Publishers Note: We have recently shared stories on how photographers have used Kickstarter (crowd funding) to raise money for book publishing projects. Today we share the journey of another individual who is using Kickstarter but this time to develop a unique photographic product. I saw the press release on this project and thought what a cool idea. I really enjoy doing Macro photography but have always been frustrated with how to light the scene. I have used off camera flashes, special brackets with macro lights, bright flashlights and reflectors in my attempts to light small subjects. The product in this story Adaptalux, is a clever new way to light macro subjects and allow the placement of the light and intensity. I think it looks like a brilliant new lighting product and thought this would be a good article to help all of us understand what it takes to get a product to market. We’ll be testing this product when available.
Using A Product To Set The Foundations Of A Business
by Samuel Granger
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I have been captivated by photography and design since a very young age. I seemed to always have a camera with me, even back in the 90’s.
As I grew up, my interests turned to Product Design; the need to work out how something works, the need to transform an idea in my mind into a real object. I matured into a Product Designer after studying at Bournemouth University in the UK, and decided to try and create a business based around one of my designs.
In this article, I am going to summarize the process of turning a photographic idea into the foundations of a business. I will lay down the background to this project, alongside the details of running a Kickstarter campaign. Later I hope to contribute a second article, looking at what worked, what didn’t and the process of taking a design into mass production
The Idea behind Adaptalux
Product design is the notion of transforming an idea into a tangible object that has a purpose. Solving problems with products is what I like to do, it is how I give something back to the world. For years, I have wanted to create a business from nothing, simply based on one of my ideas. Our on-going Kickstarter campaign can hopefully provide me with the opportunity to do that.
It all started with a simple problem encountered when struggling to get to grips with lighting for macro photography a few years ago: how can I design a lighting product that photographers of all ability levels can understand and use easily? The one word that struck me was simplicity, which I found a lot of existing products lacked. Simplicity is a vital factor that influences both the physical and psychological nature of how a user interacts with a product. But how do you keep a product simple, whilst maintaining its function and purpose? The answer is to give the user the control, so the product is only limited by their imagination and ability.
Adaptalux at University
The idea became my final year project at Bournemouth University. From late 2013 through mid-2014, I had to take a problem and solve it with a fully functioning prototyped product. This turned out to be one of the most intense periods of my life so far, working at least 12 hour days most of the time for nine months.
Inspiration is a key word used by any creative person. You might look for inspiration before taking a photograph; I look for inspiration before designing a product. This famous quote by Ansel Adams, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it” inspired me to explore modular design. Modular design philosophy divides a product into a series of parts, categorised by the user’s needs. This could potentially allow the user to easily ‘build’ a lighting environment step-by-step around a subject, giving them full control. This philosophy provides a unique selling point for the product, which makes it different to everything else currently on the market.
Incorporating this philosophy into a product starts with concept generation, which is similar to taking a photograph. You start with an idea, you capture it and finally, develop it. Concepts present many challenges that are overcome through creativity and engineering. Through testing, the concept of Adaptalux was proven to work and it was developed into a final design that could be manufactured.
The next stage is to develop a final concept into a final design, this is called detailed design development. Detailed design includes CAD modelling, optimising the design for manufacture, materials, tolerances, assemblies, electronics, costs, aesthetics, testing various parts, engineering drawings, establish relationships with suppliers and manufacturers… I could go on. It is not until all of these factors have been taken into account that you can call a design the “final design”.
Light emitting diode (LED) choice was critical to the success of the product, these had to be bright enough to illuminate macro subjects, yet affordable and efficient. To achieve this we wrote a piece of software that pulses the LEDs very rapidly independently of each other. This optimises their lifetime and performance, whilst lowering the power consumption. It also allows the photographer to control the output brightness independently, to high degrees of accuracy. LEDs were chosen over flashlamps due to the fact they give direct illumination at all times, are easier to use for amateur macro photographers and also it gives the product another capability, macro videography lighting.
After the final design for Adaptalux was established, prototyping began. Prototyping transforms a final design into a tangible object, which is useful because it allows a designer to test their creation in the real world. I made three prototypes for Adaptalux, a handmade one at University, a second 3D printed prototype and finally a master prototype. My first prototype was made completely by hand, as it was part of the requirement for my degree. I fabricated a tool out of MDF, which I then used to vacuum form or resin cast plastic parts. All metal parts were turned on a lathe and electronic components were soldered by hand onto a basic PCB.
Making a product like Adaptalux by hand was incredibly hard and time consuming. You have to make compromises and it was also very expensive. None the less, I persevered and I had a prototype that worked and showed the basic functions of the product.
Adaptalux after University
I must have done something right because I ended up being awarded a BSc in Product Design, with first class honours. Summer loomed, and a decision approached me… do I continue with Adaptalux, or do I find a job?
The safe bet was to find a job, but I like a challenge and many people had said to me that this idea was great and I should pursue it further. So pursue it I did. I completely took apart the prototype made at University and analysed it in detail. I worked relentlessly for another couple of months over the summer, implementing several design improvements that I did not have time to do at University and a second prototype was born, mostly using 3D printed parts that I sanded and sprayed.
It was this prototype I showed to a potential investor, Martin Brenig-Jones. He absolutely loved both the concept and its reduction to practise and we then set up a partnership to turn this project into a business.
We set a deadline to have a master prototype by January 2015. We decided the user should have more elements of control such as lighting colour, backdrops and floor illumination. By evolving the product into an adaptable miniature lighting studio, we filled another niche on the photography market that could multiply our chances of success.
