Bird Buddy: How to Raise 10 Million Dollars for a Product that Doesn’t Exist

Updated: Jan 20

What if I’d tell you that for just over 150 euros you could buy a birdhouse which would capture all your cute feathered guests, identify the species and provide a feed of incredible nature photography. Impressive? Well, look no further because this product is about to hit the market and it’s the brainchild of Slovenian start-up called Bird Buddy.


Bird Buddy had gathered no less than 10 million dollars across different crowdfunding platforms prior to producing even a single birdhouse. On their first night on Kickstarter, the company raised a whopping 500,000 dollars – the highest grossing campaign ever in the gadgets category.


It all starts from an idea


Žiga Vratčič, an experienced digital marketer, used to work for Outfit 7 – the third largest videogame producer in Europe. Žiga was working on a game called My Talking Hank, where the player was challenged to gather as many animal photos as possible. “The game’s success got me thinking about the incredible power of collecting. People love to collect things,” says Vratčič.


A few years prior, he had seen a viral YouTube video of a seagull who had stolen a GoPro camera. Consequently, fascinating close-ups of the bird’s life flooded the internet.


Bird Buddy Founder Žiga Vratčič

“Soon a picture started to form: birds, photos, collecting and gamification. I came up with a smart birdhouse, where each bird would be photographed, the AI then identifies the species and sends pictures to the net. The owner can share those pictures via a dedicated app and compete with other bird lovers,” describes Žiga, who teamed up with fellow tech-enthusiast Franci Zidar to develop and market the idea. Bird Buddy was born.


Know your customer


According to recent studies 7 out of 10 people have lost touch with nature. Feeding is a natural way to regain that control. Instead of forcing people to develop new habits, Bird Buddy used this insight to reinforce and elevate an old tradition. It used to be that we leave food in the birdhouse, leave for work and once back, the food has been eaten and no birds are nowhere to be seen. With Bird Buddy, you have full real-time access to the birdhouse plus an additional bonus in the form of gamification. Žiga compares it with Pokemon Go: “We’ve borrowed a lot from various games. Birdhouse owners can compete by collecting pictures, counting visits and species.”


A smart birdhouse, where each bird would be photographed, the AI then identifies the species and sends pictures to the net

Photographing birds is exceptionally hard. You need expensive equipment, a whole lot of patience and free time on your hands. Bird Buddy’s house is fitted with a sharp camera, which produces enviable close-ups of each visitor. Animal photos are the superstars of the internet, hence there was plenty of substance behind the idea.


However, the idea is not new per say, others have already tried to fit birdhouses with cameras, but the user experience was lacking. Bird Buddy is revolutional due to its advanced AI, saving people from tedious components like SD cards etc.


Bird Buddy’s house is fitted with a sharp camera, which produces enviable close-ups of each visitor

How to attract funding?


Žiga and Franci have both extensive experience in digital marketing. They joke that it took them 15 years to gather knowledge and come up with a viable product. Bird Buddy turned to crowdfunding platforms for both funding and necessary feedback. By contacting numerous Kickstarter projects, the team learned valuable lessons about the do’s and don’ts behind a successful campaign. They realised that besides having a quirky product, there needs to be prior buzz around the project and the campaign needs to have an impressive start from the get-go because a slow start signifies a higher risk for potential funders.


An explosive start it was! Bird Buddy’s Kickstarter campaign gathered 4 million dollars, becoming the most successful project in the gadgets category. “We did another round on Indiegogo and launched pre-sales on our website. This brought us to 10 million dollars and 50,000 pre-orders,” remembers Žiga.



Prior to crowdfunding, a custom website was created and marketed through paid Facebook ads. The aim was to collect leads, more specifically the emails of potential buyers. Vrtačič knew that for a budget of roughly 500€ they should collect around 165-500 emails. The result was 1600 emails – a great indicator of high interest in the product. He advises others to experiment in a similar fashion.


Crowdfunding lessons


Kickstarter is a superb platform not just for collecting funds, but also valuable feedback. They received thousands of questions and recommendations. This data was then systematically catalogued, analysed and implemented in the final product.


Bird Buddy’s crowdfunding lessons are:

- Product market fit: create a mock-up, test it, gather feedback.

- A strong launch influences the algorithms on Kickstarter. Your project is more likely to be highlighted on the platform and people are more likely to fund a successful project.

- The product has to be quirky.

- If the interest cools down after a week, boost it with paid advertising. This could be tricky because you receive money once the campaign has ended, but it’s worth the investment.


US market beats Europe


65% of funding came from the US. The UK, Germany, Netherlands and Nordics were dominant in Europe and a small fraction came from Japan. Žiga confirms their preference for the US market: “The US market is monolingual, universal in terms of payment methods and customer behaviour. European diversity proves to be tricky for us. Southern countries are used to cash, Germans prefer Klarna to PayPal and so on. Not to mention the fact that the website needs to be translated to numerous languages along with full customer support in each region.” Despite saying that, Bird Buddy is aiming to provide customer service in 11 languages by the end of this year.

Combined, around 100 million people feed birds in the US and Europe

Apart from building a sustainable infrastructure, Bird Buddy is now battling with the global microchip deficit. Žiga predicts that the market will fight back to scarcity, but it will take another two to three years.


The future looks bright for Bird Buddy. Combined, around 100 million people feed birds in the US and Europe. Our protagonists aim to grab 10% of that market, which amounts to nearly 1,5 billion euros.


Lessons


- The US is an easier market for up and coming start-ups.

- Create a mock-up and a website to introduce your idea. Test the product via paid campaigns. If there’s little interest – no point to keep spending money.

- Crowdfunding platforms are great for validating ideas and sourcing feedback.

- The idea doesn’t have to be novel, revolutionise the user experience instead.

- Combine ideas and inspiration from various areas: from Pokemon Go to YouTube.