A Guide to the Best iPad Resources and Apps for Home Inspectors

There is no one best way to approach a home inspection; each inspector has his or her own preference. Some may use a voice recorder, others take notes on a clipboard, but tablet technologies like the iPad have opened the door to new ways that allow home inspectors to be more efficient on the job.

This is a guide to some of the top applications on the market for home inspectors, along with a few other resources that might help!

1. Horizon Software-  Price: Ranging from $4-12 per report

HorizonWeb

Horizon software from Carson Dunlop is truly remarkable, the most comprehensive enterprise solution on this list. It is certainly one of the most fully featured and packed with resources to make your job easier, along with producing some of the highest quality reports. One of the unique features is how it also includes a suite for managing the administration of your business from accounting, all the way to letting agents easily schedule inspections with you online. The mobile version is fully integrated with the cloud allowing you to access every aspect of your business anywhere from any device.

2. Happy Inspector-   Price: three levels starting at $49.99/month

HappyInspector

This is regarded as one of the best applications in the industry and will cover almostall aspects of the inspection process from the walk through, all the way to generating a report and collecting e-signatures. It keeps all of your information in one easy to access location, allows you to attach pictures, and even has support for integration with other popular real estate & property management software.

3. Tap Inspect-   Price: $60/month

TapInspectTap Inspect is an app that specializes in the simple creation of home inspection reports. The program allows you to instantly piece together a report from your notes, right on your iPad. After creating a report you can convert it to PDF and distribute directly to your clients through a secure link.

4. Inspectapedia-  Price: free

Inspectapedia

Many of you in the home inspection industry are probably already aware of thisresource. The website design may not be the most visually appealing, however it more than makes up for it with the sheer amount of knowledge and resources it contains from industry experts. The website is essentially database of links to content across a variety of topics relating to home inspection centrally located in one spot on the web.

5. Clipboard+   Price: $49.99

Clipboard+If already use the iPad out in the field, or if you choose to adopt one of the solutions above, you are going to need a durable case to protect your device. Clipboard+ provides more utility for home inspectors than the average case by integrating a traditional clipboard with a durable iPad case so that you still have easy access to a writing surface anywhere you go–making jotting down quick notes on a walk through or signing forms no problem.

Bringing Clipboard+ to Market

This is a review of the general steps that we went through in bringing the Clipboard+ iPad Clipboard to market after successfully crowdfunding the idea on Kickstarter. For some Kickstarter projects, the “getting to market” process is the campaign itself. However, in our case there were a number of issues that needed to be addressed before we could confidently start putting our time into selling the product. This meant that we essentially needed to start over.

Part I: Manufacturing

We had several problems with the manufacturer we used for our Kickstarter Campaign, they were too pricey, not the best at working with young entrepreneurs, and most significantly weren’t producing a product that worked the way we intended it to right off the production line.

We had received a ton of feedback from our Kickstarter backers along with others interested in the product. Basically the main point of this feedback was that we needed to add new features and make the design more accommodating to different size tablets/cases, along with requesting a number of other features. Not having the engineering background to do this ourselves, or to direct a 3rd party to make the changes independent of a manufacturer who would ultimately be making the product, we set out to find this new manufacturer.

Our first stop was to scour the Thomas Register for local manufacturers who generally had the capabilities we were looking for. This mainly results in a lot of open tabs and a lot of inquiries to different manufacturers that don’t go anywhere. We did this before our Kickstarter, and one of the lessons we learned was that this isn’t the best way to go about it, but it is definitely a good place to start if you don’t have any other leads and you want to learn what’s out there.

Searching through the Thomas Register was largely unfruitful, but someone introduced us to a product development consultant who specialized in helping entrepreneurs with basically every problem we were working to resolve. So for roughly two months we worked with the consultant and talked about the best plan to follow going forward. He taught us a lot about what we needed to do in terms of talking with a manufacturer, but he was adamant that we go to China for our product. Ultimately we had to make the decision to not go forward with the consultant primarily because we wanted to stick to the USA for our manufacturing.

Back to square one again. We turned to MFG.com, a sourcing service I had read about it in Chris Andersen’s Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. The way

dashboard MFG.com

MFG.com Dashboard

MFG.com works is that anyone can go on and create a RFQ (request for quote) containing your BOM (bill of materials) along with a CAD drawing and a description of what you need. It is important to be as descriptive as possible. Those requests are then widely distributed to a number of suppliers. It allows you to easily attach an NDA as well. The suppliers will reply with a quote at various quantities along with any questions that they have about your project.

