How We Failed 3 Kickstarter Watch Campaigns (Part 1)
Updated: Mar 21
Not many can say this: We are the creators of 3 failed Kickstarter campaigns. Our dream begun in 2018, 3 years ago, with the Constellar Epoch. Little did we know that the model’s name was a harbinger of things to come, as it marked the beginning of a journey through which we have lost, learnt, and levelled up as watch creators. As we embark onto our 4th (yes, FOURTH) attempt, we figured, why not chronicle our journey thus far, and share what we have (painfully) garnered with the rest of the microbrand industry? But before we go into this tale, let us first introduce ourselves.
We are Edgar (left) and Song (right), and we have been developing our own watches for the past 3 years. We first started with the Epoch I on Kickstarter in 2018.
At that point in time, we felt that the watch industry was gearing towards an odd direction, where oversized, bulky, heavy watches seemed to increasingly be the norm in the market. This direction heavily contrasted with our preferences for a wristwatch. Our tastes in watches leans undeniably towards the dressier front, where we prefer small (to us this equates to under 38mm), comfortable watches that sits just right on the wrist (both of us have a wrist size of 6.5").
After months of deliberation, we established Constellar, despite it being an endeavour very much out of our comfort zones, with us having no prior experience in product design and manufacturing. The final push into this other side of the fence came from the interactions we've seen in the microbrand industry between brand owners and their customers - genuine connections between watch lovers who share a similar taste.
We wanted to, through our products, build a dress-watch-centric community where we can create timepieces, for like-minded watch folks to enjoy and be proud to wear of. Our focus on creating connections is very cryptically hinted in our logo, which in our interpretation illustrates the eventual connections between similar beings.
With the brand workings in mind, we began to work on the design of the Constellar Epoch. Our intention was to start simple, then slowly work our way up to offer more complex products. The Epoch is representative of our vision of that one simple dress watch that everyone should have in their collection.
The Kickstarter watch journey followed : Researching and shortlisting for credible manufacturers, Prototyping, Campaign Creation, Campaign Launch. The 8 months spent on this process was an incredible eye-opener for us into the world of independent watch design and watchmaking.
The amount of coordination and communication it took to get to exactly where we wanted was tremendous. We had to carefully toe the line between learning and not appearing to be complete newbies into the industry to prevent being taken advantage of. At one point in time, we were completely dumbfounded when we were given detailed engineering drawings for confirmation. We relied on pure logic and a copious amount of googling to check if anything was out of the norm. There were - to which we pointed out to the factory and they quietly accepted. Thinking back it might very well have been a test of sorts to determine our proficiency with watches!
While the process was quite the nerve-wrecking experience, it was admittedly fun for us. The aspects of watch design and product creation was very different from what we do in our 9 to 6, and our passion for watches made us acquire a keen interest in the design process. Since then, our nights were spent discussing, debating, and even arguing over what we think can be good features to have in the future. To be very honest, we were already hatching plans for our subsequent models while still in the midst of preparing the Epoch's Kickstarter campaign!
Despite our enthusiasm and best efforts, the campaign flopped and our dreams were immediately shattered...
Disclaimer: The points listed below were relevant for the respective periods of time. The MB scene is dynamic and ever-changing, and some of the lessons we learnt then may or may not still be applicable. What did not work for us may very well work for others.
The First Campaign - EPOCH I
The intent of the Epoch was to create a simple automatic timepiece offering elegance and quality in a single package. The Epoch harbours the qualities of "the one watch" we felt everyone should at least own.
Launch Date: 28 April, 2018 Cancelled: 6 May 2018 Funding Target: SGS$175,000 Funding Raised: SGD$15,697 Actual Pledges: 37
What went wrong?
General Learning Points
ZERO case studies performed on successful campaigns
In the development of the Epoch, we spent little effort understanding the dynamics of what makes a successful Kickstarter campaign. We were naive, and thought that campaign success was a clear function between price and quality. We failed to comprehend the details to what makes a campaign great.
