We came, we conquered, we Kickstarted and this is what we learned... September 06 2013, 2 Comments
So, Kickstarter is over. How did it go? What's next? Would you do it again? What did you learn? These are some of the questions our backers, family and friends have been asking us over the last few months. Hopefully, this blog post will satisfy everyone’s curiosity and give everyone more insight into our process and a glimpse into Party Robotics’ future.
Going through the Kickstarter process
We began preparing for the Kickstarter campaign about a month before we launched. In retrospect, two or three months would have been better.
We started with more traditional marketing the week before launch by putting flyers up in TechShops, maker/hacker spaces and universities.
We talked to other Kickstarters, getting a feel for what to expect. Everyone we spoke with was excited to share their experiences.
We thought it was important to launch our Kickstarter with a bang and pushed the go button the same night Bartendro appeared at BarBot in San Francisco. Over the course of the Kickstarter we brought Bartendro to several other events and trade shows.
Right after launching, we contacted bloggers that had written about similar products and introduced them to Bartendro. The most traction came after bloggers with CNET, Yahoo and Endadget wrote posts about us a couple days into the campaign.
There was a large chunk of time spent answering emails and slightly tweaking the Kickstarter rewards, especially during the first week after launching.
After we funded it took several days to receive the funds. Kickstarter took 5%, Amazon 3.5%.
Out of 479 backers, 7 were dropped because Amazon couldn't process their payment.
People discovered our project a day or two or three after the campaign was over and wanted to back us. If we did another campaign we would plan ahead for this.
Make more extras than you think you'll need!
We made about 5% extras, but are now wishing we had made more like 25% to compensate for quality issues and late backers.
Don’t forget about taxes
We will be paying sales tax for all the backers in our state. We should have made an estimate of how many would back us in California in order to include that cost in our budget.
In order to buy goods without paying tax we had to get a seller’s permit/resale certificate. We will pay ‘use tax’ for any goods that aren’t sold.
Design - Be explicit in drawings!!
The power supplies from China initially arrived with the wrong connector even though the part number was specified correctly. Be very careful when emailing foreign vendors, miscommunication can happen easily.
Several days were wasted because we forgot to specify the color 'black' on our silkscreen drawings.
We got quotes from several vendors and used mfg.com to compare.
It’s important to finish designing all the parts as early as possible. Some design changes may affect other parts. Since we were making most of the parts ourselves, we were able to catch the issues and adapt. This would have been much harder if we had contracted the parts out.
We considered using stickers for branding/model numbers etc, but silkscreening came out better and looks very professional when done correctly. Laser engraving looks even better, but costs almost three times as much.
Vendors were slower than expected. Anticipate adding at least 20% more time to any date that you are promised for goods. Unexpected delays and shipping time are rarely incorporated into their time estimates.
Most international vendors required a wire transfer in their currency. Sometimes, a check could be written to them to avoid those expensive wire transfer fees. This can take a few extra days, but may be worth it.
The manuals took more time and effort than we expected. We had users test our manual by going through the instructions. No matter how simple we thought it was, some people still had no idea what we were talking about. We found the addition of pictures and diagrams to be much better than words alone.
Using an unproven powder coating was risky. We chose the color after looking at a small paint chip at the powder coating shop. While the color covered the small sample pieces just fine, larger pieces showed the material underneath. The painters had to lay heavy coats to mask the problem. The coating also sometimes got into the threads of the hardware and we had to run a tap through the clogged holes.
We purchased a ton of plastic bins of various sizes which was key to making assembly and packaging run smoothly.
Friends were bribed to help with pizza and beer. Just had to make sure that all free labor was double checked for errors.
To improve quality and reduce errors, it's was a good idea to have the next person in line check the previous person’s work.
We had to account for scrapping poor quality parts, including allowing time to return and receive new parts.
Inspecting all parts as soon as they were received was a must! Just because the parts sitting on top look good, doesn't mean the rest do. If the first time you see a bad part is when you need it, it's too late!
When shipping, try and avoid getting in and out of the box more than once. Double checking things we already packed was time consuming.
When making hundreds or thousands of something, seconds count. Optimize early on is highly encouraged.
