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Building A Niche Board Games Business By Crowdfuding A Million Dollars

A man showcasing a card featuring the word "masters," crowdfuding his niche board games business with a million dollars.

When Dan Blacklock saw that there wasn’t an easy and convenient way to store and display board games, he began prototyping modular and adjustable shelves specifically designed for board games. After Dan successfully crowdfunded over $1 million on Kickstarted and CrowdOx, he began building BoxThrone as the goto business board game storage. In this episode of Shopify Masters, we chat with Dan about crowdfunding, SEO, and customer experience.

For the full transcript of this episode, click here

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Show Notes

How to generate $1.2 million in crowdfunding with Kickstarter campaigns

Felix: You saw a problem with the way traditional board games are stored. What was the problem that you saw?

Dan: Board games are a massive fast-growing niche hobby. Many people are playing them and there isn't a way for people to store them very well. Most people are storing them on crappy IKEA furniture or just shoving them in their closets. I know of people who just keep them in a pile in their basement. I was one of those people and I was looking for a shelving solution and I couldn't really find something I wanted. Board games are super expensive, it's almost like an investment. You don't want to stack them too high on top of each other or you'll risk damaging them. You want them to be easy to take off the shelf and you want to store them flat as well, when you store them sideways all the pieces and stuff fall down and so most of the shelving solutions right now other than BoxThrone have you storing your board games on their sides. So I was like, oh I'm going to make a better shelf than all of these, and I did it. You store all your board games flat, there's one game on every shelf and it's fully expandable and modular, so as your collection grows you just add on to it.

Felix: Did you have experience starting businesses or creating products in the past before BoxThrone?

Dan: Not really. I dabbled a bit in dropshipping. I had a dog clothes store just to mess around and tried some branding stuff with that, but it didn't really take off. Not really, honestly, it was my first dip into it. It was kind of surprising how well it went.

Felix: Why was BoxThrone the one that led to the most success? Did you notice anything you did differently with BoxThrone versus previous attempts that contributed to your success?

Dan: Yeah. It taps into Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers a little bit. It was just this combination of the right timing, the right place, the right platform, me specifically with my experience in board games as well. I launched the Kickstarter in November of 2017, and I'd only really gotten into board games six months before that. I was getting really interested in it, looking for accessories and how can I become more of an expert in the hobby at that time. At the same time, Kickstarter board games were just starting to take off. At the time you could have launched any kind of Kickstarter board game product and done quite well for yourself. It's a combination of all those things as well as I have a pretty strong marketing background. I love nerdy stuff. I created this awesome medieval brand that taps into a lot of the target audience interests and I feel like all those things together just fired up this kiln of success. It's kind of a cheesy thing to say.

Felix: Do you have any advice to other entrepreneurs for replicating your success? How can they either course correct or look at things differently based on the experience that you've had so that they can line up future success stories?

Dan: It absolutely is. It's just all about understanding where trends are going. First of all, you should be in a business that you're interested in. You shouldn't be just chasing money. If you don't know anything about the business, don't even bother because you're never going to be passionate enough to take it to the next level. At the same time, you have to be looking into where the money is going. Have you come across anything that's surprisingly successful and you're like, “Whoa, I'm kind of interested in this. I wonder if I can do anything in this space?” It absolutely is, whether that's just travel or pet products or board games stuff. I don't know what the next big thing is, but it's all about getting in on the trend just before it peaks and I feel like if you hit that, your business will blow up and take you places.

Felix: You mentioned you had only been into board games for six months, but you were focused on industry and passionate about your product. Would you say you don’t need a ton of experience or expertise to achieve success, you just need to have that passion?

