their feedback for that video. And that really solidified for our community who were considering pre-ordering and some of the people that didn’t, but wanted to know if it was a real thing if it was going to be distracting and all these sort of things. That really brought that home for them, and kind of gave them people they could relate to that gave honest feedback on the AR1.
ZacBob: Did you use a specific company to make your main crowdfunding video? Or did you just do it in house like a couple of the others?
Mitchell from Skully: We worked with a company, On Screen Productions, the owner of the company Marty Shwartz reached out to us. He signed up on the beta list, and said hey, I really believe in what you guys are doing. I really want to be a part of this you know, make my mark on this, I want to be a part of it. So is there anything that I can do, I do stunt coordination and coordinate sets and scenes. For multiple different kinds of film. So he reached out to us and was like whatever you guys need, whatever you guys want, I can make connections and make things happen, I know all these events and venues that will host you guys and it just so happened to coincide with us needing to build a video. So marty was an incredible help with arranging logistics, getting the co-operation of the city of Los Angeles, we filmed out at Mulholland drive and they closed that down for us. So he provided a lot of logistically support and connected us with the people that could get us rental equipment we ended up needing a Russian arm to do moving scenes on the motorcycles’, and he was able to find someone to source that for us and get us a really good price on a rental and things like that. So it really helped keep the cost down and do this on a very lean budget.
ZacBob: Earlier you mentioned a few other videos, not talking about your crowdfunding video, but your beta test videos. And you have quite a few videos on your YouTube page as well, and by the view count it seems to be doing really well for you. One video in particular had over 800,000 views. So is YouTube the main channel of social media that you use to drive traffic to your campaign?
Mitchell from Skully: I think that definitely was a huge supplement, I’m not sure the videos drove the traffic to the campaign but it validated that interest for people. One of the things that the product does and the media kind of does is capture peoples interest and kind of provide the base line of mystique and wonder oh what is this capable of. And once they were able to see the video that really allowed them something to kind of grab ahold of and see it in a physical space even though its not in front of them. I mean YouTube has been instrumental as far as hosting the videos, providing a very easy platform that people can share the video for people to re-watch it and get that solid impression of what the product was like. What it would be like to own it, what other people think about it. The campaign video itself has over 2 million views to date, so its been pretty incredible how much that tool has been utilized both on our side and mostly by the community who really values that kind of presentation there. And then with the remainder of social media we aim to inform, both with the YouTube videos that we created and the posts on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, we want to give people a realist picture, tell people what the features are actually like, and be honest about the limitations of the technology. And make sure that people have the straight facts about the helmet than just relying on hear say. And that garnered a very positive response people being able to go out and ask a question on social media. And receive a response, then other people could look through and see what other people are interested in. that actually drove us to build our own forum where people could come out and ask questions and that was even more well received.
ZacBob: And that was an online forum, not like a public forum right.
Mitchell from Skully: Yes that’s actually hosted on our website SkullySystems.com
ZacBob: And you built that before the campaign?
Mitchell from Skully: No that actually came after the campaign started, that’s one of those things we wish we would’ve done prior to kicking off.
ZacBob: So what other channels of social media that you were using to promote your campaign?
Mitchell from Skully: I believe the largest majority was Facebook, followed by YouTube and then Twitter. Not many people reached out on Twitter, they were somewhat engaged, but we did see a lot of response to media articles from twitter. So when we would post up a new write up, or review of the helmet we would post it up on Facebook and Twitter, and we saw the large number of retweets and sharing on Twitter and that seemed like it was peoples venue of showing this to their friends, showing this to their networks. We saw a lot more Q & A on Facebook. And with YouTube we used that kind of as a median to provide wide spread answers. So we would do small updates, feature walks through’s, things like that to kind of talk about news and events. Things that we would see a lot of questions about we would try to answer with a video post of some kind.
ZacBob: Did you hire anybody to run your social media throughout your campaign?
