How I developed, improved, manufactured and planned for the future using Kickstarter funds.
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It doesn’t seem long ago since I was sat here writing an article for Luminous Landscapes about how I had designed a product at University and was about to launch it on Kickstarter. That article was, of course, Turning an Idea into a Photographic Product – Macro Lighting Tool, which is now nearly 3 years old. 3 years later, Adaptalux is growing as a business, with product design at the heart of everything we do. I haven’t changed much myself, a few more grey hairs perhaps and the same desire to succeed. This article is the story of the last 3 years and how I turned a product into a success off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Publisher’s Note: I get a lot of requests regarding promoting Kickstarter programs. Back it 2015 I published another article by Sam Granger about a Kickstart program for macro lighting. I thought the idea for a unique macro lighting system really worthwhile since lighting is one of the hardest parts when it comes to macro photography. His program was a success and now Sam is taking the next step. We will be reviewing the Adaptalux over the coming weeks and will show what this cool and useful device can do for your photography.
After the Kickstarter Campaign
I’ll pick up where we left off. In May 2015, Adaptalux managed to raise over £107,000 on Kickstarter. This was amazing (thank you to all the LuLu’s who pledged)! I now potentially had the means to turn my idea into a product that could be sold to the thousands. The word potentially is very important, £107,000 may sound like a lot of money, but trust me when it comes to manufacturing products, that’s not much at all. This is why you will see many Kickstarter founded companies fail within year 1, even after successful funding. Without careful management of all business aspects, £100,000 can soon turn into -£20,000. The end of a Kickstarter campaign is only just the beginning of a lot of hard work to make it succeed. So how do you turn those funds into a product, which can be successfully launched?
Room for Improvement
Most of the Kickstarter funds would need to be spent on manufacturing Adaptalux, on costs such as tooling, parts and further development. I had already established great connections with our suppliers so I immediately got to work on finalizing the designs of the product before they were sent off for production. By breaking the funding down in Excel, I knew how much I could stretch the funding, which got me thinking, what would our backers want in the long term?
Listening to people is crucial in any line of work, a core business aspect I wanted to integrate immediately into Adaptalux. By listening to our backers, it became very clear that Bluetooth capability was high up on their agendas. I set an external Bluetooth module as a stretch goal during the campaign, but unfortunately, we did not hit it. However, I decided to develop it anyway and furthermore, improve our Bluetooth proposal. Through careful management, I knew we could stretch our funds to include built-in Bluetooth, and that’s exactly what we set out to do. We did it because we saw the demand, but also because I wanted to thank everyone who had backed us, in spectacular fashion!
What value does Bluetooth add to the Adaptalux Studio product? It added wireless control through our app which turned out to be an essential unique selling point for the studio. With Bluetooth control, you can compose your set-up and shot and then you do not have to touch your set up again whilst you take the photographs. This is really important for most fields of photography, but especially macro where even the slightest movement can completely change your photograph.
Adding Bluetooth to Adaptalux didn’t come without its risk. It stretched our funding to the very limit and required consistent management to ensure financial budgets for suppliers and parts were not exceeded. I also went without any pay for nearly a year, a sacrifice I would take again to ensure the success of a project. Developing the software and app also required careful planning.
Employing a company to do these things would have cost tens of thousands of pounds, almost certainly making us bankrupt. I worked closely with people who I knew from previous work, and by doing this they were more than willing to spread out the cost of their services at a good rate! This is ideal for any start-up company, as cash flow is the biggest issue faced by most.
Alongside the Bluetooth, I also made some key design improvements, but more importantly, I did not strive for perfection. Why not perfection? Striving for perfection only causes delays in developing a product and getting it out of the door and to the customer. Not only this, the more time you spend on developing a project, the more money you will pump into it and it could result in ultimately never shipping anything.
I focused on making improvements to parts that would have a direct impact on the user experience. One of these key improvements were the LEDs used in the Lighting Arms. By comparing a lot of different LEDs, I sourced the best I could find for the budget we had set for that single component. Cree LEDs are known to be some of the best around the world and our budget allowed us to use them. After all, one of the most important features of a lighting product is the light sources themselves.
