In this episode of The Physical Product Movement, we’re joined by Lance Williams, Co-founder of Gravel to discuss how and why they launched on Kickstarter, how to increase lifetime value and why you should stop waiting to create that product idea you have.
Listen on Apple Podcasts here or Spotify here.
Don: There’s never been a better time for physical products than now. My name is Don drew bay, and I want to learn from the best minds in the industry. This is the golden age for consumer products. This is a time where anyone can go from zero to financially independent. This is the physical products movement.
Welcome to the Physical Product Movement. My name is Don Drew Bay. I am your host. This podcast is powered by Fiddle Inventory. The best, the fastest, the most innovative inventory management software to ever hit the market that these guys are disrupting this industry. No more hefty servers, no more unresponsive customer support.
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But if you want to get started, there’s no lengthy demos, no binding contracts and the free lasts forever free trials are a thing of the past. So go to fiddle.io/podcast today to see the latest episodes of this podcast. And also to get started first and foremost, could you, um, introduce yourself and your background for us
Lance: for sure. My name is Lance Williams. Uh, I currently work in a company called . One of the co-founders, there was a guy named Chris Livingston, one of my best friends and a great time to make my travel products and stuff. Um, and then do a lot on Kickstarter and whatever. Uh, uh, how much of my background do you want?
Don: Um, as much as you want to share it just interesting to me, I think, I think it’s cool that you, uh, You had the guts to go into starting your own product?
Lance: Yeah. So, I mean, for me, I’ve always liked to think a little bit different, so I never did that. Good in school, even though I really love learning, but I just was like, wait, why am I, why am I learning of Napa?
I’m never going to learn. And. Instead of most kids have a thought to think, and then they were just like, well, pull my pants, want me to do it? But I was just like, I didn’t do it for some reason. Like thinking back on it. Yeah. Thinking back on it, it was really weird. It was like, okay. I tried like in junior high, I tried going to, I like to say, I’m going to study super hard for this past page geography.
I think I was like, dang, I studied super hard and I’m going to kill this pastor, Michelle, you know, so my parents, I can do the job. And what is that insight? A couple of nights straight, whatever came in, failed to pass. Oh, never. I never studied for a test again. Probably I know always been a different thinker.
I’m always been the dude that’s like in elementary school, I was crushing beanies and selling them to my friends and, you know, junior high, I started a clothing company called niche and I just write niche on everything. So like, Anybody that was friends in junior high or high school with me, knows about Mitch.
Don: That’s awesome.
Lance: And then in high school and then, yeah, and even in that early twenties, so a lot of stuff fell on my head, like modified duties or stuff like that. Anyway, that is just always making some kind of business. Never has never made like any money. Well, I, I just loved creating the business side of it and that’s still, I like really loved to do, like, my favorite part of the business is the brand new phase.
And I get a conceptualize, like what the brand that van debris perceived as one kind of price points, every hunger hit. Are we going to be premium or are we going to hit a super low price point? Are we going to be artistic? Are we going to be eco-friendly? Are we, you know, and then building like wrong guys and all of that, the match cat vibe.
It’s just like favorite, favorite thing to do and product is I guess, that kind of fits in with that as well.
Don: That’s awesome. So do you feel like you fall more on the creative side of things as opposed to, you know, kind of having an engineer brain?
Lance: Yes. Yeah, I would for sure say that I, I have no life when I bought, I wanted to be an engineer.
He didn’t growing up. I would take it, I got him Robin troubles and just taking things apart that I wasn’t supposed to, but when something would break around the half, like I remember my mom’s hair guy and it wasn’t just like a thrown away thing. It was like, oh, here you’re your plants. Pick apart the ones taking your car stop, but I’d take it apart and like try plugging it in after I take it apart.
And like, do you know how it all works? But I think I have some engineer in me and I, but. Detail oriented stuff is not my jam. And I feel like, uh, they’re usually pretty detailed Hartford.
Don: That’s awesome. That’s super cool. So what, you know, no one ever develops a product or, you know, a brand overnight. So what kind of led you into creating your products and starting this company?