We received a number of replies from suppliers interested in our project. One of the most important things was that the manufacturer needed to understand our level of experience and be willing to make the design changes we needed. After reviewing the quotes and speaking with several companies on the phone, we had it narrowed down to a few suppliers. Working with them they helped to figure out how we would resolve our design problems, what the manufacturing process would be, and provide a rough estimate on cost. We ended up picking a manufacturer based out of Pennsylvania, which was great because it was so local.

Manufacturer floor

On Site at the Manufacturer

After visiting with the manufacturer at their plant, getting to tour the facility and discussing payment terms, we agreed to work with them on the new version of Clipboard+. This was a huge milestone because up until that point we really didn’t know if there would even be another Clipboard+ since we didn’t have anyone to physically make the product.

However, this was not the end of the journey in manufacturing. Luckily I had already spent a few months earlier on in the winter contacting foam and clipboard clip suppliers around the country to evaluate their samples and determine what would be used on the new version. So before even talking with the manufacturer we had already sourced suppliers for all of the components of our product. But we still needed to have the manufacturer produce prototypes that met our specifications and securely held an iPad in place. It took roughly 7 weeks before we received the first prototype, and unfortunately it was way too loose. The iPad slid right out, and the logo engraving was out of proportion. After going back to manufacturer with all of these problems they worked on solutions and about 3 weeks later I held the first version of what would become the new Clipboard+ iPad Clipboard. The whole process took much longer than I had anticipated at the state, but in the end we had a quality product we were proud of.

 

Part II: Packaging

For our initial Kickstarter order, the only “packaging” our product had was a piece of glossy heavy stock paper slid into the iPad bay with a picture of an iPad and arrows indicating which way to remove/insert. This wouldn’t cut it if we wanted our product to be taken seriously, or if we wanted to sell wholesale/through retailers.

Unfortunately I don’t know of any MFG.com for packaging, maybe there is one, and if there isn’t one, there probably should be. But either way, we were lucky enough to be referred to a company that was willing to work with inexperienced entrepreneurs and could handle small production runs.

After being introduced we started by having several discussions about what we needed out of our packaging, as well as the various pros and cons of each different option. The company was very helpful and guided us along the way. There is a lot more to packaging than meets the eye when it comes to buying packaging. There are a ton of different considerations such as visibility of the product, strength of material, stackability, hang tabs for retail, what style best would speak best to our customer etc.

We received a box full of samples with a note attached to each one explaining the different box folds, cardboard types, finishes, color printing styles and more. Many companies expect customers to know what they want, but when its your first time doing it, not only do you not know what you want, but you don’t even know what the choices are. Having a manufacturer and a packaging company who helped us along the way was invaluable.

packaging without artwork

Packaging without artwork.

After settling on a box style and surface finish, we received a sample of what our box would look like (without any artwork). During this time we were still working with the manufacturer to determine the dimensions so we needed to wait until we knew the final size of the product before we could confirm with the packaging manufacturer.

In the meantime we still needed to design the packaging artwork. It felt similar to creating an entirely new website where we had to communicate all of the necessary information about the product in a clear, concise and visually appealing way, except on an area the size of our product. We also needed to obtain a barcode and make sure that we were including everything necessary on the box.

Packaging with artwork.

Packaging with artwork.

Eventually everything came together. We had the dimensions, we had the artwork, and a few weeks later we had all of our shiny new packaging ready to be filled with product and shipped off to the warehouse. Although,one hiccup did arise when the packaging came in but it was not intuitive how the boxes were folded into shape. Be sure to discuss everything ahead of time and have the manufacturer supply instructions on how to properly assemble the boxes if it isn’t entirely straightforward.

 

Part III: Website

Some may disagree, but when you are selling a product like ours, and your main method of distribution is online, you’d better be sure that your website is top notch. The visual appeal of your website speaks volumes about the product and the company who makes it. Most of the time it is the only interaction someone will have with the product before deciding to purchase or to move on.

When it comes down to it, your website is your most important sales tool. Our old website was outdated and didn’t effectively showcase our product; it was clear to us that if we wanted to sell the product we would need a website that reflected its high level of quality. Fortunately we had a lot more experience in building websites than we did building clipboards.