Dan: Yeah. It depends, right? It’s almost like a personality fit as well. I was actually playing tabletop games when I was six. My brother and I would play Warhammer 40,000 and stuff like that and Dungeons and Dragons when I was a teenager, so I was dabbling in it a little bit, but I didn't have a regular board game group. I wasn't researching board games and just involving myself in the space, like going on forums. It helps to be one of those people who would be suited to that industry. Say you're an outdoorsy person, but you've never taken your interest and traveled to the next level. It definitely helps to be sort of set up to be successful in the space, whether you have similar interests or just a personality fit, but in terms of just diving in and just going ape on it, you could go from zero to 100 in six months definitely. With board games, in particular, people have become so stuck in their ways, they're like, “This is the board game shelf.” And it was referring to the Kallax from IKEA, that cube shelf that became a standard. And if you said anything like, “Hey, look. There are other things we can do.” The community would just go for your throat, it was scary times when I first started this product, we can talk about that later though.

Dan Blacklock, founder of BoxThrone playing a board game with friends.
Dan Blacklock hacked together some Ikea shelving units to create the first prototypes for BoxThrone shelves. BoxThrone

Felix: When you decided to launch this on Kickstarter and Crowdfund it, how much of BoxThrone was a real thing at that point? 

Dan: I had started prototyping about six months before I actually launched the campaign. About a year before that was when I had the idea and then within six months, I had the physical prototype, and six months after that I had launched, so about a year.

Felix: When you started the campaign, what was the goal of the campaign, and how much did you end up raising?

Dan: The goal was only $20,000 and then the Kickstarter campaign itself raised over $900,000. Afterward, we did a secondary Crowdfunding campaign which raised another couple of $100,000. Basically brought the total to $1.2 million.

Felix: A lot of people would think, okay Kickstarter, the campaign starts, the campaign ends and that's it. Then you kind of go into the bunker and try to build a business from there, but you did another campaign after that. What was the thinking behind that?

Dan: There’s actually a lot of stuff you can do after you've done your Kickstarter. We basically had this pledge management system called CrowdOx. You can set up your CrowdOx system so that it's also like a mini Kickstarter. You just tell everyone like, “Hey, you can buy the BoxThrone for another 30 days. This is the price,” maybe it's a little higher than the Kickstarter. It's almost like you can run a secondary Kickstarter like that. Now, there are lots of other options too. Indiegogo has a platform too where you can run, it's called an in-demand campaign, so after you finish your Kickstarter you can flip it over to Indiegogo and have a short campaign on there.

Felix: What's the difference between that first and secondary campaign? Do you have to change the offer or the messaging to keep on riding that buzz from people paying attention to the campaign?

Dan: Yeah. With the Kickstarter campaign it's more like early adopters, right? These people who are wanting to take a chance on you, they're interested in it, they feel like they're part of building the product. Now a secondary campaign it's more like the people who join it are more risk-averse, you call those late birds or late pledges and so it feels like the products are already on the way like it's already being made in that secondary campaign. It doesn't build as much momentum because you don't have the big countdown timer there saying, “There are only three days left before you can never buy this product again,” as Kickstarter does. It's a bit ecommerce in the way it is, so it kind of depends on your messaging. Our messaging and our Facebook ads would say, “This is the last chance. This is the last week we're going to have this campaign up.”

Using effective post-campaign management strategies to convert leads

Felix: You mentioned you used a service called CrowdOx?

Dan: Yes. CrowdOx. It's a post-campaign management system.

Felix: How do you drive traffic from that Kickstarter over to CrowdOx? 

Dan: When you finish a campaign, you can change the button at the top to say whatever you want. We just changed that to say, “It's not too late to get a BoxThrone. Click here and you'll be taken to our late pledge system.” A lot of the traffic was people who were on the fence about BoxThrone and maybe forgot about it and then later came back and were like, “Oh, no. It's over.” And they were kind of funneled through like that. Because if you look at the stats, most of the visitors actually just came straight from Kickstarter and not from the Facebook ads.We were featured in a few different places in the media, so people were kind of learning about it close to the end of the campaign when it was almost too late.

Felix: How long did you run the CrowdOx campaign for?

Dan: I ran the CrowdOx one for 60 days.

Felix: Once that ended, what was the next step for your business?

