Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Adam Klosowiak and I’m the cofounder and CEO of KLOS Guitars, a company that builds durable, portable, and great sounding sleek carbon fiber guitars and ukuleles.
KLOS Guitars flagship product is our travel guitar, which launched in 2015. The travel guitar is a mini-dreadnought shape and features a carbon fiber body and soundboard with a mahogany neck. The guitar can be folded in half by removing the neck, and our portable gig bag can also be folded to be converted into a backpack. Since the launch of the travel guitar, we have also come out with a slightly smaller than dreadnought guitar and a ukulele.
KLOS Guitars launched on Kickstarter in June of 2015 and did $33k in sales that year. Now, four years later, we’ve shipped to over 70 countries and all 50 states and we’re doing over $100k per month in sales mostly on Shopify.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
KLOS Guitars is the first company that I started. And how I got here is quite the unconventional path.
I’m from the suburbs of Chicago originally. After graduating high school I went to Princeton University to study electrical engineering with an emphasis on semiconductor physics, which was fueled by my passion for science and a curiosity of how things work.
I first dipped my toes into entrepreneurship my junior year when I entered into a Hackathon with two of my peers. The three of us felt that our curriculum was too theoretical and we wanted to test our hands on skills by building something practical. We came up with Dorm Control, which was a bluetooth controlled power strip that you could control via your phone.
We were surprised to win the hackathon, the prize being a $20k summer accelerator with StartEngine out of LA. I didn’t ultimately take that offer, but in analyzing the decision, I for the first time thought about not just the technical side of a product but the market size, competition, and product launch strategy - areas that I found to be fascinating.
Fast forward about a year, I was visiting my brother Ian in Utah for a ski trip in the winter of 2015. Ian was a very good guitar player and was also beginning to become quite the expert in carbon fiber through his mechanical engineering degree from BYU. The idea for the first KLOS carbon fiber travel guitar really came out of the happenstance chain of events that a couple months previous, my wooden travel guitar had cracked due to cold temperatures. Ian had been wanting to build a carbon fiber guitar for quite some time out of his affinity for the material and the instrument, and the fact that all other carbon fiber guitars on the market were $1500+ finally pushed him to finally make the first prototype.
Some background on carbon fiber and the instrument world should help contextualize the idea of a carbon fiber instrument. Instruments have obviously long been made out of wood, and although it is a great material for making instruments, wood is quite a fragile material. It dries out and warps with time, it’s very affected by temperature and humidity, and most importantly all of these changes can be destructive in an instrument. Because of this, it’s very common to have to humidify most wooden instruments to prevent their ultimate self-destruction.
Conversely, carbon fiber is an extremely strong material that has an incredibly high strength to weight ratio, about 10 times that of steel. The material begins as a carbon fabric, that when infused with resin, hardens to whatever shape it is molded to. The most common question we get with using carbon fiber in instruments is does it sound good? Well, the amazing thing about the material is that there are many variables you can manipulate to have it behave exactly how you want it to. We manipulate the thickness of the carbon fiber, the internal foam material we use in the soundboard, the density of said foam layer, its thickness, bracing shape, size, thickness, etc.
Suffice to say, the idea was one that I really believed in, especially having fallen victim to a broken wooden guitar myself. Being an eternal learner and having insatiable curiosity, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to learn all aspects of starting a company with a product that I loved. It was the spring of my senior semester at Princeton and given how much free time I had, I threw myself into researching every aspect of product market fit, competitive landscape, market size, value proposition, pricing, go to market strategy and everything in between.
Though I had no background in business, the scientific method that had been ingrained in my head through electrical engineering helped me identify and quickly learn everything I needed to as problems arose. Because prototyping and setting up manufacturing took so long during the first two years of the company, I actually had the opportunity to have two other jobs in addition to working on KLOS Guitars. The first year after college I taught English in a high school in Innsbruck, Austria as part of the Fulbright Fellowship.
In the second year I was a management consultant for the consulting firm Strategy& in Washington, D.C. Both of these jobs definitely provided me with a lot of life experience that helped a lot when I finally jumped to full time with KLOS Guitars.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My brother and I were both broke college students when we started KLOS Guitars, and this really forced us to be extremely lean. When you have no money, you really have to get creative with how you get the things you need, be it information or materials.
The qualities that we wanted the first model of the KLOS guitar to have were pretty clear to us from initial market research. We wanted the guitar to be the most affordable carbon fiber guitar on the market so that people like ourselves (college students at the time) could afford it.
