Ben Knepler – TruePlaces.com
How To Find & Fill A Gap In The Marketplace
Where is the hole in the marketplace that will launch your product to success? How do you decide on a solid price point for your product? How can you raise over $160,000 on Kickstarter to get your business off the ground? What are the next steps for your business after successful crowdfunding?
Ben Knepler, the co-founder of TruePlaces.com and inventor of the Emmett Folding Chair, answers all these questions and more in today’s interview. Ben Knepler was trained in classical marketing at Wharton Business School, which led to his career with Campbell’s Soup and other top-level consulting firms. He summarizes years of experience into a very valuable 30-minute interview. Listen to this interview to learn how to maintain a relentless focus on the consumer by understanding their needs as you develop your product, branding, and marketing.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
You can watch the full interview here: https://youtu.be/bvIFaZeKx3o
Check out the Emmett Folding Chair at TruePlaces.com. The Emmett Folding Chair uses new patent-pending technology and design that allows for no sagging or pinching while still folding compactly.
Do you have a product that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of products that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Visit HarvestGrowth.com to set up a free consultation. Check out InfomercialMarketer.com for educational content on all things surrounding direct-response marketing.
Jon LaClare: Today's guest was trained in classical marketing with his Wharton MBA and experience with Campbell Soup and top-level consulting firms. He summarizes years of experience into a very valuable 30-minute interview. I encourage you to listen all the way through, as this interview is packed with advice you can apply to your product launch today.
Jon: Welcome to another episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast focused on helping consumer product companies, inventors and entrepreneurs harvest the growth potential of their product businesses. Today, I'm really excited to be speaking with Ben Knepler, who's the co-founder of trueplaces.com and the co-inventor of their first product they brought to market, which is called the Emmett Chair, which I'm really excited to share with our audience. For those of you who are listening and don't have the ability to see visuals, we'll obviously describe this.
You'll get a sense of it, but I do encourage people to go visit their website and see the cool technology that they put into portable chairs. It's a really cool product called, again, trueplaces.com. You'll see it in the show notes as well if you're driving and forget to write this down, but please go check it out when you have the chance. In the meantime, I want to jump into our conversation. Ben, first of all, thanks so much for joining our show today.
Ben Knepler: Thanks for having me. It's a real pleasure.
Jon: You and I met on LinkedIn and we share some background, where we came into this consumer product marketing space, both via what I would call classically trained, right, at MBA, getting an MBA, and then getting out there in the CPG world before now you jumping on your own and launching this product, the Emmett Chair, and founding this company, trueplaces.com. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you here today?
Ben: Yes, absolutely. I spent most of my career in various forms of consulting, originally management consulting. Traditional strategy, business strategy. I did my MBA, as you said, and then following that, I spent a few years on the client-side in classic consumer packaged goods where you really get that traditional training, as you say. After that, I spent a few years back in consulting, but really focused on brand and marketing strategy, and then I, a couple of years ago, jumped into starting True Places. It's been a real journey. I met my co-founder, we were working at Campbell Soup Company. My co-founder was there for almost 15 years, so he really comes from that traditional background, but we worked together in the innovation team there and in brand management and marketing.
Jon: I think I mentioned too, as we were going back and forth with our messages that we share. We sent a few of our people that maybe, you could say, upgraded, but I worked at Kraft Nabisco and they left that to go work at Campbell Soup and I've kept in touch with them and really enjoyed their experience there, too. It's certainly a great company where you learn a lot and it gives you a good footing, I think, to now work in a different world. What have you found so far where, obviously marketing cans of soup in your case, or crackers and cookies in my case over at Nabisco. It's not the same thing as marketing direct to consumer, but it's a great training ground.
What would you say has helped you, from that past classic marketing experience, that's really helped you to propel your career in the direct-to-consumer side?
Ben: I think there were a couple of things. One is just the real relentless focus on the consumer. I think when you go through that traditional training, that's what you're really taught from the first day, is that it's all about the consumer, understanding their life, understanding how what you're offering can fit into that, understanding the consumer needs and what the opportunities might be around that for the business. I think that's something that is very different often, if someone invents a product themselves, they can often be really excited about the technology and about the product, and almost forget about, is there a market for it? Is it really fulfilling a consumer need? What are the pain points around that that you are addressing?