Dan: The next step was getting it made. That first prototype that I made six months after having the idea was the one that we put in all the photos and all the videos for the campaign and all the marketing material. That actually wasn't the final product, we still had to make tweaks to it. The version that was in those videos was twice as heavy as the final product was. We basically ran into a lot of snags. After we designed the product and got all the money and then we started calculating like, “Oh, wait. This is how much it costs to ship it?” We'd done some preliminary stuff originally, but a lot of stuff happened between getting that money from Kickstarter and actually manufacturing it. The trade war started between China and the U.S. pretty much right after we got that money and so one of the things that were taxed was steel. So the price of steel goes through the roof and our product is almost all steel. We had budgeted for one price and then all of a sudden we're paying 20 to 30% more. Plus freight shipping got a lot more expensive, basically, everything was getting more expensive during that time. We had to find ways to make the system a little bit lighter, we tweaked certain things about the product. We actually improved it a little bit too. Before we had, almost like coated MDF for the bases and I wasn't really happy with it because it's kind of associated with cheaper material, cheaper furniture. So we went back and changed this super high-grade ABS plastic, it just feels really nice like the way we coated it. It's made by this company that makes a lot of Japanese furniture. It's very precise in the way it's made and has the logo emblazoned there. We had to go back and make all these little changes. 

Felix: Did you get any good feedback from the people that backed the campaigns that allowed you to make adjustments to the product?

Dan: The board game community is very active in these kinds of projects. From day one of making the project public, we had so much feedback in every way. The second we launched the preview landing page way before the campaign we were already getting comments. I posted it on Reddit and people were like, “Oh, I would never use this because you can’t put miniatures on it.” We saw that and I'm like, “Oh, why don't I make a little glass shelf too so you can put miniatures on it.” And someone's like, “Oh, I can't store my Dungeons and Dragons stuff on this.” I'm like, “Okay, I'll just design a drawer real quick.” And so we designed a drawer for it as well. I did that with a few different add on ideas. Another one was play mats, the mats that you play on with some board games, they're made of silicone. Someone's like, “Oh, I can't store these in this, they'll fall right through the holes in the shelf.” So I'm like, “Oh, okay,” so I designed a hanging play mat holder with steel loops and then when we launched the Kickstarter, we took all those ideas and launched Kickstarter. There was another wave of revisions for stuff. Some people were saying that maybe the extra wide shelves that I had included, we had an extra wide version, wasn't long enough to fit this massive board game called Kingdom Death: Monster. Which is 70 centimeters wide. So I'm like, “Okay.” As the campaign is going, I call the factory and I'm like, “Hey, can we expand the size of this?” And go back to Kickstarter and tell people, “Hey, the extra wide shelves are now 20% longer.” And then go back again and people would be like, “I don't think you should make those play mats with the steel loops. How is it going to stay on there?” So go back and change to nylon straps, just going back and forth with backers and the factory.

Felix: How did you come to the final version of the product? When did you know you were ready for Kickstarter? 

Dan: I was new to everything, so I was just very much caught up in all the excitement. I'm like, “How big can we make this thing?” Everything seemed possible, so I just kept adding stuff to it, which just became more of a nightmare during manufacturing and shipping. At one point, I was designing these metal panels for the side and then I realized how much it would cost to ship those and how much people would acceptably pay for them and I'm like, I think I'm going to stop designing stuff. It's getting so complicated. I have 76 different SKUs for this product, that's how modular and adaptable it is and so if we add anymore it's just going to become crazy. I put a pin in it around maybe three quarters a way through the campaign.

Felix: With the Kickstarter, was there anything specific that you felt you did well, and would definitely do again with any other campaigns? 

Dan: I am actually launching a second campaign in a couple of months here and it's all within the same branding. The most important thing that was responsible for a lot of the success was having that very engaging branding. For example, the whole brand is based around this character that I made called the Box King who's this lovable, goofy dictator. Basically, the king of the Box Kingdom and the backers or the customers even, now with the Shopify store, they are kings of their own Box Kingdom. So all the communications, all the brand emails that go out to people, we always say like, “Your majesty, we have this new thing in stock.” Or, “I just received a raven, blah, blah, blah.” And just having very much in character and in theme. People just loved it. I really enjoyed building that world for people, I even would show them stuff like, “We're shipping the BoxThrone now.” And I'd design like a medieval galleon with the Box King on the front to make people think that it's a real world I'm getting involved in. I think they really like it, we have a really high open rate on emails. I have about 15,000 people on an email list and I have almost a 50% open rate across it. I'm doing another campaign in a couple of months and I'm keeping it within that box kingdom framework, but I'm changing the theme a little bit. So instead of the Box King being the main dude in it , I got this Box Genie now and he's a genie and he can make all your storage wishes come true. We'll see how it goes, should be pretty exciting.

