Monday, January 28, 2013

Ultimate Gamer's Storage Bag

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by a creator of gaming goodies, Mr Dave Howell!  Dave has brought along his Ultimate Gamer’s Storage Bag project, how are you today Dave?  

I’m very well, thank you. Although to be fair, it’s hard to be in a bad mood when one’s Kickstarter campaign gets off to a great start. I’m only 1.5 days in, and I’ve already raised over 30% of my
target. That’s pretty fun!

What have you brought to talk about today?  It looks very much like a simple dice bag that I’ve seen all the time.  

It might look that way, but it doesn’t feel that way, believe me. Most of the dice bags I’ve seen (and most of the ones I find for sale online today) are made from suede, that “fuzzy” leather, partially because suede is cheaper than finished leather, and partly because most standard cow-hide leather would be awfully stiff for a dice bag or other small bag. Think of the kind of leather used to make purses or leather jackets. These bags are made from Pakistani goatskin leather, and it’s wonderfully soft and supple. Not unlike deerskin leather, but I believe it’s more durable.

Then there’s the closure. Most dice bags I’ve seen have a single loop drawstring. The idea is that you pick it up by the loop, and the weight of the bag closes up the opening. That works only as long as you’re carrying it by the loop. If you put it in a backpack, it tends to work its way open, and since PennyGems are both heavier and smaller than dice, it seemed pretty clear they’d tend to fall out. Of the first four samples the manufacturer sent me, three of them just had a leather strip as the drawstring. Presumably one would tie a knot in the string to keep it closed. What a pain! But one of them had the capped nylon drawstring with the spring-lock clamp on it, and as soon as I saw that I knew that it was exactly what a gamer bag needed.

Wow! That’s no ordinary dice bag! In fact you don’t even call it a dice bag, why not?  Did you design them mainly to store your own Pennygems?  

I did indeed. Backers of my first project clamored for bags. After all, the Realm Coins people had thought of that. I started out by looking for a source for cloth bags. Holy cow, there are literally tens of thousands of manufacturers who offer drawstring bags. Some of them I could identify from the description as ones that would feel fairly cheap, and I was not excited about offering my customers a bag that wouldn’t be any better than they could make themselves.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really didn’t make sense to offer both cloth bags and leather bags. You see, people who first run into PennyGems online mostly are surprised by how expensive they are. But when people meet them in person, what they notice first are how shiny and spectacular they look, and then by how great they feel in the hand. In fact, the extra-large version of PennyGems (which I call JumboGems) came about because some of the early backers asked for ones they could carry around in their pocket to fiddle with during the day. “Like worry stones,” I was told.

So PennyGems are for gamers who like really nice game components. The kind of people who buy that amazing three-dimensional Settlers of Catan board, or who invested in “Poker Chips for Gamers”. So I decided to go straight to leather bags; the best leather bags I could find. I was hopeful I could find some that would be of exceptional quality, but between doing a bulk order and the fact I was eliminating most of the middlemen, should be able to keep them affordable.

I also have them to thank (or blame) for my company logo. When I contacted them, they said “We can embroider or emboss your logo, no extra charge.” And I thought, “well, heck, that would be cool. But I don’t have a logo! I’d better come up with one.” I have some hand-tooled leather belts, so I know that embossed or blind-stamped leather just looks so classy. (Embossed is when the shape is raised, blind-stamped is when it’s indented.) So I came up with the “electric lamp” design in order for them to show me how it would look.

When I got the second set of prototypes from them, with all the colors and sizes, it dawned on me that if I were a gamer, I would want one of these for my dice as well as for my PennyGems. Having top-quality luxurious things is fun, but most of the time, who can afford them? That three-dimensional Settlers of Catan set is, what, $300? But these bags are quite affordable. So what was originally going to be the “PennyGems Bag Kickstarter Project” morphed into “The Ultimate Storage Bag for Gamers.”

With two successful Pennygems Kickstarters behind you do you think you’ve got this whole “Kickstarter thing” figured out?  Your post campaign game plan is set and you’ve planned it all out?  

{laugh} That’s exactly what a friend of mine said to me earlier today. I don’t think I’d go that far. A week ago, I was looking at the “Kingdom Death: Monsters” Kickstarter project. Like me, they’re a fairly unknown team, and this was also their third project. Their goal was $35,000, but they raised two million dollars! Holy cow! If I had it all figured out, I’d be doing projects like that!

But I have been working in the game industry for decades, and I’ve been carrying PennyGems prototypes around for almost five years, so I knew that people wanted them, but that my cost to manufacture them was so high that by the time they got through the distribution chain and into game stores, they were going to be just too expensive. Originally, my plan for my first Kickstarter project was going to be a three-dimensional game board for Kill Dr. Lucky, but somewhere along the way I realized that PennyGems were a better choice. I knew a lot of people would want them if I could just get the price low enough. So I hit my first project with a product that I had a lot of experience with already. That make it a lot easier. And these bags are similar, in that I have a pretty good idea of how many bags my PennyGem customers are likely to get. What I don’t know is how many I might sell to people who don’t have PennyGems.

As for my post-campaign plan, well, yes, that’s fairly well developed. Again, it’s based on what I learned from the previous campaigns, and also on what I’ve learned from being an entrepreneur in general. There’s a big spreadsheet with expenses, various prices, shipping costs, and whatever else I could think of that might affect the final results.

Okay so you’ve got a really nice leather, a different set-up on the eyelets, and lots of pretty colors.  Still you’re asking upwards of $25 for a bag, what makes it worth it?  Do gamers really want to spend that much for a bag?  