After first considering building the site from scratch we decided to find and purchase an HTML theme that we liked. We found a really nice theme called Crisp on ThemeForest that had pretty much everything we were looking for. It was well documented and worked well with our brand. It may be surprising to some, but the hardest part isn’t actually fiddling around with the website code, it is actually writing all of the copy/content to fill it. This was made even more difficult by the fact that we were building the website before we even had a product so we didn’t have any pictures and had to imagine what the finished website would look like. It also left us with a big chunk of work after the final prototype came in. We had to scramble to get professional product shots taken and then go back to change the website all while doing everything else that needed to be done prior to launch.

Beyond the user facing parts of the site, we also needed to make sure that our website was SEO optimized so that it would show up highly ranked on Google. A lot of thought goes into what keywords you are going to optimize for and how to best structure the site. We also had to figure out the best way for us to have our blog and store to be accessible on our domain even though they were separately hosted. We decided to create subdomains for the store/blog and point the subdomains to where they were being hosted off of our server.

Overall the website was by far the least ambiguous part of the whole process since we had done it before, but it was still pretty time consuming and rather tedious work.

Part IV: Fulfillment

In my opinion, one of the most significant changes that prepared us to bring Clipboard+ to market, aside from actually finding manufacturing for the product, was automating our fulfillment. After the Kickstarter campaign we hand shipped every order. Not only was this extremely time consuming, dull, and hard to keep track of, it was also much more expensive than we had imagined. Our postage and packaging costs ate into our margins and we realized that it wasn’t a scalable solution.

So when we went back to the drawing board after Kickstarter, one of the main goals was to figure out a way to automate all of our warehousing/fulfillment. Step one was to do research on what options were out there, and then research those options in much greater detail to determine what each one would cost and their various pros/cons. A number of services exist to handle these tasks, the most well known are Shipwire and Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA). We ended up deciding to go with Amazon, which is almost certainly the best choice despite a few minor drawbacks with the service.

Our fulfillment system is set up like this: the manufacturer produces the clipboards, places each unit into its final retail packaging, puts those individual boxes into case packs of 12 units, ships those case packs to Amazon’s warehouses, and then finally whenever an order is received through our online store Amazon finally ships out the product to that customer.

To sign up for FBA all you need to do is register for an Amazon Seller account by providing some basic business information. The complicated part comes later when you actually go to ship inventory to their warehouse. Since Amazon processes thousands upon thousands of different products and has one of the most organized supply chains around, they have very specific rules you must follow in order to use their system. All of the information is available online, however it takes a lot of time to read and effectively understand. It is further complicated if you choose not to sell through Amazon.com and simply want to use them for fulfillment.

Nevertheless, after hours of reading the guidelines that Amazon provides, doing other online research, watching YouTube videos, and spending some quality time on the phone with their support, I think I had it figured out. We met with our manufacturer after compiling a document that spelled out exactly what steps were necessary to ship inventory to Amazon’s warehouses along with the restrictions that applied to our product. This meeting was helpful because we were able to get on the same page with the manufacturer, and since we had little room for error in our budget it made us more comfortable knowing that the shipment would go to plan.

The process for shipping inventory was pretty simple when we actually went to register the first shipment. Basically you input all of the product/shipment info, they give you shipping labels to print, those labels are printed and affixed to the side of your case packs, UPS picked them up, and within a few days the inventory appears in your account ready to be fulfilled.

 

 

10 Graphs That Sum Up the Medical Student Debt Problem

Medical students’ indebtedness is nothing new. For decades, would-be doctors and physicians have undertaken a sea of loans on their journey to an M.D. So what’s changed? Since the Financial Crisis of 2008, the median debt levels have hovered around $170,000, nearly double what they were twenty years ago. 86% of all medical students have accumulated debt, with over a third owing more than $200k. As base tuition, student fees, and the overall cost of attendance have surged, the students are left with a mountain of a bill.

Median Education Debt 1992-2012

In 1992, the median, adjusted for inflation, was $91,729. Last year, it was $170,000. This represents an 85% increase, just over two decades.

2012 Average Student Debt Percentages

While two-thirds of medical students are carrying more than $150k in loans, one out of every six graduates owes more than a quarter million dollars.

Pecentage of Indebted Students

Following the Financial Crisis, the percentage of indebted students reached an all-time high of 87% in 2008 and 2009.

Public and Private School Median Tuition and Student Fees, 1 Year

In 1992, one-year tuition at public and private schools were $6,740 and $18,365, respectively. As the steady increase far outpaced national inflation and the Consumer Price Index, 2012 students at public institutions pay five times as much, while private school attendees are charged nearly three times that cost.