Felix: As you grow bigger and hire more people is there a way to make sure that you're following these branding guidelines and making sure that the branding is staying consistent?

Dan: Yeah. I used to work in communications and PR for Berkshire Hathaway Energy company, so I was already pretty well trained in how to basically build a brand and do the brand guidelines and have people stick to it and understand the rules of what you can do. Also, there was a marketing and communications aspect of the job. I did that for five years, so I knew what I had to do to make that and it really does make a huge difference. You have to sit down and describe what you want the brand to be. How do you want people to feel when they look at your posters or read your emails or see your products or look at your logo even? Every little visual aspect of what people see affects how they feel in terms of the brand. From the colors, from the words you use, from the shapes of the products, from the shapes of the pictures, all those things so you have to be very careful in what you select when you're crafting that world. Once you sit down and define all that, everything else just comes to you. Once you have that framework, the words just flow out of you, the scripts come out of you, you know exactly what you want the videos and the illustrations to look like.

Managing the customer service experience among distribution and manufacturing complications

Felix: How many iterations did you go through during the manufacturing process before you were happy with the product that not only fulfilled the promise that you made to the customers on Kickstarter but then also didn't eat into your profits too much?

Dan: The biggest one was that we changed that wood into that high-grade plastic and that saved us a lot of weight in terms of shipping, so that helped a little bit. We made it more efficient, in the design, we had a lot of wasted space in the columns, they were too thick so we made those a little bit thinner. We weight tested everything. One of my best memories of making this product was us standing in the factory with this weight pressure machine, it was in a mold factory so they just had tons and tons of giant chunks of heavy metal. We had this shelving system set up and we just kept piling more and more chunks of metal onto it, to see how much weight it could take. Eventually, we just ran out of things to put on it. We’ve designed it to be efficient and strong and light at the same time. There were a lot of other tweaks too, we wanted to have a way to secure it to the wall properly. I wanted more of the branding on there so we etched the logo on there. I went to China right after the campaign closed to do this and I was in China for a couple of months and I came back and again for a couple of months. I live in China now just iterating our products. It was probably eight maybe seven months from when the campaign closed to when we had the final product shipping. There were a hundred other things that went wrong though in the beginning, should I talk about that now or do you want to talk about that later? To begin with, there was the trade war stuff, right? We got the money and then all the tariffs came out, which affected us by the way, it's a steel tariff, it's a steel product so we had to pay 20% more when we import it to the U.S. and the price of steel itself jumped 20 to 30%. And then the U.S. dollar appreciated against the Chinese yuan, which would be great but we had signed a contract before that. When we signed the contract with the manufacturer, it was a very strong Chinese yuan so it was like one U.S. dollar to six Chinese yuan and then all the trade war started and then it just dropped and it was like one to seven. We tried to negotiate a little bit, but a contract is a contract. They may be pushed it a little bit to 6.2, but it was still getting a bit jammed on it. We basically got a financial hit there. So just for scale, the size of this product is pretty big, right? It's going to be six feet wide and so we had about 16 full containers worth shipping around the world. It's so many containers, so much logistics and to begin with, our freight person overestimated the cost of it, basically gave us a bill that was four times the amount it should have been. I just didn't sleep for two days straight. I'm like, “How are we doing to do this? Are we going to ship in portions? We can't finance this, what are we going to do?” And then they came back and were like, “Oh, no. It was my mistake, I miscalculated it.” And it was actually 25% of what they quoted so I'm like, “Oh my god.” The biggest blunder of all was actually with our warehouse, our third-party logistics company in the U.S. I won't name any names because I still work with them, they've gotten a lot better now but basically what happened was that we have a very, very customizable product. You can have three blue shelves, four white shelves, two yellow shelves, and because I got too excited when I was doing the campaign. When people asked for multiple colors, I was like, “You can have anything you want.” So lesson learned there. At the time like, okay we got to make this work. We basically had to create permutations of the different numbers of shelves in the boxes. We had to have a box of two, a box of four, a box of five, a box of six in different colors, and then so if you ordered a bunch of different colors we could just ship you two boxes of one shelf, two boxes of three shelves and one box of twenty shelves. I had talked to this 3PL and they said, “Oh, yeah. We can just bind everything together. We can just strap it all together.” I'm like, “Okay, that's great.” And then you only pay one fee and you get to reduce cost and make it a lot easier, I'm like, “That sounds amazing, let's do it.” So we ship all the stuff to it, by the time it gets to them it's maybe a week before Black Friday. The first couple of days go by and you start strapping stuff together and shipping it out, I'm like, “Wow. We're shipping out very economically, this is amazing.” And then they just stopped. They were just like, “This is taking too long.” And shipped everything out individually.