I think that's probably the biggest learning from that training that I feel like we've really been able to bring to True Places. Outside of that, obviously, as you know, that the context is so different. Marketing a brand or a product in the context of a extremely large traditional corporate environment, it's just very different to starting something from scratch, trying to get a new business or a new brand off the ground where you're starting from no awareness, no one knows anything about you. You're literally starting from a blank slate. It's been a very interesting experience for myself and for my co-founder, going from that large corporate environment and all of the structures and organization that you have there, as well as resources, and going to basically having nothing, none of that, but we are able to be a lot more adaptable, a lot more flexible and really move much more quickly than we would have been able to in a large environment.
Jon: That's a good point. I think that one big difference is that speed and the ability to learn, but I couldn't agree with you more, I think, on that, the need to really focus on the consumer first, that it's oftentimes lost with new inventors or product marketers that have great idea and concept and just decide, "Hey, let me bring this out into the world on my own." It's almost like the difference between features and benefits. Often inventors are very engineering-minded, and they focus on the features, what your product does. They are really cool and different, but if you don't get the consumer benefits, why the consumer should care about this, it gets lost on them.
They don't care about features, they care about how your product is going to help them. I think it's a good segue. Let's jump in and talk about your actual product. The Emmett Chair, let's give a description for the audience that may not have heard of it yet.
Ben: Let me take even just a step back from that and just give a little bit of context about True Places as a whole because the Emmett is our first product, our first chair. Really, the reason that we started the company True Places was to better address a whole aspect of our lives that we felt like most brands or products weren't really addressing in a relevant way before. We realized that we just spend a huge amount of our time outside, but not necessarily in the great outdoors of going on a huge camping trip, but often in these situations, like hanging out with neighbors and friends in the backyard or the front yard, going to block parties, on the sidelines of kids' sports games, concerts in the park.
All of these types of situations that are outside, but not necessarily that far from home. What we were realizing was a lot of the things that we were using and taking with us weren't really designed for those occasions. In particular, and the most obvious pain point literally is that people are sitting there for hours and hours, and they're mostly sitting on low-quality camping chairs, which don't really fit with how meaningful these moments are, it's important time with friends and family. It also doesn't necessarily fit with the quality that you expect in the rest of our lives.
We felt like there was this opportunity to create a much more comfortable chair, a much higher-quality, much better designed for the way that people are actually living and using these products in their lives. That's what we set out to do. The result of that is the Emmett Chair that we spent the last 18 months really working through design and engineering and the production side of things. It turns out that folding chairs are actually not as simple as you might think. There's a lot of engineering behind it. I think we quickly realized maybe why this hadn't been attempted before.
We spent a lot of time working through that, but really, what we were trying to do is create something that is much more comfortable, much better designed, with higher-quality materials, but also with other features that we know people want. We have bottle openers under each arm, we have a cup holder and a phone holder that can go on either side, we have hooks for the carrying bag. We tried to bring all of that from a much more modern perspective. The carrying bag is really upgraded. It's much more comfortable, has a padded strap. We used recycled material for that. The carrying bag's made of recycled plastic bottles, we know that that's something that people increasingly care about.
Fundamentally, what we're trying to do is create a really comfortable chair that you could also take with you. A lot of the design process is really coming from the perspective of how do we create a piece of furniture, a really nice chair that you can also fold up and is really lightweight and you can take with you as opposed to how do we create something that folds up that you can also sit on, which is how most of the portable chairs and the camping chairs that people use, that's how they were really designed. In that category, there's just been a significant race to the bottom in terms of pulling out as much cost as possible at the expense of any kind of quality and that's really been happening for a couple of decades.
There hadn't been much innovation in this space. To the extent that there had been, it was either trying to make chairs that are incredibly ultra-lightweight, so you end up with a 1 or 2-pound hiking chair that you can put in your backpack. That's fantastic when you're walking long distances, but that's not very comfortable and that doesn't really serve the use cases that we are looking out for. Or there's been innovation in patio furniture where it's very comfortable, but you can't take that with you, you can't move that around. We really tried to marry those two together.
Jon: You look at your price point and it's significantly higher than the Walmart foldable chairs that you bring with you. I think there's there's a positive side of that for sure. Once you start competing on price, you end up being like everybody else. I love that you've already talked about how you started with consumer need first and let's get this right, get the quality there. Then from that point, how did you determine your price point? Obviously, everybody knows from a finance perspective, we got to make sure our margins work, et cetera, but I know with your training, your background, you've come into this with okay, we want to make sure it's the right price point for the consumers and margins aside, it could be much higher margin or whatever. How'd you decide on the final price point you ended up with?
