iPhone case on Kickstarter. When is it time to move on?

Hi guys how is it going,

I was wondering if you guys could please share some wisdom and guidance from your experience with product design.

In short, my friend and I have been working on an iPhone case for the past 1.5 years, and although we think its a great idea and design, we pretty much ran into a brick wall every step of the way. From making a big investment for injection molds for our 3GS version of the case (which resulted in less than 20 cases sold), to spending tons of time on a Kickstarter campaign for our iPhone 4 version (which has 13 backers after 15 days)… we never imagined it could be this tough to design/market/sell something. However we keep telling ourselves that we are just one catalyst away from having something that can break even. But honestly, I can see this going on for a lifetime…

I have a million questions for anyone with experience, but for the sake of simplicity, here are my top 3.

  1. What are some of the main things that should be checked off the list before moving on from a design you’ve fallen in love with?
  2. Which one is more important… function or form? Or possibly neither? Is it just about marketing and who you know?
  3. Last but not least, what do you guys think about what we have? Do you think we are almost “there”, or perhaps missing an obvious barrier? Should we spend more time on aethetics, or be looking to add more functionality? Or is it simply time to move on.

Any feedback would be awesome. Thank you so much in advance!


Here is some more info on the project info::

product name - pic.me case
website - http://www.picmecase.com

Our sell - A normal looking compact iPhone case that can transform into a multi-angle viewing stand AND recording stand. We thought this would be great for the everyday iPhone user who would like a non-bulky case that has can stand in many positions, and also have the ability to take photos and video without having a tripod around.

Our design - A 2 piece ratchet system that does not use metal bearings or metal springs to work. We use the flexibility of the plastic as our spring. This allows for the mechanism to be hidden, and also provide the 270 degree rotation that isn’t found on other cases.

Our aesthetics - In addition to hiding the arm feature, we added a band to remind everyone that its an iPhone 4 case. We weren’t too happy with the general aesthetics of existing cases.

Some things we are thinking of that we think could be “the missing piece”
Add functionality - poke a hole on the bottom of the case and thread it so that it can fit tripods. It adds function but takes away from the looks.
Add aesthetics - render some nice colorful stuff to give the case more appeal.
picme blue.jpg

  1. Best to check impartial users reactions with no input from your team, just observe. When you are in love with something, it distorts the reality around it. That is the key factor for me to know when something is appropriate for the market or to take the next step.

  2. Function: Clear intuitive function. In the product and in the presentation. Your product needs a illustration showing the flip and snap in place function of the leg. If 270 is special, illustrate it and why it matters. Marketing is communication, you need to better demonstrate the uniqueness of what you are making.
    Form: Minimal source material like the iPhone4 asks for a minimal case with luxury details. metallic finishes would be nice or some jewel like detail.
    Material tricks: Plastic serving all the functions of springing, designers love innovative and smart uses of meterials, consumers could care less, sadly. It actually gets in the way of the message if you describe how something is done as opposed to what or why it does it. Good to do though.

  3. I’m not a phone case person, so hard to offer an opinion here. It looks good. Perhaps time would be best spent figuring out how to get it into a larger sales chain and what steps would be needed.

Thanks for the great advice Shaw. We really appreciate it.

We’re definitely going to try and get some more input from impartial people, and try not to tell them why we think its cool before they form an opinion. Now that I think about it, we probably did that 100% of the time. It also doesn’t help that most people we talked to are friends and family.

I think you also bring up a great point with the whole illustration for the flip/snap/270 aspect of our phone. The majority of the people we show it to keep thinking that its simply a kickstand.
Also your expectations of “minimal” is a game changer for us since we always thought of minimal as simple, and never really correlated it with luxurious.

It sounds like we still have a few boxes to check…
Thanks for the advice!

Hi Satoshi!
First of all I commend you for the effort you’ve put into developing this product.

