Monday, February 18, 2013

LederKraft Studios

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be shouting across the pond once again this time to talk to Alex Agricola who is brining us LederKraft Studios first Kickstarter.  Thank you for joining us today Alex!
Hi James, my pleasure.

For those who haven’t heard of LederKraft studios could you tell us what it is you guys do?

Hmm where to start... In a nutshell LederKraft Studios is a specialist in the design and production of all things armour and prop related across a broad spectrum of themes, from historical through to fantasy, sci-fi, through to Steampunk and Cosplay. Currently we undertake projects for a whole host of customers from Larpers and Ren enthusiasts, to Film, TV and the gaming industry. We are very much about realising peoples dreams, so ...if it can be imagined, my job is to find a way of making it real.

What brings you to Kickstarter?  You already have a successful business in place what are you specifically doing with this Kickstarter?

Honesty I guess this has been a bit of a dream I’ve been nurturing for over a decade and Kickstarter is just a great chance to bring it to life. The dream of being able to put the power of choice into the customers hands, to be part of a “people’s” project and eventually business. I’m an enthusiast just like all our customers and have been for over 20 years. Hopefully thats given me a little insight into what they’ll want and I hope to bring that insight to Kickstarter.

I think its probably years of frustration over reliability, quality and choice in the props and armor industry that really first fuelled this whole thing.  Currently we are a small fish in a huge pond, but I guess I thought  that if we didn't at least make the offer to the people to come in and be a part of our design process, we’d never know if people really wanted the power of choice in the first place.

Thing is this Kickstarter isn’t just about raising the money to create a new 100% customer designed and chosen range. Its certainly not a begging bowl as we are an operating business which will continue to grow with or without Kickstarter. Its far more about creating a new way of doing things. I'm not bothered about personal profits, or self glorification, but I desperately want to do things differently, bring communities of fans together to build a massive pool of imagination to create unique, desirable products. The first goal is the taster, but the dream is to go further after all it genuinely costs me about 2k to develop a single set of armour, after material costs various wages (my time I tend to give for free when designing).

End goals would be for LederKraft to be 100% customer driven in terms of direction & ultimately I'd love to expand things towards a center of learning.

I’ll be honest, I’ve drooled over your work for a while now, how did you guys get started?  How does one learn to be a leatherworking costume designer?

Thanks James, I have to say its those words that spur me on every day. We certainly do this for love!

How did we get started? That’s a long enough story to bore you silly, but essentially after years of getting fed up at being let down by various traders back in the cottage industry era, I formed a company called in a bid to change things. I guess all we did differently was to be a reliable source, but it was enough to shake things up. I think we were pretty much one of the first mainstream online suppliers and over time, I’d like to think shook things up enough to encourage others to jump in and add to the mix.  I guess like anything there is always going to be a flipside, and ours was the flooding of mass produced products, by the rival overseas companies, with little more than profit in mind. This is probably when the LederKraft dream was born for me as I handed the reins of LRPstore off and set about my mini quest to raise the bar and do something with far more personal meaning to me and my customers.

Getting started is easy! All you need is passion, imagination and to not be afraid to burn the candle at every end imaginable! Oh! Yes, and access to the internet. I’m forever answering questions, forwarding links to various places where people love to share the knowledge. Seriously James, this is one of the most supportive industries you can imagine... and I guess, a future phase for Lederkraft would be a centre of learning, but all under one very organised roof!

Now are your products mostly leather only or are there mixed material projects as well?  

I guess most of the projects we have put public are mainly of leather, but in truth we have a huge mixed bag of tricks in house that use both old tech and new. We design by hand, but then digitise, we prototype using hand techniques, but also use our own in house laser tech. I think if you followed us on Facebook, you’d get a far better idea of how broad a base we cover, but I have to admit, we are only just starting to scratch the surface of what I intend to do. You name it really, we work with leather, but also fabrics, we can sculpt, mold and cast in lots of materials. Like I said earlier, if you can think it up I’ll spend countless hours working out ways of making it real!

How are your products normally used?  Just as costumes or do people use them in reenactments and such?

Wow... I can't begin to imagine how many uses for our products! Yes they are used as costumes, for larp, cosplay and other less safety critical pastimes. However if customers ask for reenactment level protection, then we can build with that in mind which is very important given someone could be launching themselves at you with something pointy!

Do you have any non-european designs?  A mongolian warrior design for instance?

You wouldn't believe the number of designs I have in our portfolio.  Yes, pretty much anything from history, but also lots of movies and pretty much anything else that’s coming out. However here’s where the problem starts. Our last range was all designed in house and 100% from scratch, but all along the way we debated almost constantly over which outfits to choose.  Which is the problem we’re here to solve with this Kickstarter.

How will folks help design these new costumes?  Will they submit pictures like these (shameless plug for my wife.) or 3D models or just sketches?  Or are we just buying in a chance to vote for the upcoming line?  

