"With the help of my family and many years of R&D... over three additional years, we had a product that worked." By Nancy Vartanian (Founder & CEO, shenYon)
When I was 19 years old, I had a dream (literally) about a product idea. I quickly woke up and wrote it down in my notebook. I thought it was such an exciting idea and assumed that it was already on the market.
After searching, I couldn’t find anything close to it on the market! I had studied Macro Economics at CSU, Fresno so I was far from being a mechanical engineer, and having just started my private equity company, I didn’t think I would be capable of making such a product myself. So, I drew it out and put it on the back burner.
Fast forward five years and I’m running on the treadmill - this is my daily workout. Don’t we all hate doing that? I know I do, but it’s not the treadmill that’s the annoying part. It’s the headphones that kept coming out of my ears while I ran. The worst (and embarrassing part) was getting them caught on the handlebars and almost falling off the treadmill. It was a constant pain in my... you get the point.
Then it hit me and I went straight to my office, and started looking through my notebook again. Determined to make it happen this time around, I looked at it as - “Okay, so I know how I want the overall design to be, and I know what the functions should be. All I need is to surround myself with the right people."
VC's ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL...
After getting a small team together, we knocked out some design concepts, worked on the industrial design, and went the normal route for funding - venture capitalists and angel investors.
I thought I'd just go where everyone goes - to Silicon Valley where dreams are made into reality. That's mostly true if you're a Ivy league alum or dropout who's got a car wash app in the works (analogy). I wasn't even close to that, and let's not forgot I'm the only Founder and I don't have a technical background.
Over 1,200 phone calls, several meetings, and tons of email exchanges - I heard (from those who even took the time to talk to me) the same thing:
VC: You should really consider a male co-founder.
Me: Why, because I don't have a technical background?
VC: No, because you need a guy on your team. Look you're cute, but you should really leave these kinds of development projects to the big boys.
Me: Are you insane? I can't believe you just said that. I'm outta here!
That's not even the worst conversation I've had with investors. It became apparent that I'd have to do this on my own. With the help of my family, and many years of research and development, over three additional years, we had a product that worked.
Now, how do we get it out there? That is the question.
CROWDFUNDING CONVOS AND THE KICKSTARTER JOURNEY BEGINS...
One of my team members emailed me a project that was on a site called Kickstarter - "The Elevation Dock". I'm sure everyone is familiar with it, but at the time I remember Michael saying "Nance, your project would do great on this site! Look at this project and all its success".
Although I agreed with him, I had my reservations about Kickstarter for my project as I had my patents pending. But I was curious and started exploring project after project... I was really enjoying this Kickstarter platform. Seeing so many different categories, backing cool projects, and seeing hardware companies like myself flourish was encouraging.
I finally became confident about the process and we started planning our campaign page for our official launch. We planned for several months, and along the process major projects had launched: LumoBack, Pebble and OUYA.
Sounds like a consumer electronics founder’s dream come true right? Wrong!
With all these hugely successful projects in hardware came more guideline changes from Kickstarter. One thing after another, it was extremely frustrating to continuously make changes and modifications to our campaign page.
YOU HAVE MAIL...
We started the submission process excitedly. I got on ooVoo and had my entire family logged on. I wanted to share the big moment with them. I thought it would be cute if I had my lil nephew click on the green button to submit our project. On September 11, 2012 at 11:11pm we submitted our first project for approvals, YAY!
Two days later, we got a generic email back from Kickstarter stating, "....Please note that our Guidelines for Design projects require information on how and where you will make your project..." I responded yes, I can supply you with all the necessary info needed. I asked how they would like the info, was it needed in the body of the project page, or was it something additional I needed to submit to them? I thought it was a valid question seeing as how it was our first time going through the submission process, And frankly we just wanted it to be correct so we could move forward.
Four days later, Kickstarter sent me another generic response, basically stating the same thing. I went ahead and added all the info they first wanted from me and placed it in the body of the project page.