Again, I analysed my 3D printed prototype and made further improvements to the design. I also began design work on new Adaptalux components, such as the stage and backdrop setter. I then moved onto finalising the design of different parts with manufacturing companies so that it could be mass-produced. Martin’s contributions were used for patent applications, trademarks and for two master prototypes to be built. The master prototype is the unit shown in our Kickstarter campaign.
One of the first questions Martin asked me when we began our partnership was, how would you like to raise the funds for manufacturing this product? He explained to me several options, including angel investing or approaching a company to licence it. I suggested Kickstarter, a new concept to Martin. I have followed Kickstarter for many years now and I have seen how not only is it a great tool for raising funds, but it is also a great tool for gaging your market potential.
The Adaptalux Kickstarter Campaign
So, why Kickstarter? Too make a product commercially viable you need to mass manufacture it. Mass manufacturing a product involves expensive tooling, which is the main reason we are seeking crowd-funding at this point – for our initial batch of 1,000 units and the accessories.
With the Adaptalux master prototype created we could really start to show how Adaptalux can make macro photography lighting easy and unique. I started using Adaptalux almost everyday to build up a portfolio of images that could be used to help promote our product.
We launched the campaign on Monday, 23 March. However, we took a two-week period to promote it before hand, to build up an audience. Until that point, none of the design work or prototyping had been disclosed publically due to patent protection reasons, and therefore we had to market it pretty rapidly.
Creating the Campaign
It took me over two months in all to create the content for our Kickstarter campaign. A lot of this time was spent creating eye-popping images of the prototypes and producing a page crammed full of information. I did this by breaking the page down into the modular sections of the design so people could find the relevant information easily about each part.
Another important aspect was creating images for our website. The website shows Adaptalux from a different perspective as we have used product renders instead of photos. This shows the product in a visual and expressive way, through the eyes of the designer.
Producing the Kickstarter video was a very new experience for me. I have never being featured in a short film before and planning one was pretty intimidating. Luckily one of my best friends has experience in filming short documentaries and interviews; together we conjured up a plan. We decided to have more than one film because of the modular nature of the product. Therefore, we filmed a main Kickstarter video, which covered all of the basics about Adaptalux. We then filmed sub-videos, which go into more depth about each part. We wanted to portray as much information as possible to potential backers as if we were talking to them directly.
Another key filming feature was the Adaptalux trailer. This was used in the two-week period before the Kickstarter campaign launched, to build up a degree of anticipation and expectation for the product. We did this in a dramatic way, showing the basics of the modular design principle alongside the different types of fantastic images and videos the product can produce.
Our funding goal and deadline
Our funding goal – £100,000 – is very ambitious. But it is an estimate based upon careful calculations. We have taken into account all manufacturing and assembly costs, including import tax and shipping. We then have shipping costs to get the product to our pledgers, costs to finish the electronics, costs to complete the companion Adaptalux App, storage costs, Kickstarter fees, payment fees, plus U.K. taxes. It’s important to get your funding goal right; although it is not ideal aiming for £100,000, we would prefer that to setting a lower funding goal and then running out of money in the future.
We set our campaign duration at 40 days due to the fact we did not have a very big audience to start with. Kickstarter suggests setting it at 30 days or less. This is great if you have already run a campaign before and have established a good-sized audience. It is important to take into account the time YOU need for YOUR project. We felt that 40 days would give us sufficient time to build up our audience even more and we had to take into account the size of our goal.
Launch day was emotional, exciting and scary all in one. It was emotional because it felt like the end of an era, with nearly two years worth of work finally released publically. I had put my life into this project, sacrificing an income and the chance to live independently. I have made these sacrifices because I believe strongly that if we can get this product out there, it will be the start of an amazing line of products for Adaptalux.
It was exciting because of the prospect of succeeding and being an owner of my own company, I have had dreams to do this since I was very young and I am now on the cusp of potentially achieving that. I also cannot wait to get Adaptalux into the publics hands, I am confident it will provide them with the abilities to create fantastic macro images and videos.
Scary, because this is the moment where your project could epically fail and raise next-to-nothing in funds: an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. Thankfully this did not happen, and we have gained consistent levels of support so far, already raising over £40,000 in just 8 days. It’s still scary because there is a long way to go, but the kind messages many people write to us are overwhelming and spur us on to keep this momentum up.
However, it is important to realise that your life does not pivot on one Kickstarter project. If it ends up not being successful, take those experiences you have learned and build upon them. There was a quote in a short film I recently watched that says, ‘challenges we overcome, give us direction’. I think this quote is very true for any Kickstarter campaign.
Once the campaign is launched you must tell the whole world! I use Facebook, Twitter and our subscription list to reach out to various people and companies. The idea is that you want to create a buzz around your campaign, and that means getting the campaign around the Internet as much as possible. Do not just sit back once your project goes live, you need to put the work in to make it successful. Currently, I spend at least 6 hours a day finding various ways of promoting the campaign.
Taking your idea and nurturing it into a fully functioning business is very satisfying. It takes a lot of work and commitment, but the experiences gained are invaluable. Kickstarter is a fantastic way to turn a project into a reality and I would recommend trying it to anyone; it could change your life.
After our Kickstarter campaign ends, I will publish a second article, going into depth about the positives and negatives of the campaign. Hopefully this can provide a complete picture of the evolution of Adaptalux.
In the mean time, go check out our campaign, plus more details of the product, HERE
For more details visit our website