Lance: Really well, as I said, I have kind of had a brand, so like 10 years ago now, like maybe eight years ago is when I like launched my first official company and like ordered production of the shirt and then ended up failing miserably. I went from there and I started making these watches anyway. So I had these businesses that like helped me to gain knowledge.
Eventually I quit my full-time job. And, uh, my plan was I started this hammock company. And, uh, I ended up just doing whatever I could to make money. And that got me like pretty heavily into video work and then specifically like Kickstarter video work. So I was like diving into that. I, I started, uh, uh, I was a contracted employee for a 600 marketing agency and doing videos for them.
So just in general, I was like, I kind of dove into. Uh, Kickstarter and Kickstarter marketing and like learned it super well. But one of the, I was watching like these sleeping dynamics, but it makes such a niche and they’re like for camping and I really don’t have that much. So I was like learning them.
That wasn’t really a company I was asking her about. I didn’t really like, again, I, I conceptualized the company, even though it wasn’t my niche, I conceptualize it. So I loved like the branding and my, how the company is portrayed. But again, it wasn’t, it didn’t. Line up with me. So about that time, I knew all this stuff about Kickstarter.
I want him to want something else. And, uh, I went to a Kickstarter marketing company, or like a Kickstarter launch party brand called laundered. They’re also in Utah, like some of the best dudes ever fuck. I went to their launch party and gave away some Amex there. And my business partner, Chris was there and we have a bunch of mutual friends and he wants to, he had this idea for his poetry bag.
So he was like, Hey, I’m going to go. Everybody says, I should need this Lance guy, because he knows a lot about Kickstarter. I have this idea for clothes, your bag, maybe he’d want a partner. So yeah, we ended up partnering on that and that’s what kind of launched gravel. I, at the time I was using gravel kind of as Y uh, I don’t know the front for my videography business, but, and so we, we thought them other things like wat yonder, but then when I got a yonder found the lot like wandered, and those are all meats, so we’re not going to use yonder anyway.
So, and they’re, you know, coming up with names, it was the hardest part, but I already loved the name gravel. And so it was just like, all right, if it’s, you know, let’s just use gravel, I don’t need it for my video work necessarily. Uh, and I think it fits, you know, the branding and what I want to do for this company really well.
Don: Yeah, that’s awesome. And then once you guys had the idea, of course, it was just super easy, you know, problems came up.
Lance: Oh yeah. I was just, I dream of Jeannie, like just nod your head and it was there. It was great.
Don: So how many, um, you know, you talk about the toiletry bag. Can you tell us a little bit more about what products you guys have?
Lance: Yeah. So we started out with that small Politico magazine. Now it’s called swim. Um, and we, yeah, launching that was honestly a pain. Like we designed it in like two months or something or three months.
And then, uh, we liked how the focus group, we knew it wasn’t really exactly what we wanted, but we wanted all the focus group early to get like a good vibe for like, Where are that? And a lot of like, we, we usually invite photographers and designers for those focus groups, not just the people who will use the product, because we also have to try and sell the product.
So we want, you know, we want photographers and marketers to be there, to like, be like, oh, this is going to be hard to sell kind of deal. Um, and that’s pretty much what they told her. They’re like, uh, it’s not there yet. These are the reasons why, like, at the time it was a lot bigger. Um, there wasn’t like a hang trap, but like, The marketability of it was pretty low.
So we were like, ah, crap. But they’re like, we liked, we liked the concept of it. Just make it more marketable. So literally for like three or four months after that, we were just trying to figure out how to make the market well. And, uh, anyway. Excellent. I think, I think I just got super sidetrack to your questions, but eventually, uh, we were able to change that and launch that.
So that was the first one that your bag, uh, With that we moved to Vietnam. Like after we launched that we took the money, manufactured it, but then we were like, we want to develop more products. So I convinced Chris to quit his job. And we moved to Vietnam with our families to develop more products. And it came down to like a month before we were supposed to come home and we hadn’t developed anything.
