Kish Vasnani and Vanessa Jeswani bonded over a love of travel that’s taken them through several continents and over 40 countries. In 2017, it also inspired them to launch Nomad Lane, a brand of sleek travel accessories with its unique Bento Bag as the hero product.
“My wife and I both had corporate jobs in New York, and we both had a string of crappy bosses. So, we wanted to take a bet on ourselves. We explored the travel category because we’d both had an international upbringing.”
The pair traveled the world using carry-on bags from the world’s best travel companies. But they struggled to find something they loved. Nomad Lane was founded to provide fashionable yet functional travel accessories. Their star product, though, was the Bento Bag.
This multitasking carry-on fits holds all your essentials in convenient pockets, fits under an airplane seat, charges your phone - and looks good enough to go from the airport to an office meeting or work dinner. They launched the Bento Bag on Indiegogo; the campaign ended up raising over $2 million.
Easyship: Hi Kish, thanks for talking to us today! First things first - why Nomad Lane and the Bento Bag?
Kish: I’m a very, very clumsy person. New York City transit has at least 20 of my umbrellas because I leave things everywhere - I’ve lost a GoPro, some valuable jewelry. In coming up with the Nomad Lane Bento Bag, it was more about having something that had enough pockets so that I could find a spot for everything. That way, whenever you travel, you know where things are.
When you look at the market, we didn’t really find any bags that met this need. We found plenty that were too big, too small, too expensive, too fancy. So, we set out to design this on our own and bring this to life.
Easyship: So, let’s talk about developing the Bento Bag. What was the process like?
Kish: In 2017, we flew to Asia to visit two big fairs - the Canton Fair and the Hong Kong Gift Show. A lot of factory owners - mostly from China - come to these fairs to show off their samples and factory skill sets. You can go there and just slap your name on something and sell it on Amazon.
For us, we went with the intention of finding a factory partner who could help us develop and build an idea. So, it was a lot of interviewing people. Once we found a factory partner that we liked and who liked our idea, they asked us to show them our tech pack. I didn’t know what this was!
I just said, “Sure, I’ll get it right over to you.” We Googled what a tech pack is and how to do it - it’s basically a systemic way to send designs over to a factory so they can reproduce something.
We had a sketch, a rough idea. So, we then went on to Upwork and found a freelance designer and told them what we were thinking and asked them to help us spec it out.
When I saw the finished product, it was so detailed and intense - I have a big appreciation for people who design tech packs. It’s an absolute necessity. It might cost a bit of money to work with a designer, but it’s something all factories around the world understand.
Once we had the tech pack, we sent it over to the factory and went through a couple rounds of sampling until we felt it was right. As we were getting to the tail end of the sampling process, it still wasn’t 100% there, but we felt the product was 90% of the way there, and we decided to start preparing for the launch.
Easyship: So why did you decide to go with crowdfunding to launch the Nomad Lane Bento Bag?
Kish: We wanted to bet on ourselves. You know, from day one we’ve been 100% bootstrap - and we still are today, by the way, four years later. We were kind of nervous about taking out a bank loan to place an order for 10,000 units, which is what factories want - that’s how you get the best price.
So, we looked at other avenues and read a lot of articles, and thought crowdfunding could be interesting. We studied the whole concept in terms of getting a sample, telling your story, running marketing, doing photography, explaining the messaging, and then seeing what happens. We felt that if we got a good response, then we could actually consider moving this forward.
Easyship: That makes sense. There are a lot of crowdfunding platforms out there, so why did you choose Indiegogo?
Kish: Initially, when we were launching, we got picked up in an article by Fast Company in March 2018, which said the Nomad Lane Bento Bag would soon be coming to Kickstarter. I think an hour after that article went out, I got an email from the Head of Product at Indiegogo asking “what do you think about coming over to Indiegogo, because we’re more retail-focused?” We literally had our full Kickstarter page built, but after we spoke to Indiegogo, we scrapped all of that and moved across.
I think it was really the TLC that we got from Indiegogo and the fact that we felt it was more retail-focused. We looked at the types of products on Indiegogo versus Kickstarter, and we just felt Indiegogo was the way to go for us.
The platform is set up to convert people. We also saw, in general, that Kickstarter was more geared towards the artistic crowd, so maybe it’s for, you know, things like board games or even video games.
So we felt the love from Indiegogo, but we also thought there was a good InDemand program, as well. So basically, after your campaign is over - after 30 days or 60 days - you can still continue taking orders.
So when we were doing our production ordering and financial planning, we knew that while our bag was in initial production, we could then slowly start increasing the price until the regular retail price, taking orders at every step of the way. This isn’t available on Kickstarter.
Easyship: Let’s talk about the pre-launch. What did you do ahead of the campaign?
Kish: There’s an article about Tim Ferriss - I think it’s about Harry's Razors. It talks about how they got 100,000 email addresses in one week as they were launching their company.
So, what we did was we built a landing page to tease out the campaign and capture emails. From there, we had an email funnel system to the people that had signed up, so we could reach out to them and say, “Hey, the bag’s coming soon, here’s why we designed it.”
By the first day of the campaign, I think we had close to about 5,000 emails. In crowdfunding, your biggest bang is typically your first day. And, when we were looking at our factory and discussing minimum orders, we realized the basic amounts were around $15,000. So, ahead of the launch, we just followed basic email marketing and started funneling small Facebook ad buys from day one. So, that was really cool.