Friends playing some board games backdropped by two shelving units from BoxThrone.
Fine-tuning the amount of customization available to customers allowed BoxThrone to deliver a better customer experience and less the stress on its logistics. BoxThrone

Felix: Without letting anyone know?

Dan: Well they let me know and didn't really do anything when I complained about it. I was like, “Hey, can you go back to doing that?” Hmm, no can do. I'm like, this is going to be a problem. I'm talking like One shelf, I'll sell it to a customer for $2.50, they were shipping it out for $10 in shipping costs and I had to pay for all the shipping costs. Imagine this on the scale of tens of thousands. We shipped out 50,000 boxes and then each day you see these numbers, just $10 out of your money flow, $10, $10, $10 non-stop and you're like this can't keep up otherwise I'm going to be bankrupt. I'm not even sure how I survived it, to be honest. It’s because we were able to make some compromises with some backers. We'll be like, “Hey, is it okay if we ship you five black shelves, instead of two yellow shelves and two black shelves?” And it's like, “Yeah, sure that's fine.” We were able to manage that a little bit better, but yeah the other issue was they wouldn't ship it in multi-label. That means that there would be the shipping of each product as its own shipment and we had about 12 boxes per order. You're a customer and you're getting stuff on all different days, you get three boxes on day one, four boxes on day two, two boxes on day four, it's just crazy. It's like a customer service nightmare and I didn't have any employees at that time, so I was handling all this myself and it was a wild time.

Felix: What’s your advice for managing that chaos in a way so that it doesn’t affect the customers’ experience? 

Dan: First of all, you should be giving people the best experience you can, right? You need to try and solve the problem in the first place however you can. In this warehouse situation, I would try to find all different kinds of compromises. Like, “Hey, can you strap two of these together? Can you do this? Can you take stuff out of the box? Can you do this?” I was given lots of different advice and trying to just chip away at the problem. That helped maybe a good chunk of the problem. On the customer service side, you just have to communicate with people. People hate not hearing anything or being surprised. You just have to give them a heads up and most people are fine with it, most people are very level headed. So you're like, “Hey, this is actually going to happen.” And they're like, “Okay, that's no problem.” The biggest advice I could say is actually saying hiring a customer service person, that has changed my business just hiring a customer service person. It gives me so much more time to focus on the actual product and the marketing side of stuff.

Felix: Is your product still as customizable or have you made changes either in the product selection or the way that you do the supply chain to give you less gray hairs? 

Dan: We had to make a lot of changes just because I didn't really trust the U.S warehouse anymore. So instead of having everything in 12 different boxes, we basically started packing stuff together. We made stuff less customizable, now you can get all your frames in one color and all your shelves in another color. Before we were packing the bases and the columns and other stuff separately to make it a little bit easier to ship and we changed that, now we just pack everything together. We could ship out three big boxes instead of 12 little ones now. That made a big difference.

Felix: Do you find that people care to have more control over their customization?