Public and Private School 4-Year Cost of Attendance

The Cost of Attendance (COA) represents the all-encompassing price tag of a medical school education, including tuition, fees, textbooks, and cost of living. Throughout their four years, most students can expect to pay between $200k and $300k in total.

Change in 4-Year COA Between 1998 and 2011

The four-year COA of private schools has jumped 69% between 1998 and 2011, while public colleges have spiked an astounding 94%.

Median 4-Year Scholarship Amounts, 2011

Despite these increasingly daunting bills, 2011 scholarship data has shown that grants cover a mere fraction of the overall cost of medical school.

Repayment Scenario: Pay-As-You-Earn for 20 Years

With $170,000 in debt, in order to pay off the loans in twenty years a student will accumulate an additional $192,000 in interest and ultimately end up dishing out around $362,000 in total repayment.

Percentage of Students With Debt by Racial and Ethnic Group

Although all races and ethnicities face some degree of indebtedness, nearly all non-Hispanic Blacks and African-Americans are in debt upon graduation. These high levels have contributed to a decrease in enrollment by some minority groups, when the need for diversity in the medical field is ever-growing.

Top Ten Schools by Average Student Indebtedness in 2011

With 141 accredited institutions that can grant an M.D., the quantity and intensity of debt can vary greatly. In looking at the top ten schools by average student debt, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine takes home the gold with their graduates on the hook for over $242k.

The path to earning a medical degree already involves tremendous sacrifice and a perseverant resoluteness that we all can admire. Why afflict such a burden on these future doctors and physicians? The United States has some of the best medical professionals in the world, yet we choose to risk this prominence by limiting opportunities to those who can afford it, or be buried in debt. Education, and the freedom to attain, must be preserved. For med students, however, that ship is starting to sail.

Data Compiled and Commentary by: Eric Reale
Clipboard+ home of the original iPad Clipboard Case

Sources:

- https://www.aamc.org/download/328322/data/statedebtreport.pdf

- http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/our-people/member-groups-sections/medical-student-section/advocacy-policy/medical-student-debt/background.page?

- http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/10/08/black-medical-students-in-us-have-heaviest-debts-study-finds

- http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-medical-schools/debt-rankings

 

Questions about iPad Air Compatability

As most of you have probably heard by now, Apple just released their latest iteration of their iPad, the iPad Air. Unfortunately Apple neglected to run it by us first, which was rather inconsiderate of them since we released our product just a few weeks later.

We’ve received a lot of questions asking if the product would fit with the Air, and so far I have only been able to say “I’m not sure, but most likely not.” However as I received more of these questions I figured it would be worth it to our potential customers if we could provide a better answer. I went out and purchased an iPad Air today to test it first hand.

Please excuse the rough quality of these pictures…

Here’s the iPad Air at my desk next to Clipboard+ when I was opening the box.

iPad air

This is the iPad Air sitting on top of my iPad, you can see how much narrower it is.

iPad air on top of older version of iPad

I tried it out in the clipboard, but it was too small since we made the clipboard dimensions perfectly designed for the other versions of the iPad.

iPad air in clipboard

Will we make one for the iPad Air?

The answer to that question is yes, but I can’t give an exact timeline. We just released the current version today. We have plans to make additional versions for the iPad Air, iPad mini, other non-apple tablets, etc. If you sign up for the mailing list located in the footer of our website we will be sure to update you as soon as we have more information about new products. Thanks for understanding, in the meantime, save the environment and stick with your current iPad so you can use Clipboard+!

Clipboard+ Combines iPad and Paper With an Innovative New Take on the Clipboard

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

STATE COLLEGE, PA- When you think of office products such as staplers, binders, and clipboards, usually technology and innovation aren’t the first words that come to mind. However, today Clipboard+, a start up company based in Pennsylvania changed that when they introduced their new product which combines the traditional clipboard with its 21st century counterpart, the iPad. The Clipboard+ iPad clipboard case addresses the rapidly changing business landscape from one that relies on paper to one that increasingly utilizes tablet technology.

The product was initially released to a small market in the fall of 2012 after Clipboard+ raised seed money using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. Since then Clipboard+ has been used across a wide range of industries/applications, including health care, real estate, manufacturing, construction, athletics, education, and sales. It works by incorporating a secure iPad storage bay on one side with a clipboard on the other. It makes switching between the two as simple as flipping over your clipboard.

