I began designing the Nomad Art Satchel about three years ago and was primarily motivated by my own personal needs as someone who wanted to sketch away from the drawing table with ease.
I make my living as a professional concept artist, so I have to sketch a lot. What I've found over the years is that I get a lot of inspiration from observing physical reference (such as animals, armour, machinery, etc) or being away from my desk. I can't describe it any way other than "I absorb energy from the world around me."
Surge of inspiration
However, as motivated as I was to get out into the work and sketch, what I found was that sketching in most places, the zoo, park, beach, for example, without a table is awkward, bad for your posture, results in fatigue and simply ended up being an experience that was more trouble than it's worth, despite the surge of inspiration.
After a particularly unpleasant experience – I was outdoors, it began raining, my sketches go soaked and packing up was a soggy nightmare – I looked online for a product that would basically help me to sketch on-the-go and found zero products to fit my need.
It was actually pretty frustrating because I looked for a number of weeks and just couldn't find anything that was remotely close to what I wanted – which was a tough, weather-proof, cool-looking satchel that opened entirely, and held your paper and sketching tools in place so you could open up the bag and sketch immediately. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should build it myself, but I chalked that up to fantasy and forgot about it.
It took a few more cumbersome painful sketch sessions to make make me start looking into a design that would solve some of my most annoying outdoor sketching problems: What happens if it rains? What if I have no table to rest my sketchbook but want to sketch?
How can I start sketching quickly in order to take advantage of the times I'm waiting for a pizza or sitting at the bus stop or waiting for a friend and those great little sketch ideas are slowly fading into the ether because it's a pain in the butt to get out my pad and pencils?
As my job is as a concept artist, coming up with the solution didn't take too long. I sketched up some feasible ideas, did research on existing bags, materials, read books on sewing and construction methods, made alterations to both the aesthetics and functionality and started to check assumptions with some of the top concept artists and designers around today.
The initial response
I emailed people like Scott Robertson, Neville Page, Allen Williams, artists at places like Blizzard Entertainment, Dreamworks Animation, friends in the car design industry (one of them being Nic Hogios, the design chief of Toyota Australia), industrial designers, etc.
It turned out that almost everyone I emailed responded and thought it was a great idea. Apart from paring down the expansive feature list to a much tighter smaller group of key features, given the overwhelmingly positive feedback from these art and design luminaries, I felt I had a winner on my hands if I could get this thing to the market.
At this point, I was totally unaware of what was required to manufacture a quality product, sell the idea to people, and deliver that product to each customer – I was a self-taught concept artist in video games and advertising... what on earth did I know about manufacturing and retailing products?
A Kickstarter story
One thing that was obvious to me before I really started putting money into the prototyping phase was that I wouldn’t be able to bankroll the whole process myself. Indeed, from conservative estimates, I figured out I would only be able to comfortably fund the prototype.
So from the outset, crowdfunding – specifically Kickstarter, with which I had only ever been a 'pledger' was the only viable method of raising capital that would not tie me into large amounts of debt (business loans) or give up a significant percentage of creative and business control (private equity) – truthfully, I doubt I would have secured either in the first place.
Of course, for a Kickstarter campaign to launch, you needed a prototype. Now, I don’t have the word-count to go into detail here, but for even a relatively simple product like the Nomad (no moving parts, no electronics, etc), there are thousands of dollars that need to be spent simply to find a reputable manufacturer who can actually pull off the level of quality needed for a premium priced product.
The perfect prototype
Out of the tens of thousands of manufacturers around the world who say they can make your product, there are only a very small list who actually can, and discovering this shortlist is exceptionally difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
I think it had taken about six prototypes ,and probably eight months or more before the prototype that I finally filmed for the Kickstarter, and by then there were a lot of people who were close to rabid for the Nomad.
All this time, behind the scenes, I had also been busy finding and working with the necessary service providers I needed to manufacture a mass product, move the entire shipment to two separate ports, store the shipments and eventually to distribute them to each customer.
I needed to engage import/export experts, trade consultants, an industrial company, manufacturing engineers, legal help, accounting expertise, engage manufacturing and quality control inspectors, line up a fulfillment company to receive and disperse the goods, deal with customs, in multiple countries, etc. All of these experts needed to be engaged prior to the Kickstarter as they impacted the amount I needed to raise in backer pledges.
Against the clock
Time was dwindling quickly, people were becoming impatient and money was beginning to run very low – I had to dig into my tax money, meaning money that wasn't mine to spend, in order to keep food on the table and the prototype development churning. At one point, I was seriously having to look at needing to 'borrow' money from my five month old son's bank account to keep the wheels turning. I felt horrid.
I also finally understood the phrase "failure is not an option" – it really wasn’t anymore, this Kickstarter had to work, otherwise I wouldn't have enough money to pay my tax bill, or living expenses, or anything else and my wife and my child would pay for my over-zealousness to develop this product. I was literally betting the house.
This uncomfortable, scary thought, sat close to the front of my mind for many many months, and rather than shying away, I took it as a challenge, I used it to focus, to leave nothing to chance and to do everything within my ability to ensure success.
A success story
Despite appearances and the eventual success of the Kickstarter process, nothing went smoothly, it was all a war of attrition until launch day... but it worked.
When I eventually hit the launch button, the pledges exploded. People had stayed awake in parts of the world just for the launch, they made their pledges and went to sleep. The Nomad project goal of $30,000 was funded within a few short hours, and all stretch goals were met that day.
The support was just phenomenal with the final amount raised being $130,000 and a further $17,000 in after-Kickstarter pre-sales. The stress I had been feeling for the previous half a year dissipated in an afternoon and I went outside to lie on the grass under the sun, feeling it warm my skin. I've never felt anything more amazing.
In all, I was almost eight months late in fulfilling my obligations to those backers, but because I had mandated early that I would be as transparent as possible during this unfamiliar process and had kept that promise, these backers not only breathed life into a silly little idea I had so many moons ago, they also became a source of strength for me. When I hated myself for yet another delay, they were the ones who encouraged me and propped me back up so I could do my job.
Despite all the insane challenges, this has been the most positively transformative period in my life, both professionally and personally, but it certainly wasn't for the faint of heart.
Words: Darren Yeow
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