  1. I think it’s great to be passionate about a design but you should know that what’s cool for you might not be cool for others. I’d say maybe do research on your target market to have a better idea on who’s going to be using your product and why will they want to buy it.
  2. I think that form and function go hand in hand. Marketing should help but if the product has both good form and function it should be an easy sell. I agree with nxakt in regards to needing a video on how the mechanism works. A diagram or illustration would help.
  3. I think you have a good product. I’d refine some forms though. I feel that the moving part looks too thin. I’d also look into maybe adding a logo. A simple logo can make the product look a lot more finished.

Let us know how it goes!

It’s not a bad design at all. It maybe seems a little “bitsy” and fragile to me, but I don’t use cases so I’m maybe not the target market. A good render and illustration certainly won’t hurt- it looks like a shiny painted SLA prototype right now, not a premium product.

I don’t really know why some things like this take off and others languish (prominent blog exposure sure seems to help). There are a lot of cases out there, and solid design or not, this is old news from the point of view of a site like Gizmodo.

All of us have fallen in love with designs that went nowhere (and felt ambivalent about work that sold well). I think that passion is part of being a designer and not a marketer. The fact that you sold 20 cases for the 3G is probably a good sign that this concept just isn’t clicking for some fundamental reason.

Design notwithstanding, you’re running the risk of falling into the same trap you did on the 3G. By the time you get this funded, tooled, and produced, the iPhone 5 will be a couple months away, and this will be a day old danish. You really needed to be at this stage almost a year ago.

If you’re going to swing for the fences with this, I would refine it a bit, and be ready to adapt it as needed within a day of the iPhone 5 specs coming out.

Part of the problem you are experiencing I think is simply down the product choice. The market you are attempting to enter is flooded with competition, requires a very fast development phase followed by a short product sales life with which to turn a profit. The success of this sort of project is usually down to marketing and distribution grunt rather than well thought out clever design and features. As Scott mentioned, you really need to have this case ready for tooling and quickly modifiable, to hit the market ass soon as a new model is released. perhaps given the size of your operation and your previous bad experience with the 3G version, maybe if you really want to make a case you could look at rapid prototyping or silicone tooling something to reduce your initial investment and risk?.

As forkickstarter, A possible problem you are experiencing in finding backers is the issue of why should should someone back a product such as this? With so many cases on the market already, are people going to be willing to fund the development of a new case and wait an unknown length of time to receive something like this. I suspect not. They will likely already have their phone, and typically if you buy a new iPhone or iPod you would buy a case for it the same day or within maybe a week. So i suspect kickstarter is maybe not the best place for a product like this.

i dont want to be negative here, you’ve gone through alot of work, and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the product itself as such, but you are pitting yourself against competition with alot of resources and face alot of big callenges to turn a decent profit.

Thanks for the great feedback guys.
I wish I knew about this forum earlier so that I could have gotten some of this wisdom before we took the plunge. Heheh.

But in anycase, you guys both make great points.
We often ask our friends what they think about the case and they think its great. Then we ask if they would buy one, and they say… “yea well maybe if I didn’t have a case already” or something of that nature.
We thought that the new Verizon customers would be interested, but perhaps Kickstarter is a tough place for that.

Additionally… yes the saturation and the speed of this market is a killer. I often wish I was working on a unique toy or something that can never become outdated. Like a nerf football. Drool…

That being said, with the upcoming release of the iPhone 5, we may want to wait.
However I lose sleep at night with the question… what if they come out with the iPhone 4GS and its the same size and shape? Maybe its worth waiting regardless.

I guess if this stuff was easy, everyone would be successful right. :wink: Thanks again.

Well, if this turns out to be true, it looks like the exterior is unchanged except for a bigger screen. Wouldn’t base any major design decisions on that of course.

Very good design and execution, but in a wrong market IMO. This market is way too saturated, and the competition can churn out new products much faster with a price point that I’d imagine you could not match. I would move on and focus talent and energy into something much more innovative and less competitive. Above all else, the key word ought to be VALUE for the consumer.

Your design looks pretty good, but I think you have a hard market. Especially if you want to go with kickstarter.

  1. The market is saturated, the 4 has been out for a while, sales are probably declining.
  2. Kickstarter has been flooded with that kind of stuff.
  3. Other companies have the capital and the possibility to get in the retail chain.

As much as the design is good, I don’t think it brings anything dramatically new. I think it’s an incremental improvement on existing designs, it looks good and brings the functionality of some interesting designs. But I don’t really see anything completely new. I think the Glif worked on kickstarter because it brang something that didn’t exist. People were okay with going through the trouble of kickstarter because that’s the only way they could get it. I don’t think people will want to back something on kickstarter just to get a marginal improvement over what’s available in store. You know, the backer has to wait 1 month just for the kickstarter to end, and isn’t quite sure how much time after that before he will get the product.

I think your barrier is retail. If you can’t bring something ground breathtakingly new I don’t think it’ll work on kickstarter, you won’t get the hype needed around the web to get people on your kickstarter page and people won’t see the point in waiting.

Thanks for the feedback guys.
The more I think about it, the more obvious it is becoming.
You guys are right… its definitely a pretty crazy thing that we are trying to accomplish, and there are a lot more things going against us than for us.

I think we’ll do our best for the remainder of this campaign (only 16 more days left), and then consider focusing some effort into the millions of other things that can be done out there.

That being said, what do you guys think about poking a threaded 1/4" hole on the bottom of our case so that it can be attached to regular tripods? It adds functionality but takes away from the looks. I know its probably a mute point, but just kind of curious from a product design standpoint.

Anyways, thanks for the great feedback.

Hi guys,

I just had some more data regarding our project and thought I’d run them by you guys to see what you thought.

Recently, we were featured on a photography website called photojojo, and we had a great response from their client ell. The result of the feature was about 30 purchases on Kickstarter, for what we are estimating to be at least 6,000 views. This would give us a 0.5% sales conversion ratio at best.

The question I had was, is there a general sales conversion ratio value that determines if a product has potential or does not have potential? Should a product “worth pursuing” sell itself, or does every product require a big marketing campaign?

I know thats a pretty open question that hinges upon profit margin vs advertising costs, but just thought I’d see if there was a general rule of thumb. Perhaps this is the stuff you learn when you get an MBA?

Some sales folks use the law of means approach where for every 10 people targeted they yield one sale, or in other words a 10% rule. Again, we’re not talking about casual passer by folks, but targeted market scenario.

Much better idea. There was an annoying number of companies trying to sell phone cases at the Consumer Electronics Show. It was seriously ridiculous. Design ANYTHING other than an iphone or ipad case. Please! :wink:

I read somewhere that when you want critics from friends and family, instead of asking “Do you like it”, you should ask “How I could improve it”.

At least it work for me, when you are at the point that most of the people answer “dont make any change”, it’s probably ready :slight_smile:

Curious, when posting a unique project on Kickstarter, should one get some provisional utility patent to protect it before posting it? Or at least make sure it doesnt infringe on others? Does anyone bother doing this?

In the US you have 1 year prior art from the time you show a project to the time you can file a patent.

Given the price and complexity of getting the patent going, if you have the capital for the IP you may be better off putting that towards the development. Remember that most kickstarter funds require that you be able to fulfill your “promise” with the minimum pledge amount, so if you can’t get it done with ~$10k you can’t rely on it being a runaway success.

Is anyone ever concerned that someone will see the idea online and copy it and get it to market before the kickstarter project gets enough funds to get off the ground?

Its funny you bring that up.
When we first came up with this idea, we thought our idea was the best thing ever and only talked about it in super private places… for fear that the idea might be stolen immediately.
We even lost a few good friends along the way because they were offended that we didn’t tell them what we were working on. Lastly, we did take the time to file for a provisional patent, but we sitll have some time to file the actual patent.

Now that we’ve been through it, we aren’t as paranoid as before.
Its almost like we wish people would steal our idea and copy it. :smiley:

Like cyberdemon was saying, you have 1 year till you gotta file for an official patent. Filing for a provisional is super easy and cheap, so I’d still suggest that. But after that, you can see if your idea has any merit.

I emailed these guys twice not only to help them but to ask if they’d like to team up on another project. Didn’t even get a no thank you from them. Rude!