From a resounding Kickstarter campaign to today, company Chipolo from Hrastnik has had quite a few big successes. The recipient of Slovene Enterprise Fund’s 200 thousand EUR equity investment is marketing its smart keychain for finding misplaced or lost objects on five continents. They’re number one in Europe, otherwise the global Chipolo family has 150,000 enthusiastic users. Besides their sales successes, they’re hatching new achievements in product development, inviting three new Android developers into their ranks. We talked to Tadej Jevševar, company co-founder and the driving force for marketing and sales, about why work in Chipolo can be an excellent career challenge and what their path after the bitter-sweet experience on Kickstarter looked like.
To the goal in mere 17 hours
It’s been a year and a half since one of the most resounding and successful Slovenian Kickstarter campaigns, the one for the smart keychain for finding misplaced or lost objects Chipolo, closed on November 2013. Remember – it was backed by more than 5300 users, the set goal of 15,000 dollars was reached in mere 17 hours, and the campaign was finally funded with more than 297,000 dollars.
TechCrunch and Vogue about Chipolo
“Success on Kickstarter surprised us. It didn’t only allow us to make the tools and start manufacture, but also to start the company. However, it was most of all an excellent opportunity for testing the market and for free global promotion. The importance of promotion is best illustrated by the fact that we generated a third of all Kickstarter funds from three main media publications, namely on the famous TechCrunch portal, in the elite Vogue magazine and on the mass forum for Android users,” reveals Tadej Jevševar.
Unexpected rush caused delivery delays
One reason why they were published in the resounding media was also the hype that the colorful designer accessory for smartphones triggered on social networks. But the Kickstarter campaign also caused more than a few grey hairs to the then four team members, because they didn’t succeed in manufacturing and delivering all of the ordered Chipolo keychains – both due to the unexpectedly large number of orders and because of the 31-day limit for Kickstarter approval.
How they put out the fire …
They put out the fire by sending the keychains only to the first, earliest supporters in December 2013, before Christmas (many users ordered Chipolo as a Christmas present). The rest received special gift cards that the users could print and symbolically put under the Christmas trees, while those who were waiting for Chipolo for as long as 3 months received an additional Chipolo shirt.
Complaints due to haste
“There was some dissatisfaction amongst the users. While only five of them canceled their orders, we had 15 % refunds, because our haste when filling out the orders sadly showed in inferior product quality. Today we’d decide differently. It’d be better to wait two months longer and send a tested product to the users,” is Jevševar’s description of their key crowdfunding experiences.
Stubborn Hrastnik people …
Up to April 2014, when the last Kickstarter backer received their Chipolo, the breakneck start-up ride didn’t calm down in the least. “We were so stubborn that we set up the entire manufacture in Slovenia, which is crucial for today’s product quality. We were actively looking for representatives on markets abroad and rushed to build a distribution network. We were also taking care of online sales, visited fairs abroad and searched for an investor,” lists Jevševar.
… and a declined invitation to the US
In January last year, Tadej tried establishing contacts with potential investors at CSE, the biggest consumer electronics show, but he was unsuccessful. Then he got in touch with Tomaž Štolfa and Jugoslav Petković, visible representatives of the Slovenian start-up scene, living and working in Silicon Valley, where he pitched to quite a few venture capital funds last year. They were interested, under the condition that the entire team, then consisting of seven people, move to San Francisco for at least half a year. However, this was not a decision that the Chipolo team was able to make unanimously for various reasons.
SK200 investment for growth acceleration
Luckily the Slovene Enterprise Fund recognized the potential of the smart keychain and app Chipolo and they authorized a 200,000 EUR public equity investment through the SK200 tender, which the company applied for in October last year. “Because we became profitable soon after the Kickstarter campaign, we needed an investment for accelerating growth. The fund’s resources are now mostly used for promotional purposes – google ads for supporting online sales, attending fairs and similar,” explains Jevševar.
Grateful users and steep sales growth
Today, the global Chipolo family consists of more than 150,000 satisfied users, and their numbers are firmly growing. Their praise and thanks for finding their valuables – from a competition bike to purses or laptops – are filling up the blog on the Chipolo website. Most of them (as many as 60 %) come from European countries, where Chipolo is number one compared to the American Tile, which is currently their main competition. The remaining 40 % of Chipolo users come from other countries in the world, including the US, where Tile is first.
David against Goliath
Considering that during this time Tile received an 18-million-dollar investment, Chipolo’s efforts to keep their market position seems like the battle of David and Goliath. “These days, the battle isn’t fought with a product but with a number of users and by maintaining a relationship with them. As far as our results are concerned, I can say that we’re on the right tracks, but at the same time, the global market of smartphone tools like Chipolo and Tile is big enough for the growth and success of both,” says Jevševar.
Talking with Best Buy …
The business duo of Primož Zelenšek and Tadej Jevševar, leading the global company from Hrastnik, is currently the proudest of the fact that in Europe, they very quickly came into all the most important stores and quickly expanded to all five continents. Right now, they’re intensively talking via their American distributer to enter key American retails chains, such as Best Buy and The Container Store. They’re coming to Japan in September.
New product dimensions
Tadej says that so far, their success was mostly due to Kickstarter results, an excellent team and the product’s sophistication. In September this year, they’re launching an even more sophisticated and capable version of Chipolo, including an updated look. They’ll focus on the development of a completely new product right afterwards. “It will still be an “item finder”, but it will work based on a new, more capable technology, not only limited to Bluetooth,” is our interviewee’s secretive hint.
An excellent career challenge for Android developers
The planned development achievements are also the main reason why the company is intensively looking for new co-workers, namely three Android app developers. If you wish to work in a company that’s marketing their product all across the world and has many satisfied and grateful users, as well as wish to develop products based on the newest technologies, don’t hesitate to go to Hrastnik for a coffee and chat. But check in beforehand, you can do it at firstname.lastname@example.org
Work in a great team and a truly global business
Chipolo, which currently has 14 co-workers, is known for its positive, relaxed work environment, with the right dose of business focus. After a brainstorming session, they like to play a match of ping pong, but they’re especially, as Tadej says, “aware that all people who come to us are of key importance for achieving global growth and for future business successes.”
How does Chipolo sweep away the competition?
Chipolo, currently fighting its main competitive battle with the American Tile, is gaining its user popularity and main competitive advantage mostly with “Sharing support”, which offers a way for up to four people to search for one lost object or keychain.
Users are also very excited about “Community search”, where other users in the Chipolo network can help you find lost things outside the reach of your Chipolo keychain. You can find the entire overview of Chipolo’s properties and competitive advantages in the table below.
Chipolo advice – how to find a good distributer?
Company’s experiences confirm that when getting a product into retail chains, the support of a good distributer is of key importance. “If you achieve success on Kickstarter, you can suddenly get a large number of potential distributers.” And how can you sort out the wheat from the chaff?
After the finished campaign, Tadej Jevševar made an Excel table, where he sorted the distributers according to countries and sizes. When figuring out their size and reach, he sent them a short questionnaire where they had to state which brands they were already representing, which stores they’re present in and what their annual income is. They also had to add a link to their website.
“When I asked them for the information, there was a visible decrease, since small, not serious distributers didn’t even respond. Meanwhile the large ones found it normal for me to ask them about this type of information, which is why they also sent it to me without problems. Besides contacting the distributers that made an offer, I also did my own research about which distributers represent other known products, such as for example Pebble Smartwatch, also working on Bluetooth technology, and contacted them,” reveals Tadej Jevševar. And adds that in this process, you have to be very patient – on average, it took about two months from the first contact to signing a contract, in their case.