Machining parts was time consuming and expensive. In the future we will consider more injection molding.
Large minimum order quantities were hard to reach even with Kickstarter backers.
It is going to be alright.
From start to finish, the Kickstarter took a huge amount of time. Everyone working on the project had to devote the time and resources to making it work. We also made sure to have people we could poke for extra help when we were stuck.
Having patience and keeping a cool, calm head was a lifesaver. Fortunately, all our Kickstarter backers were patient and knew that the process was time consuming. We tried our best not to promise hard dates unless we felt that we could meet them. We updated everyone as often as we could, changing dates only when it was absolutely necessary. People would prefer to wait and get a quality product than quickly receive a poorly finished or buggy product.
International shipping from vendors was very expensive. It was often more cost effective to use sea freight and wait three weeks for delivery.
Cutting and folding cardboard pieces by hand was a pain and didn’t look great. We did that for the kits until we partnered with the packaging department at our local university. They were able to prototype things quickly and cut all the inserts we needed on their machines.
While USPS was the least expensive, it was not the best choice for international orders. We discovered that delivery cannot be guaranteed and once it leaves the US since the shipment is no longer tracked. We had to resend products because they never got to their destination after nearly 2 months. DHL cost about 50% more on average, but was preferable .
We have shipped to 23 countries so far: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.
Backers need to pay duties, customs and taxes depending on their country. This can sometimes up to 30% of the purchase cost. We had to include an invoice for every international shipment so that the proper fees could be assessed and customs could properly process the package. If an invoice isn’t included the package will likely be stuck in customs.
If we could do it over we would…
Give ourselves more time to properly bring up a product line instead of trying to do everything ourselves.
Get a bigger working space. Working in a small space meant we were constantly moving things around, boxing, unboxing, and doing things in several stages which made everything happen slower.
Think more about keeping the momentum going after Kickstarter rewards were delivered.
Have our website designed by a professional.
For starters, a much needed vacation! Next week ALL of the Party Robotics staff will be ‘out of the office’ traveling internationally. While Erin and Rob go back to their day jobs afterwards, Garran and Pierre will have some other loose ends to tie up and will be back at the beginning of October. If you have any issues during the next few weeks, try posting a message on our forums or email Erin. We will do our best to respond to you as soon as we can, but it might take longer than it has in the past.
Sometime in October we will have a shopping cart on our site where you will be able to order replacement parts like tubing and other available items.
Also starting in October, we will begin experimenting and prototyping dispensing solutions for carbonated liquids.
We are opening up pre-orders for bots and hardware with a target delivery date of January 2014, possibly sooner.
We have been approached by several companies interested in partnering with us and are exploring those avenues.
We will continue to make improvements to the software and hardware, listening to the community for their feedback.
That's all for now. We will continue to keep you posted as we come up with cool new things! Thanks for joining us on this journey.
Pre-Orders and Other Updates June 09 2013, 2 Comments
The last few weeks have given me a new appreciation for the everyday products we purchase. When you buy something you never think about all the small details that went into making it ready to ship to consumers. Someone had to design the logo stickers, decide on what material to print them on, where they should be placed, and how big they should be. Someone designed the packaging that the product comes in. Should the box have tabs, should it include foam, packing peanuts, or air cushions? What about the user manual? Another person had to sit down and design that, ensuring that customers could pull their new product out of the box and get started right away. This is just a small sampling of all the things that go into a product launch. We have all been learning a ton about this process and are getting very close to shipping out our first orders!
We have received our first box of assembled dispenser boards and miniRouter boards and everything is working as intended. ShotBot and B3 faces have been powder coated. The shop has been redesigned for larger scale manufacturing and we have begun cutting the tubing. Almost all the components for our small kits, ShotBot, and B3 are in our hands.[caption id="attachment_890" align="aligncenter" width="520"] B1 and B3 back from powder coating.[/caption]
B7 and B15 fabrication is in the queue. Labels have been designed and ordered. We have designed packaging for our dispensers, ShotBot, and B3. We are also working on the user manuals, video guides, and website improvements.