Ben: Yes. A lot of it was consumer insight and then design-led. We did a lot of research with consumers upfront. Before we started designing anything, we knew what we wanted to get to and we knew that, by far, the most important factor was comfort. We went through the design process with all of that in mind and we said to ourselves, "We need to fulfill these consumer needs around comfort, around portability, around these other features that people want, around sustainability and we're going to create the best product that really addresses these needs. If someone wants the cheapest option available, then this probably isn't going to be right for them."
I think the first thing was really starting from that consumer perspective. I think the second aspect to it is around the framing and the positioning. Another aspect that you learn in business school or learn in the traditional consumer companies, the way that we present the product and the way that we talk about it and the context around it is obviously hugely important. If we just line up our chair against the Walmart camping chair and just show that to people, we're just going to look like a really expensive version of what they already know.
If we compare ourselves, for example, to Patio Furniture, then all of a sudden, you're in a completely different frame of reference, people, that the price points and the context in which people use those products is very different. Already with even just that decision around how we frame ourselves, those kinds of things can make a big difference. The final point I think is, price is one aspect of what classically they call the marketing mix, the product, and the price, and the distribution and then the communication around it. All of those things need to need to work in unison together and make sense together. In everything that we do, we're not trying to compete directly against the Walmart camping chair. That's a great option for people that are looking for something that that you can take with you, that you can sit on and main concern is price. We're trying to compete in a slightly different space.
Jon: Yes, absolutely. Know your customer and in summary, it guides you towards the right price, the right features that need to be included in that as well. I think very well said. We're going to discuss how you raised over $160,000 on Kickstarter to get the business off the ground, but first, I want to share a message from one of our partners, Shopify. There's a reason that over 1.7 million e-commerce businesses trust Shopify to handle everything from marketing and payments to secure checkout and shipping. At Harvest Growth, dozens of our clients find that Shopify is the best platform to connect with marketing channels like Facebook or Instagram. We've seen conversion rates more than double when transitioning to the Shopify platform.
For a limited time, we can help you get your first month free, savings of up to $79 if you reach out to email@example.com to learn more. Then I want to talk about your Kickstarter success. It's great to see and it's not easy. I think a lot of people that haven't been down that road of crowdfunding before, they don't realize that it's not just about having a good product. Of course, you've got to have that, but there's so much more that goes into that window of success, which is still limited in crowdfunding. I think you mentioned yours was 30 days. Is that how long your campaign was? Yes. Any other marketing campaign outside of crowdfunding, you try, test, fail, learn, improve and you've got time to do that.
There's no end, but in Kickstarter, you've got that short window, everything has to come in and has to get everything dialed in to work. You guys did so very successfully. Again, raising $160,000, in 30 days, which kick-started or you're currently crowdfunding your business to get it off the ground in the first place. Can you talk a little bit about what helps you guys to be successful?
Ben: Yes, absolutely, you're right. It is a little bit of its own world, the product crowdfunding space, whether it's Kickstarter or Indiegogo or others. Yes, it was something that we planned for for a decent amount of time. We felt quite a lot of pressure with that. As you said, the campaigns are typically 30 to 60 days. It's a really short window. There are, at this point, a lot of best practices around doing a Kickstarter campaign, you can find a lot of information online and you can also find experts who really focus, that's all they do.
We did get some additional expertise for that because we felt a lot of pressures. We can't afford to learn our way into it in the way that you normally would. I think it is an interesting opportunity, though, for new brands, new companies, new products, to be able to get a little bit of a start in the market. First of all, you're able to do it well ahead of when you're actually going to be shipping the product. That is a huge benefit from a business perspective and just from a cash flow perspective to be able to show a little bit of market demand six or nine months before you're actually really in market. That's huge.
Secondly, there is an existing community of people who are interested in supporting new innovation and new products and are excited about being on the cutting edge of that, being the first ones to be able to get involved with that. Having said all of that, we, I think, treated it correctly as a way to gain pre-sales rather than a traditional funding method. It's maybe not the ideal way to really fund the business, but it's a fantastic way to gain pre-sales and we treated it like we were launching the product.
As much as the actual campaign is important, even more important than that is the pre-launch campaign. How do you get people excited before you actually launch on Kickstarter? One of the things that quickly became apparent when we started doing research around it was you really need people to back your campaign on the first couple of days. Without that momentum, it's very difficult to be successful. In order to have people backing it on the first couple of days, you really need to do some pre-launch marketing, to build a little bit of a community. I think this is why you see many of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns are coming from companies or people that have done it before.