Dan: Honestly, not really. People don't really miss what they can't have. If you show them, this is what it's like, people won't complain about it. They'll understand it on some level. The only complaint I've had is I've had to discontinue some colors. I had to discontinue the yellow and the green because the numbers just weren't high enough for the minimum order quantities and so we had some people complaining about it, but I created a Facebook group called the BoxThrone design counsel. It was originally designed so people could come and give their design ideas, but in that group, it was kind of a marketplace too. Someone would be like, “Hey, I'm looking for 12 green shelves.” And someone would be like, “Okay, I'll buy those from you.”

Felix: I think a lot of entrepreneurs, business owners think that the more customization, the better, but a lot of times customers just want you to tell them what the options are.

Dan: Yeah. That's pretty much exactly our experience too. Especially in the Kickstarter campaign. I think almost every customer was like, “This is my space, what should I buy?”

Felix: Once you got the products to those initial backers, what was next? How did you continue to drive new business, new customers to check out your product? 

Dan: I was seeing that the website, the landing page app was still getting a lot of hits, so we capitalized it and made the ecommerce store. I was always going to make a Shopify store anyway, so we made the Shopify store. There were a lot of things that led to the discovery of the product like we are first on Google if you search for board game shelves. We’re first as well for board game storage. We actually own the URL boardgameshelf.com as well, so I've done some URL stuff, SEO stuff to get high up. We got a lot of discovery that way and at the same time, people were starting to receive their products, so people were putting up videos and I was getting really good reviews. I was actually terrified for a while. Was I going to get bad reviews and this business is done? I'll always remember the moment of the very first email I got and I'm like, “Oh, man. This is it, oh I'm so worried.” Is this going to be a guy ripping into the product and calling me a scammer? I opened it up and it was just a glowing review of everything, he just had this massive detailed review of every little thing like, “Oh, I think you guys should add a couple of centimeters over here, I think it would help for this, but everything else is very good.” It was just a great email, just really gave us a good confidence boost and from then on we just had so many great reviews. I put a lot of them onto the website itself. That was a lot of momentum, so it just carried over to the Shopify store. There were so many people waiting for it. On day one of the Shopify store, we had $100,000 of revenue on just the first day. That pushed us into the 1% of Shopify launches or something like that. It was incredible, it was just so much momentum behind it. Then it was about continuing it and building that community and offering new products and expanding to new regions. We have four different websites now, all are for storemyboardgames.com, but it's storemyboardgames.com.UK and .com.AU. Basically, we want to make people feel included. We don't have some janky currency conversion where they have to pay 351 pounds and 37 cents. It seems very targeted towards Europeans and Canadians and their market, so it gets people a bit more excited and involved in the product too.

The Shopify Store: achieving $100,000 in revenue on day one

Felix: The $100,000 on that first day with Shopify, was there a campaign leading up to launch day? Where was the messaging or marketing coming from that led to such a big boost of traffic in sales?

Dan: Yeah. Honestly, it was all word of mouth. It was the principle behind the product in the first place. I wanted to make something that people walk into their home and they notice and they start talking about it. You have this massive shelving system solving a problem that a lot of people who are in the board game space have. They would tell their friends and then I did Kickstarter updates telling people, “If you're interested in the launch, go to this website.” We had a little landing page on there and you'll be notified on launch. I built the hype up with the original Kickstarter backers and I guess they were spreading by word of mouth. I didn't do any Facebook ads before the launch and also because it's an expandable system, right? It was a year between the end of the campaign and the launch of the store. Their collections had grown since then and it was an expandable system so they'd want to add on to their system and grow more and double the size of the system. We have a lot of returning customers because of that, 25% of my sales are from returning customers, just people expanding the system so all that added up.

Felix: You mentioned you wanted to create a product that people could brag about. What features or messaging did you use to encourage people to do that? 