Mitchell from Skully: We actually brought somebody in right before the campaign and she’s been absolutely fantastic helping us out with all that stuff. I am not a social media expert. But she definitely is, and she really helped us build the voice and get this thing out there and saying what people wanted and really connecting with the community. And kind of bringing our voice to the table when we were running the campaign.
ZacBob: My normal question here is did you have any media attention or blogger attention, but its obvious that you had plenty. So tell me what was the secret to obtaining such a large amount of press?
Mitchell from Skully: Really, its hard to say that we solicited, really what it came down to is people were intrigued, by the product, or the story, or they were intrigued by the community response. You know some one component kind of drew people to see Skully for the first time. And then when they started hearing about the story of Marcus and I founding this company together. The story of the helmet coming in a dream, the way that we started the crowdfunding campaign, all the interest that we had. Some of the media outlets jumped on because other media outlets jumped on. There’s several reasons for why people jumped on, they started gathering more and more facts so they started becoming interested. We’ve been working with LMG PR to kind of manage those inbound requests and she’s been kind of fantastic with filling in the blanks for people and that’s gotten people really excited. The same reason our fans got excited about it is the same reasons our media did. That’s something that people can really sink their teeth into and say yeah, this feels like something that I can relate with. Whether or not people are motorcycle riders, doesn’t really matter because a lot of people can resonate with situational awareness and protecting peoples lives in a transportation environment. We’ve had a huge outreach from motorists and bicyclist. You know people that live without this technology all the time and they responded to this even. So its even brought together a community that’s larger than just motorcyclist. And that’s something that we have been really fortunate to have.
ZacBob: Was their a particular publication that wrote, or covered Skully that got the ball rolling for the press to jump on board?
Mitchell from Skully: Yes, we’ve been working with Seth Rosenblach over at C-net. And he was the first person to ever to a road test with the P1 prototype. So he’s kind of been with us at the beginning and provided us the feedback of what his concerns are and bringing the tech crowd to the table and making people aware of this technology. Just kind of giving the straight talk, we were able to roll his feedback and the feedback of his community into the product to make it better and better. Which is where it stands today, we have this platform that people put it on and people see the response from the comments included in our video, they’ve never seen anything like it, they absolutely love it. And its entirely because of people like them that go into the product and say these are the things that we absolutely need that’s made it that way.
ZacBob: Were you on the Indiegogo weekly newsletter.
Mitchell from Skully: I believe we were after we broke the million mark. It happened pretty quickly so I don’t think they had a newsletter the first day we launched.
ZacBob: did you see a large influx of contributions at that time.
Mitchell from Skully: I mean it helps, we saw a lot of engagement from email, but as I said earlier, were kind of an unusual product for a crowdfunding platform, being that were a premium product with a premium pricing tier. There aren’t a lot of products that will sale on a crowdfunding platform north of a thousand dollars. So for a product to go up for 1400 dollars, people didn’t necessarily move that quick on that. That said, it brought a lot more people to the social media, a lot more questions, a lot more people were keen to get the answers too. People at that point were starved for information, credit cards in hands, but didn’t know if they wanted to jump at that point because they had one or two questions about whether the AR1 would work in their area, if it would understand their dialect, if it could do this feature or that feature, communicate with other helmets. A lot of questions were left lingering which you cant really answer until you know that those are the burning questions. So that email going out reaching out to the Indiegogo community rather than our own community brought more diversity to the table which allowed more FAQ and later on our knowledge base and forum.
ZacBob: That customer engagement you get from interacting with social media is just priceless, new features, features wanted, so I imagine it did wonders for Skully.
Mitchell from Skully: and that was one of the thing’s that really boosted the sales. We seen an immediate spike when we started getting back to people via email that sent direct questions to us. Respond back to those people and you would immediately see the dividends from that because people were ready and wanted to believe, and they just needed to know one piece of information and they would make the jump with us. So we started putting those things on the knowledge base, on the forum, and it just made people so much more open to the idea dn gave them so much more information at the fingertips. The engagement, after awhile people started answering those questions for each other. At the point when the community was answering those questions and being informed and engaged that was kind of a turning point for the campaign.