They already have an existing customer base. They already have an existing community that they actually bring to the campaign. Then beyond that, I think it's a little bit of a not dirty secret in that world, but the reality is now you need to drive traffic to that campaign. I think maybe 10 years ago when Kickstarter first started, it was a little bit different. You could throw an idea up there and if people liked it, then they might fund it. The reality now is that there are so many projects on there-- There's so much going on. Most people are not going to see what you are doing. I think that the most dangerous thing probably in all of marketing, but even more so in with something like Kickstarter is the idea that, if I build it, they will come.
Trying to do something that you think is really cool, and it may be fantastic from a product perspective, but if no one sees it and no one knows that it's there, then you don't have a chance. The reality is that you need to have other marketing efforts, whether it's social media ads or other efforts that are driving potential backers to your campaign.
Jon: Absolutely. It's great way to summarize the success on that platform. It can be so complex, but I think you've done a good job explaining the key metrics. Every campaign's going to be a little bit different, of course, but there is a path really to follow that's going to be more likely to drive you towards that success. Now that you've gotten past that pre-sale approach, what's next for your business?
Ben: Great question. We've spent the last nine months really working through manufacturing and production. Obviously, I'm sure many of your listeners are in a similar position. No one had global pandemic in their business plan. From a supply perspective, from a supply chain and production, it's been an enormous challenge. We're just emerging from that. We have our first production run completed. We're in the process right now of actually launching the business for real. We're just sending out the first units to all of our pre-sales backers, which is incredibly exciting. We can't wait to get it, get the chair into their hands and to get additional feedback from them. We just made our website live at trueplaces.com.
We're going to be selling direct to consumer through there. We're dealing also with some potential seasonality in the market. We're dealing with outdoor products. We've been desperate to get into market this past year, we're finally doing that right now. We're launching, it's September now. We hope that we'll be able to do as much as we can in terms of sales over the next couple of months, and then really set ourselves up for an even bigger push when it comes to the Spring of next year.
Jon: Perfect. Ben, this has been a great interview. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Like I've told the audience, great product, encourage everyone to check out the website, trueplaces.com to learn more. At least check it out, even if you know you're not in the market for a portable chair, see the great work that they've done, and even look up their past Kickstarter campaign, if you want to see that page and just see some of the great work over these past couple years. Ben, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think could be helpful for audience?
Ben: I don't think so. This has been great. I think the only thing I would add just from a marketing perspective is one of the both opportunities and challenges that we see for us and I'm sure many others are facing a similar thing is, we're almost creating a little bit of a new category. The category that we are focused on this idea of just outside your door and the modern outdoors, that's somewhere between just being at home, like home and garden and on one side and on the other side, going on a big trip and camping. That whole category is for many people, a huge aspects of our lives. We spend hours and hours every week, and it's not very well defined.
I think for us, we see that as a huge opportunity. It's also a challenge from a marketing perspective when you're just starting and just starting the business. I think that's something that a lot of businesses can think about and grapple with. For us, it's been a really interesting experience.
Jon: It's a great insight and really a good thing to think about as-- No matter what category or type of product you're thinking about as an inventor or entrepreneur, but looking for that hole in the marketplace. I think what you've identified is, it's now seems obvious. I hadn't thought of that before, but it really is. It's like you've either got your backdoor permanent at seating or camping, crappy, lightweight, but easy to take with you. There is that place in the middle, which is so much bigger. Going to soccer games, going hanging out with your neighbors. We all have, if, I shouldn't say all of us, but a lot of us you know, we're outdoorsy, we camp, we have those things, but it's a couple or a few times a year, but you're enjoying outdoor space.
It could be dozens of times. It's a big open space. I think that you guys are taking advantage of, that's great advice for other marketers to look for those opportunities where other marketers aren't seeing them. Kudos to you guys for figuring that out and it's a fantastic insight. I do want to encourage our audience, if you'd like to learn more about what we call the perfect launch process for marketing products, check out harvestgrowth.com. If you still have questions on how you can implement this process for your business, you'll see a link on our homepage to set up a free consultation with one of our product launch specialists.
I do encourage everyone also to please check out trueplaces.com. Check out the Emmett folding chair and more products to come on the way with Ben and his team as well. Again, Ben, thank you so much for your time today.
Ben: Thanks so much for having me.
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