Awhile back I had the opportunity to interview the owner of Blackland Razors, Shane Swartzlander, which had an active kickstarter (see Kickstarter here ) campaign going to produce the Blackbird Safety Razor. If you like, you can check out the past interview. In the interest of full disclosure, I backed his successful Kickstarter campaign and have been very pleased with the razor.
I wanted to touch base with Shane and and see how things had gone on his end, if he would of done something different, what users are saying, plans for the future…. generally pump him for all of the information I could 🙂
You actually ended up having two Kickstarter campaigns, can you explain what happened and why you made the choices you did?
The short of it is that I screwed up. I made some dumb, short-sighted choices and so I decided to pull the plug early to wipe the slate clean of my errors and start anew.
Here’s the (much) longer story:
In June of 2015 I launched the first campaign. It had a $30,000 goal, featured only the black oxide finish, and each razor came in a gorgeous wooden presentation box. Early bird pricing started at $155 and the standard reward tier was $170. I had a decent little group of followers and I was confident that the campaign would be fully funded.
The campaign started off great, seemingly validating my high confidence. But then it started to falter. If there is one thing to know about Kickstarter, it’s this: momentum is everything. Once you begin to stall, if you can’t regain your steam in short order, the campaign is toast. About a week into the campaign, in an attempt to regain traction, I decided to add the raw finish as an option. Bringing that finish on was a smart move, but it was also desperate. It should have been available from the beginning.
I started to really analyze my campaign to figure out what was going wrong and, more importantly, to see if what I was doing was sustainable for the long term. That was when the biggest problem leapt out at me: I was overpriced. That awesome wooden box I was so in love with became a liability. They were expensive and drove up the price of the razor by $20. In the short term that didn’t seem so bad, but the implications for the future were huge. Kickstarter rewards are almost always cheaper than the product will be when it becomes available for retail. The idea is to incentivize backers for taking on risk, waiting for months, and being guinea pigs. So that means that the $170 backer reward needed to be discounted from the future retail price. If I had decided that backers would receive a 10% discount, the retail price would have to be $187. That’s more expensive than Above The Tie and I knew it would lead to failure.
About halfway through the 30-day campaign I decided to cancel it. I had raised $12,000 out of the $30,000 goal. It was a hard choice, but I know it was the right one for both my business and my backers. I announced to my backers and followers that I was suspending funding and that I would be back in a month with the same great product at a much cheaper price.
And that’s what I did. In the month leading up to the new campaign I brought on my wife to help redesign my campaign from scratch. We reshot some of the video, took new photos, and she completely remodeled my campaign page. The box was ditched to lower costs and the goal was reduced from $30,000 to $15,000. Early bird rewards started at $125 and the regular reward was $145, leaving some room to increase the retail price to $160.
On August 1st, the campaign went live and was funded in about a week, if I recall correctly. It went on to raise a bit more than $23,000. With some good planning and a lot of luck, the majority of rewards were shipped on time in December. A few wound up missing the deadline and went out the following month.
To this day I’m not sure why I made those short-sighted mistakes in the first campaign at all. If I had just thought about the long-term implications of my pricing model I would have surely come to a better decision. But the excitement blinded me and so onward I went with my bad choices.
It’s a little embarrassing to look back now at my old campaign, but I learned a lot from that failure. Mostly I learned that if you are honest and own up to your mistakes without sugarcoating it or blaming someone else, customers understand. I try to carry that on with my business today. I generally make fewer mistakes now, but when I do I try not to shy away from it. Instead, I take ownership of my failures and analyze what went wrong so I can prevent it from occurring in the future. I’m not sure I would have learned that without my first Kickstarter campaign.
Have you changed anything from the “original” version to the what you are currently selling?
The large majority of customers were very happy with their razors. However, some reported that the corners on the base plate were sharp and interfered with a comfortable shave. Several also encountered drag.
To address the issue of drag, I decided to offer a polished finish (more on that in a later question). Production on the second batch is about to begin and I am making changes to decrease the sharpness of the base plate. It’s a small modification to mute the corners, but the result will increase comfort for those who found it to be an annoyance.
Otherwise, the Blackbird remains unchanged.
What has the feedback from the wet shaving community been like?
By and large the feedback has been very positive. Aside from the issues mentioned in the previous section, most owners seem to be really happy with their Blackbirds. There is even a forum group called the Blackland Blackbird Brotherhood with a tight group of awesome fans. It’s really amazing to see people so thrilled with something I designed and brought to life.
I see you are now offering a polished version of the Blackbird, how has that gone over?
The polished Blackbird was created to eliminate the drag that some users have experienced. For fun I decided to polish a flawed Blackbird I had lying around and I found it to be just an incredible shaver. I love all the Blackbird finishes, but the polished version has become my favorite.
Of course, I couldn’t keep something like that from my customers so I decided to make it available. Each razor is hand polished by me and it is a ton of work, but the result is absolutely worth it. This finish is pretty new, but I’ve heard only excellent reviews so far from the dozen or so owners. I anticipate that as word spreads the polished Blackbird will become increasingly popular. It is a truly great razor.
I have seen mention of an open comb design in the works. Can you give us any information?
There is an open comb in the works. It’s a pretty straightforward design and it retains the same shaving geometry of the safety bar version. It is currently in the prototyping and testing phase. My hope is that it will be made available with the third batch of Blackbirds which I anticipate will be made later on this year, likely in the summer. The open comb base plate will be available separately so Blackbird owners won’t need to buy a whole new razor to experience the open comb. I’m very excited about the open comb Blackbird. It makes an already efficient razor into a formidable tool of beard destruction.
Any plans for a single edge, injector, maybe another DE?
I have ideas and designs for both an SE and another DE. However, the reality is that I already have my hands full with the Blackbird and it will likely be quite a while until any new razor sees the light of day. You’ll have to ask me again in 2017.
I heard about a possible brush at one point?
There was a brief period where I got really overzealous about offering a brush. I’ve since tempered my enthusiasm, but I’m still actively working on it. I will be offering a brush, or at least a handle, probably sometime this year. The design compliments the Blackbird, mimicking the general shape of the razor handle. It will likely be an aluminum handle, but that could very well change.
Personal plans… go razor full time and quit the full time gig?
A big thanks to Shane for taking the time to talk to me about where he is and how things are going. For more information on Blackbird Razors, check out the Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you liked this article, or the Blackbird Razor, please share it with others.
Have a great day and a smooth shave!