We were trying to develop the blanket that we eventually launched. But we weren’t getting anywhere close. So we’re like crap. If we don’t launch something before we leave, we have to go home and get jobs again like that. So in the last month we developed, we developed the product and pulled it back. Uh, and we actually had a physical one.
And honestly, the manufacturer looked at us. There’s this dude, Jason who worked there, who’s from Taiwan. And he looked at us like you guys are crazy. There’s no chance we’re going to be able to launch on time. They’re like, Jason. Okay. So let me go ahead and do it. So, and fortunately they got me a sampling done with film, the whole Kickstarter, and then in one month, literally we developed and launched the Kickstarter.
Awesome. And, uh, that was the personal one that like super took off. We, like, we ended up pre-selling like almost, or over a million dollars, like $1.1 million. And that like, it was kind of created gravel. It was like, oh, Cause before that, Chris and I were just kind of like, yeah, we’ll create this kind of a passive thing that, you know, we can run this on the side and like travel and it’ll kind of bring us some extra income, but once we did 1.1 million, I was like, oh, actually, this kind of be ashamed, not like push this to the next level.
You know? So that’s when we started, that’s when we, once we got that product and when we hired our first employees or. Or like really started subcontracting out to, you know, from challenge, come help us out. And, uh, then we, yeah, then that spring we, we brought on even more people that’s when we brought on our designer and like really like finalized the blanket.
And then that was our third product was. Uh, travel blanket. So it’s an insulated blanket or like stuff’s down to like the size of a softball out. And then it’s like Caribbean. They’re like, it’s a little bit smaller than like a hammock is or something. So no, there are three main tronics right now within that.
We might need silicone bottles for traveling as well. So I guess we have four products, but our whole idea is like, create, like, solve the problems that you have while traveling that nobody else solving, but do it in a way that it. Gonna last a long time be quality and something like you’re excited about and excited to use, you know?
Don: Yeah. That’s awesome. So how long after the Kickstarter went well? Right. And you, you know, you got your 1.1 million out of it, but how long after you launched your Kickstarter, did you begin, um, having your first, uh, cells.
Lance: Um, so frozen Kickstarter, the Kickstarter, I think we launched in like April, partly remember it was late spring or early summer when like it ended.
And then we ended up getting a product like around November or October, I think, of that year. So maybe like six months after we launched that. The first one was a little bit longer. We, we launched about the same time that we had gotten the product in December were like, okay, we’ll get it in December and we’ll ship it and soaps coming November, but you know, manufacturing X.
So then it comes in December and we’re like, okay, well, we can still ship this out by Christmas. He started shipping out a cotton. We can, we get 1500 orders out. Um, it’s like the second day of shipping, but it’s my wife’s birthday. Um, I told Chris, I was like, I can’t help shift today. Uh, my wife will kill me if I do with her.
And, uh, he called me and he’s like, and I think he was literally crying at the time or he started crying right after this, but you’re like, dude, they sold it. They sold them all upside down because what are you talking about? Like every single one is filling up so that it was like, it? Sorry I have to go check this out.
No, he went and literally all of them were thrown up to down and we had to ship them all back to Vietnam. Fortunately like the broker company where you’re working with health without a spawn and like covered off, they’re all traveled. Would’ve been tanked right there. They would have been over. So that one took a little bit longer.
We had to ship back to Vietnam, but for the most part we’ve shipped out like on five for our Kickstarter project. Uh we’ve. We’ve learned a lot over the last couple years. And so, yeah, it usually takes like six months from the end of the Kickstarter, four to six months, we started the winner also things like that.
Don: Awesome. Well, that’s, this is an amazing story. You make it all sounds so simple.
Lance: I’ve been doing it for a long time. So for me, it’s honestly like, even when it was pulling off, I was just slammed because it was our first grade center. It was like, okay. Like my, from my experience, I kind of expected something to be wrong. Maybe back to manufacturing. There’s so many, like details have gone into it.
