A lot of times, people in Ireland avoid talking about the Celtic Tiger. It makes sense when you consider the hangover that soon followed. David Craig’s journey to tech entrepreneur follows that same pattern.
The creator of the Scriba Stylus has plenty of lessons for other entrepreneurs. Hardware made in Ireland, funded by Kickstarter and finding a global audience is not the most common story. Then again, neither is Craig’s.
At the height of the Celtic Tiger, the Scottish-born Craig was riding high as an architect in Dublin. Among other big projects, his small firm’s design won the initial competition for the ill-fated U2 Tower. Then the recession hit. Financing dried up.
“There must be something else I can do that’s going to keep me interested, other than house extensions for the next 10 years while the economy recovers,” recalls Craig.
So he did something, getting back to the designing table.
“I looked at what I was interested in,” says Craig. “I was interested in tech.”
So Craig started coming up with a range of gadget ideas, mainly for use with Apple products. He was looking for products that would solve problems he had, a good strategy for consumer-facing products.
Eventually that list of gadgets whittled down to a stylus like no other.
Scriba looks more liked a soldering tool than a stylus. Craig’s initial goal was to make a stylus that is more comfortable to hold. An arched bend makes it easier to grip. The arch also is pressure sensitive, making it possible to click at different strengths.
With bluetooth connection, the Scriba has a lot more control than the typical stylus. It can even buzz, a useful feature when using it in conjunction with some of the software Craig’s team created (more on that later).
There’s a reason why among so many tech startups in Ireland, few are focused on hardware. It’s difficult.
“Hardware ticks the same boxes as software projects,” says Craig. “You want to build an app or e-commerce site. Hardware comes with all [the same challenges] and more, before you even start a new product.”
Eventually, they had a product worth selling. Still, those were just working prototypes, costing around €150 each to make. To get the Scriba on the market, they needed investment for a broader manufacturing.
So Craig turned to the crowd. He launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise €65,000. Many of us have seen Kickstarter projects go viral. Some of us even funded those campaigns. What surprised me was that despite how easygoing and grassroots the campaigns seem, there is a detailed work to make a successful campaign.
It is not random but rather the result of hard work. If a campaign fails to reach its goal, the creator gets nothing. That’s why it is so imperative to go into the campaign like any other product launch. I asked Craig to explain some of the lessons he learned from his Kickstarter experience.
- Plan Ahead – It costs a lot more to get organised than Craig initially expected. The old phrase that it takes money to make money is real.
- Video Saved The Tech Star – This is absolutely critical. Craig says they spent around €5,000 for their Kickstarter welcome page video. He hired a director with experience making music videos. “It was about tempo and keeping the audience engaged.” With a cheap-feeling video, many Kickstarter projects appear to not be serious. A good script, excellent lighting, and the right locations all make for a better video.
- Tell Your Story – When you’re asking people to back your Kickstarter project, they may be interested in your product, but they really are backing you. The “made in the shed” mentality was integral to the story of Scriba, so that was as central to the message as what Scriba can do.
- Be Prepared For Manufacturing ASAP – Craig admits this is where they weren’t ready. Once the Kickstarter campaign is funded, the expectation is that you’ll be able to deliver the promised backing gifts soon (in this case, the stylus). He says there were manufacturing delays that needed to be sorted out. One of the big challenges for this stylus is that it is made out of plastic, which is hard to prototype. You need expensive moulds to shape plastics on a mass scale, 3D printing helps give you an idea, but it is not a real prototype. In reality, you should be ready to push the “go” button the moment the campaign is done.
- Friends, Family, and Favours – Kickstarter works on algorithms like any social network. The more people who back your project, the more people who will see your campaign, creating a cycle of support. Craig says it is imperative to get friends and family to back your project in the first few days to get noticed and make a splash. Eventually Kickstarter itself featured his campaign, helping get broader support.
- Research Other Campaigns – There will be things out of your control, but you can prepare for them. In Scriba’s case, they had to deal with another stylus maker who didn’t deliver as promised. You can’t control what they did, but you can show that you won’t make the same mistakes.
- Build Up Buzz – Craig says he wish he had built up more press in the month before the campaign launched. Doing interviews can be an incredibly useful way to build up interest locally and globally. (P.S: If you have a tip, email us at email@example.com)
- Learn Your Audience (And Double Check) – By all means, the Scriba team expected their target audience to be people like them: creatives, designers, etc. That is true, but other demographics also liked the product. Craig says they realised some parents bought the stylus for their children, since it was easier to grip for children used to tapping iPads rather than drawing with crayons. They took that into account as they crafted their message.
As for the manufacturing issues, Craig says he learned the hard way how difficult it can be to create a hardware product remotely. They initially looked at doing business in China, but realised that made the process even more difficult.
So now he manufactures the Scriba styluses here in Ireland.
“The [manufacturing] expertise is here, but you have to go looking for it,” says Craig. “It’s not where you expected it.”
Two companies, in particular, helped him solve a series of supply problems that creeped up. IPC Polymers in County Westmeath and the Waterford based wing of Hasbro, Cartamundi, helped Craig manufacture not just a plastic stylus but THE CORRECT kind of plastic. Craig even got the chance to create his own plastic compound.
Craig says Ireland’s background in medical tech device manufacturing and more means there are experts around to make business ideas come to fruition.
He believes Ireland has several manufacturing advantages: namely close location, same language, and the same holiday schedule. Still, he admits it took some extra effort to connect the dots.
“It required legwork and favours to find these people,” says Craig. “There’s no one-stop shop. You don’t attend [an] NDRC [event] and find there’s people there to help you with all these types of skills.”
It has been a few years since Craig first launched his Kickstarter campaign for Scriba. Now the main focus for the hardware company is software that take advantage of the stylus’ features.
Craig says they’ve built nine apps thus far, and they’re working with other developers to create more. Remember, this isn’t a typical “dumb” stylus that can only tap.
Since you can squeeze at different pressure levels, the stylus can tell the smartphone or tablet more information. In the drawing app they developed, the harder you squeeze, the larger the brush gets. Double click and the stylus becomes an eraser.
Meanwhile, Craig showed off their newest creation: a smartphone/tablet version of a presentation app, like Microsoft Powerpoint or Apple’s Keynote. Using the Scriba, a presenter can do a lot more than swipe through slides. Drawing on the screen highlights a part of the slide or can even expand it out to fill the screen. Meanwhile, the presenter can also set up timer alerts that send a message to the Scriba to buzz.
All of those software offerings are aimed at selling more Scriba Styluses. Meanwhile, Craig is also working on prototypes for other hardware products.
“Making Scriba was such a long process.”
Of course, even as he develops new products, he’s using the lessons learned to get the Scriba off the ground. A few days before he and I met, Craig was recording a new video: a full shoot dedicated to the presentation software app.