Not all of them. But it’s a lot like when people would say “Why should you spend X dollars on a MacBook Pro? You can get a laptop for a third that price.” But if you’re shopping for one with a big, high-resolution screen, fast processor, solid-state drive, light weight, long battery life; in short, if what you’re looking for is a really high quality laptop, then it turns out a MacBook Pro is one of the cheapest computers you can get.

It’s the same with these bags. If you want a really cheap bag, your best bet is to buy some remnant fabric at your local store and sew your own. If you search for “leather dice bag” on Etsy, you’ll get around 100 hits. Most of them are suede. A few are deerskin. None of the ones I looked at had a drawstring clamp, and the larger ones run $20 to $30.

So, yea, you could get an ordinary dice bag for less, but like you said, this isn’t your ordinary dice bag. If what you’re looking for is an extraordinary dice bag, I think this might be the cheapest one around.

Now you mention being able to add Pennygems to your order to combine shipping, but you don’t list prices or anything like that, any plans on updating the campaign page to clarify that beyond the small FAQ item and the mention of not including the cost of the gems to the bag order?  

Ha! That’s a good question. I do now!

{laughs} Thanks! Will allowing lots of add-ons hamper/confuse your post campaign order fulfillment?  All I see are wall to wall options on your bags from color, grommets, size, and gems that seems like a LOT of options to deal with!

No kidding. In fact, it’s always been my plan to have a special web page setup for people to plan out their order. In a perfect world, I would have had that system all programmed and ready to go before I launched, but once upon a time, I thought I’d be launching this in October 2012. It’s taken a lot longer than I expected to get all the details of the bag ready to go, so I decided to get the campaign out the door and then scramble to get the order form ready as fast as I could afterwards.

Now how tough are these things?  I mean my poor Crown Royal bag died from years of holding hundreds of dice as well as my skull of dice, how well do you think these will hold up to all those pointy dice?  

Ultimately, I don’t know. I received my first prototype from the manufacturer last September, and I’ve been carrying it around pretty much fully loaded with PennyGems for months, and it still looks brand new. The manufacturer seems very confident that they’ll hold up, and so far, I haven’t had any reason to doubt them.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Oh, gracious. I don’t even remember. My profile says I setup my Kickstarter account in August of 2011, but I know I’d been aware of Kickstarter long before that. It was at least back in 2010.

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?

“It’s just a bag.” {laughs} Honestly, I’ve always found myself pretty much making it up on the fly. Mostly I just respond to backer comments. Sooner or later somebody says something that causes me to go “hmmm!”, and the next thing you know, there’s a 5,000 word essay on how the icons got selected, or something like that. Already for this project, somebody asked me if you could put eight little bags in a big bag. The result is the video I’m posting right now as part of Update #2, as well as the strange black gizmo that can be seen in the video, which might become a bag-carrying rack. Or might not, depending on if I can make one I like or not.

Before my first campaign, I figured that I’d be busy before I launched, getting the video ready and doing all the planning, and then I’d be busy again once it finished, hopefully making PennyGems and filling orders, but during the campaign, I’d just be waiting to see what happened. Ha! I was busiest during the campaign, just staying on top of the constant stream of comments.

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?  

And you were suggesting earlier that I seem to have this all figured out. In fact, I spent this afternoon miserably futzing around with Facebook to create a “Page” for Improbable Objects, since I’ve never had one before, and it seemed like A Thing To Do. I have never tweeted in my life, and have no intention of starting now. Google+, yes, but just from my personal account. No YouTube, no advertising, and I didn’t even know about Kicktraq until after my first project closed. I’ll probably visit a few times during this campaign, but mostly I just use Kickstarter’’s own dashboard to monitor the campaign.

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

If you don’t have experience as a small business owner, I would find one to talk over your plans for reward fulfillment, especially if you’re planning on offering, oh, T-shirts or cast models or signed posters or any other physical object that you don’t already work with. There’s all kinds of little details that are easy to overlook; domestic Flat-Rate Priority Mail’s weight limit is 20 pounds for a small box or envelope, but International has a four pound limit. Manufacturers and suppliers sometimes underestimate how long they’ll take to deliver things, or surprise you in other ways. You can actually get a very good idea of what all can jump up and bite you just by reading through the updates for Rich Burlew’s “Order of the Stick Reprint Drive,” for example.

If you don’t have a handy small business owner to consult, take advantage of what I think is one of the most useful and coolest resources provided by the U.S. Government, the Small Business Administration. They have a program called SCORE where retired business owners and managers will provide advice and consulting services for small business people. It’s completely free, and I’ve found it incredibly useful over the years.

Also, be sure to read through all the material Kickstarter provides. There were some things that caught me by surprise, but what they do have available information-wise has been pretty useful and reasonably accurate.

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

One of the unexpected pleasures of Kickstarting a project has been the dialog I’ve enjoyed with customers/backers. When I back a project, I try not to post a comment or send a message just to say “Hey, cool project,” or such. I figure they’re pretty busy doing stuff. But if there’s something in particular that crosses your mind, definitely post a comment or drop them some email. Backer comments have been hugely influential and inspirational for me. The Dichotomy and Wound PennyGems came directly from backer inquiries as well as the very idea for my current campaign.

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

Thank you! This has been fun. Now I have to go sit in a corner and cogitate on this whole “converting potential backers” thing.


  1. Nice bag. I love its color and style

  2. Woah! Those are great handbags for men. Thanks for sharing! I'll need to see about picking a few of these up and buying them for all of my brothers.