Crowd funding floats Cirrus Cycles' new product | Q&A

To get a new product from conception to production, Paul Barkley and Charlie Heggem needed a kick.

Barkley had just put finishing touches on his invention, the BodyFloat—a dual-spring bicycle seat post designed to deliver better comfort and performance for riders. The longtime cyclist came up with the idea while working with rural development organizations in central Africa, where his bicycle was his main mode of transportation.

Marketing materials from Cirrus Cycles—the company Barkley and Heggem founded in 2011—have claimed the BodyFloat would allow cyclists to feel as though they are actually levitating over their bikes.

Getting the product off the ground meant turning to Kickstarter, the increasingly popular crowd funding website that allows users to ask for donations to develop inventions or projects.

Since projects must meet stated fundraising goals to earn their donations, Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing gamble.

The site has generated close to $400 million in donations since its creation in 2009, and it has successfully funded more than 30,000 projects. Yet more than half of the campaigns on the site fail to reach their thresholds.

To get donations, project creators offer incentives for backers who lend support. For the BodyFloat, Barkley and Heggem offered a series of items based on how much a donor would give: $5 donations would get a sticker, $25 would get a T-shirt—those that gave $199 (the expected retail price for the BodyFloat model 2.0) would have a BodyFloat shipped to them once production started.

Kickstarter’s incentives act as an accountability tool and allow people to essentially pre-pay for a product. Yet there is no guarantee that a project will deliver.

While Kickstarter’s terms of use say project creators are legally required to meet their stated goals, the site’s owners do not give refunds to donors if a project fails.

For Cirrus Cycles, the game paid off. After a 30-day fundraising period with a $10,000 goal, Barkley and Heggem pulled in more than three times that amount.

By Kickstarter standards, it was a success. But for the company, it was one step in the process.

BBJ: What inspired you to go to Kickstarter instead of going along the usual route to find investors? 

Heggem: Kickstarter has always been an important target for us. From the standpoint of crowd funding, which is kind of a new “normal” in today’s business environment, it provided an opportunity for us to market to a diverse audience, to prove the value of the product we have and to see what kind of reach we could get with it.

We tripled our asking amount to a little more than $30,000, which we were very happy with.

That not only established us with more than $30,000 of sales, but it showed us that we have a viable product that has a definitive value within the cycling market.

We do have some standard investment platforms that we are pursuing with investors, and that has been going on since we started the company last October.

So, we’re pursuing the traditional avenues of funding through investors and such, but Kickstarter’s an important piece, because we do have a brand new idea and product we’re trying to launch.

BBJ: Your initial target on Kickstarter was $10,000. Were you surprised that you managed to raise more than three times that amount?

Heggem: From an inside standpoint, I think we were shooting for a little bit lower target so we could make sure we got the threshold met on Kickstarter.

But also, I think in my brain I was always shooting for that $25,000 to $30,000 line. That’s where I thought we would come in. It makes you feel good for it to be confirmed that you have that kind of a reach.

BBJ: Now that you have the money, is the pressure on to get your product out on time?

Heggem: We’re in a unique situation where we’re building a manufacturing business here in Bellingham, and that has its trials and tribulations and adventures.

Kickstarter has launched us and we have “X” numbers of product now that we are obligated to fulfill.

We have to change gears from the marketing side and go into the production side, and because this is our first run of producing a market-ready product, it’s a challenging piece. That’s just a challenge that we’re going to have to go through right now to get us to where we have a finished product ready for the consumers to enjoy.

But it definitely is a challenging environment as a startup to have to go into that “ka-boom” where you need to manufacture and deliver. Our products aren’t little independent widgets, they are extremely complicated and highly engineered.

We’ve got a lot of interest from third parties that have contacted us since who are asking: When’s the launch? When’s the product going to be available? Which is great—it’s great to have demand.

Now we need to back ourselves up. The pressure is on for us to deliver.

Our “beta” units now are getting moved into production, and we still have to evolve the product over time. These first deliverables are pieces that we hope we can use to get a lot of feedback from individuals that buy them.

That’s another great aspect of Kickstarter. It will allow us to evolve the product.

BBJ: Why base your production in Bellingham?

Heggem: When Paul and I got together, we shared a definitive ethic of creating a local, sustainable business that really has its roots in Bellingham. We’ve always really enjoyed what Bellingham has to offer on an engineering level.

So, when we got together, we wanted to build this company and set up our manufacturing base here. We wanted to develop a way within our business plan to ensure that its stays here in Bellingham, that it stays here in the Northwest.

We might have to outsource our machining or our extrusions to regional facilities. We just can’t handle building 10,000 units here. But that would be on-shore outsourcing, and we can sustain a lot of businesses here and we want to be able to give our business to them.

Yes, it would be cheaper for us to go to Taiwan or China. But that is not where we want to go, and that is not the right way to run what we do. That’s why we’re choosing the path we are on right now.

 BBJ: What advice would you give to others who might consider using Kickstarter to fund their inventions or products?

Heggem: Like I said earlier, the crowdfunding aspect of Kickstarter is what we think as the new normal for startup businesses. Today’s technology has allowed us to take ideas and bring them into fruition quicker than they might be able to actually come into fruition. Social media has a tendency to do that.

So, you have to be prepared. If you have an idea, make sure you are well prepared and you’ve gotten advice from a lot of different people.

That’s a really important element with this, and I think Kickstarter is one of many crowdfunding sources that offer the opportunity to take an idea and pursue the American dream, or pursue any dream for that matter.

Ideas are cheap and plentiful. You need to have the business plans to go behindthem. Launching a Kickstarter campaign without a business plan that allows you to take advantage of and build from your results is going to sink you if you don’t have that tool in place.

Contact Evan Marczynski at evan@bbjtoday.com or call 360-647-8805. 

Evan Marczynski photo | Bellingham Business Journal

Paul Barkley, left, and Charlie Heggem, stand in front of Cirrus Cycles’ BodyFloat display booth that the company uses at industry trade shows.
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