Easyship: You also chose to use an ad agency for your crowdfunding campaign. Why was this?
Kish: So, we wanted to be prepared for the pre-launch of the campaigns. You know, there are a lot of people out there who will help you do testing and things like that.
We did all that on our own because we just read everything available - and we were on a tight budget. We didn’t have the kind of money to do that. But, before we even thought about signing a contract with an ad agency, we were already in the planning phase.
The hardest work on a campaign is done three to six months before the launch, so by this stage, we were already doing marketing and photography and things like that. Then we went around and talked to a lot of different crowdfunding agencies.
I just Googled the most successful crowdfunding projects, and at the bottom, you’ll see things like “Ads run by so and so company.” So I looked up these companies and interviewed them - I think we went through about 12 of them.
In the end, we went with a small, boutique ad agency called Backercamp that I think is pretty selective with new projects. That’s because we felt they understood us and would help us get that initial bump from day one. We liked them because they had a strong track record, and we felt we had a good vibe and that we wouldn’t just be a guinea pig for them.
Easyship: You and the agency ended up pushing hard with social media, especially Facebook.
Kish: Yeah, okay so, this is where the entrepreneurial but risk-averse side of me started coming in. Once we started working with our ad agency partner, Backercamp, the main benchmark that we had with them was that we wanted to see a good return on ad spend. So, we had a threshold, and as long as they kept hitting it, we just told them to keep going.
On the back end, I opened up seven new credit cards, because I needed credit to keep charging the Facebook ads account. Keep in mind that even as you’re raising money, you’re spending money now for your ads - you don’t get any money from Indiegogo until later.
So, I leveraged myself up all the way to about 878% in debt. I put my wife in debt for about two or three months too, and paid something like 15% interest. But, it was really cool because, in the end, we spent over six figures on our Facebook ads budget and got a really good return.
Easyship: So let’s talk about the post-campaign. You raised over $2 million. That must’ve felt pretty good.
Kish: Yeah. But it was also tough because once the campaign ends - and one thing that people should be cognizant of - is that you can’t access the money straight away.
A lot of people look at our campaign and look at the big, flashy number of $2.1 million - but this wasn’t transferred into my bank account as soon as the campaign ended. I still had to pay off 12 credit cards immediately, and we had to place our inventory run and pay down the shipping.
Easyship: Okay, so let’s talk about shipping. How did you start thinking about that?
Kish: We were speaking with Easyship on the US side and someone else for international. Now, we were planning to ship 15,000 units to 43 countries. The reason we did 43 countries is because we wanted to keep the geographic spread very limited, because shipping taxes can get very tricky for customers.
But, we also looked at crowdfunding statistics and figured out which countries placed the most orders, and picked the top 30, 35 countries. We realized that did better than shipping anywhere in the world - if you do that, you’re going to screw yourself, so don’t do it.
Looking back, I would’ve charged a little more for shipping. It’s tricky, because it depends on where you’re shipping, the time of the money or year, your volume, things like that. What I did was look at other campaigns - their product size and weight were similar to ours, so I just started charging the same.
Easyship: You had a bit of a dilemma with import duties and taxes. Tell us about that.
Kish: When we started to go to ship, we knew the US market and knew a bit about importing to the US. And I, at the time, very naively thought that importing to the US was just like importing to the EU - it comes across simple. But, then I started learning more and figuring out the concept of duties and taxes.
When I looked at other campaigns, I saw that a lot of them didn’t cover the additional taxes and duties. Me being me, I thought, “You know what, I’m feeling nice, so we’re going to cover all of it.” That was before we knew how much it cost. It was definitely a big surprise, especially since we’d already committed [paid duties] to our backers up to a certain date - we went through with it.
I think when you’re planning campaign shipping, it’s so important to understand what the import duties and taxes are for certain jurisdictions, or for the country you’re shipping to. Then, you can build that into your price or make it clear to your backers that they need to pay for it.
Easyship: You ended choosing Easyship to fulfill your campaign. What was your experience like?
Kish: The coolest learning experience was your direct injection methodology [in the US]. We’re a US-based company, but to import to the Us, you pay duties based on where things come from.
Now, we didn’t have any operations in Europe, nor did we have operations in all the different countries we needed to ship to in order to have an importer of record, someone who’s going to bring your goods in and then ship it out from there.
So, I think it was very useful for us to understand the direct injection process and use it. In the US, I think it’s called Section 321 exception, where we can bulk import orders and not pay duties on individual orders under $800.
On the one hand, we had over-promised to our backers, especially those in Europe and Australia. But by working with you, we were actually able to optimize the cost because we had such volume going to the EU, so we were able to use direct injection there, too. I think that was a big help to us.
With Easyship, what really helped us was end-to-end organization and accountability, especially with importing to different countries. There are a lot of agents who claim to do this, but with you guys, you have an embedded set of partners you already work with to bring goods into the West Coast, East Coast, Europe, or Australia. We knew at all times Easyship was talking to someone that could get our goods cleared.
Don’t forget that Easyship is the exclusive shipping partner for Indiegogo, and integrates directly with several crowdfunding platforms! We also have plenty of experience in fulfilling crowdfunding projects and are more than happy to talk you through how to plan fulfillment for your campaign. Read more about how we helped Tropicfeel and Keyboardio, two other wildly successful campaigns!