Final's Emma Rose Cohen on how the Kickstarter campaign raised $2M & created a world-first product
Joining me on the show today is Emma Rose Cohen, the founder of Final - the company who advocates for sucking responsibly.
In 2018 Emma set out to create the world’s first collapsable straw and make an impact on our oceans and the planet. She launched her idea on Kickstarter with the goal to raise around $12,000 and instead it went absolutely bonkers, raising 2 million dollars in total with around 100,000 straw orders. You might think it was a good enough reason to celebrate, but there were plenty of hurdles that came with it’s success.
Today we’re chatting about what makes a good kickstarter and what happened after the campaign went viral. Why it’s important to protect your intellectual property against the manufacturers who are out there specifically to steal your ideas and flood the market with cheap knock offs, and how to set your own campaign up for success.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
So thank you so much for having me and you know, I don't know that it was one specific light bulb moments, but it's funny when you look back on your life and realize that everything you've done up until this point has led to this moment. And so all of my previous experiences and work and personal relationships and the things that really interested me, it never made sense. Like I couldn't quite figure out how it was leading to something and then all of a sudden when I launched the company and it was a success, I was like, oh, this makes sense.
00:03:38Edit But I think my, one of my biggest Aha moments was in college, my girlfriends and I would dress up like mermaids and do beach clean ups and I realized that anything can be fun if you make it a party. And so we, we were just kind of go to the beach, put music on and have a bunch of people come join us and I was like, oh wow, this actually works like generally people would just want to lay there and soak up the sun and here they are helping us clean up trash. So it was kind of this synergistic synergistic event where I realized that anything can be fun with the right vibe and also that I was really interested in sustainability. I've always loved design, my dad's an architect and so I have become obsessed with waste and looking at it as a design issue. And so just over the years of kind of invented little things in my mind and figured out my own ways of reducing my waist. But then when I was really ready for a transition in my career, was looking to do something new and started working on this project, kind of just as like a side thing and I'd actually moved up to whistler to be a ski bum and, and then it just became all consuming and I just couldn't stop working on it and launched the Kickstarter in April of 2018 and it just went crazy and it's been wild ever since then.
00:05:04Edit It's just so cool and it's crazy how much of a short time period it's been, you know, It feels like 2018 was just yesterday and I have so many questions about the Kickstarter campaign. Um, so I want to go back to the very beginning, did you have like capital that you needed to put into the Kickstarter campaign? Like when you just got started or you were just like oh, I'm gonna put this on Kickstarter and see how it goes, kind of thing. Yeah. So building a Kickstarter campaign is not free. And if you do it right, it's also not cheap. We put in about $30,000 from friends and family loans To create the prototype, make the video, um, do a little bit of advertising and, and we created 200 prototypes that we sent out to influencers and friends for feedback. So All of that was about 30 grand. And, and then when we launched the Kickstarter, um, you know, I was hoping to just make enough money that I wouldn't have to make the straws myself because at that point I was making them and it was a very long and painstaking process to make one straw.
00:06:16Edit So it worked. You know, it was, the timing was impeccable. And I think that's such a key indicator in business is timing. You really have to look at what's going on in the social climate. What are people looking for? What are the problems that the world is talking about? Because it's, it will elevate the success of the business exponentially. Yeah, absolutely. And it's obviously a key problem that we all face. And, and obviously now the world has made such a big difference in eliminating lots of different single use plastics like straws. How come you didn't decide to raise VC money or go out and raise through angel investors like further and go with Kickstarter. You know, I've been pretty wary of taking on investment. We haven't taken on any investment yet. Um, I think people look at it as just you're just getting money and then, you know, down the road, you pay people back, but really you're bringing on partners and you have to be so careful when you bring someone else into your business, especially something like ours where we're not driven by profit.
00:07:25Edit We're driven by the mission. And so to bring in an investor who, you know, they're giving money to a company in the hopes of making a 10, you know, extra turn, 100 extra turn or something. And so I don't make my business decisions based solely on profit. There's a lot of additional things out there, like, you know, ensuring that were really promoting our mission and awareness around single use plastics. So I've just been kind of uninterested in bringing on someone that's only driver for being involved in my business is to make money. So the idea for Kickstarter just kind of, you know, I've heard of the platform and it seemed pretty cool and I looked at some of the other campaigns out there that have done really well and um You know, it was like why not see what happens? It's pretty low stakes and worst case scenario, you know, I have to get a restaurant job and work to pay this $30,000 back. And what were you finding when you were looking at those other Kickstarter campaigns?
00:08:29Edit What did you see was like the successful kind of checklist, What makes a good Kickstarter campaign? So definitely the video is super important. You want to tell what the product does, why, why it's solving a problem for people, You know, again, it comes back to timing, I think a lot of times when you, these campaigns were launched, it was really filling a need in a gap in society of something that people were talking about. You know, it's not just like, oh, here's this new product, it's like something is happening in the world and then this product comes to kind of fill that space. You know, there's also a lot of kind of back end stuff that you don't necessarily see when you look at a Kickstarter campaign. So you know, everyone who runs a campaign, you do a ton of work before the campaign. Um you know, I work for three months full time on this, building the pre campaign strategy building um an email list, building your customer base, building social media. So when you look at these kick starters, you're like, oh they just put it up and it raised a million dollars, but that's not really how it works. You have to really hone in on your audience, do testing around ads um and and start getting people signed up on email lists and eventually build a list of people who are interested in the product and did you know how to do all that kind of stuff or you kind of just, you know, committed yourself to sitting there and googling it and figuring it out.
00:09:49Edit Yeah, I had no clue what I was doing. So it was definitely a total journey into the unknown and, and I just, I never questioned it. It just kind of was like, oh, this is what I have to do. There's literally the answer to any business question online or in a book. So you know, it's, I kind of had this like, aha moment where I realized that like no problem that any business person has ever had is unique. Um, we're all, maybe some unique permutation of that problem, but every single problem that we've ever had in business or in life and relationships has been repeated before. So there's people out there that have learned the hard way so that we don't have to, so seek out those people seek out that information and attend the University of Youtube because every skill on a computer can be learned. I am currently trying to learn Tiktok same. Uh, it's going okay. Yeah, I'm also trying, I'm not trying very well, but I'm trying and I think that's, that's all just part of it showing up on a day to day basis and being like, well I'm going to give this another crack and see if this does well.
00:11:00Edit Yeah, it's just repetition and testing, you know. Sure. So you raised a lot of money in the Kickstarter campaign? I think um 1.8 million or two million around there. That's unbelievable. Crazy. Congrats. Thank you. Did you have that kind of like vision, did you think it's going to go that viral or did you think, oh, you know, we're just gonna try and launch and launch the company, I definitely did not have that vision. Um, it was, it was such an emotional experience to launch and then have that kind of affirmation. Um, you know, all my friends and family had been like cool straw, like don't quit your day job. And uh, so when it did so well and it was such a success, it was like, wow, I am on my path, I'm doing those things I'm supposed to be doing. Um the world is interested in these type of solutions. And so for me it was so much bigger.
00:12:03Edit It's always been so much bigger than the straw. And it's been like, if I can get someone to change on this small behavior, like a straw, what else can we create together? Um so that's really where my vision is and and how I want to incorporate more products into people's lifestyles that help them reducing these plastic. Yeah, absolutely. I love the new stuff that you just brought out. I love the marketing around the big straw. The biggie straw, sorry, it's so funny. I laughed out loud when I saw that video where it says sucks big balls. It was really cool. That's the thing is like, we can, you know, we don't want to just be another company that's like hugging trees and you know, cleaning up beaches because that's already out there and it's, it's not really hitting people in their heart strings. And so I like to do that through humor. That's how I've always related and connected with people. And so that's really what we're trying to do with the voice of the company.
00:13:05Edit Yeah. You guys are doing a really good job. I'm also a big fan of the suck responsibly. That is so good. Um, what happens next? What happens after the campaign finished and you guys raise a ton of money? You're like, holy heck, what does this mean now? Yeah. So it was funny because people are like, oh wow, you must have been celebrating and so happy. And it was like, I did not celebrate at all because any excitement very quickly turned to dread. Like, oh, wow, I have to actually figure out how to make 100,000 straws in six months and I have no idea where to start. Like literally zero. I'd never manufactured a product before. I've never built a team. Uh, so it was, it was really intense and daunting times with a lot of responsibility and, and a lot of Kickstarter backers that we're expecting, you know, us to send this straw that didn't exist.
00:14:08Edit You know, I made that we had these prototypes, but that was not something that you could mass produce. So it was like, we had to figure out how to make the freaking thing and make it, you know, for enough, like for low enough cost that we could then like actually make money on the Kickstarter. Um, and so yeah, it was, it was crazy. It was terrifying. It was such a hard time, but you know, through just leaning on friends and community and working with a business coach and really trying to surround myself with the people that that could help support and guide the business. We did it. Do you think in hindsight you would have found the manufacturer and sorted out that process before the campaign or you still would have done it the way that you did it, you know, it's hard to say because we're so busy for three months just building the campaign that I don't think we would have had time for that. Um you know, how do we put the campaign out further?
00:15:11Edit The timing might not have been right. So I think I would probably do it the same way. Um there are quite a few things I would change, but Like the sorting out the manufacturer wasn't really, that actually was quite easy once we found one, what was more challenging was getting the design from prototype, Phase two design for manufacturing. And so was that like you sent them the prototype and you just had to reconstruct it and find a way to make it, you know, financially viable for you guys to actually get the margin. Yeah, well, I mean, the prototype that we had was only mildly functional. Um, it was made, you know, basically like in the backyard And uh, we actually changed quite a few things about the design and you know, initially we had, I mean, it's just like the way you make a prototype, like it took me a full hour to make one straw. And so that's obviously not scalable when we had to make 100,000 of them.
00:16:13Edit So it's a lot of design changes so that you can shift to mass production, which means you're creating tooling, you're creating, you know, systems in which materials are being reshaped and reformed and it's a it's a lot. I bet that sounds crazy. What advice would you have for people or for entrepreneurs who are going down that route of launching on Kickstarter launching something that doesn't really exist in the market. Um Yes, something new to the world. Yeah. So whenever people ask me what advice I have. First of all, there's two articles that tim Ferriss has on his blog. One of is about raising money on Kickstarter campaign. The other ones about collecting emails. Um I could go through all the things, but really just read those two blogs, it's really helpful and that's what we did to a t to create a pre campaign strategy. The next bit of advice is just study kick starters that you like, look at what they've done and mimic that.
00:17:17Edit No one is reinventing the wheel here, we're all doing different versions of the same thing. So look at what works and use that the last one is make sure your voice comes through, don't say things just because you think that's what people want to hear People want to hear your authentic voice and that's what makes your companies hand out from any other company and what makes you different, what makes you special and, and talk in that way and let the company be your voice an extension of that storytelling is very important in this day and age. And I think someone said it recently on the podcast, it's like having a good product just isn't good enough anymore because it's saturated. There's so much out there. You need to stand out in a world full of great stuff. Well, you know, not all great stuff, but lots of great stuff. Yeah, absolutely. I want to switch to talk about what happened after you kind of, you know, finish the campaign. You started seeing copycats coming out of china.
00:18:18Edit Can you talk a bit about what happened during that time and in the end. Yeah, yeah. What happened? Yeah. So about two weeks after we closed the Kickstarter, the first fake popped up and I was like, I knew that knockoffs were a thing, but I didn't have any idea what was about to happen. So after the first one popped up, you know, we started talking with our lawyers and and kind of like trying to draft a plan. But the problem is that my lawyer who was my patent lawyer didn't tell me that he's not um, in enforcement. And so you know, we're kind of just getting run around in circles by this person because he was basically just charging us by the hour but not actually doing the enforcement that we needed. So that was really hard and and a big learning lesson in hiring the right people. But you know it was, it was a matter of weeks and then there were thousands of knockoff listings and they were they were like exactly like ours, they take all of our marketing material, used all of our photos, all of our words and even you know, to the point where they would copy our exact website and then change, you know like it would be like final straw with two Ws or something and it was so horrible.
00:19:42Edit Our customers were furious. They thought that we were launching on other platforms for really cheap and then people would get the product and write us emails wanting to return it. And this is before we even had a product on the market. So there was like nine months where we didn't even have any product on the market and these fakes were just flooding the market and it was so horrible. I like I'd be out to dinner and like a girl next to me would like pull out a fake final straw and it was just like, oh my gosh, like this is horrible, it's everywhere. Um And so yeah, we eventually got our feet under ourselves got a really good patent enforcement and litigation team together and now you know, the scene is much different online and you, you can still encounter fakes, but they're not nearly as persistent as they were. And we have really upped our intellectual property protection game and um, are very big on enforcement.
00:20:45Edit That's crazy. And it's a strategy, right? Like this is what these companies overseas do. They scour the website, like those Kickstarter, crowdfunded websites to find new ideas and then replicate them? Yeah, they basically crawl the internet looking for campaigns that, that are creating easy to manufacture items that they can then just flood the market with. Uh, so it's, it's definitely really challenging. And the other issue is that obviously, you know, the whole purpose of our product is to reduce waste and these are super low quality items that break in a minute. And so that was like, the hardest part for me is that, you know, I'm so dedicated to the mission and that's like really all that matters to me. And then I had inadvertently created, you know, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of these knock offs, you know, as a byproduct of what we created and, and there, you know, in landfills all over the world, I'm sure Gosh, or oceans or beaches, what a nightmare stuff is there anything that you can do to avoid that kind of thing?
00:21:54Edit Or like that's just the nature of it. Yeah. Unfortunately the way the patent system is structured, it's really hard to avoid unless you want to wait for your patent to issue which can take anywhere from a year to 18 months or longer. You kind of are just at the mercy of of hoping that your patent goes through quickly because without, without an issued patent you can't enforce on anything. So what you usually do is submit a provisional and then that's kind of like your place in line and then from there you upgrade to a utility and design patents depending on the product and once those are issued you can start enforcing on them. But on a utility patent you can't actually just say like see I have this patent, you have to take down your product because utility patent has to be read and interpreted. So then you need a third party examiner who then looks at the patent and then looks at the infringing product. Even if like I mean these knockoffs are are exactly like what we made it.
00:22:57Edit So if you showed anyone on the street like are these two things the same? They'd be like yes, but it requires like legal oversight and so it's, it takes months, if not years, you can be locked up in litigation for forever and it can cost millions and millions of dollars. Yeah, I was just about to say it sounds real expensive, not a battle that anyone wants to get in. Oh my gosh, so you basically just have to commit to like paying this team to go out there and like get the bad guys, yep. Oh gosh, and I hate it. I like my Director of operations works in patent litigation as well and she will just like hide the bills for me because I'm just like, why are we spending this much money? And she's like, we have to and I'm like, oh, I hate it. But really like, you know, there is, there is a return on investment because as you pull these frauds out of the market, you know, you're cleaning the marketplace for yourself.
00:23:59Edit I imagine like especially in the beginning when this was happening, the mental stress and anxiety around it must have been huge and imagine it still is, but how did you deal with that kind of thing? Yeah, I mean it definitely was and it still is um I have a pretty strict morning practice so I meditate every morning. I work out every day. I was really the first three months that final launched, I did not do any of these things and I got really sick. I wasn't working out, I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping, I was just like, I literally would sleep in my bed with my computer and like fall asleep working and then just wake up and start like finishing that same email. So you know, it was, it was not balanced and I'm really in order in order to maintain um power and and the ability to keep going on through these really hard situations. You have to have balance and you have to like pull yourself away and you know make sure you're eating and working out and staying, you know drinking water and meditating and whatever it is that there are these like grounding practices that can just bring you back to yourself because like You know, I wake up every morning and my mind is just like racing with like 100 to do things.
00:25:24Edit Like it feels sometimes like I wake up to like like this engine that's just like blowing and I don't know like it's not like a moment you just are like in it. And uh so the meditation practices have helped a lot with that and breath work. I bet I really want to get better at that kind of thing because I'm the worst at it and I know that the benefits of they're up for grabs. Yeah, so there's some really good apps for it that I love them and they're free. But first of all there's a deep october a 21 day meditation that I highly recommend, It's like eight minutes and it's super. So it's really fast and you're actually only meditating for like five of those minutes and and it's it's a guided meditation, it's really great. Um and then also Sam Harris has a app called waking up that I really like amazing thank you right now because of Covid uh I'm gonna check them out. I'm gonna download both and find them online after this. I want to switch topics a little bit and talk about your marketing and what you're doing now to acquire customers at scale.
00:26:32Edit I know you guys do lots of great adds absolutely love your video with the mermaid girl. So funny. I urge everyone to check it out online. Um but yeah, how do you guys, what's working for you? How do you market at the moment? Yeah, so, you know, I think I kind of touched on this a little earlier around the brand voice and the importance of using that as an opportunity to kind of be authentic and speak your truth. So for me it's it's very much about humor, it's about conveying the message in a fun, relatable way that people want to join and and that it's not about pointing fingers and saying, you know, you're doing this wrong or you're doing something bad. It's more of an invitation um to come join this kind of really fun, sexy, sustainable party that we're having. So, you know, in terms of what's working, I think people love the mermaids, we still, you know, have to Hone in on on because we do have like a bit of an older demographic a lot of times for our customer.
00:27:34Edit And so they, you know, my humor tends to go like 13 year old boy. So someone has to kind of rein me in a lot and yeah, I think just continuing on with everything that, that's fun and exciting and I basically just create stuff that I want to see in the world and I figured that there's probably enough people out there kind of like me that it would appreciate and enjoy it. I think you're 100% correct, I can definitely put my hand up and say that I do um and what's next for you guys? You guys have obviously had the launch, you've got the wipes coming out as part of your forever bubbles. Um you've got the fork in this book, what else is on the cards, what's the vision? So many exciting things. So we just launched biggie straw yesterday, which is a reusable collapsible smoothie straw or boba, that fits in a cute little case. Um I love it, I love mine so much. And we are launching final fork and final spork next month.
00:28:36Edit So those are going to be collapsible fork or spork that fits in a little case, you can bring with you everywhere you go. It will be especially helpful right now as like a lot of restaurants have moved to single use plastic um you can just bring your fork with you, then you can say no to plastic. Um and then in late august we've got final wipe coming, so that's a reusable sanitizing wife and then we're also in conjunction with that creating capsule, which is a biodegradable, concentrated sanitizing solution. So you just add it to water and create a nontoxic sanitizing solution that kills covid. I mean, that's what we need, that's definitely what we need. Exactly. You know what I really hate And I was thinking about this recently is like when you go and get like take away sushi or something like that. Like especially if you're someone that frequents those kind of places like what do we do all that stuff? It's like unbelievable how much stuff we throw away if we get takeaway, what do we do about that takeaways tough. Um I have a couple of tricks that I like to use.
00:29:40Edit First of all, if it's a place that you know, say I'm really just like on the go. I'm I've never been to this restaurant before, I just need to get lunch. I will when I call and order, I asked them to minimize the packaging. You know, I'm like, look, I don't need the salad on the side. You can put it all in one container, put the dressing on it and say no bag, no cutlery. So that's kind of one of my like first tricks is just say, you know, and then also I ask a lot of times when I'm going somewhere, you know, what, what is your packaging made out of and then, you know, I will decide based on that if I want to go there. My second trick. Um it works when you kind of frequent the restaurant often, but I'll bring my own containers and and you know, and ask them to play it for here. So they'll put it on a regular plate and then when I get there I put it into my own container and then they take the plate back and wash it. So it's like, you know, no contamination has been created and that's where what I do at the restaurants that know me as the crazy like to go lady.
00:30:47Edit I think it's gonna be me from now on because literally my husband and I talk about this, there's this one sushi place that we were going to and we were like, I think we're gonna have to stop coming here because like it's just too much stuff that we're throwing out. But those tricks are fab. I'm just going to use those good. So we're up to the cool part of the interview. Well, I mean it's all been cool. What am I talking about? But we're up to the part of the six quick questions. Are you ready to go? Yeah, Question # one Is What's Your Why? My why is that? I believe that people want to do the right thing that they that they just don't have the right tools and so I want to create the tools to make it really easy to be sustainable to make it really easy to have a good impact on our environment and I think that that's what's missing. Yeah. You know, you're creating the, the solution to that, which is awesome. Question definitely are question number two is what's the number one marketing moment that made your business pop?
00:31:59Edit Definitely the Kickstarter, the Kickstarter for sure. I also read that you guys were in shock tank. Yeah. So we also were on shark tank, but it was not as it was amazing and it was so wonderful. But like the Kickstarter was just such an insane moment of validation from, you know, 40,000 people that we were doing something that they believed in. Whereas you know, shark tank is like you're talking to five judges and it was also such a good experience and we got offers and I turned them down because it was just too early in the business and I wasn't ready to bring on investment and I wasn't ready to, you know, set evaluation of my company that I knew was lower because I wasn't ready. So I definitely don't regret going on. But it was, you know, and I learned a lot. It was the first time I'd ever pitched an investor. So scary times.
00:33:03Edit Yeah. Yeah. It was nerve wracking. Yeah. I bet question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? Mm that's an easy one around smart people. Like we are just a combination of the people that we spend the most time with. So you know, if you don't feel inspired with your work, go hang out with someone who's inspiring. Um it's just like that, it's contagious. Um you know, I have friends that I call my muses because whenever I'm with them I just get so much energy from their presence. I think it's so important to create that network around yourself. And if you don't have that network actively seek it out, there's a lot of um, you know, coworking spaces that probably have like online mixers right now and networking events and um, you know, it's all about just finding your tribe and really diving in there and and asking deep questions and questioning your beliefs so that you're always expanding your mind and reading good books and podcasts.
00:34:09Edit Do you have any recommendations then I should be adding to my list. I just finished the way of the superior man, which is not business at all. But I really enjoyed it. And um in terms of a great business book, the culture code is really awesome in terms of building teams. Amazing. Thank you. I'll add that to my list. Question number four is, and we kind of touched on it before. How do you win the day? And it's around your AM and your PM rituals that help you keep successful and happy. Yeah. You win the day by not scrolling, which I don't always win the day. Um you win the day by starting with a good morning routine, drinking water, having a balanced day. You know, it never should be 100% of anything. Well that's not true if you're having 100% fun, good for you but just creating balance and gratitude. I think that any time you are stuck in a situation where you don't know what to do, write a list of three things you're grateful for and it will immediately pull you out of this mentality of like I can't, I don't know what to do all of these things and it kind of just immediately centers you into your heart and then from there it's much easier to kind of navigate challenging situations.
00:35:29Edit Amazing Question # five is if you only had $1,000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it? I think I would probably go out to a really nice sushi dinner and just try and come up with a new idea. Put your brain to work brain power like no, in reality I mean, Yeah, I guess if I really only had $1,000 left um well I would probably go to a casino and travel. I'm like bet on black because 1000 bucks ain't gonna get me very far. Question Number six is how do you deal with failure and that can be around a personal experience or just your general mindset and approach Yeah, that's a hard one honestly. Um you have to deal with it a lot and I think you get better at dealing with it as a business person as you go on. Um you know, I really try and dissect the failure and look at what went wrong and why and really get to the root of it.
00:36:41Edit I'm obsessed with getting to the root of a problem and maybe even to a fault at some point, but really diving into what caused this um has that cause been alleviated and what systems have been put in place to ensure that this will never happen again. And I think that's kind of the best thing you can do and then always remember what happened and and let that guide you because you know, we get to make choices every second as to like the direction that our lives are going to go. So, um, choose wisely. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I really, really enjoyed this chart and getting to learn about your business and I just think it's so cool what you're doing. I absolutely love it. So thanks a lot. Thanks thanks for having me.