Minimal pre-campaign marketing
We failed to comprehend the importance of pre-campaign marketing and spreading the word of an imminent product launch. The only third party press we obtained was a sponsored post on ABlogToWatch, to which was insufficient to carry the entire campaign. Our launch posts on forums such as WatchUseek and Reddit (yes we used Reddit) were largely unexciting which generated little to no chatter.
Unaware of the existence of interest groups on Facebook
The existence of Watch Interest Groups on Facebook eluded us completely. We instead relied on paid Facebook advertisements which reached many people - of the wrong crowd.
Campaign was presented in a generic manner
As we sought to save capital to pump into paid advertisements, we managed all aspects of the campaign by ourselves, such as photography, copywriting, and campaign layout design. These were developed to taste to the best of our abilities but failed to be presented in the look we truly envisioned for the campaign. There is no shame in generating content on our own, but the result was that our skills were insufficient to truly match up competing campaigns that were professionally executed.
Strategy & Design
No strong product uniqueness and lacking in unique selling points.
The safe design of the Epoch ultimately worked against us as the crowd did not need another "generic-looking" watch. The colorways made were easily obtainable in the market, which made backing the Epoch illogical since backers can simply purchase existing alternatives in the market. The Epoch also lacked recognizable qualities besides its branding, and does not have any other selling point apart from its low pricing.
Failure to understand what the market wanted
We were tunneled into our vision for the Epoch and failed to conduct research into market trends to truly understand what the market wanted. This led us to create an undesirable product that was unviable and unsustainable from the onset.
Costing and Minimum Order Quantity
No cost optimisation
While we had shortlisted and spoken to a few factories prior to our selection of a manufacturing partner, we were unable to obtain a reduction in Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) and did not manage to optimise our costs. This led to the incredibly high campaign goal of SGD 175,000 which was nigh-unattainable except by only the most successful of Kickstarter watch campaigns.
We took the decision to cancel the project when we realised that it was impossible to achieve campaign success. We spoke at length to our manufacturing partners and were able to get their commitment to reduce MOQ to 300 pieces, as well as to provide sizeable discounts to what was originally quoted. Thinking that the tallest hurdles had been considerably lowered, we immediately gave the Epoch a second go and relaunched with lower prices and a much lower campaign goal...
The Second Campaign - EPOCH II
Launch Date: 11 May 2018 Campaign Ended: 10 June 2018 Funding Target: SGD$85,000 Funding Raised: SGD$18,322 Actual Pledges: 73
What went wrong?
As Epoch II was a hasty relaunch (read: a bad idea) of Epoch I, many of the same mistakes remained unresolved. While we managed to obtain almost double the number of backers, we were still far from our new campaign goal of SGD 85,000.
The first two campaign failures hit us like a truck. Besides the obvious fact that money, time, and effort spent went down the drain, the one thing that affected us most was the notion that our creations had held no value to majority of the people we marketed to. To put in simpler terms, we had created something nobody wanted.
It took us several months to come to terms with ourselves before we were able to make a conclusive decision on what we should do with the brand. We decided that the money, time, and effort put in are only truly wasted if we see it to be. We regrouped, sought feedback from our close friends, and restarted the process anew.
It was also then when we realised that the market at that point in time had a clear preference for either very tool-ish watches, and or watches that exhibit a certain degree of uniqueness. With this in mind, we sought to marry the two trends we observed to create a watch that is fundamentally recognisable by tool watch fans, yet can hold its own in terms of uniqueness. That being said, we still had our "handbrakes" which prevented us from straying too far from our comfort zones, and kept to the aesthetic that we believed in.
You could say that we took a little turn from our initial goals. Instead of purely making dress watches, we diversified and started creating dressy diver watches as well. We truly believed that we had answered, to a large degree, most of the problems we identified in our previous campaigns.
We also took the lull periods during product development to hone our photography and copywriting skills, consulting friends from relevant professions on how we can improve. Our final draft for the campaign got the green light from our friends and we launched the campaign. We were confident that the Starseeker, with its story and unique selling points, will see us through to a successful campaign at last...
