Five Techniques I Learned from the Glowforge Launch

Danielle Applestone
Oct 7, 2015 · 6 min read

An Open Letter from One Hardware CEO to Another

Dear Dan,

Since we met a few months ago, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the launch of Glowforge, your 3D laser printer. As a longtime user of industrial laser cutters and the CEO of a desktop manufacturing startup, I’m thrilled anytime the public gets excited about making things. You really hit it out of the park! As I write this, you’ve sold over 7 million dollars in just 13 days, all without using a traditional crowdfunding platform. Incredible!

You and I both know that a funding campaign is just the beginning of the work, but I was so impressed with your campaign and learned so much from it that I want to recognize why I think it worked so well. There were so many subtle, clever, and key features of your launch that stuck out to me, and they all added up to something that we could all learn from.

The Glowforge website looks a lot like a crowdfunding campaign — with a twist.

Crowdfunding on Your Own Terms

At an event the other night, I was asked if I’d seen the Glowforge Kickstarter campaign. I laughed, and then realized it wasn’t a trick question — you managed to convey the energy of a crowdfunding campaign and capture the key advantages without any of the disadvantages of using someone else’s platform. Here’s what I mean:

Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are fantastic tools. They help market and promote your projects. They show momentum and make it easy for backers to follow projects and, hopefully, contribute. They have strict deadlines, and time pressure always helps push backers to get involved — now. We totally went this route two years ago and are so grateful for the opportunity it brought us.

But platforms come with downsides. Your project’s branding is always secondary to the platform. Communication with your community is always mediated through the platform. You don’t get as much control. And, maybe most importantly for a small business, platforms take a pretty significant cut of the profits.

Why does this matter? Well, the Glowforge launch campaign still has the elements of a crowdfunding campaign, but you incorporated the good stuff all on your own terms.

How Much Money Have They Made?!

The first thing I see on your website are big, bold numbers showing the progress of your launch campaign. Everyone visiting your site knows that there’s something big going on, it’s moving quickly, and it’s happening right now. You can feel the momentum, and it’s exciting. It says to me: “This is something I want to be part of!” It’s the same psychology behind Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns.

Showing the total amount sold is a strong indicator of trust.

Showing the total amount sold is also a strong indicator about whether or not someone should trust your company. People have become quite wary of blockbuster crowdfunding campaigns and vaporware startups that fail to deliver. They can’t help but ask themselves if they’re just throwing thousands of dollars into a pit somewhere. Sharing your numbers publicly tells them, at the very least, that thousands of other people are also throwing their money into the same pit — and at the most, it exudes confidence about your company and makes the investment feel much safer.

You used the playbook of crowdfunding metrics, but you got to keep all the money and control. This is a brilliant move, and you executed it perfectly.

What’s a Widget Worth?

What’s a laser cutter for, anyway? In 2015, most people have no idea. That’s the reason there’s so much opportunity for Glowforge. You’re bringing something amazing to a new and very large group of people and doing it in a way that is approachable, friendly, and meets their needs. You show, right up front, some of the amazing and creative projects that your customers will be able to make.

But this lack of context for the potential consumer also means that people don’t have any idea how much a machine like this is supposed to cost. Many products run into this problem when they try and break into new markets. What your potential customers don’t know is that most laser cutters available today are complicated and expensive machines — and they normally require specialized ventilation and cooling equipment.

So, in order to establish the value of this incredible deal, you plainly state your retail pricing. As in a traditional crowdfunding campaign, the Glowforge launch price is a massive deal. You make it clear that you’re offering a great deal for a limited time and show what a product like this is supposed to cost. In doing so, you give customers the confidence that this is the right product for them, at the right price, at the right time. I love it!

Dodge the “Wait-and-See”

How long does it normally take for the average person to decide to buy something that costs thousands of dollars? Well, for me, it depends on how much I need it. If my laptop or fridge were to break tomorrow, and I happened to have the cash, I’d have to go to a store and buy a new one on the spot. But that doesn’t happen too often. Unless I have an immediate need, it takes me a long time to make a decision to spend that much.

When I’m facing a big purchase, I ruminate about whether I really need the product. I wonder whether another product will come along that will meet my needs a little better. I look for discounts, reviews, and alternatives — even if I know I would love the product. I fall into a trap I like to call the “wait-and-see.”

The big discount comes with a strict deadline.

In your campaign, you help people out of this trap using a simple tool: a preorder discount. It’s a big discount, and it has a strict deadline. This forces people to think about whether they really want the product, and if so, to buy now. You don’t get many opportunities to use this kind of marketing tool, so it’s good to go big. Clearly, it has worked wonders.

In this particular aspect of your campaign, though, I might have actually gone a step further by putting a limit on the number of machines available at the low price. This would add a little danger to waiting and provide even more incentive to buy now. Heck, you could even just add a quantity limit near the end if you find your momentum changes. You write the rules!

There’s No Pressure Like Peer Pressure

On top of everything else, the Glowforge referral program goes beyond what a typical crowdfunding platform offers. Who wouldn’t want to save $100 for themselves and for their friends?

I can’t tell you how many people have offered their referral deal to me. I’m just sitting here, running a company, and now all I can think about is getting all of my friends together with their laser cutters, doing crafts together, and sitting on the stacks of money they saved by pre-ordering a Glowforge this week.

The best part is that this peer pressure is pressure for doing awesome, creative things: laser cutters are great for empowering small businesses and helping people who want to make pro-style projects with lasers.

All of these things add up to an exciting, successful launch, on your own terms. I learned a lot by engaging with it. I will admit that I haven’t caved yet (I still have 17 days left to decide and my 10-year-old is trying to get me to purchase a “project car” for us to fix up), but I was incredibly impressed with what your company pulled off, both on the product side and the launch side. Glowforge is a beautiful product in a tough category, and you nailed it. I’m definitely planning on taking these lessons to heart for the next Other Machine Co. launch and hopefully some other hardware companies will too. Thank you for raising the bar for us all!

Sincerely,

Danielle

p.s. and you know you want one… :] Here’s my referral link!

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