“The clipboard itself hasn’t changed very much in the past 50 years, but what has changed is technology taking the place of clipboards in the workplace. Existing clipboard companies are slow to change and haven’t adapted their products to meet the needs of tech-savvy consumers. We saw an opportunity to redesign the clipboard so that it helps users with the transition to a paperless world.” –Kevin Merlini, President Clipboard+

The Clipboard+ iPad clipboard is available now for purchase online through the Clipboard+ store at www.clipboard-plus.com. The product retails at $60, inline with most other high durability iPad cases, and at a price less than half of any similar products.

About Clipboard+:
Clipboard+ (www.clipboard-plus.com) created the first and only product that seamlessly integrates a clipboard and iPad into a single package allowing for an effortless transition between working with iPad and paper. One of the core values of Clipboard+ is the reshoring of manufacturing from low-cost foreign nations to the US, all products and components are high quality and manufactured in the United States of America. Clipboard+ brings the clipboard into the 21st century, allowing customers to be more efficient, and supports the local economy.

Media Contact:
Kevin Merlini
Clipboard+
kevin@clipboard-plus.com
(215) 370-0126

Road After Kickstarter: Parts 1-4

The Road After Kickstarter

The number of successful Kickstarter projects that fail to deliver their rewards on time has been estimated to be somewhere between 75 and 85%. Of those, even fewer go on to become actual businesses. This is primarily due to the fact that many people who launch Kickstarter campaigns lack experience in manufacturing or bringing a product to market.

We were certainly among the group of people who lacked experience going into Kickstarter. Despite our best efforts, our rewards shipped about two months after the date we had estimated at the beginning of our Kickstarter campaign. To be honest, two months is actually pretty good as far as Kickstarter delays go. However, the bigger issue wasn’t the delay of shipping rewards, instead it’s the fact that one year has passed and we are only now ready to put the product on the market. There were a number of issues that should have been resolved prior to launching our Kickstarter campaign that essentially forced us to go back to square one.

This will be a four part series where I explain what issues we faced and how we have dealt with them over the past year. Anyone interested in launching a product based Kickstarter or just generally interested product based entrepreneurship should read these posts in order to learn from the mistakes we made.

Part 1: The Foam & The Clip

Part 1 of this series deals with issues we faced related to components of our product. For the foam it was an issue of quality and scalability, and for the clip it was simply one of quality. A more experienced team would have already considered these issues prior to launching the Kickstarter campaign. Unfortunately we had to learn these lessons first hand.

The Foam:

  • Problem: All of the foam liners on the iPad clipboards had to be hand cut by members of our team in a time consuming and often inexact process. We next had to hand glue, using spray glue, each individual foam piece to the flat clipboards in an additional time consuming and often inexact process. Then we would take the flat clipboards with the foam glued on to the manufacturer where they would be bent into shape and have the clips riveted on. This was one of the reasons for our shipping delay because it took much longer to do this than we had anticipated.
  • Solution: We needed to find a new foam supplier who could pre die-cut the foam into the exact shape we needed, and apply a self-adhesive backing (kind of like a sticker). Not only would this speed up manufacturing but it would also prevent the foam from ever becoming unstuck to the inside of the clipboard (which is something that happened on some of the original clipboards). I requested samples from a ton of suppliers who met our requirements and selected one of the highest quality foam liners they offered.

cutting foam

The Clip:

  • Problem: While the clip was one of the more trivial problems we faced, it was still an issue nonetheless. We received a decent amount of feedback saying that the clip felt cheap, had some functionality issues, and made a scratching noise when in use.
  • Solution: We found a new clip. This was also a little easier said than done, as we not only wanted to find the best quality clip available but also one that was made in the United States. Most clipboard clips available are cheap and almost all of them are made in China, but after a long search we found a company based out of New York that makes awesome clips.

The lessons to takeaway from this post are that you should absolutely consider scalability of manufacturing before launching your campaign. One reason being that you will need to have a scalable solution in order to make a business from your successful campaign. And the other reason being that you never know how many units you will need to produce as rewards, so you better have a plan in place to meet the demand.

Part 2: The Design & The Manufacturer

The problems we faced with the design of our product, along with the manufacturer were the most significant obstacles in the way of turning Clipboard+ into a business. Essentially we didn’t have a product we could sell, and it was too expensive for us to earn a healthy margin.