While we tried very hard to get out the first orders in May, we have had some unexpected delays. Our power supplies have not arrived yet, but we are expecting them soon. We are also working on hammering out all the bugs in our code. We have enlisted the help of a few dispenser backers with extensive programming knowledge who have agreed to be our beta testers. With their feedback we can get your orders out to you sooner than working on it alone. It’s important to us to send out pumps, bots, and kits to you all with solid software. That means pushing delivery back a couple of weeks.
Last, we are excited to announce that pre-orders have begun! The first item that will be available for order will be our dispenser. You can pre-order a standard dispenser for $129 or a dispenser with liquid level sensor for $149. The dispenser is a peristaltic pump with encoder, machined to accept our open source electronics and comes with several feet of beverage tubing. You'll have to provide your own power supply, serial communication device, and a way to mount the pump. We will continue to keep you updated as more products become available for pre-order.
Sheet Metal Fabrication May 16 2013, 0 CommentsWorking with sheet metal involves massive machines that work with an average of 30 tons of pressure. Not for the faint of heart. The main machines can sheer (cut along the length), punch (create holes and cutout shapes), and bend. There are other machines for inserting hardware, spot welding, notching and preparing the surface to be painted, plus many more. Check out the progress on Shotbot and Bartendro 3. Now that they're done being fabricated, they're off to get powder coated to look shiny and pretty. The color we've gone with is called Sparkle Silver. We think it'll look rather sexy. Work will begin soon on B7 and B15, and those will take a lot more time because the process is more complicated and labor intensive with several bends and welds each. One of the nice things about using a local shop is that I can show up whenever to watch our parts being made, and that translates into videos for you. Enjoy!
Post Kickstarter Updates April 04 2013, 2 Comments
We did it! On March 31st we watched as the Kickstarter clock counted down to zero. At 8pm we pressed the pour button on ShotBot and took a celebratory swig of whiskey. With all of your support we were able to exceed our Kickstarter goal by over $60k. We’ve been furiously working on finalizing the latest revisions to the electronics and placing materials orders. If everything goes smoothly, we anticipate the Bartendro kits to begin shipping at the end of May and full bots shortly thereafter.
We’ve begun collaborating with several other engineers to help us refine some of our components, making them more production ready and durable for users. Out of this collaboration came the design for our bottle tops which I’m pleased to share with you here for the first time!
Some of you have noticed that we opened up the forums last week. We’ve created forums for discussion on software, hardware, firmware, drinks, and general topics. The drinks forum is the newest addition, just added today. This is the place to share recipes and talk about database enhancements. We’re trying to figure out the best method to rate and share drinks and how to handle drinks that have the same ingredients with different names. We’ve discussed the possibility of searching by region, voting on most widely accepted name, having an alternative name section, etc. There are a lot of possibilities and we would love to hear your ideas! Please note that if you share drink recipes it’s not guaranteed to be added to the database. However, if we see something intriguing we might try it out on one of the prototype bots and report back to you :)
We’ve had quite a few emails since the Kickstarter ended asking about how to purchase a Bartendro. Well, we’re not quite there yet. Delivering to existing backers is our first priority. If you’d like to be the first to get any updates about pre-orders then you should join our new mailing list.
Last, we’d like to invite you to come get an in-person Bartendro demo. Pierre and I will be at the Stanford Cool Products Expo on April 10th, if you’d like to come check out the bots and say hi.
Drink Testing Gets You Drunk February 27 2013, 3 Comments
In preparation for BarBot this weekend we all sat down and decided what alcohol and mixers should be in each of the bots, Bartendro 15 and Bartendro 7. Once we figured out what each bot would hold we took a peek into the drink database to see what cocktails we would be able to serve. As it stood we were only going to be able to offer about 20 cocktail varieties. We had added several new liquors and mixers to the lineup and needed to find drinks which included them. Since I love doing research I volunteered to find us more drinks to add to the database. I set out on my drink finding mission only to discover fairly skimpy online resources.