That almost always there’s something wrong or fucking ended up different than you thought. Or if it’s appropriate. Then he waited too long, I guess. I don’t know. Isn’t there a quote by somebody like that. If you’re not embarrassed by your first product, you waited too long.
Don: Yeah. It’s a good philosophy though.
Lance: It’s true. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Especially for your first step is the blanket. Uh, the blanket was shipped out to everybody like, and we still had to fix something ourselves before we shipped it out though. So everything has every manufacturing point. There’s usually some kind of something that didn’t go perfect.
Now the Corona virus, the coronavirus is really screwing over everybody right now.
Don: It is. Yeah. I was going to ask you about that. Has that affected your, your manufacturing at all?
Lance: Uh, yeah, it’s delayed some stuff, but we don’t necessarily like we have something produced in all of our stuff, customers, Vietnam right now that we’re producing.
Yeah. So, but a lot of the material buckled, a lot of that stuff is sourced in China. So sampling for this word, launching product this spring and sampling that has been a pain because they’re like, well, there’s these buckles, but that factory is not responding. So we’re going to have to use these. And it’s like, oh, that one’s not exactly what we want to use, but I guess it’s not a work for the Kickstarter project kind of thing.
So that’s where we’re at with that. And then. Yeah. I have a lot of friends in manufac like that are parsing products and stuff, and it’s been way rough on everybody. So you don’t really, I don’t know. You don’t really think, you think, okay. It sucks. Like you’re going to run out of your best-selling stuff if it’s delayed for too long.
So then the thing you don’t think about is your best performing ads are featuring your best selling stuff. And then you have to like, eat your use ads that aren’t performing nearly as well, or redesign ads with your, you know, some, we are stuff that doesn’t sell as well, but then anyway, so there’s like so many layers of stress to it than just like, oh, we’re going to be out of stock for a little bit, you know?
Don: You have to, it affects marketing and operations and everything revenue is affected. It’s yeah.
Lance: Yeah. That was a way. But fortunately for us. The only thing that’s really been a big pain for us is trying to sample out of the product that we’re launching is spring and that anyway, so I’m, I’m actually heading to Vietnam tomorrow so that we can like finalize a bunch of stuff on it, then super delayed because they haven’t been able to get materials and stuff until now.
Don: Uh, it’s a process.
Lance: Yeah, it’s great though. Honestly, like it sounds like the pain and it is a pain, but.
Don: That’s awesome. So do you guys, um, if you’re manufacturing, Vietnam, do you have a warehouse here, um, that you receive all the products?
Lance: Yeah. Yeah. So we were, we ran out of Eagle box, which is an alarm. So they hold all of our products and ship them all out and stuff for us, super often people.
That is awesome. So yeah, honestly, Shipping is the worst thing about a business. Like I don’t want to deal with it no matter what, there’s going to be hiccups in errors and lost packages and shipping. Uh, can’t wait for Amazon pickers, all of our shipping problems.
Don: They’re right there with all this drone stuff.
And, oh, Amazon’s in St. I was, I was reading the other day. That part of their intelligence is if you put an item in your cart, so you don’t even purchase it, you just put it in your cart. That they will send it to your nearest distribution center before you finish the order. So you can think about it and they’ll just send it over to the nearest distribution center.
And if you don’t buy it, they’ll just send it back. But
Lance: that’s great to know. Cause it’s like, I’m thinking about getting that. I, if I do get it, I’ll need it in a hurry. So I’ll just put it in my cart easier and faster. That’s a wrap. . They honestly are from a business and a lung doctor work with the customer they’re in front of it.
Don: They do suck to work with his business. If you guys try to do any Amazon sales.
Lance: Yeah, we did pay a little bit, but we need to figure out a better ambulance strategy. It was just cannibalizing a lot of more Westdale. So we’ll be paying all this money, you know, all this money and Facebook and Instagram ads.
Push it over to our website. And then people are like, okay, I’ll look at that. And then I’ll go order on Amazon, which we make, anyone takes 20%, maybe 2%, like 70 bucks a month to shop. I said, you know, like something I’d take like three and a half percent total, probably less than that. And it’s like, there’s the planning for that.