Ahhh the clever bit .... We have already begun to develop a voting and uploading system tied into the back end of the website. We will give full guidelines to all our backers as to how they upload, what format they can use etc. They will all have a unique login access to a closed area of the site where they can add as many designs as they want, as long as the designs are original in some way or another. We will never allow copies of others work and will vet all designs via various known sources to make sure no one is losing out on credit where credit is due.

All the designs will go live after we are confident they are genuine submissions, after which all the backers can place a single vote on as many designs as they like and depending on the number of backers we will get feedback on what level of vote people feel right to make something go live so to speak. The first aim is to create 10 male and 10 female full sets of costumes/armours.... if for any reason demand takes the project above the next level of backing, I’ve decided to take the plunge and make ALL our future designs and products 100% backer chosen.  Not only that but I’ve also plan to let customers vote on the potential selling prices, with the costs laid bare. I think it's critical to get the whole balance right and I trust the backers will see the sense in not selling at cost, especially when any profits would be re-invested back into developing further products.

After that I’m more than happy for us to be totally in the hands of the fans, even to the point of at some point making this a backer owned business, if that's what they want.

As someone of... lets say regal size I have often been wary of costume makers like yourselves as they tend not to cater to folks of my... stature.  Obviously economies of scale count to reduce costs but do you guys offer more customizable sizes?  Big and Tall sizes?  

James... that’s one of the reasons we use modern tech. We've actually developed a way of scaling up ANY of our armours with very little change in cost aside of the charges for the additional leather, which we always charge at what we pay. I've made the same armour, fit a 6 year old boy, also scale up to fit a 56 inch chest Viking!!! With no loss of design I might add. We don’t just add strips of leather, we fully scale up every single piece, so it still fits like an adjustable glove.

Why isn’t there a video or any other personal message with this campaign?  You do give us some good detail on the company but there’s no “face” to your campaign.  Currently you are failing my “Girl Scout Test” pretty handily and I have to imagine those who don’t know who you are probably won’t connect well with what you have.  

A good point James and one I’m sorry to say boils down to a simple lack of video savy, and my not wanting to sound like I’m the worlds expert on all things leather. We are in truth a humble little early stage project, with loads of experience and a load of passionate people involved that like me, all share the dream. I know it may sound a little lame, but even with Kickstarter running, I’ve still got to put the clients we are working for as a priority and time is something I simply seem to be short of unless someone can somehow lend me an extra day a week.

OR, some talented individual offers to come make a video while I work!

I do very much care but I’ve never really been one for trumpet blowing.  I prefer my customers to do that for me, hence quite a healthy growth on Facebook, where I’m laid bare for the public to poke away to theirs hearts content.  :-)

How did you discover Kickstarter?

I actually came across it about 5 years ago when I first  thought of the project but at that time being based in the UK, it was not available to us over here, then during a random chat with one of my customers over what I wanted to do, they told me it had expanded to the Uk and suggested maybe it was time to make the project public.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

At the moment I’m doing as much as I can to let people know its running, but I’m keen not to spam people. It’s very important to me we get a genuine measure of interest and I guess voting with their hard earned cash is the clearest way I can tell.  I’ve already sent out the first update letting our first backers know I’ve recruited enough helpers to move forward pretty much all the delivery dates of rewards, as well as newsletter the 4000 + subscribers to our site newsletter. I’m also going to be launching a small snippet of possible designs in our books, just to whet the appetite.. I've already started doing interviews for anyone interested and as I've said... if anyone wants to come video, they are welcome. Even now many of the first few backers on board have increased their backing unprompted and I’m keen to keep this a genuine project backed by what could turn into a very active panel of voices from all over the globe.

LederKraft Studios first ever 100% customer driven range -- Kicktraq Mini

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

At the moment as it’s early days and early in the year, I’ve kept it a little low key as I’m well aware of the usual post xmas budget restrictions we all have on our pockets, but will certainly be pushing whenever anyone is interested in hearing about us. Yes we have made very public on our very active facebook page and yes I am following on Kicktraq, but  will save any advertising on google until the end of Feb... again its a little further into the season and a little closer to seeing the advantages of not only saving a small fortune on kit they could have bought from us anyways, but also giving them the chance to be a fully active part of the project and its future.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

I guess clarity.... you need to be 100% clear and focused on the goal and 100% committed to delivering any promises you make. Be transparent, even at the risk of making your project vulnerable to the would be copiers out there. Remember it’s the people that make a project work, not necessarily the uniqueness although this does play a major factor, and finally be passionate about what you want to do!

Kickstarter can be a massive tool at the same time as a very public chopping block and if you fear negativity, wait until you're ready to face both the good & bad press.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

My pleasure James.... I guess I’d ask people to genuinely care about their hobby, I know I am biased, but this is very much a David & Goliath story. I think its time for change, but it takes action to make change. I am 100% convinced, our project would lead the way for the change in the industry and it wouldn't be long before a huge number of our favorite retailers started listening a bit clearer to what we actually want. Yes, there are lots of stats and marketing reports, but I guess personally I’d rather ask people!

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

Thank you  James, me too!

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