Dan: Yeah. The key principle is to make it a high end as possible, right? I always knew I wanted to make an expensive product because I didn't want to deal with the customer service nightmare of shipping out millions of $20 products to people. I knew I wanted to have a very expensive product that I'd only ship out a few of and so having that expensive product that you try and get the highest quality you can. First of all, it's metal. There aren’t a lot of metal shelves that look good in the world generally and the reason I wanted metal was so that it could hold a tremendous amount of weight. I've got photos of people with their BoxThrones 15 feet, 20 feet high, it's crazy because it's so modular and it holds all the weight perfectly. I really wanted that statement piece that was very high end. Using steel allowed you to build up these huge systems, you can't ignore it when you walk in. Same logic with the colors too, so people feel more attached to it because you have personalized colors. One guy was big into old school Batman, so he made his frames gray and the shelves light blue and it looked really good. People kind of feel more attached to the product and they tell their friends about it. All those things lump in to make it into a statement piece.

A selection of board games on shelves by BoxThrone.
Optimizing their search results for Google images was key for BoxThrone’s growth. BoxThrone

Felix: What else did you do specifically to SEO that other people can take away to try to improve their rankings on Google?

Dan: Hitting the Google image search is the most important. Make sure you have all your alt tags on all your images on your website. On your Shopify store, make sure you have just tons of photos of your products and have them all alt tagged. That actually makes a big difference. And then at the same time, put those photos on Pinterest. Pinterest is this strangely powerful hidden tool that I don't think a lot of people are using. I'm even running Pinterest ads right now and they're like 10 times. I'll rely on them. I do feel like when you do a Google image search, a good 20% of the photos that show up are from Pinterest, at least from my product. That matters a lot in SEO, the rest of it is a lot of traffic and so just putting a lot of money into Facebook ads and social media ads.

Felix: Beyond Facebook, what other paid ads do you advertise?

Dan: Facebook is my primary and then I do ads on Pinterest as well because there's a lot of people looking for apartment furniture and it's a very good crossover. With the Kickstarter campaigns they used to advertise on hobbyist websites like boardgamegeek.com, but it doesn't really have as much of conversion for non-Kickstarters, so for Shopify store, I only use Facebook and Pinterest and the majority of it is Facebook. Instagram as well, you have ads on Facebook and it goes to Instagram.

Felix: Can you tell me more about your strategy on Facebook? 

Dan: Yeah. The key principle of my website is that I have to have pre-order cycles. Every month now, it used to be two months, it's almost like a mini Kickstarter campaign on the Shopify store, so I have a big countdown bar that says “you only have 30 days left to buy this.” And then when it goes down to zero that's when I export all the orders to the factory and ship stuff out. It has that fear of missing out aspect to it, that drives a lot of the conversions. I use that a lot in the language of the Facebook ads as well. It's like, “Here's your last chance.” The main reason why I had that wave pre-order system is that the storage fees for the stuff is huge because it's giant furniture. I wouldn't be able to store tons and tons of it, that said, I'm looking into ways that would make it better. We're trying to reduce our shipping times, we should be able to get them down by half in a few months. But it's sort of playing into that urgency cycle.

Felix: Do you see a big uptick when it gets down to the last couple of days?

Dan: Yeah. 80% of sales actually happen. We used to have these two-month pre-order windows and 80% of the sales happened in the last two weeks. Now, I've shortened it to one month and it happens in the last week, so 80% is just at the end basically.

Felix: And all the marketing when it comes to Facebook ads is about getting in before the pre-order closes?

Dan: Yeah. This one side of the marketing where it's telling people, this is the worlds first made for board game shelving system, the first completely modular metallic adjustable system and then we hit them with the, “Now's your last chance to do it.” It's a win, win for everyone really because people want to get into the wave before it ends because we don't set it up in a way that we do it just to funnel people into the website. We have to do it like that, just from the financial constraints of it.

Felix: You mentioned you have two types of messages, one is the education around the first time they've ever seen your product before and then the countdown where you only have 19 days or two days etcetera before pre-orders close. Is that like a retargeting ad or do you still send that to the top of your funnel?

Dan: The thing with the re-targeting is that I find that it isn't as effective for this product because people who are interested in it will go away and they'll measure their house. They'll go away and look at it and it's top of mind for them enough and they're always thinking about once we see that countdown timer and you're like, I'm interested in this product, you'll always think about it. You'll be like, “There are only 10 days to do this. Will this fit?” And then two days later, you'll go back and look at the store and you're like, “There are only eight days left now.” I find that retargeting is actually quite pointless to do it, so I hit the top of the funnel the hardest.