But we just couldn’t justify the margin on the while we were like losing money. So we pulled it off. We still are selling bottles and bottles on there, but yeah, we need to revisit our Amazon trying to do,
Don: uh, Amazon’s tough because it, to me, it just, it seems like Amazon’s a great place for, um, you know, this is probably going to come off wrong, but cheaper product, right?
Like it’s not. You know, like, so there’s this little music shop that I helped get running and they’re based out of Springville and they’re still surviving, like as all these music shops are shutting down and it’s because we started selling these little electric tuners. Through the shop and they became one of Amazon’s number one distributors for these tuners.
And they’re just these, like, one-off quick things. Right. But, and that’s where it’s good. Right. But where you’ve got a unique product that has been, uh, you know, when you’re marketing on social and you’re driving traffic to your website, it does feel like it’s a waste of time to then send them over to Amazon.
Lance: Well, I liked about a lot of like ambulance kind of a race to the bottom, just puts up who can get the cheapest price point and that’s all anybody looks at it. It’s like, okay, this one has 3000 hundred views of four stars. This what I was 3000 reviews and it has four stars. All right. What’s the cheaper, you know?
And so these Chinese companies that just have a warehouse in the us and are like, That’s who’s going to win because they’re manufacturing it and they’re able to sell, you know, they don’t, they cut out that margin, you know, so we have to build in because we’re not in the manufacturer. Does that makes sense?
Don: Right. So how do you feel like you guys have been able to craft your story and your design to, um, lead to, you know, sales conversions through your site? Because it sounds like you’re doing awesome with that. A lot of people struggle. Though to get sales through Shopify or sells through their own, their own websites.
Lance: Yeah. So I think a big benefit that we have is that I did video for a long time. So a lot of companies have to hire videographer and get a good one. That’s, you know, a few grand pretty easily. You get a really good one here in like the 10 plus thousand dollars you not. And it’s like, it’s really hard for a small company to justify even like two or $3,000 for an ad.
So fortunately I can create a Conoman and we can pump them out and really test a bunch of different things through a bunch of different variants. And it’s not, it’s only taught me my time, which is free to us because, you know, yeah. So I think that’s been a huge part. And then also just my knowledge of how to create Kickstarter videos.
I think that comes into play with ads is really all you’re trying to do is get somebody to imagine using it. The second you get somebody to imagine using it, they’re sold, they’re going to buy it. As long as they can afford it. Like if they can justify it at all, like it’s an easy sale. So we kind of do that same thing with that.
And with that, we just want the, the thing he really focused on is showing the product well, like, oh, you know, you kind of imagined yourself hanging the toilets, your bag up on the wall, and like being able to grab your shot really easy to shop there. Like a lot of resonates with a lot of people, but then at the same time in those ads, we include like, Some of the travels I’ve taken like adventure, videography.
So it’s like, oh, you know, you want them to think by themselves traveling as well. Like in our space, it’s like, oh, when I travel, I want it to be easy and simple. So this toiletry bag helps me to do that when I’m traveling, you know? So it’s kind of a mixture of all those things, but the main thing is just getting them to imagine themselves using it.
That’s what, like. That’s what sales is in general, I guess, and marketing
Don: Well, that’s awesome. So do you feel like the most critical part for your growth has been on the marketing focus on that side of the business?
Lance: Um, yeah. To some extent, I, I think the hardest part for us is for the last two years we’ve been selling it for us, your bag and that’s it.
So it’s like, okay, This is going to back black and it, and it’s designed for men, not women for dreams. Women still use it, but the majority of people buying it are men. It’s like, yeah, we got, we got men who are harder to sell to online. We have a product that you’re, we’ve purposely built. So you’re not buying more than one for yourself.