Other improvements we made were to the software of the studio. By introducing “multiplexing” to the studio lights, we were able to significantly enhance the battery life from 2 hours (the promise on Kickstarter) to up to 10 hours. We knew that by improving this it would provide a significant advantage to our customers by removing the worry of battery life whilst using the product in the field.
By making these improvements, we directly improved the user experience of our products. This means we not only delivered out product at the end of the campaign, but we delivered an improved product that exceeded the expectations of our backers and customers.
Assembly – turning negatives into positives
As I have previously mentioned, I really stretched the crowdsourced funds of the Adaptalux Studio to get the very most out of them. Once I had ordered all of the parts and sub-assemblies, it became apparent we could not afford to get an assembly company to assemble the final products for us. This was a slight blow, but I turned this negative into a positive. I knew I could assemble the Adaptalux products myself, in-house, and who could be better for the job? I had designed it and quality control is key to any production line.
It took me and my mother (thank you mum) a good 7 months to assemble all of the Adaptalux stock by hand, including 3,600 Lighting Arms and over 5,000 colour filters/diffusers. This gave me a great insight into the production and assembly process needed for Adaptalux Studio. This will result in high-quality products being made consistently in the future as I can pass this valuable first-hand experience on to our suppliers. My message here is don’t be afraid to do things yourself even if it is daunting. You will always come out of the other side with positives.
How the completed product works
Adaptalux was finally ready to ship to backers in August 2016. I had finally completed my original design and turned it into a product that could be sold globally. We shipped over 500 packs out to Kickstarter backers, who were thrilled to learn about the improvements we had made. So how does the final product function?
Adaptalux is composed of three main products that work in harmony together. The Control Pod is the hub of the studio, including a built-in rechargeable battery. You can add up to 5 Lighting Arms to the Pod using our patent pending connector. The Lighting Arms are fully flexible so you can fully control the lighting direction and they also allow you to control the beam angle. The brightness can be controlled using the three buttons on the Pod, manually, or through Bluetooth using the app. Colour Filters can be added to the Lighting arms to add diffused colour tones alongside white diffusers.
Choice has always been at the heart of Adaptalux, by giving photographers the ability to combine products that have different effects on light, Adaptalux Studio has thousands of lighting combinations. Perfect for any photographers creative needs or indeed any subjects.
Adaptalux has had a great year during 2017. We exhibited at our first show, The Photography Show in Birmingham, in March and we had a great reception. We sold out of show stock in just 2 days out of the 4! This was a fantastic boost to us and it was great to see so many people enjoying using an Adaptalux Studio on our demo tables. Launching a product and seeing it help people is one of the best feelings you can get out of a design based job.
In June, I employed our first full-time employee. Adaptalux was growing well and bringing in new expertise to the team was a great move to expand Adaptalux even further. Welcome Ben Tuxworth! I have known Ben for a few years now and he shares my passions for photography and design. Ben also has the same work ethic and dedication to Adaptalux as I do, we don’t stop until a job is complete. This again is a fundamental role for start-up companies, the desire to work to ensure the company grows, establishing it in the future. I also officially employed my mother as the shipping manager. She does a great job at ensuring all of the products get to our customer’s doorsteps!
In August, we established our first distribution deal with Wex Photographic! A huge stepping stone for Adaptalux and we hope to establish even more distribution deals in 2018.
It’s always important to know your long-term goals and how future products will integrate into your business. Adaptalux studio has opened up a new world of possibilities for photographers and videographers. By keeping the design modular, we are able to release new products that are fully compatible with the existing designs. Our most recent project, Adaptalux EFX Lightning Arms focuses on bringing UV light, lasers and high brightness LEDs to photographers.
We continue to strive in our designs and bring even more creative options to photographers and videographers around the world. You can back our current campaign by visiting our Kickstarter campaign.
Looking further into the future, we are looking to bring new and exciting products that expand the Adaptalux Studio’s capabilities even further. We are also looking at designing & manufacturing new lighting products that fit into our design philosophy. More to come about that next year!
So that’s it, my story over the last three years and how I brought Adaptalux to life using the Kickstarter funds. I hope you have gained some inspiration from reading this.