  • Problem Design: After we received funding we took our prototypes to the manufacturer and asked them to make the design changes we needed, and that we had previously discussed. Those changes were adjusting the bends to be more ergonomic along with making sure it tightly fit the iPad. They ended up charging us a whole lot for engineering and they had to go through way too many iterations. This contributed heavily to our delay, and even worse they couldn’t even get the iPad tightness right!! It was a crushing blow when we received the clipboards and realized that an iPad would slide out if held upside down. There was little recourse we could take with the manufacturer so we took it in stride and realized that we could hand bend the clipboards to the correct tightness ourselves. Once again this added to our delay and made the product un-scalable at the time.
  • Problem Manufacturer: In addition to the design problems we discussed above, the manufacturer used for our Kickstarter run was a specialized job shop that mainly did work on precision parts for research and other high performance projects. Because of this, their labor cost, and ultimately the price we paid for the clipboards was very high and made it impractical to try and scale using this manufacturer.
  • Solution Design and Manufacturer: I wish I could say it was as easy as finding a new manufacturer. Unfortunately, finding a manufacturer that meets all of your needs and is willing to work with inexperienced entrepreneurs is way easier said than done. Several months had passed since we shipped the Kickstarter rewards and we had received feedback on all sorts of new features/design change ideas from our backers. We spent a lot of time deciding if we should completely redesign the product, or stick with our simple and functional design. Ultimately we realized that as much as we wanted to design a radically different version, we didn’t have the time, money, or engineering experience and doing so would have been a mistake. In the end we used the outstanding sourcing site MFG.com to find the perfect manufacturer that fit our needs. Our new manufacturer is great to work with and they were able to solve all of the iPad tightness related problems without charging for engineering.

Part 3: Shipping

While your campaign is live on Kickstarter the focus is almost entirely on reaching the goal. Soon after the campaign has ended however, reality starts to set in. Now you have to make hundreds of widgets and somehow make sure that every backer gets the appropriate reward. Going into Kickstarter you should have a clear plan for how you are going to ship the rewards, what to charge for international shipping, and what the cost for domestic shipping (including all packaging will be). Unfortunately it is difficult to know the answers to all of these questions especially when you don’t know how many rewards you are shipping and to where.

It is certainly possible to handle all the rewards yourself but that isn’t a very sustainable option for growing your business. It takes time away from value added activities and greatly limits your ability to quickly reach customers in a cost effective manner. Below is how we dealt with shipping for our Kickstarter. After I have some more expereince using Fulfillment by Amazon I plan on writing a post about our experience with the service as well as how to set it up for your business.

  • Problem: Shipping is a problem that all product based Kickstarters deal with, and most likely the more experienced projects get it right from the beginning. We definitely didn’t. We hand packed and shipped each reward through USPS. The costs of packaging and postage added up very quickly. Beyond that, trying to make sure every package had the right contents and right recipient was a huge headache on top of also keeping track of what rewards had been shipped and what hadn’t. Also, international shipping costs are difficult to predict, vary widely by destination, and add up quickly.
  • Solution: Self-fulfilling our shipments was definitely not going to fly if we wanted to turn this into a business. It takes away so much time away from value adding activities, and it is way more expensive to do yourself. So I evaluated all of the different fulfillment service options and decided to go withFulfillment By Amazon. It takes a little bit to figure out all of the rules/requirements, but it is definitely worth it. You get access to their negotiated rates with UPS (we’ll end up paying about what we paid just for packaging on the entire fulfillment process for one order). Beyond cost, they automate everything and integrate with our eCommerce provider so that when a customer places an order on our site it is automatically received and processed at their warehouse and will be on the customer’s doorstep within two days.

Part 4: Team

The issues that had to be resolved with our team were not issues of conflict, but rather other obligations that resulted in the separation of our members and temporarily prevented us from moving forward full steam ahead with Clipboard+.