The reality is that there will always be mistakes when you’re starting a company, and in hindsight vision will always be 20/20. The best thing to do is to create a minimum viable product as fast as possible, launch it as it is, and start interacting with the market.
Using that as a starting point, we designed the body and soundboard, the two weakest parts of the guitar, to be made from carbon fiber, while keeping the neck made out of wood. We were and are the only guitar company to have this material combination. From there, we went about iterating a shape that would be most popular with the market, which is how we settled on the mini-dreadnought shape. We packed in other neat features that added to the guitar being even more portable, such as the neck being able to fold in half so facilitate compact travel.
Once we settled on the design, we went about contacting suppliers who could produce the materials and the parts for us to eventually be able to produce at scale. Working with carbon fiber is actually quite a complex process, and the process of nailing down supply chain was a large part of the first 2-3 years.
Long story short, with each part of the guitar, it came down to iterating samples with suppliers until the quality was excellent, then starting bulk production, creating rigorous quality control systems, and always continuing to improve. We have suppliers all over the world for parts and materials, we do some part production in-house, and we do the entire assembly and final quality inspection in our headquarters in Provo, UT.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When you walk into a guitar store, one of the first things you’ll notice is that there are A LOT of guitar brands out there. We knew from the beginning that we needed to be different than conventional guitar brands in order to succeed in a competitive landscape. This meant not just having a unique product but also a unique go-to-market strategy.
Given how little access to capital Ian and I had, we decided to launch our first guitar with Kickstarter. Launching with Kickstarter provided us with a product-market fit, customers, and most importantly capital to start building product and manufacturing systems. Crowdfunding was a platform that no other guitar companies were using at the time as well, so we were very unique. Since our first campaign in 2015, we’ve done 6+ other campaigns that have raised over $1 million in funding.
Our Kickstarter strategy starting from the first one was quite similar. Most importantly, the main video has to be high quality and engaging content. The video needs to accurately portray the product, why it’s unique, and how it can positively improve your lifestyle. In addition, the campaign page needs to strengthen all arguments made in your video, such as expanding on the technological innovation, the team that will implement the product, the current pain point of existing technology, etc. Once you have the page completely set up, you need to drive traffic to your page once you launch. This is where the heavy lifting comes in. We recommend doing paid advertising via Facebook and Google, but also reaching out to your personal network, personally contacting all PR and media companies that are relevant to your product, and really doing anything that will expose your product to an audience that cares.
In addition to a unique product and launch strategy, we also wanted to have a unique marketing angle. We wanted to demonstrate our products in a cool and captivating way, and we were really inspired by Blendtec and their hilarious way of showing the strength of blending products such as iPhones.
We came out with a durability test series where we highlighted the strength of our instruments through videos such as golfing with the guitar, using the guitar as a paddle, dropping a cinder block on a ukulele, and running a ukulele over with car. These videos help us get our initial traction by getting millions of views on different platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
You really have to do anything and everything to attract customers. That being said, you also need to determine very quickly if a strategy will have a strong ROI or not, so that you can remain focused on the strategies that do work and hone in on those.
For us, we have found that overwhelmingly Google and Facebook paid ads work very well for us, with ROAS being 3-5 there. For Facebook, our strategy is pretty typical where we start with high level prospecting ads that present general information about our brand. Then we drill deeper down into the details and functionality of our instruments via remarketing ads, which target people who have already engaged with previous ads. Google follows a similar pattern but is different in that the first engagement is generally more targeted because it’s based on specific terms that Google users search.
SEO and organic search is also a major driver for us. Efforts that fall into this category are getting featured by blogs or media sources that are interested in KLOS Guitars, partnering with our brand ambassadors and customers to post about us online, facilitating a lot of reviews being posted, etc. The more unpaid content that is on the internet, the better Google is able to assess that the value of your site is high and should be featured more prominently in search results.
Both organic and paid efforts go hand in hand with email marketing, which is more important further down the funnel. Our email marketing consists of giving new subscribers more information about our products and what makes them unique, as well as new customers how they can best engage with their instruments so they can fully experience the KLOS lifestyle!