While there are several websites out there that allow you to enter the contents of your bar and will then give you drink options, they weren’t overly useful. The databases were very limited and hard to use. I instead found myself looking at one ingredient at a time and skimming through hundreds of drink recipes searching for matching ingredients. Talk about time consuming! One of Party Robotics’ goals is to create a community of cocktail enthusiasts. Each time a person discovers or creates a new drink they can add it to our database. Before long we hope to have created a fantastic place where people around the world can easily try new cocktails. Entering new recipes is simple and they can be tweaked right on the spot in just a few clicks. After I found new recipes Rob and I took on the hardest work of all... testing the drinks! We have come up with some really tasty cocktails for BarBot this weekend and will be offering 52 different drinks! If you end backing our Kickstarter project and acquiring a Bartendro of your own you’ll be able to try some of these delicious concoctions at home. My personal favorites are the Gummy Bears and Buttermilk. NOM! Check out the BarBot drink list below and decide what you're going to try this weekend!
Bahama Mama - White Rum, Dark Rum, Pineapple Juice, Orange Juice, Grenadine Beach Bum - Dark Rum, Pineapple Juice
Pina Colada - White Rum, Pineapple Juice, Coconut Milk
Tequila Sunrise - Tequila, Orange Juice, Grenadine
Calypso Baby - White Rum, Pineapple Juice, Grenadine
Florida Sunshine - Tequila, Pineapple Juice, Orange Juice, Grenadine
Pain Killer - Dark Rum, Pineapple Juice, Orange Juice, Coconut Milk
Rum Screwdriver - White rum, Orange Juice
Saoco - White Rum, Coconut Milk
Tequlia Screwdriver - Tequila, Orange Juice
Brown Cow - Kahlua, Milk
Buttermilk - Butterscotch Schnapps, Milk
Buttery Nipple - Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Cosmopolitan - Vodka, Triple Sec, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice, Cranberry Juice
Gummy Bears - Midori, Triple Sec, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice, Cranberry Juice
Kamikaze - Vodka, Triple Sec, Lime Juice
Lemon Drop - Vodka, simple Syrup, Lemon Juice
Mudslide - Vodka, Kahlua, Baileys
Real Whiskey Sour - Whiskey, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice, Lemon Juice
Sour Apple Martini - Vodka, Sour Apple Pucker
Vodka Cranberry - Vodka, Cranberry Juice
Washington Apple - Whiskey, Sour Apple Pucker, Cranberry Juice
2nd Period - Kahlua, Baileys, Milk
Adam & Eve - Vodka, Sour Apple Pucker, Cranberry Juice
Amaretto Sour - Amaretto, Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice
Apple Jolly Rancher - Vodka, Sour Apple Pucker, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice, Lemon Juice
B-28 - Amaretto, Kahlua, Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Baby Guinness - Kahlua, Baileys
Baileys & Amaretto - Amaretto, Baileys
Baileys Straight - Baileys
Big Red - Cinnamon Schnapps, Baileys
Black Russian - Vodka, Kahlua
Black Unicorn - Kahlua, Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Broken Down Golf Cart - Vodka, Amaretto, Midori, Cranberry Juice
Butter Kahlua Bliss - Kahlua, Butterscotch Schnapps, Milk
Butterballs - Kahlua, Butterscotch Schnapps
Caramel Apple - Butterscotch Schnapps, Sour Apple Pucker
Carrot Cake - Kahlua, Cinnamon Schnapps, Baileys
Emerald Martini - Vodka, Midori, Triple Sec
Girl Scout Cookie - Kahlua, Baileys
Golden Apple - Cinnamon Schnapps,
Sour Apple Pucker Hot Scott - Kahlua, Cinnamon Schnapps
Low Carb Vodka Lemon - Vodka, Lemon Juice
Oatmeal Cookie - Kahlua, Cinnamon Schnapps, Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Pure Ecstasy - Vodka, Kahlua, Baileys
Red Rover - Kahlua, Cinnamon Schnapps, Butterscotch Schnapps, Baileys
Screaming Orgasm - Vodka, Kahlua, Baileys
Toasted Almond - Amaretto, Kahlua, Milk
Vodka Gimlet - Vodka, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice
Vodka Lemon - Vodka, Triple Sec, Lemon Juice
Whiskey Lemonade - Whiskey, Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice