Joining me on the show today is Isabel Aagaard, one of the co-founders behind sustainable startup LastObject.
LastObject is creating sustainable reusable alternatives to replace single use items in your bathroom like the Q tip, tissues and cotton pads with many more to come.
A big part of this episode is talking about the incredible kickstarter campaign that put them on the map, reaching their goal in just 22 minutes and going on to raise $1.3M over the following months.
We dig into how they built their email database and how much it cost to acquire the initial 40,000 subscribers.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Well I am Isabella Guard and I am uh where I'm the co founder of a last object which launched last swap as our first product. And now I think we've been in the market one half years. So we have four products now live. So it's great. We do, we use of alternatives to single use items. So it's, you know your typical Q tip that you use all the time. We've made a reusable version.
00:03:25 We've introduced tissues, more modern version of the handkerchief and uh, and now also cotton rounds and uh, and spraying mask. So yeah, so cool. It's so cool. Um, I think I mentioned to you before I came across you guys on instagram about a year ago when you had launched last swab and you've been on my radar ever since. So I'm super excited to dig in and learn everything there is to learn about what you've been up to. Awesome. So happy when the when people find us through instagram because we use a lot of energy on that platform. So it's a great that it's working. It is, it is indeed. Can you take us back to your life before last object and what you were doing, what you were up to, what was getting you interested in launching your own business? Yes, I was a what was I doing right before? It feels like 100 years ago, but it's really not.
00:04:29 Uh I was I was working for actually some different hospitals in Denmark. I had at my studies uh done a design for chemotherapy. So um like a bag that could have chemotherapy, so you could take it home. It was this whole new treatment form that we did in collaboration with patients and nurses. That was awesome. So great. And then that kind of weirdly as a designer, it's not a typical place you kind of end up but I just ended up in the health care system and there was amazing work, a great, great experience is also tough. But um yeah, so I was doing a lot of different things and I had kind of moved out of the, of the more serious uh departments because I felt it was very hard to, to do it for such a long period of time. But at the, I think right before I had done actually a maternity ward had to sign them when you have babies delivered. You have to be really quick about having tools close to you and there's a whole, it can of course typically go very smooth, but there can also be critical points.
00:05:42 So it was all about like organizing the rooms, making sure that it was the most efficient but also comfortable room to have a person. Yeah. Amazing. So when you're saying you were doing design, do you mean you were like a product designer by trade? Well by trade? I'm actually a co designer which is a collaborative designer. So what I specializes is designing with people. That's why I kind of end up in these weird businesses in a sense. And so for example, when I was working at the hospitals, I would, with the hospital staff, I would design maybe a bag. Maybe it was a workflow, maybe it was service, maybe it was an app. It could be anything like the outcome could be anything. It was more about solving a problem. Mm That's so cool. I actually hadn't heard of that before. I love that. And at what point did you have like that light bulb moment that you thought, okay, I'm gonna start my own thing now and I'm going to find some co founders or you know, your brother is a co founder, but you're Your two co founders?
00:06:50 How did you guys come up with the idea to start your own business? Yes. Well my brother, as you mentioned, who's the other third of our company is um he's also a designer, is more of a furniture designer, so he's very much about form and, and cole was his like longtime design partner and they met at school. So they had a company where they were doing a lot of different things. They had actually bought like a huge building and they were renting it out to all these designers, they were doing something completely different, but we had an office space together. Us three, So we started talking about just over lunch, I was doing, I was also doing some laser cut stuff for different companies and so we're kind of spread out, but we kept like coming back to the question, what do we really want to do and what actually inspires us, where we, we feel like we were doing something that really meant something and even though like it's very meaningful for me, the work that I did at the hospital, I just felt like it wasn't what I wanted to do.
00:07:55 So we started exploring it and sustainability just came really hi out on that list. And then we started talking about if we really had to go into something, we didn't just want to go in and you know, make a sustainable chair, we wanted to do something that really had power that had, that could make a difference in very few years. And this is where we actually stumbled over single use. So we started to, you, we would already see that in the market, we had straws, we had all these different um alternatives to maybe that we use are the single use straw. So they were already, you know, the movement was already starting and we saw there were a lot of design elements where nobody had really looked at them for many years or nobody had had ever tried to actually solve it, like the q tip. So um yeah, so this is, this was our moment of, oh my God, this is actually field, we could do a collection, We just have to start from one and to the other and and then last walk emerged from that idea and that want and we felt like that design was very clean and very, it just really told the story about what we wanted to do.
00:09:14 Gosh, that's so cool. Did you use your like co design mindset to meet up with people and figure out what they would want in something like this as a product? Well, actually, like throughout everything that we've done, we've been very involved with people and it's It's kind of weird because it's not something that I go to work? And I'm like, I'm a co designer. Like I'm going to ask 10 people on my way to um I wasted off is it's something that we all just like automatically do now. So for example, and when we launched it on a crowd funding platform, we actually used a lot of the amazing tools. It is to have this crowd of people who look at your product and can come with feedback. Oh no, I wanted that color and couldn't this be fun? And like, so we already, there had like a digital conversation with already customers. So this was something that was very co creation wise in a really big scale. But I had never done it like that.
00:10:15 I was much more like 1-1 but we did of course test our products and talked to when we started doing the beauty version, we started talking to a lot of beauty people because I didn't actually know that much about makeup and the boys weirdly enough didn't either. So we, so that's where we really needed more of uh an expert and also just everyday people like how many do you use and how can we, what would be the best for you? And yeah. And so when you had that you've had the idea, you've started talking to people, you've realized that, you know, the idea would be validated? You've realized that people want this, There's the movement now? What are the next steps? Like are you prototyping straight away? Are you building a website? What happens next? What we did was that we, we do as much as we can possibly at the same time because everything takes time and you just want to like get your things out there. So as a designer often you just kind of sit on your dear like oh my God, this is amazing design.
00:11:24 Like this is just going to be great. And then you just like go, then you just run and that's not necessarily that good of an idea because if you think it's awesome, maybe not, you know, a million people would think that is awesome at all. So we um, we prototype a lot. We have maybe done, you know, 100 different iterations on a Q tip and it doesn't make sense. But like just the, the surface, the texture, the material. And we've been, should we do it in bamboo? Should we do it in metal. Like we've been in so many different directions. And then there's the box, you know, so we've really been around everything and we've, we try to get it, we do design a lot on our computers. So we really try to, you know, get a three D. Printed, get it out in our hands, get it into other people's hands, Tell us explain to us, how do you feel? This is, how is your experience? And I would do like this small journals that people have to fill out just to like really get into like get to, you know, go all the way home with them while they're using it and then and then give us feedback.
00:12:28 So that has been really important for us. And simultaneously we did create some images. Did a landing page so that we could test this on a bigger scale, not just you know, the people that we have around us, but also do, is this something that you would buy? Is this the price you would buy it for? So we may be tested a lot in both pricing different colors, different versions, different ways of explaining what it is. So that we could get sharper every day. We got more and more. We would do a B testing every day. So every day we also had a decision to make. Oh no, okay, we have to definitely do it. Blue, let's try the red. No, still the blue is best. Let's try the green. You know, so we, we kept changing up and kept being more or kept becoming more and more sharp at explaining our story and what were the kind of learnings you were seeing in terms of like the copy and the price point. What would people most resonating with?
00:13:31 Well of course everything that we can get to. Uh everybody is just more willing to put less money into anything. So you know the cheaper the better. But there was definitely a price range that was you know what what what does q tips, A box of Q tips, what does that cost? There's something psychological there and I think that is with all single use items and also if you go and you you won't buy one tissue but you'll buy a pack of a lot of tissues. But what is the price of that? And you don't want to defer too far away from that. Mhm. And so at that point where your products actually was the last swap actually for sale when you were a B. Testing or was that you still trying to figure out what was going to be like for the launch? Yeah it was it was not for sale. We're still prototyping on the side. We hadn't decided on the specific materials even when we launched on Kickstarter. I think that we changed some of the materials along the way because we found out that something was stronger better so things do change.
00:14:40 Uh Yeah so we we didn't have it in our hands. The final version at all, wow, that's so interesting when you were doing the A. B. Testing, how are you getting enough traffic to kind of build a, you know a data, a set of data that was kind of enough to go off. We we did a lot of facebook marketing I would say that's probably we've done a lot of different things but I think that's probably what has given us the most precise information and, and also something that we could scale pretty easily. So that's been our main that and of course instagram, but that's, that came later on because you have to, that wasn't something we were very sharp at in the beginning and at that point before the Kickstarter kind of comes into play, which we'll get to in a moment, how much had you invested of your personal money or how are you funding the business to that point? Well, we had all three done a lot of things up until, so we knew that we could run without a salary for a while.
00:15:47 So we were, you know, self funded. And then we had put, what would amount about maybe 200,000 danish crowns, which, which would be what, £20,000, maybe a little bit more. So, So it wasn't, it wasn't that much and it was very scalable. So if we saw, for example, when we had launched a Kickstarter, if we saw, wow, okay, you know, the, we're getting clicks or email sign ups for this amount of money, then we could scale that up. We knew that we were going to get the money back because we knew typically, you know, approximately how many would actually buy the show is more of a, if we ran into some really successful campaigns, we could put more money. We didn't, we didn't sit and say like we're only going to use this amount of money. It was more of a feeling go, right, So, okay, let's talk about the Kickstarter campaign because I'm super excited to get into this.
00:16:50 I read that you reached your goal in something like 22 minutes. Um you obviously got massive exposure. You got a lot of money through the campaign. Can you talk about that process why you decided to launch on Kickstarter versus like going around and raising some money? And yeah, basically the whole story there, Well, I think that we, we chose Kickstarter because of two reasons. First of all, Like I also explained, we're kind of redesigned with people we design not in our little ivory tower because I don't think that that's very sustainable. And so what we wanted to do with Kickstarter was to validate, you know, is this something that we should put our energy into? Is this maybe we would do a little campaign and there were some that thought it was awesome and and then we would, you know, make sure that the products went there, but we didn't know how big this was, we didn't know like how well how good this idea was. So for us, it was very much about the validation, we could economically have put it in production ourselves, but but I don't I don't think it would be sustainable to do it in that in that way.
00:18:02 And and then I also think that there was also this thought in this, the whole business is built around less trash, it's built around producing something that will make sure that something else in the future is not produced. And I think that is very, very important when we do this, that we also think through our own business model. So if I had gone out and I had put everything in production and then suddenly I had a warehouse full of something that nobody wanted or a color that nobody wanted or a version that nobody wanted, then that would have been trashed and, and I didn't wanna, we didn't want to be in that situation. We, there would be the opposite of what we're going for. So it was also a way to be sustainable to make sure that we could, we could order exactly the amount of green last swaps that people wanted or blue or you know, and also introduce a whole different color that people wanted. Um so, so there was kind of our two main reasons to do a Kickstarter and how long before the Kickstarter goes live, did you actually start preparing?
00:19:13 So start planning out video, start working on your email subscribers, Start putting the message out to people. What was that timeline? Like? But I think that everything was done very simultaneously, but about two months before we launched our Kickstarter, we started to work on it video wise and everything went really fast actually, But it was also because we were doing everything at the same time. So we're producing, uh, you know, uh, we had like spray painted the swamps that were used in the video. You know, everything, there is no like real prototypes, there's no nothing, everything was kind of like this is going to happen, but it hasn't happened. Yeah. Right. And so what specifically were you doing in the lead up to kind of generate that interest so that when you actually went live, people bought, Yeah, we had, we had collected a huge email list and this is something when, when people asked me if, if I have like uh some kind of golden a golden ticket to how to make a successful campaign.
00:20:25 Really, really do email collections because first of all, it's a really good pre validation of your product. But it's also a way to make sure that you get a really good first day on your Kickstarter. So what we did was that we had done a lot of landing page explaining like, you know, here be get an early bird, 45% off of our Kickstarter if you sign up with your email. So we had a list of 40,000 emails that were ready that wanted to buy that. And, and this was just like a couple of weeks before that we had like kind of started building this list. So it wasn't an old list. It's very new with somebody that had just seen our campaign or ad? And I said, okay, I, yeah, I want to hear more about that. So, so that gave us a really good big first start. And when you say that only happened a few weeks before you before you launch the Kickstarter. So obviously it's fresh in everyone's mind. That's amazing. But how did you actually get the 40,000 subscribers? Well, that was more or less our ads.
00:21:31 And also we done a lot of, we did a lot of them outreaches to like many influencers on instagram. So we had like a list of 1000, many influencers that had just, you know, maybe 2,000 5000 followers. And we said that if this is what we're doing, we'd love to send you a sample if you if you wanted to hear more about more about this product. So this and then the email collection, which was more of an ads on facebook that redirected to our landing page, which was right up your email here. So they like these things kind of co created the email list. Huh? And are you able to share the kind of cost investment that you used to get the 40,000 subscribers? Well, I think that was factually that was more or less those 200,000, that was what we used our money for. Right, okay.
00:22:35 We didn't use our money on anything else because you know, that's just our time, wow, that's amazing. Okay, so launch day, you put the word out there. 22 minutes rolls by, tell me about this moment. What happens? It was absolutely crazy. We had like, I think two weeks before we launched, my brother said like, I actually think this could, this could actually be pretty huge. Like we're converting really well and and coal was also like we were just sitting in the office like kind of, I don't know, were like, is this, did we really hit a nerve here because we've done a lot of different also kick starters that were like, uh, so it was also like, okay, maybe maybe this is actually big and on launch day we were, we just, I think I used the whole entire day at just looking and then updating Like he started working just like looking at those numbers like, Oh my God, we have 500 backers now. Oh my God, we have 1000 backers.
00:23:38 What are we gonna do? Can we even produce this? You know? So had you found a factory or anything like that at that point? Yeah, I think we had five different that we're testing out. Right, right, right, okay. And so how long did the kick started go live for a month, if I remember correctly, a month, maybe 1.5. Yeah. And then I think I read that you, I didn't see what your original goal was, but you made something like $700,000 and then you pivoted into Indiegogo. Yeah I think that that could be right. I actually don't remember. Okay so amazing amazing all the same what happens next? You raise a ton of money, you're like okay we've really struck a nerve. People want this, the world needs this. We actually like hit the nail on the head what happens next? Um We ran like we continue winning the campaign on Indiegogo which is really nice because we didn't really have the web strap up and running. And then when we closed that down we made like a pre order on our website.
00:24:46 So we said like okay and and all of this simultaneously while we were working with the with a factory with a couple of factories um and still trying to make sure the quality was good enough and everything was like playing in the packaging and you know everything else and how we would ship it. And because from here was really logistics um partner in our problem but it was a logistic assignment because we wanted we didn't want everything to be shift from you know one place because co two wise that was just awful. Um And we had a lot of sales in the US. But we also had a lot in europe so what we did was that we found two warehouses, one in the U. S. And then one in europe. Um And also one in Asia and then we got everything like big shipment shipped there to then be shipped out. So this was a way for us to make sure that we could really, we had a very low co two um outlet for transport and yeah so that was more or less what we what we used all those months for?
00:25:54 That's crazy. I guess you forget about that kind of thing because it makes total sense you want to build a sustainable brand but then you've got to think about the things that are below the surface that the end consumer doesn't actually think about their thinking that they've just brought this amazing product. But yeah if it's being shipped from all the way over the other side of the world, maybe it's not so sustainable totally. That's really interesting. And so what were the kind of learnings that came out of the Kickstarter that you've been able to take into your most recent Kickstarter? Was there anything unexpected that kind of happened that you were able to foresee now for the most recent campaign? So we're getting more and more sharp to how to build the campaigns how how long we should, you know, build an email list and how these how important actually these campaign where the launch sites are also to explaining how I was just in general actually also ended up changing some of the wording and how we kind of framed our whole project throughout the campaign because we could see that people kept asking like, but but I don't understand you wash it and I'm like yes, of course you wash it, oh shit, we have to actually put that in, you know pretty far up.
00:27:14 So they were just like small things very like how you use it very where I'm like well of course you wash it but of course that doesn't make sense when you just see the product and when you know it's a Q tip. So as I think those things very usability wise them, they had to be explained. It was also really nice for us to actually in the next campaign to already know how the packaging would be because it sells especially when you are, you are working with an eco friendly as an eco friendly brand. You really want to make sure that you have as little things in the package as possible. So all of our packaging is sleek and all the information is on it. So there's no, there's nothing at it. Um We also found out there was actually really important to be aware of plastic in the shipments because shipping facilities are not very cereal waste based, so explaining and wanting them to put paper into the the into the packages or to not have plastic in it.
