How I built a hoverboard company and then blew it up
I was first introduced to Hoverboards while watching Casey Neistat’s daily vlogs on YouTube. I thought, “Wow. That’s pretty cool!” and started searching online to purchase one myself. When I looked at the cost of an IOHawk at $1,800 or the Phunkeeduck at $1,500, I thought there had to be a cheaper way. That’s when I found out how cheap they would be if you bought them online in bulk straight from the manufacturer.
That was an intriguing idea, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to order straight from China. I thought I would keep one and sell one, and if I could sell one, then maybe I could sell more. So I began the process.
This was my first experience using Alibaba. It wasn’t too bad. It just took a little bit of patience and some time to try to understand the broken English. I put an order request out there and received a ton of responses. I ended up going with Shenzhen Uwheel Technology Co., Ltd and after negotiating with a little haggling on the price, I got them to create logo stickers to brand the hoverboards, and it was time to pay.
At this point, it starts feeling like it might be some sort of scam because payment is not handled through Alibaba. My options were either a Western Union money order or, for an additional, 4 percent of the order, using PayPal. I decided to go with PayPal because it just seemed safer and a lot easier.
I’m not a designer
Now I needed to come up with a name to brand these generic “smart balancing two wheel scooters.” It had to be something where the domain name was simple and also available. That’s where good old thesaurus.com comes in handy. Fastboards, hoverwheels, techboards? A couple of iterations later I landed on SwiftDecks* (swiftdeck.com was owned by a wood deck company). Oh well, in my book, name didn’t really matter anyway. It is better to spend more time focusing on real things instead of names. That whole naming process only took me three minutes. I jumped on Godaddy and snatched swiftdecks.com up. [*These boards are being called hoverboards and two-wheel smart balance scooters and swagways and a variety of other names. I called them SwiftDecks because that was the domain name I was able to get.]
After I purchased the URL, I hopped on Fiverr and hired the first person I saw who could create a logo. The logo was only $5, but I paid extra to have it get to me more quickly. I hate waiting. (Again, don’t spend too much time on this either. It’s version one; nobody cares. I went with the first logo that came back to me.)
I’m Not An Engineer
I then needed to create a website to look legit, too legit, maybe even too legit to quit. So, I jumped on weebly.com. Why Weebly? Because it’s easy to set up and has an e-commerce side that is simple to use. There are other website builders you can use. They are all pretty much the same. I just prefer Weebly. Also, I didn’t want to pay for anybody to work on this.
Again, this is a V1 and all one big test. If the idea overall is validated and there is money coming in, then that’s when to think about moving on to bigger things. I then set up a Stripe account to handle credit card transactions and thankfully Stripe integrates directly into Weebly. Boom! Done with that.
I’m Not A Shipping and Logistics Jedi
I knew shipping would be a B-word and a big B-word. I didn’t want any one thing taking up too much of my time, so I resorted to using Shyp for any of the shipping I had to do. That was a godsend — so easy to use and saved me a ton of time. As for prepping each product to be sent out it was as simple as throwing a sticker on a hoverboard. Done.
I Am A Content Creator
Working at TechCrunch has given me the skill of creating media very fast — like super effin’ fast. So, I made two videos, shooting and editing each one within an hour. I also shot a couple of photos and just like that I had all my product shots added to the website. Now I was a slick professional-ish company.
I’m Not A Marketing Genius
The beauty about Hoverboards is that these things pretty much sell themselves. They’re cool and they’re all the rage right now. Here is a list of the marketing that I did. (Some of them are just opportunities that came up, being prepared/luck.)
- I created a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a YouTube account and an Instagram account.
- On Facebook, to get likes on the page and not look like a noob, I created a video asking my friends to like the page. I was straight up and honest with them. Prime those likes a little.
- A friend created shirts for me that said “Ask me about my Swiftdeck.” We wore them and went to a couple locations with cards with promo codes for 10 percent off and let people try them out themselves.
I have a friend who works with Logic (the rapper) and managed to send him a free SwiftDeck and he did a tweet and an Instagram post which got close to 30 thousand likes. He also put it in his music video!
- I did one Facebook advertisement – (spent $20).
- In the end, I got the most sales from my little brother (10 years old) and sister (7 years old) just riding them around town. Also through the parking attendant of the TechCrunch building (high-five, Mike!) The boards are fun and visually compelling. When they saw them in person, people wanted to try them out and then were willing to buy it.