It’s important to realize that different customers simply use different platforms, which is why it’s important to have a presence on many platforms, while still spending most of your effort on the highest performing platforms. All platforms together form an ecosystem as well, and multiple touch points across many platforms is most effective for us. That might mean generating a lead on instagram, retargeting that potential customer on Facebook, capturing their email on the website and sending them an information video on YouTube, and then ultimately a coupon that helps facilitate the final conversion. Looping in other sales channels into that ecosystem, some people might go through that complex path, only to then prefer buying something on Amazon or Reverb, where they eventually purchase. The majority of our sales happen on our Shopify site, but we are on other sales platforms specifically for customers who prefer to shop there.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We have been growing very quickly, with 70 instruments sold in 2015 and over 1600 instruments in 2018. This roughly equates to over a million dollars in sales last year. We’re extremely excited about the future for a few reasons. This year, 2019, is the first year that we have our three current instruments (travel guitar, dreadnought guitar, and ukulele) in stock and readily available to ship. We’re coming out with several new products this year, an electric guitar and full carbon fiber versions of our current product lines as well.
Moreover, our manufacturing facility is also currently in its finest state ever. Should the need to scale arise, we’re able to ramp up our capacity several fold without needing to move locations or change many systems. With scaling in mind, we’ve also begun to work with retailers all over the world to expand our sales channels from just eCommerce.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
There are so many mistakes and successes that happen each day when you’re starting a company, both on the business side and personally.
The reality is that there will always be mistakes when you’re starting a company, and in hindsight vision will always be 20/20. The best thing to do is to create a minimum viable product as fast as possible, launch it as it is, and start interacting with the market. I will say, the MVP does have to be good enough to launch, I’m not suggesting launching a broken product that might cripple your brand, but definitely do not wait until you have what you think is a perfect product to launch, because you might miss your opportunity and you might miss valuable customer feedback.
We launched a good travel guitar with our first Kickstarter campaign, but those first customers helped us refine the product significantly, and the travel guitar that we have today four years later is a much better model. We wouldn’t have arrived at the improved model on our own though, and had we tried and waited for years, another company might have swooped in to beat us to the market.
Personally, you go through many transitions as a founder as your company grows. You fall in and out of love with your product, your willingness to pull all nighters and learn everything voraciously fluctuates over time. The biggest lesson I’ve learned over time is that prioritizing business growth is great, but if you burn out quickly, then long term growth will suffer. You need to make sure you take care of yourself personally so that you can remain motivated for a long time. I pulled many all-nighters in college for deadlines, but when you set the deadlines yourself, it really can pay off to avoid an all nighter, get healthy amounts of sleep, and ensure long term motivation and success.
It’s also ok to take a step back sometimes and think about the accomplishments you’ve had as an entrepreneur. Every founder has a hydra to-do list that doubles every day, and it can be overwhelming to think about everything you’re not doing. Remembering how far you’ve come though really puts things in a positive light.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We launched our website on Wix and used that platform for the first two years of our company.
We then switched to Shopify and found that it was much better for eCommerce purposes.
We also use Crowd Control to integrate crowdfunding campaigns with Shopify. Those are our most important tools.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
How to Win Friends and Influence People was a book that really struck a chord with me when I read it in college. Running a company is all about working with people, whether it’s with coworkers, customers, or suppliers.
Masters of Scale is a great podcast where Reid Hoffman interviews successful entrepreneurs who talk about how they scaled their businesses.
In general, my favorite genre of books is biographies. I love hearing about influential historical and living figures and how their journeys unfolded. My favorite genre when I feel like I can indulge in something less practical is science-fiction. Growing up, Jules Verne was my favorite author because he allowed my imagination to run wild thinking about what exists above and below ground.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. You can experience some of the highest highs but also some of the lowest lows.
A lot of people say you need to love the product you’re working on to be a successful entrepreneur, but I don’t necessarily think so. I think you need to love at least one aspect of what you’re doing in a start up, but not all of them.
For some it’s loving the product, for others it’s loving growth, for others it’s loving working with your coworkers. You will be thrown so many obstacles on the journey to starting a company, that is genuine passion for something related to the company is not there, then the lowest lows you’ll experience will be traumatic and devastating.
I’m fortunate to say that there are so many aspects of KLOS Guitars that I love, and those keep me going. As a musician myself, I really think we’re creating a product that has a unique offering that the world needs to hear about.
I also love business strategy and going from concept to implementation. Throughout everything, I love that I’m working on all of this with my brother and that together we’ve created what we have.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for someone to head up our brick and mortar expansion plan. The ideal candidate would be a guitar player who loves building and maintaining relationships, talking with people all over the world, and wants to see an amazing product in every guitar store in the world.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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