  • Problem: As full time college students our team members also had a number of other responsibilities beyond Clipboard+. Maintaining a full credit load of graduate level accounting courses while trying to build a business is certainly a juggling act, but a more serious problem existed as it related to the growth plans of our company. By the time we finished with the Kickstarter orders it was about mid-November of 2012. We wanted to take Clipboard+ further, but all of the problems discussed in parts 1-3 were staring us in the face without clear answers. Essentially we would be starting from scratch. The real issue wasn’t even the problems that needed to be solved, but the other commitments of our team members. I had accepted a full time Audit position with KPMG in Philadelphia and was taking the spring semester off from college to do that. Eric was going to Paris to study abroad for the Spring semester. The Spring was Zhaojun’s last semester so he was trying to figure out what he would be doing after graduation. And Patrick was working full time on starting another company.
  • Solution: We realized that we would have to manage our expectations and do the best we could because of our other obligations during the Spring semester. We put up our ecommerce site using Shopify so that customers could place orders and we could sell the remaining inventory. We did absolutely zero promotion of the site during the Winter/Spring because of all the uncertainty, but we ended up selling out anyway. During the time while I was working at KPMG in the Winter/Spring I started working to resolve all of the issues described in the other posts. I sourced new suppliers for the foam and clip, looked into fulfillment options, and started talking with prospective manufacturers. By the end of the Spring most of those problems had been resolved. We decided on a new manufacturer in mid-June and I moved out to Denver for the Summer to work on Clipboard+ with Patrick and Zhaojun. Now it is about a year since we shipped the last Kickstarter rewards and we have a product/business that can scale, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

Road After Kickstarter, Part 4: Team

The issues that had to be resolved with our team were not issues of conflict, but rather other obligations that resulted in the separation of our members and temporarily prevented us from moving forward full steam ahead with Clipboard+.

  • Problem: As full time college students our team members also had a number of other responsibilities beyond Clipboard+. Maintaining a full credit load of graduate level accounting courses while trying to build a business is certainly a juggling act, but a more serious problem existed as it related to the growth plans of our company. By the time we finished with the Kickstarter orders it was about mid-November of 2012. We wanted to take Clipboard+ further, but all of the problems discussed in parts 1-3 were staring us in the face without clear answers. Essentially we would be starting from scratch. The real issue wasn’t even the problems that needed to be solved, but the other commitments of our team members. I had accepted a full time Audit position with KPMG in Philadelphia and was taking the spring semester off from college to do that. Eric was going to Paris to study abroad for the Spring semester. The Spring was Zhaojun’s last semester so he was trying to figure out what he would be doing after graduation. And Patrick was working full time on starting another company.
  • Solution: We realized that we would have to manage our expectations and do the best we could because of our other obligations during the Spring semester. We put up our ecommerce site using Shopify so that customers could place orders and we could sell the remaining inventory. We did absolutely zero promotion of the site during the Winter/Spring because of all the uncertainty, but we ended up selling out anyway. During the time while I was working at KPMG in the Winter/Spring I started working to resolve all of the issues described in the other posts. I sourced new suppliers for the foam and clip, looked into fulfillment options, and started talking with prospective manufacturers. By the end of the Spring most of those problems had been resolved. We decided on a new manufacturer in mid-June and I moved out to Denver for the Summer to work on Clipboard+ with Patrick and Zhaojun. Now it is about a year since we shipped the last Kickstarter rewards and we have a product/business that can scale, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

Road After Kickstarter, Part 3: Shipping

While your campaign is live on Kickstarter the focus is almost entirely on reaching the goal. Soon after the campaign has ended however, reality starts to set in. Now you have to make hundreds of widgets and somehow make sure that every backer gets the appropriate reward. Going into Kickstarter you should have a clear plan for how you are going to ship the rewards, what to charge for international shipping, and what the cost for domestic shipping (including all packaging will be). Unfortunately it is difficult to know the answers to all of these questions especially when you don’t know how many rewards you are shipping and to where.

It is certainly possible to handle all the rewards yourself but that isn’t a very sustainable option for growing your business. It takes time away from value added activities and greatly limits your ability to quickly reach customers in a cost effective manner. Below is how we dealt with shipping for our Kickstarter. After I have some more expereince using Fulfillment by Amazon I plan on writing a post about our experience with the service as well as how to set it up for your business.

  • Problem: Shipping is a problem that all product based Kickstarters deal with, and most likely the more experienced projects get it right from the beginning. We definitely didn’t. We hand packed and shipped each reward through USPS. The costs of packaging and postage added up very quickly. Beyond that, trying to make sure every package had the right contents and right recipient was a huge headache on top of also keeping track of what rewards had been shipped and what hadn’t. Also, international shipping costs are difficult to predict, vary widely by destination, and add up quickly.
  • Solution: Self-fulfilling our shipments was definitely not going to fly if we wanted to turn this into a business. It takes away so much time away from value adding activities, and it is way more expensive to do yourself. So I evaluated all of the different fulfillment service options and decided to go with Fulfillment By Amazon. It takes a little bit to figure out all of the rules/requirements, but it is definitely worth it. You get access to their negotiated rates with UPS (we’ll end up paying about what we paid just for packaging on the entire fulfillment process for one order). Beyond cost, they automate everything and integrate with our ecommerce provider so that when a customer places an order on our site it is automatically received and processed at their warehouse and will be on the customer’s doorstep within two days.