THE Third Campaign - starseeker
Launch Date: 12 December 2020 Campaign Ended: 20 December 2020 Funding Target: SGD$95,000 Funding Raised: SGD$39,664 Actual Pledges: 70
What went wrong?
General Learning Points
Pre-campaign marketing lasted for too long, attrition of support over time
In building up a sizeable mailing list for our campaign, the bulk of our pre-campaign marketing spanned over 6 months, which was too long as the novelty was lost against the demographics we targeted to, and created a sense of fatigue for the Starseeker.
Insufficient number of prototypes circulating amongst watch reviewers
In creating the Starseeker, we made 8 prototypes (1 for each envisioned model), but decided to shortlist only 4 of the 8 variants to form the full product line. Having only 4 pieces to work with meant that we had to juggle between our photoshoots and sending our prototypes to watch reviewers and watch influencers. This also meant that we had to prioritise the rotation between reviewers, and the delays we met in this process caused significant ramifications in the momentum between each review.
Focused too heavily on watch reviewers and lacked experimental consumer reviewers
We only targeted watch reviewers to provide third party feedback of the Starseeker, which limited us in exposure and in obtaining feedback from the common watch lover - the true audience we wanted to engage.
Poor choice of launch date
We launched the campaign 2 weeks before Christmas, which proved to be a fatal error as many would-be backers had either committed or are in the process of committing their funds for the Christmas holidays. We had a good number of backers pull out citing their inability to commit to their pledges for this very reason itself!
Strategy & Design
Lack of understanding of the tool watch market (hopped onto the EDC tool-watch bandwagon with a dressy watch - not fit for purpose)
We entered the tool watch / EDC watch market with a limited understanding of what consumers wanted. We believed that specifications and price/performance ratios are paramount, and sought to break boundaries in that direction. It turned out that while these parameters are indeed important, the "tool-ish" look was sacrosanct. Our pitch for a "dressy" diver with a high price-performance ratio did not make sense to many, and caused confusions about our product positioning.
Concept and story behind the watch was too abstract and was hard for the audience to relate to
The Starseeker was meant to be a purposeful watch that reminds its wearers of the "anchors" in their life that keeps them afloat. Understanding the concept as creators is a simple task, but we failed to apprehend how easily the market can understand and accept the pitch. In a world where impressions had to be made and people be won over in a matter of seconds, we failed to keep the concept simple enough for the market to develop an immediate relevance to.
Improved product differentiation, but it was not enough
While we introduced several unique features that were typically unseen in the microbrand industry at that point in time, it simply wasn't enough to make a lasting impression. However, we believe that we have definitely taken a step towards the right direction, with our diamond-indices, porcelain enamel dials (with Stardust), and distinctive caseback becoming easily recognizable traits of the Constellar brand.
Priced product at an unsustainable level
We wanted to make the price of the Starseeker as affordable as possible, and we believed that the market will respond in kind to bridge the increase in quantity we needed to sell in order to be fully funded. Our plans backfired as we inadvertently priced ourselves out of the market, and lost every flexibility to proceed with producing the watch even outside of crowdfunding.
The lead up to the Starseeker campaign and the immediate weeks that followed were perhaps one of the most memorable periods in our journey. Much as we have initially set out to do, we managed to form genuine connections with not just like-minded people, but also with watch reviewers and even other brand owners. While we failed our third campaign, we also managed to benefit from the invaluable experience gained in this "good run".
We choose to see these three campaigns not as failures, but lessons. After all, we still have people who believe in us.
The past 3 years have been one hell of a roller coaster ride for us. We experienced joy during product development, anxiousness during prototyping, excitement when interacting with the watch communities, frustrations when we realise our campaigns will not succeed, and hopefulness every time we pick ourselves up to move on.
It has not been an easy time for us but we are far from giving up! What will we be making this time round...?
<<TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2>>