The Vessi™ Beer Fermentor and Dispenser is a single tank that ferments, carbonates and dispenses home-brewed beer in as little as seven days. The Vessi™ Fermentor was a bright idea in the minds of a small team of Whirlpool employees, who believed they had something brilliant for the home-brewing market. They saw the difficulty of fermentation, the long wait for good, home-brewed beer and believed there had to be a better way. Their job was to make it happen.
Since then, they’ve been researching, testing and designing to bring the original idea to life. Their original goal of $100,000 was shattered in a matter of weeks, and they’ve raised over $200,000 to date. They received plenty of noteworthy press, including TechCrunch, Fortune and CraftBeer. We asked Whirlpool how they successfully used crowdfunding to gain market validation:
1. How did the idea for Vessi™ come about?
We have passionate employees with innovative ideas within Whirlpool. In order to harness and further develop some of their great ideas, we created an internal business case competition. Two years ago a few members of our homebrew community saw an opportunity and won the competition with their idea for an innovative homebrewing system. The team consisted of Bob Schneider, Tony Gates, Nick Koukourakis, Bridget Battistone, Anthony Mills, Bob Schneider, Jeff Williams, and Martin Blanc.
2. What were your goals for the campaign?
We had two main goals for using Indiegogo. First, we wanted to validate a market so we asked several questions we hoped crowdfunding would answer: Do consumers really have the pain points we think they do in this home brewing process? Do they want a product like the Vessi™ Fermentor? Secondly, but certainly not any less important, we wanted to directly engage with our target market. We wanted to know who they were, what they liked about the product, where they would expect to find it and how they perceived its value. Plus, we would gain infinite learnings once they were able to get their hands on the unit and test it out. Indiegogo’s comments section allowed us to directly engage with backers and get their feedback.
3. What types of products should use crowdfunding?
I think crowdfunding can be used for a number of different reasons and products. Many startups will use crowdfunding to bring their ideas to life, and that intent should never be lost. We, however, found a different benefit from crowdfunding, through customer feedback and market validation. To me, the amazing part of crowdfunding is the voice it gives the customer. They literally, with their dollars, get to vote on your idea and tell you if they like and want your product. Through this, enterprises attain a wealth of information that they take into consideration as they make future investment decisions.
4. Where did the majority of your backers come from?
We were surprised with the amount of international interest. I think we would have had 20-30 backers from outside the U.S. if we were ready and approved to ship internationally. We saw a trend of backers west of the Mississippi and a lot of current home brewers, ex-home brewers and people who were somewhat knowledgeable about home brewing. We also had a few eager backers that had never brewed beer before and wanted to learn. We were excited to help these kind of backers take up this amazing new hobby. We decided to extend the campaign by a few weeks to offer all backers the opportunity to upgrade their beer faucet, the goal was reached and our engineering team is currently scoping various beer faucet upgrades.
5. What did you do to prepare for this campaign?
Looking back on the time leading up to our campaign, I’d almost say ‘not enough’ and ‘not soon enough.’ There was a great deal more we could have done but, we’ve learned so much and will apply those learnings to our next innovation. For this campaign, we had a prototype with a name, we created a video and took a great deal of pictures., To complement the launch, we were making relationships, getting the product in front of various beer experts and building momentum around our beer event.
6. What was the most important thing you learned from your backers?
Our backers have already given us some very insightful suggestions to consider for future product enhancements. We’ve made at least one product design change due to some feedback and are considering a few others. The most important feedback will be when they receive the product and are able to test it and interact with it firsthand.
7. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
We would plan a lot more ‘on-the-ground’ events. All the statistics show increased traffic from Google searches to our campaign page when we had the product out and about in the public’s eye. For example, we experienced tremendous traffic and interest at our booth at the National Homebrewers Conference in Baltimore this past June. If we could do it again, we would attend an event or have something outward facing at least once a week.
8. What advice would you give people who’ve never run a campaign that you’ve learned through your experience?
Having a prototype is very powerful, even more so if you can have it somewhere that people can actually touch and see it. We also recommend that you are prepared to handle a lot of questions. It is important to have the bandwidth to engage early and listen to your backers, who truly want to be involved in the process.
We are excited to continue to innovate on the Vessi™Fermentor and Dispenser while bringing home brewing to backers nationwide!
Learn more about Whirlpool’s story and how to become a home brewer today.
Want to know more about why businesses are turning to crowdfunding? Check out our Enterprise Crowdfunding page.