- At TC Disrupt SF, I rode it around between working on things. At the end of Disrupt SF, I threw it at the feet of the writers on stage to use as a foot rest. (No sales came from that; easy opportunity though.)
- I had two at the TC Disrupt office that anyone could ride around. From that, word of mouth started coming that I was slinging SwiftDecks.
- One of the first SwiftDecks I sold to someone that I didn’t know was from a TC writer tagging me in a tweet of a guy that was looking for one. This tweet.
How much did everything cost?
- 1st round of Product (2 units and another product I was testing) – $899.00
- 2nd round of Product (10 units) – $3,280.00
- 3rd round of Product (20 units) – $6073.00
- URL Purchase – $45.48
- Website (Pro Tier) – $299.00
- Logo (Fiverr) – $69.00
- Shirts (8 units) – $237.00
- Shipping – $23.00
- Units sold 32 (Price after free ones and discounted ones for family $375 a unit)
- Total cost: $10,925.48
- Total made: 32 Units X $375.00: $12,000
- Profit: $1074.52
Time spent on everything: Maybe four 8-hour days spent total, but were spread out as a couple hours on weekends and couple hours after work a couple days. Everything was able to be done very quickly.
SwiftDecks was a startup experiment that I tried, because I liked the product and thought it was fun. I also thought that it would be fun to try and build something and make a quick buck, but now the market has become so saturated with these things you can find them next to the eggs and milk in your grocery store.
Also, I don’t want to put any more time into SwiftDecks. I believe the hoverboards are a fad and they will be fun while they are here, but they will pass like Beanie Babies and Tomogotchis. We’re already starting to see them pass. To really compete in the market you have to be buying from hundreds to thousands of these at a time to considerably bring the cost down and make good margins. The shipping from China is the killer.
There are a couple of things that are guaranteed to happen if you start a hoverboard company. You will be tagged and sent every single video that has anything to do with hoverboards in it. Everybody will tell you where they have seen it for cheaper and still want to buy yours below cost. You’ll have friends tell you those are the lamest things they have ever seen anyone on, yet they can’t but have the biggest smile once they finally try it out. Also, did you know they blow up, because if you don’t, a million people will now tell you that.
With SwiftDecks I stayed lean and moved forward with different scenarios based on feedback. I only ever used money from the profits to never be too much out of pocket and I never wanted to be sitting on too much inventory. Would I ever buy a weird product and sell it?
In John Biggs’s 2016 tech predictions, one is The Era of Hardware Memes approaches and he foresees, “Just as the hoverboard became an overnight sensation…there will be a lot more cultish fascination that will bring us many more hardware memes, devices that appear and disappear like electronic Pet Rocks.”
If you can get in early enough on one of these pieces of tech that are cheap to manufacture and you can show that its growing then there is possibility of making some good money.
It’s a fad, though, so you really have to jump in and out and do it quickly. In the end if the product was right and I wanted to take a risk, I think I would try selling another product and making some quick cash. I would definitely only see this type of business as being a supplemental income and not something I’d want to do full time.
If you’re looking to start a hoverboard company or any company for that matter, go for it; just do it! Don’t wait and put it off for tomorrow or wait for the perfect moment. If any of my learnings can apply to you, then awesome! Just make it happen.
- First introduced to hoverboards.
- Found a supplier through Alibaba.com
- Created a name and registered www.swiftdecks.com
- Created a logo on Fiverr
- Sent the logo to the supplier in China
- Test Run: Ordered two SwiftDecks from supplier
- Created website using weebly.com
- Set up social media only Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Created 2 videos to use for promotion and took some photos
- Ordered 10 more Swiftdecks from Supplier
- Made first online sale through getting tagged on a twitter post
- Sold those 10 almost all by referrals/word of mouth
- Got Swiftdecks in an Logic music video (Link to Video)
- Got a celebrity shoutout on social media (Huge site traffic, little sales) (Link to Instagram)
- Ordered 20 more Swiftdecks from Supplier
- Rode them around TC Disrupt SF for fun.
- Used Shyp.com for any shipping I have done, which hasn’t been much.
- Sold these twenty slowly over the last month.
- Shut down company
(Timeline is from memory, so it might be slightly out of order.)
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