It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 6 months since you all helped us to fund the Alpine Hammock on Kickstarter. It has been a wild ride ever since and we are learning new things everyday from how to write patents, to negotiating with manufacturers, to building an e-commerce website and more. We are a few months behind schedule on our Alpine Hammock prototypes so this project update will outline our progress thus far and our plans for full production.
You all helped Alpine Hammock to successfully raise $42,915 on Kickstarter! Amazing. We immediately formed a Limited Liability Company (LLC) and opened a small business bank account so we could get started. We sent out over 300 shoutouts to all our backers on Facebook and Twitter as well as postcards featuring our illegal bivy spot on Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire (we didn’t actually camp here, just set up for pictures and talked to passing hikers).
We mailed out all of our moisture wicking t-shirts and laser-engraved HydroFlask rewards. About 10% of our 300+ shipments had issues including lost items, damaged items, and the wrong items shipped. Thanks to UPS shipping insurance and patient Kickstarter backers we were able to resolve all of these issues for free. Since October, people have sent us pictures of them using our gear from New Zealand, Germany, Abu Dhabi UAE, and Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. Awesome.
For our shirts we originally we used CustomInk.com but due to quality issues (thread unraveling) we decided to start working with Adayak.com instead. Adayak is an organic apparel company for outdoor brands like Dirtbag Diaries and Section Hiker so it is very cool to have Alpine Hammock featured on their site. You can now buy men’s and women’s Alpine Hammock shirts through Adayak.com, check them out HERE.
We also ran into a few quality issues with the HydroFlasks. If the straps to your lids break, be sure to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and they’ll send you a replacement lid free of charge. We aim to start offering our laser-engraved HydroFlasks on our website soon but we’ll be switching from the wide mouth lids (with the strap) to a standard mouth lid (without a strap) because they stay warmer longer and seem more durable than their wide-mouth counterparts.
In October, we also found two attorneys to represent Alpine Hammock, LLC. We included that in a previous Kickstarter Update, so click HERE if you want to read more about it.
By November we had planned to ship out 11 prototypes to our gear testers to give us feedback on our design. This step in the R&D process is critical because it will ultimately inform what design changes we need to make before our production-ready prototypes. This part of the process is where we have learned the most about the difficulties in bringing a new product to market.
We started out on time by finding a custom outdoor gear manufacturer in September and then signing a manufacturing agreement by early October. We then sent our manufacturing directions to the custom gear shop for a finalized price quote and detailed discussions. However, some of our descriptions weren’t clear so we mailed them our one and only prototype. This would allow them to physically see what we were trying to describe. These discussions led us to making a few design and material changes that seem obvious to us now but we didn’t include in our first prototypes. This brought us into late November causing the schedule to slip but we had made some great improvements so it was worth it.
Throughout December we had minimal contact with our manufacturer. We wrongly assumed that “minimal news was good news” and figured they were busy cranking away on our prototypes. However, it wasn’t until New Years that our first prototypes were actually ready for shipment.
While waiting for news on our prototypes we started working on the writing of our Business Plan. In 2010, Mike won the Tufts $100k Business Plan Competition and is now a judge for the 2013 competition so we are excited to see how the Alpine Hammock plan comes out.
Right after New Years our manufacturer (read: a one-guy custom-gear shop) was hospitalized with an upper respiratory tract infection. So our prototype shipments were again delayed.
Despite the late prototypes, Ryan and I had a great opportunity to show off the Alpine Hammock to a group of 120+ ice climbers at VICE Fest 2013. This included local legend and professional ice climber Freddie Wilkinson. We had co-sponsored the event by providing swag along with other major outdoor brands like Outdoor Research, Rab, Deuter, Sterling, Black Diamond and others. The event generated a lot of excitement for Alpine Hammock, having several people ask us, “Where can I buy one of these?!” We gave out some tshirts and other swag but maybe next year we can raffle off an actual Alpine Hammock.
Finally all of the prototypes were finished and sent out, roughly three months behind our intended schedule.
This delay could have been prevented if we had done a few things differently:
• Updated our manufacturing agreement to include discussed design changes and a “finish by” date
• Structured weekly or biweekly phone calls with our manufacturer to discuss issues and progress
• Allowed more time in our schedule for changes and delays
• Better accounted for the overall 2-3 weeks of shipment time (from wholesaler to manufacturer and then from manufacturer to customers)
We have definitely learned from this experience and will plan accordingly when we go into full production in a few months.
Also in February, we took two Alpine Hammock prototypes on a five-day ice climbing trip to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. We spent 1 night in hammock-mode at 0F and 1 night in bivy-mode. We both agreed that bivy-mode was much warmer and is indeed the preferred method of use in sub-zero winter conditions. Many hammock campers use underquilts for cold weather hammocking but for fast and light traveling in the mountains, the ability to bivy and not carry the extra gear is crucial.
March → April
Realizing the immense value that our gear testers will bring to our final design, we extended this phase from one month to two. This will allow our gear testers to really put the prototypes to the test in the backcountry. We have developed two different online surveys to help us gather their input. The first survey is aimed at their “out of the box” experience and what they expect from a hammock-bivy style shelter like the Alpine Hammock. The second survey is to be filled out after they have used the Alpine Hammock on a trip in the backcountry. This survey focuses more on design, utility, and overall functionality.
Throughout March and April we will continue to make our own prototype modifications while collecting feedback from our gear testers and incorporating them into the design.
May → June
In May we plan to have our production-ready Alpine Hammock finalized and a more professional set of manufacturing instructions. We have been talking to a number of large-scale manufacturers of outdoor shelters so in May we also plan to obtain final price quotes, lead times and production volumes. It is our goal to launch our first production run in June.
We apologize that this new target is roughly five months behind our initial delivery date but we think our design changes and gear tester extension will allow for a more polished product. We appreciate your patience as we go through our startup growing pains. Keep looking for semi-monthly Kickstarter updates as we continue to make progress toward our goal of putting the Alpine Hammock on the market. To follow us in real time make sure to Like us on Facebook and/or Follow us on Twitter.