When I reviewed the ALPAKA 7even messenger bag, I didn’t realize how much I was going to use it. Like previous bags I have loved, it’s hard to imagine going anywhere without it. With the wild success of their Kickstarter campaign, knowing they failed on a previous project and learning that the bag was primarily designed with Autodesk Sketchbook and Adobe Illustrator, I had to find out more.
Jin Li, Co-founder of ALPAKA, started the design process for 7ven Messenger at the beginning of 2015, after their initial backpack design project failed due to scope creep (it was getting too complicated to manufacture). What did they learn?
“Our backpack failure taught us a crucial lesson, which was to keep the design simple, not adding extra features that had no value to our target customer.”
It was time to retool. For the ALPAKA 7even, the initial design process started quite simple, taking a mere 9 weeks to go from ideation to the first prototype bag. The ideation process happened as many do–using simple pen and paper for efficiency. Once they had a rudimentary understanding of what they wanted in the bag design, they moved to a digital design process for record keeping and more efficient communication with the design and prototyping team, the latter of which was located 10,000 km away from their office in Melbourne.
The digital side involved a lot of Adobe illustrator and AutoDesk Sketchbook for drawing digital sketches, using a Wacom Cintiq and ThinkStation C30 when desk bound, or their old W701ds and ThinkPad Yoga when on the move. It’s was an fast, efficient process with sketching tools, as 3D modeling software like Inventor and SolidWorks didn’t lend themselves well to the soft fabrics design.
The prototyping team at the factory then used cardboard and paper to design a prototype bag to work out how to turn the digital design into physical prototypes. Once they were satisfied with the initial paper/cardboard prototype in terms of overall shape, they then move into prototyping with actual fabrics.
After each prototype was finished, they use the bag for about 1 to 2 weeks to understand which elements of bags needed to be improved or removed. Then the process repeats with another prototype. They iterated on prototypes until a stable design was achieved–a process which took them nearly 10 months and 25 prototypes to fully complete.
During the prototyping process they relied on Skype and face to face meeting to communicate all necessary changes. And then the time had come to get them into the hands of people around the world–a key step in the pre-launch of a product. They made more than 150 bags to send out to influencers, blogs, and online sale stores for limited sales (to test consumer demand). With the bags in the hands of people and reaction coming in, it was time to launch the product.
Whilst they were prototyping the 7ven Messenger, they worked on figuring out the mechanics of crowdfunding. They launched their FLOW project at the end of 2015 on Indiegogo to learn more about how the crowdfunding system worked and how to take on the marketing necessary for the product launch. They learned. “We naturally failed in raising enough money for the project,” Jin says. “And had to cancel the funding process at the very end of the crowdfunding period.”
From the failure of the FLOW smart water bottle, they learnt a lot about how to pitch to a product to the media, who to hire for PR, how to tell a story through imagery and video, and most importantly how to plan for pre-launch. So the lesson here for anyone that is considering on crowdfundings are:
- Is your project feasible?
- Do you have a solid team? Are people going to bail out on you without warning, or run off with the idea?
- Do you have the market for your product? And is the price you set fall within the right price bracket?
- Do you have a marketing plan and understand how to pitch the product to different publications?
- Is the money from crowdfunding enough to get the product made on time and spec?
- Do you have a factory that is capable of manufacturing the product to the specification you need?
- Is your family and friends understanding and supportive of your effort?
- Can you take the failure? Both emotionally and financially.
- Do you have plan B?
The ALPAKA 7even Messenger is now shipping to campaign backers and available for pre-order on Indiegogo.