Road After Kickstarter, Part 2: The Design & Manufacturer

The problems we faced with the design of our product, along with the manufacturer were the most significant obstacles in the way of turning Clipboard+ into a business. Essentially we didn’t have a product we could sell, and it was too expensive for us to earn a healthy margin.

  • Problem Design: After we received funding we took our prototypes to the manufacturer and asked them to make the design changes we needed, and that we had previously discussed. Those changes were adjusting the bends to be more ergonomic along with making sure it tightly fit the iPad. They ended up charging us a whole lot for engineering and they had to go through way too many iterations. This contributed heavily to our delay, and even worse they couldn’t even get the iPad tightness right!! It was a crushing blow when we received the clipboards and realized that an iPad would slide out if held upside down. There was little recourse we could take with the manufacturer so we took it in stride and realized that we could hand bend the clipboards to the correct tightness ourselves. Once again this added to our delay and made the product un-scalable at the time.
  • Problem Manufacturer: In addition to the design problems we discussed above, the manufacturer used for our Kickstarter run was a specialized job shop that mainly did work on precision parts for research and other high performance projects. Because of this, their labor cost, and ultimately the price we paid for the clipboards was very high and made it impractical to try and scale using this manufacturer.

 

  • Solution Design and Manufacturer: I wish I could say it was as easy as finding a new manufacturer. Unfortunately, finding a manufacturer that meets all of your needs and is willing to work with inexperienced entrepreneurs is way easier said than done. Several months had passed since we shipped the Kickstarter rewards and we had received feedback on all sorts of new features/design change ideas from our backers. We spent a lot of time deciding if we should completely redesign the product, or stick with our simple and functional design. Ultimately we realized that as much as we wanted to design a radically different version, we didn’t have the time, money, or engineering experience and doing so would have been a mistake. In the end we used the outstanding sourcing site MFG.com to find the perfect manufacturer that fit our needs. Our new manufacturer is great to work with and they were able to solve all of the iPad tightness related problems without charging for engineering.

Road After Kickstarter, Part 1: The Foam & The Clip

Part 1 of this series deals with issues we faced related to components of our product. For the foam it was an issue of quality and scalability, and for the clip it was simply one of quality. A more experienced team would have already considered these issues prior to launching the Kickstarter campaign. Unfortunately we had to learn these lessons first hand.

The Foam:

  • Problem: All of the foam liners on the iPad clipboards had to be hand cut by members of our team in a time consuming and often inexact process. We next had to hand glue, using spray glue, each individual foam piece to the flat clipboards in an additional time consuming and often inexact process. Then we would take the flat clipboards with the foam glued on to the manufacturer where they would be bent into shape and have the clips riveted on. This was one of the reasons for our shipping delay because it took much longer to do this than we had anticipated.
  • Solution: We needed to find a new foam supplier who could pre die-cut the foam into the exact shape we needed, and apply a self-adhesive backing (kind of like a sticker). Not only would this speed up manufacturing but it would also prevent the foam from ever becoming unstuck to the inside of the clipboard (which is something that happened on some of the original clipboards). I requested samples from a ton of suppliers who met our requirements and selected one of the highest quality foam liners they offered.

cutting foam

 

The Clip:

  • Problem: While the clip was one of the more trivial problems we faced, it was still an issue nonetheless. We received a decent amount of feedback saying that the clip felt cheap, had some functionality issues, and made a scratching noise when in use.
  • Solution: We found a new clip. This was also a little easier said than done, as we not only wanted to find the best quality clip available but also one that was made in the United States. Most clipboard clips available are cheap and almost all of them are made in China, but after a long search we found a company based out of New York that makes awesome clips.

The lessons to takeaway from this post are that you should absolutely consider scalability of manufacturing before launching your campaign. One reason being that you will need to have a scalable solution in order to make a business from your successful campaign. And the other reason being that you never know how many units you will need to produce as rewards, so you better have a plan in place to meet the demand.