Crowdfunding has become major trend in the last couple years with the advent of popular sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. In 2014, crowdfunding brought in a total of $16 billion, according to Forbes.
Steve Elliott Ng, 23, is a recent UCLA college graduate who’s raised over $1.5 million through 10 successful Kickstarter campaigns since his sophomore year in 2012.
His most recent project launched late last year, the Havok Racer Chronograph luxury watch, hit its $10,000 goal in less than an hour and raised over $320,000 by the time the campaign was over.
Born in San Francisco to small business owners, Ng was exposed to entrepreneurship at a very early age. However, he never thought he’d become one himself. He told NextShark:
“My mom runs her own daycare and preschool and my dad runs a construction business. When I was going to school, I thought I was going to be in business or become a lawyer. I worked as an assistant at a hedge fund and also as a file clerk at a law firm, and what really pushed me to dive headfirst into entrepreneurship is after I worked in those places and discovered it wasn’t for me.”
Ng’s success story began in 2011 when he was introduced to Kickstarter by his older brother, according to the Hustle. Ng’s brother needed help launching his own idea, the Halo Belt, an LED light placed around the waist to keep bike riders safe at night, on Kickstarter. The two brothers decided to partner and launched the campaign together. They raised a total of $57,206, far exceeding their goal of $5,000.
Halo Belt’s success inspired Ng to launch his own campaign only six months later at the age of 19. His first product was called Dash 1.0, a thin wallet that was, in his words, “cooler” than what was already available. Knowing nothing about marketing and product development, Ng stitched together a prototype himself out of sock fabric and found manufacturers for it using online platforms like Alibaba.
“One of the toughest things is making sure you have good manufacturing partners, communicating with them thoroughly and making sure you are thorough. For my first design that I drew for manufacturers, it was just pencil and paper, and it worked. Over time I learned to use different software to provide better designs for them. You need to find a way to communicate your idea to the manufacturer and see if they have that capability to bring it to life.”
Ng spent 60 to 80 hours a week working on his campaigns and learning new things. He taught himself how to use a camera so that he could shoot all of his Kickstarter marketing materials.
Ng launched Dash Wallet on Dec. 5, 2012 and reached his goal of $10,000 within the first week. By the end of the campaign, Ng had sold 2,813 units and raised $64,049, of which over half went towards his rent and tuition at UCLA. At the time, he was shipping wallets out of his small university apartment.
From there, he started producing different iterations of the Dash Wallet and expanded to other verticals in the men’s lifestyle market with products like the Bullet, billed as the world’s smallest LED flashlight. By the end of 2012, while still a college sophomore, Ng was making six-figures a year from his products on Kickstarter.
“One of the reasons I wanted to start the company when I was 19 is that I come from a pretty humble family and I needed to contribute. I didn’t want to be so much of a burden to my parents in terms of paying for school.
“By the time I launched my second campaign I was completely self-sustaining in college and I was covering my own tuition and rent. I even gave back to my family. It has been very rewarding financially.”
Up until that point, Ng had always kept up a 4.0 GPA. However, his grades plummeted after he found success on Kickstarter. He was tempted to drop out of college but decided against it knowing how important it was to his parents that he finished his education. He eventually graduated early and was happy to be able to focus on what he loves doing.
“Crowdfunding is a great way to raise capital. We have not had to take money from outside investors and we get a lot of residual sales because our customers are pretty loyal. They do support our future products or get more products as gifts or whatever. We’ve been pretty liquid in that sense to reinvest in ourselves. “
Ng breaks down what he believes are factors to a good crowdfunding campaign:
“One, you need to make sure the product is perfected. Two, make sure your content is concise, clear, and easy to understand but also very desirable.
“Press is very important, contacting the people you need to contact — ‘Hey, I’m launching this product on June 17. It would be great if you could write a piece about it.’ Some people launch and then they’re like, ‘Maybe we can improve the product here’ or ‘We can contact press after we launch.’ There is an infinite amount of things you can do beforehand that can lead to a successful launch.”
Ng says that he spends a lot of time doing online research. He likes to look through forums and discussion on his past products to see if there are new opportunities.
“People often have really great ideas but they might not have the time or the knowledge or the desire to execute them. Someone might say, ‘It would be cool if they made it like this.’ We take that into account. We literally read all the messages, comments, and take all those things into account to improve our products and develop new products in order to give people exactly what they want.”
Ng, who graduated in 2014, now run Elliot Havok, his startup that sells and ships the products he’s designed. The company is based out of an office in San Francisco and employs seven people who work under him. In the long-term, Ng is looking to get more involved in the tech scene and doing nonprofit work.
“Doing nonprofit work makes me happy. My mom works in education so I’m hoping to work in a field of education or work with kids and kind of use what I’ve learned in terms of running a business to give back.
When asked what he think is the secret to success, Ng said:
“I think not enough people pursue what they’re truly passionate about. More people care about stability or doing something for a little bit just for the money so that they can eventually do what they love. I think if there’s a will, there’s a way and if you’re passionate enough about something, there will always be a place for you doing that, whatever it may be.”