You’re buying on an old lock through the next 30 years. We, you know, so we kind of set ourselves up for failure in some ways where it’s like, it’s. A huge part of a lot of people’s businesses, pulling people back for more and to buy more stuff for you for years, it’s been a one and done, but that’s what the blanket we just launched last November.
three or four months ago. And it’s been incredible for our website because finally we’re like, oh, Hey, all those people, the buck bullet come back from us on the block two years, we have a new product, it’s a blanket, but then we hit a, I don’t know, all sorts of other snacks because. The blanket sells to 80% women.
So then it’s like, oh, actually they’re not in the same market. And we didn’t do it. We’re more excited about the idea of the blanket. And then like thinking is this going to sell to our exact audience? And it’s a lot more organized now. We’ve, we’ve pulled that together. So we’re cut, you know, we’re able to design something now for these audiences that we’ve built, but you know, a year and a half, two years ago, when we started designing the blanket, And God kind of married to this idea we weren’t thinking about or doing in-depth research on the lotion bag market, you know?
Don: Huh. Oh, the thing that I think is inspiring talking to you and I think will be, you know, helpful for anyone listening that is aspiring to be involved in products. Uh, is just your confidence that you have just, you just go do it. The story that you’re presenting is man, you just, you get, you’ve worked hard and you go and do it.
I love it
Lance: for sure. Have you read the four hour workweek?
Don: I haven’t.
Lance: So I haven’t either. I started it and I had like a quarter of the way through it as well, five years ago when we bought there’s a line in that and that like stuck with the heart. It was like, okay, if you’re in your current, day-to-day like, full-time job.
You’re happy to, if it’s probably like a five, right. You’re not miserable for the most part, but you’re not like, wait, you’re not living your dream for most people. It’s like a five, maybe a six, if you have a good atmosphere at your work. Right. So if you quit your job and try and, and like build this product or idea that you have.
The odds of you being a five or six are super, super low. It’s like, you’re probably going to be like a seven or eight. Even if it fails, you’re probably still seven or eight. And it’s like, okay, I see no risk and all this stuff like, well, what’s the risk, you know? And I chat with people all the time, like once or twice a week ago, you know, they have an idea for Kickstarter and they’re like, hold on.
I just don’t I’m, I’m scared to take the risk. I just, I literally see no risk, like maybe a couple hundred bucks. Your it’s like making a sample. You’ll rip some time, but you’re going to be way more bummed if you hit 80 and you still have this idea for when you’re wanting to, you know,
Don: it’s true. I couldn’t agree more.
Do you have, um, any, any last thoughts or words of wisdom before we let you go?
Lance: Uh, I mean, just going along with that theme, like. It’s going to do it like w we’ll be waiting for, you know, it’s never going to get easier and it’s never going to have been what draining, like just time, at least. So if you have an idea for product, just make a sample and then probably I’ll start asking your friends about it.
Just go do something. And I guess my point yet, I don’t know where I got it from, but one of the books that are out or something said, if you don’t have an idea, do something within the first 24 hours. And if it’s not a good enough idea to motivate you to do it within 24 hours, then it’s not a good enough idea that I either, like they’re designing logos, they’re designing product.
If I have an idea, I always start it within 24 hours just because I don’t know, it kind of is my, if I got motivated enough. Then it’s easy to crash. Not that easy.
Don: Huh I love that. Let’s do it in the first 24 hours. And if it’s not good enough, then it will go away for you. Perfect. Okay. Um, so if, if any of our listeners wanted to, um, connect with you, uh, or check out any of your products, where could I send them
Lance: all saying is gravel travel.com
and then my emails to firstname.lastname@example.org feel free to shoot me an email, honestly, email. So I don’t want to put my phone number on the internet that much. So we’ll stick to the email for now. And then honestly, I’m, I’m super down with, uh, my, anyway, I’m super down with chatting with people. I honestly do once or twice a week because my goal is to get to a point where I can spend.
In authority of my time, just helping small businesses just for free. And like, I can see that. People can still easily get seven or eight and happiness or nine or 10. And yeah, we’re all just making out of the Bible. Anybody wants help with anything? Feel free to shoot me an email and we can jump on a phone call or text.
Don: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show.