ZacBob: is their anything Indiegogo could’ve done to make your experience better on their crowdfunding platform.
Mitchell from Skully: This is something I kind of agonized about, there’s this thing they’re not able at this time to provide conversion tracking at the point of sale. Meaning at the point where people actually put in their money and hit the final landing page, thank you for your contribution. It doesn’t log where they came from the top of the funnel down. So it doesn’t give you the richness of date that the insight to know, like okay who are the people and where did those people come from when they finally took the plunge. You can get a lot of data about how people got to the payment page, but at that point there is a fair amount of customer attrition when it comes to say hey I’m actually putting this on my credit card now. so I think from our standpoint and a business standpoint it would be a huge boom for them and would make them the winner in this space to provide that data to these companies that might not have any data what-so-ever. And so to have that data capability walking away from these campaigns would just be massive and invaluable and I wish that was something that would’ve been available when we ran our campaign.
ZacBob: What is the one thing you wish you knew going into your crowdfunding campaign?
Mitchell from Skully: I mean we didn’t know exactly hoe many people would be standing by when the campaign first launched. And looking backwards we wished we would’ve reached out to those people to get the feedback about what their pre-purchase questions and concerns were. I mean we could’ve had a lot more early conversions if we had solicit feedback from the audience before the campaign had gone live. And just at the point when we had, a central database for knowledge on AR1 and just for people to talk about it. To talk about their excitement and all the answers that they had given. To have that prior to the campaign would’ve been huge, and that would have also given us the opportunity to engage with those people and have that communication line prior to the campaign launching. We really believed that would’ve spelled more success here.
ZacBob: Thanks, now for the last question, best secret, best advice you can give to entrepreneurs or crowdfunders listening that want to launch their own campaign.
Mitchell from Skully: Absolutely, I don’t think we have any secrets per say. A lot of people beat this to death and Indiegogo is one of them. Build your email list before you launch, tell people about what your doing, solicit their feedback, get them involved. You know a lot of people want to cover things up before they launch they want it to be like this big splash and they’ll just put the thing on sale and people will just come out of the woodwork and you really need to have awareness and engagement. Have pent up demand built up so people are excited about what your doing and talking about it so that instead of building momentum through your campaign you launch with momentum. And people take ownership of that, people that purchase the first day or the first couple of hours are the people that will absolutely evangelize the crap out of that. And that’s what you want, so the biggest thing I would say is, when people are talking about hey this is how you do successful crowdfunding, and when you reach out to Indiegogo to solicit their feedback, listen. Because they will give you everything that you need to know to knock it out of the park. And then give yourself the time, be honest about how much time you need, to accomplish those things. Then launch with all those things in your corner. You can absolutely stack the deck and cheat all you want and enjoy as much success as you invest.
ZacBob: Now that your project has ended, where can people go to purchase their Skully AR1.
Mitchell from Skully: So we actually stopped pre-orders now, the people that got in during the pre-order campaign will be the first people to receiver their AR1’s. We may open up more pre-sales in the coming months when more AR1’s become available. You can get news and updates by signing up on our list and that’s at WWW.SkullySystems.com
ZacBob: And were can people connect with you personally Mitchell?
Mitchell from Skully: Were actually, im personally on our forum as well as many members of our team. So you can reach out to us directly on the forum. And that’s through SkullySystems.com as well. Or you can reach out directly at CustomerService@SkullySystems.com Yea were all over the place and reach out to us on Facebook, at Facebook.com/SkullySystems and Twitter, I think its @SkullySystems as well.
ZacBob: Well thank you for coming on the show and sharing your amazing story and journey of the Skully AR1
Mitchell from Skully: Thank you very much for having me.
ZacBob: I want to thank everyone for listening today. Check us out on Facebook and Twitter CrowdFund Genius two words. Get out there and start building your email lists and media lists. Until then, happy crowdfunding, ZacBob out.