00:28:23 That was actually very difficult and we actually had to go away from a couple of companies just because they could not solve the problem. Um so you know all these different, there were a lot of different learnings and and and we still learned like even the last campaign that we did last week, We've like sat down and just like noted 50 new things that we have to do next time. What are some of those things from the campaign right now? We have to be in general, we have to be very sharp with people really love numbers, they love okay, if I buy this I will I will reduce this and what does that amount to? Okay, that is you know, 10,000 liters of water or that is you have to be really because it and and it is it's a very complex sustainability in in itself is very complex because you could see it from so many different angles and there's production of course and there's also chemicals and there's also um should be organic or non organic and what is actually the right thing to do here, where is it being produced, How is it being shipped in, what way is it being packaged?
00:29:35 You know, so and we also have to look at what the single use industry is doing so that we can, you know, weigh them up against each other. I think it's important what we learned from that campaign now especially is that our design has to be as close to the usable or to the non usable. The single use item and not pivot too much into being very formed, being very, it really has to look like the original item. That's a really interesting insight and one that I wouldn't have expected to hear how funny. Yeah, I'm interested to know since that Kickstarter, the first Kickstarter campaign finished, how have you been growing and acquiring new customers since, has it been more of the email subscribers or what's been your kind of main driver for growth where I think like we always do, we we do a lot of different things and we run on different parameters we have of course our email is, this is important and it's really nice to to build it with new customers and but there's also something really nice with the community and Kickstarter which is nice to tap into.
00:30:51 We've also done a lot of collaboration with other brands that are step do similar things like us, which is very valuable. This can really, really grow if you do it really well, you can grow a lot on just this because they have a list of people that want the same thing as your list. So you know, merging those two lists are just very, very useful, especially if you can do it in a creative way and it's not like an email for an email because that doesn't really do that much um social media, we have also been working a lot on getting into with different press releases, everything that we're talking about um using a lot of our energy and actually writing down, we have a blog where we right about sustainability and about different ways that you can be a better contributor to a more sustainable world and why is bamboo not good or why is it good or why is cotton good or is it not good?
00:31:54 You know, trying to get into some of these conversations that I think are so interesting and so missed in our media right now. So that is something that we've also been working on. So we're doing 100 different things. I could I could keep talking, I'm interested to know if I can ask a little bit more about the when you kind of co collaborate with other brands who you were saying, you know you have similar audiences that want the same products. What are those kind of creative ways you can partner? So that it's not just an email for an email kind of thing. We did this really cool collaboration with deodorant company called Newt and they're doing this awesome um deodorant which is like you know, non toxic and non it's just completely clean, good for skin and and plant based and plastic and everything. So it's really nice company they are about as big as we are having as many orders. So what we did was that we kind of, we got together and we were we wanted to of course share and be completely open about sharing whatever media platforms we wanted to, but also we wanted to make a story together.
00:33:09 So I think this is really strong when you can kind of, you know, take the two products, take a good picture with them together. Talk about, okay, why is this really good when we actually were using the same kind of plastic? Because it's really good, this plastic, um and it is because of this and this and this And uh, you know, they had at that point reached I think 200,000 armpits or something like this. And it was just, it was a great way of like, oh, and you know, we're into uh we're into cleaning our armpit or having a less stinky armpit and cleaning our ears. You know, if you can kind of make sure that they can merge, it's two things that you want in your bathroom because they're awesome. You know, so I think those when you really work and not just promote other companies, oh look at this, this is really nice. But you really like everybody in the office had used the deer odor and you know, everybody at their office has last swap. You know, we really just merged ourselves with them and that made a really strong campaign.
00:34:12 Yeah, it sounds awesome. I love that. What's next for you guys? Where's the business at, at the moment and what's the future look like? Well we are, we have so many products that we want to create and we want to launch, we have some that are ready to start getting formed for for a launch. We have versions of our existing products that we wanted to make and then we just in general, I think right now we're still really happy about being in the bathroom department. We have a lot of fun hygienic products that we kind of still want to have a go at, but at some point I think we'll move out and maybe get into the kitchen, you know, maybe get into the living room. So I think that's gonna be really fun. Uh I had a baby four months ago, so I'm also very effective about diapers and wipes and all of the trash consuming situation that a baby kind of creates?
00:35:18 So I think that there are a different or I'm not saying we're going into diapers, I don't, I don't really know if we are but I know that we really want to do different things in different areas and I think that whatever, you know, we are going through as three designers, I think that's gonna beam that will show in our products totally, you know, something I wanted to ask you, it just popped into my mind, you're three designers. How do you ki