I am a UPTO drone patent holder, product designer a technology enthusiast. Like many entrepreneurs here, I have tried my hand at numerous business ideas - always learning and growing. I'd come up with ideas, and launch them, but kept getting stuck at the market adoption stage.
After the tragedy of Sandy Hook, I started looking for bulletproof backpacks for my kids. However, every one I found was tactical in design and not well-suited for kids. So I decided to design my own. I called it GUARDPack and contracted with a backpack manufacturer in China to manufacture them.
Within a week of my kids taking them to school, I had multiple parents reaching out to buy some for their kids. You’d expect this to be a great and exciting moment for me. However, the opposite was the case. Because with every sale that came in, I realized the desperation and helplessness parents felt which led them to purchase my product.
Also, I couldn’t help but worry that if the backpack for one reason or another, failed to protect a kid when needed, that would be devastating. So I decided to wind down that business but I had been forever bitten by the backpack bug.
Cyberbackpack was born
I kept an open mind and was constantly looking for opportunities to reinvent the backpack. Then it came to me, a cyber backpack built with the same cyberpunk design aesthetic that inspired the Tesla Cybertruck. I realized product design was moving in this direction and decided to apply it to backpacks where I had extensive domain experience.
First I built a 1/12 scale 3D model of the backpack using the Toybox 3D printer I had purchased days earlier during a Black Friday sale.
Once I held the model in my hand, I had my eureka moment. It actually looked really good and not awkward. The proportions were just right and I knew I was on to something.
The next step was to reach back out to my manufacturing contacts in China whom I had previously worked on my bulletproof backpack. I provided them with the new design and had them create a mold and prototype.
I received the prototype about a month later and the video below explains it all.
It was perfect and exceeded my expectations. I knew I had a winner and immediately placed a very ambitious order for 1000 units paying a 30% deposit.
I quickly spun up a Shopify site, registered the Cyberbackpack.com domain, and began to get orders before the backpacks even arrived. With that strategy, I was able to fully fund the production run before the balance of 70% was due.
I used the free Dawn theme from Shopify and searched Shopify help boards for any customizations I needed. I had a decent amount of web design experience at that point so messing with the HTML and CSS was a daily obsession because I did not want to spend a penny on design or get bogged down with the look of the site until I had product market fit.
I also found other Shopify stores that were in my category and did my best to mirror their customer flows, CTA, and offers. It doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel. There were tons of other Shopify stores out there that were doing what I was looking to do but at a much higher level and were much further along in their e-commerce journey. So why try to figure it out on my own when I could just (for lack of a better term) copy what the pros were already doing with great success?
I also got an LLC, made social media accounts, and tested everything out with my kids and friends. All for a pretty low startup cost.
The biggest validation I received was when Tesla decided to file a trademark for the name Cyberbackpack a month after we launched. It is now up to the USPTO to determine who should be granted the trademark. And I am confident I will prevail because the USPTO follows the first-to-use doctrine and I was the first to use the name Cyberbackpack in commerce.
As you can expect, this was widely covered by the Tesla blogs at the time and as a result, sales spiked tremendously. Not letting the threat of a $1 trillion company phase me, I pressed on and as of today, I can say that we sold well over 1000 cyber backpacks and counting. I also launched 2 new products - Cyberpowerbank (power bank) and Cybersling (a crossbody bag).
As Paul Graham famously wrote, do things that don’t scale.
So here are a couple of things that we did that are outside the box but it worked really well for sales:
Things that worked
1. Partnered with Tesla owner clubs around the world and offered exclusive discounts for the members.
2. Attended Tesla fan (and EV expo) events where we set up booths to sell directly to attendees and answer questions about Cyberbackpack.
3. Offered HUGE discounts to current Tesla employees.
4. Respond to every HARO inquiry that fits our story.
5. Write helpful and insightful articles in our blog and optimize everything for SEO.
But it’s not all in sunshine and rainbows☀️🌈. Here are some problems I have run into so far:
Problems I faced
1. Restocking: Accurately forecast when you reorder stock in order to not sell out prematurely.
2. Returns: Customer returns is a fact of life with eCommerce. However, we are very fortunate to have a return rate of less than 1%. That means in over 1000 backpacks sold, we have received less than 10 return requests. Although very small, it’s always a pain in the A$$.
3. Copycats: Being a very unique product, we haven’t seen many copycats in terms of the design. However, we have seen the use of the name Cyberbackpack by others trying to cash in on our success. With success comes copycats but there is only one original.
4. Paid ads suck: we have not had much success with paid ads. We have tried Facebook, Google, and TikTok. All three have been a dud so far, with Google’s Performance Max ads performing slightly better than others. Also, I realized that SEO delivers a far superior ROI than paid ads especially if you have a tight budget. However, you shouldn't rule out paid ads. Maybe I just haven't figured it out yet. So if anyone can help us out with this, I am all ears.
Here are a few things I have learned:
What I learned
1. Don’t reinvent the wheel - copy from the best.
Find other Shopify stores in your niche and category and get insights from them. You can do this by using Chrome extensions that will tell you all the apps and tools they are using on their site. Then figure out which ones you can use to better achieve your goals. Another hack is to sign up for their newsletters and copy their email flows. This will help you get better at messaging your email list.
2. The customer is not always right. However, you should always make it right for the customer.
This means always trying to find ways to arrive at an amicable solution for customers where they don’t feel taken advantage of but rather feel you have listened to them and are doing everything you can to resolve their issues.
3. Find communities that are closely aligned with your product and offered them your product at cost.
This is the fastest way to ingratiate your product with highly engaged communities at little or no added cost to you.
4. Become a Tweaker.
I don’t mean this in a drug-obsessed sense, but rather constantly tweaking your landing page to make sure you are optimizing your conversion rate. One way I do this is by constantly monitoring my competitors' pages and looking at what they are doing on their landing pages. If you find things that interest you or seem to work well for them, implement that on your landing page as well. You should also be A/B testing image positioning and copy on your landing page because this is the only way you can exactly pinpoint what you did that is working for you.
5. Relationships matter in manufacturing.
This is because you’re often wiring tens of thousands of dollars to companies in China which can decide to abscond with your money and you never hear from them again. So working with manufacturers that you trust and building trust over a period of time is vital to the success of any e-commerce business. One way to minimize scams is to work through Alibaba’s Trade Assurance.
6. Limit your SKUs and don’t overdo it with different colors and options.
Having just one main color has helped us tremendously by reducing complexity and inventory costs. However, we are currently testing a black backpack color that should be available in January. This is because the search term for ‘black backpacks’ is quite popular for google SEO and the color black is the most desired by backpack buyers. So I feel we are leaving money on the table by not offering a black color for our Cyberbackpack.
So what does the future hold for Cyberbackpack in 2023? An acquisition by Samsonite?🤔
Well for starters, I plan to launch more products in 2023. We currently have the Cyberbackpack, the Cyberpowerbank, and the Cybersling - all launched in the first 6 months of the company’s existence.
I plan to launch at least 2 more travel accessory products in 2023 including a larger capacity Cyberbackpack for travel and yet unnamed product which is currently in the prototype stage. I hope to have more info on that in the coming weeks.
My plan, for now, is to continue growing sales through discounts, partnerships, live events, social media, SEO, and some paid ads.
Let me know your thoughts and what I can do to improve!