Felix: Regarding messaging around an ad, do you educate and urge the customer at the same time, or does the urgency come later? 

Dan: No, it's all at once. It's like, “here is the product, you have the last chance, just do it.” My funnel isn't that deep, to be honest, it's spread quite wide and maybe it's one thing I can improve. A lot of people, when they do this some of the marketing is built into email communications. They'll go on there, add a product to see how much the shipping is, and then they'll get a really cute abandoned cart email. It's all in the theme like, “Oh, no. Your majesty, you've left the Box King alone in the wilderness. Are you going to save him? There are wolves out there.” And that kind of drags people in a little bit and they go back. That's kind of my strategy for it.

Felix: When it comes to returning customers, is there a marketing strategy that drives them back to purchase expansions to modular systems? 

Dan: A lot of that is emails because I always ask people to sign up for the email list, pretty much everywhere, all over the website. I don't really send that many emails, I send like one every two months so it's really not that often. Usually, when I have those emails I add some good news to it. I don't really send marketing emails like, “Hey, now's your last chance to buy this.” I usually have some news about the product or upcoming products or the company. I'm like, “Hey we just added this thing to the store.” And so people are always interested to open up the emails and that's almost all returning customers. Just making sure people who have bought your product or engaged by email.

Felix: What tools or apps do you use to run the business? 

Dan: I use Mailchimp right now, but I'm going to swap over to Squarespace email. It's a little bit cheaper or even Shopify email, that's pretty cheap too. I'm dabbling between those, but honestly outside of Shopify apps, pretty much all I use is Mailchimp and Google calendar and just the G Suite, that's basically it.

Felix: What about the apps you use on your website? What are some of those you recommend?

Dan: The biggest difference is Wheelio, the spin to win. When I implemented that I had probably a 20% uptick in sales. I know I’ve heard that before on the show as well. It wasn't a 20% uptick sustained, but it was 20% at the time. My store is always growing, so I feel like it's part of the growth just because about 50% of customers have used spin to win Wheelio coupon codes. My email list is blowing up, I get a few 100 emails sign-ups every week.

Felix: Do you send out different emails for people who have joined your list through Wheelio versus other ways that they’ve joined your list? 

Dan: Yes. I send one email out every two months. I do have a sales funnel in the way that I have auto emails going out to new people who sign up. If you sign up, you'll get an email explaining more about BoxThrone and you'll get another one urging people to buy before the end of the wave, but then that's it. And then from then on it's only the news emails and so one of the criticisms I've heard about the spin to win apps is that all the emails are just junk that you get from there. Because you're giving away discounts on the product as prizes, so a lot of people sign up just to get the prize, but if you have a good email funnel set up, those people are going to unsubscribe, like make it very easy to unsubscribe on the first email they get, so you're going to shed all the fat anyway. That’s part of why I have such a pretty strong email following.

Felix: What do you send typically in that flow? What kind of emails are you sending? What kind of message do you send to them?

Dan: The first one is basically an educational email telling them, “Hey, this is BoxThrone and these are the things that you can do and these are the things you can add on.” And then the next one is just about, “Hey, this is how the system works. We ship out every two months because of these reasons. Chances are that there aren't too many days left in your wave right now, you should jump aboard.” We just have those two, I don't send too many out.

Felix: What do you think is the biggest challenge for you as a business or for you to overcome this year?

Dan: I'm launching two more products this year actually. It's not related to the board game shelf, it's part of the BoxThrone universe. One is a token storage system that’s incredibly complicated for me to explain, but it's modular and it can shift into all these different forms and we have these art plates made by famous board game artists and so I've got to sustain the momentum with that while sustaining BoxThrone. I'm also launching a third product later as well, and I really wanted to tie it all together. I want it to feel like it's one big universe, I'm going to have these mascots for each of the products and keep that going.

Special thanks to our friends at Shopify for their insights on this topic.
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