A Kickstarter staffer made a comment at the end of the email saying, "Once you're done updating your project, let me know and I'll have another look". That made me feel like I was dealing with an actual person who really took the time to look at our project. I responded and said I'll have the changes made that day. Later in the afternoon, I sent a response letting the Kickstarter staff know I made the changes.
Four more days go by (still no word from Kickstarter), I saw an update they made through reading their mailer that they had sent out on Twitter. Yet again - changes to the Guidelines for Hardware Projects. Keep in mind they never reached out to me to let me know, I just read their post and made the additional (ridiculous) changes.
Kickstarter was changing everything! Restrictions on quantities (which they had already done once, the limit was ten per pledge when I submitted). Now it came down to one per pledge! Their headline read: Kickstarter is not a store. Can you imagine Pebble being restricted, or OUYA not being allowed to use renderings? Which if you look at it the majority of their page was renderings. How would that affect the total overall funds raised?
Two and a half hours later after I made the changes, I got the fastest email yet from Kickstarter...
YOU'RE FIRED, ACTUALLY, DENIED.
When I received the email (the day after my birthday), I was nervous and excited. I couldn't even read the email so I had my sister-in-law read it back to me. I saw the look on her face and when she said, "They denied you?" I thought she was just playing around. Then I knew it was real when she didn't laugh and just handed me my phone back. I read the email, "....We review projects to ensure they meet our Project Guidelines (guideline link was inserted which was the same when I submitted), which define how Kickstarter can be used. They express our commitment for being a platform for projects in the creative arts...."
Seriously? If you feel they got it wrong, you can appeal with 500 characters only. So I appealed, made my argument and sent in my response.
Four days later, yet another generic email from Kickstarter: "We took a look at the project after your message, however the project you submitted is not a great fit for Kickstarter..."
We didn't get a reason why we were denied for our Kickstarter campaign. Was it our pledge levels, was it our project info? Who knows? My frustration level was so high at this point. Almost seven months of planning for Kickstarter, and poof it's gone. I couldn't even respond as there was no reply option granted. Dead silence.
HERE WE INDIEGOGO...
After the Kickstarter campaign ordeal, what was I suppose to do? I didn't want to let my team down - we had spent so much time, money, and effort developing our first product.
Introducing EnJai™ the first ever Dual-Functioning, WIRELESS, WATERPROOF Earbuds. It's completely customizable with our EnJai™ Mobile App. EnJai™ connects to Android devices, such as Smartphones, with our transceiver which easily attaches through the audio jack seamlessly allowing RF waves to connect. While designing EnJai™ both hardware and software, we strove to create a simplistic yet customizable Earbud that would allow you to live the active lifestyle and not have to worry about the nuisance of cords holding you back from your everyday activities.
We made our official launch here on September 26, 2012 at 8:05am (my parents' 42nd Anniversary). Sentimental I know.
THE JOURNEY HAS JUST BEGUN...
I've learned a tremendous amount during these last few years ever since having my first dream 9 years ago. The process has been extremely difficult, but there's one thing I've always stuck my focus to.
Having a positive impact on millions of people's daily lives has been my mission with every company I've started...and I feel shenYon is on the right track with our first product, EnJai™.
If I can give any piece of advice that I've gained from my journey to fellow entrepreneurs who are starting projects, in the middle of funding, or just had a dream, I would say, believe in yourself first. Once that foundation is set, you can achieve anything you have a passion for!
NEVER GIVE UP.
Thanks for hearing my story!
Women 2.0: Have you struggled with Kickstarter to fund your idea? Let us know in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Nancy Vartanian is the Founder and CEO of shenYon, a consumer electronics startup. Based in Los Angeles, shenyon boasts "complete customization" and "simplicity" for users. Their first product is EnJai™, a project currently being funded on Indiegogo. Follow her on Twitter at @shenYon.