Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Tom Worcester, founder of Lunchbox, the first anti-theft festival hydration pack and the last festival bag you’ll ever need.
After conducting hundreds of interviews on a hunch that there was an underserved market, my team and I identified the top issues facing festival attendances - , theft (in the form of pickpockets), security bag restrictions, and time-consuming water lines. With these issues in mind, the Lunchbox was born.
To address theft, Lunchbox’s inward facing anti-theft zipper system is specialized to prevent against outside access & pickpockets. This means that the main access points are located against your back versus the standard outward facing zippers. The bag is also constructed out of a coated ballistic nylon, making it next to impossible for thieves to slice it open to steal its contents. Furthermore, Lunchbox’s EasyFill hydration method allows you to refill your bag 3 times faster than standard hydration packs. The bladder compartment is also fully insulated, keeping your water cooler for longer.
We founded Lunchbox in April of 2018 and launched our Kickstarter in December of 2018. We recently concluded our Kickstarter on January 15, 2019, exceeding our funding goal by 170%. With the business generating revenue as of December, we’re now operating at $36k in monthly revenue and climbing quickly.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
While I didn’t know it then, the idea behind Lunchbox started when I was four years old.
As a kid I lost 70% of my hearing due to a pre-existing condition and an unfortunate accident with the kitchen table. Growing up, song lyrics and high-frequency sounds were almost impossible to detect. However it was at Ultra Music Festival in 2013, my first music festival, when I first felt the vibrations of the heavy bass, reverberating off of the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami - the ultimate low-frequency sound (which I could hear!). Not only was I able to finally hear the music, I could truly feel it.
While certainly life-changing, Ultra Music Festival was also eye-opening. At Ultra Miami 2018, long water lines forced me to miss the act I was most excited to see, security took my bag at the gate for being questionably oversized, and pickpockets targeted many of my friends, putting a damper on the whole event. Inspired by these unfortunate events, I made it my mission to provide a solution to these top festival issues.
Within a week, I began to research, conceptualize, and engineer what would eventually become Lunchbox. We interviewed hundreds of people to fully understand how they experience festivals. We asked questions about how they think about theft, water lines, and everything in between when at an event.
We went through prototype after prototype, never truly satisfied in our relentless pursuit of a perfect product. We worked with the same design team that previously handled the Burton Ski&Snowboard line release, and visited factories all over the world to discover the best partners to bring this dream to life.
Lunchbox may have been born in April 2018, but it really came to life in November when we held our first ever factory prototypes from Vietnam.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I designed and tested prototype after prototype of the Lunchbox using a three-stage method we internally call Test, Iterate, and Kill or Live.
Using the results of our interviews from festival attendees, we took all the proposed ideas and chose the most essential to create a theoretical Lunchbox. Then we tested new features out on different prototypes, going back to the market over and over for to get user feedback on what they liked and were interested in, all before deciding whether we would kill the feature or it would live onto the next prototype. In addition to on the ground testing, we researched macro industry trends to be as nuanced and focused as possible in the design of our product.
The first ‘manufacturers’ were barely that. I found an old Italian guy to help me cut the first samples out of a cheap canvas, with rough outlines of a side fill and inverted zippers. We went through three rounds of prototyping to quickly discover which features were practical (zip-on skins) and which were not (a solar panel nested in the top of the fabric).
The total cost of those three prototypes, in addition to material discovery and breakdown of other product samples, came out to around $4K.
We then cut our fourth round of prototypes in time for Firefly, where we walked around the campsite to get feedback. People loved the idea, but hated some aspects (how the straps fit, how the back bounced off the skin, the rough material). It gave us something to use, but it took a week to recover from the chafing of that rough prototype material!
It was time to really level up - so we hired a CAD (computer aided design) designer to mock up the entire bag in tech pack format (the format readable by manufacturers), and worked to really iron out what worked and what wouldn’t.
Cost of 4th round and CAD Designs? $3.5k.
Even pretty far along I still wasn’t happy with where we were. After months of searching, over 50 interviews with production teams all over the world, and countless phone calls, I finally found the design team of my dreams - a small studio that had just broken away from one of the best bag design firms in the United States. They were expensive, but I knew exactly what I needed. Sure enough, they revised the computer designs, connected me to a trusted partner overseas, and we started sampling back and forth.
We went through SIX rounds of prototyping with our factory, with our design team in the middle of the process, before reaching the final product for sale today. Factories generally pay for samples themselves so we avoided expensive costs along the way; factories recoup cost in inventory production.
A quick note on legal...our trademarks cost less than $2K, our initial provisional patent filings (which I wrote myself over an insane three day weekend sprint in July) were less than $1K, and converting those provisionals is estimated to cost around $10-15K (most of which has already been incurred).
Takeaway? Get to a point of learning as quickly as possible. The early prototypes looked terrible , but the whole point was learning - learning whether a feature, idea, or concept worked or not to quickly move on.
Describe the process of launching the business.
In the beginning, our website was mostly just a way to build up an email list.
I created and edited a video in the style of festival recap videos that lived on our home page as well as a subscribe function. We also started our Instagram, which at the time was mostly festival related memes to build an online following.
Neither had much information about the product, but we wanted momentum before our final prototype was ready to go. We started by bringing our prototypes to events and started a viral referral campaign to generate excitement from as close to inception as possible.
Our initial funding came from a very successful first Kickstarter campaign -- we managed to raise 170% of our funding goal in a little over a month. While in many ways the launch of our Kickstarter was just one step in a long series of steps to make this product and company a reality, it was our first opportunity to show our consumers our product and hear feedback from the community.
The response was incredibly enthusiastic, and that momentum we built up early on has just continued to grow. Even after our Kickstarter closed and we waited to direct customers to our pre-order site as we set it up, multiple orders continued to come in every day as our exposure grew through press and social media. Our pre-order site is now up and running and receiving tons of traffic every day!
I think some of the biggest lessons learned from the starting and launching process were that it’s important to make sure to take the time to really build the foundation of your company before you share it with the world. Make sure you have the product in an iteration you are proud of, make sure you have all the legal protections you can. But most importantly make sure you have a team of people around you that you trust, that are good at their jobs, and that love and believe in your company as much as you do. The startup world moves incredibly fast. Every day is do or die. When it comes to motivation there’s no substitute for passion, so you better build a team passionate about the product you guys are creating.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Right now we’re selling direct to consumer.
We sell reserved pre-order spots on our website (going really fast), and we have feet on the ground at all of the relevant industry events and festivals. We also have driven an immense amount of traffic through social media and customer email lists.
Our authentic and genuine communication with our community and audience is also one of our biggest drivers in sales. For us, that means being active members of the same community we’re releasing products too, which might mean sharing our favorite music, organizing meetups at our favorite festivals, or recommending other brands that might complete that outfit you’ve been working on. We emphasize the important of customer service and actively ask the community for feedback.
We communicate one on one with people over social media, we have guerilla marketing campaigns ready to be deployed on the ground at festivals, and we really emphasize making our customers feel like part of our family and our journey.
Channel Wise - We focused on email, social, paid social, one-to-one, press partnerships, and PR.
We began to accumulate an email list with “we’re launching soon” landing pages, engagement on online forums, and activating at two events before launch with “Lunchbox from Mom” flyers in the basket of festival attendees. Email was crucial to reaching our first $10K in sales for our Kickstarter.
Even when we had no content, we posted festival content that was engaging for the Explore page on IG, before deleting it and replacing it with countdown content.
Towards and through launch, we drove traffic to our #linkinbio and engaged with our biggest supporters so they knew how festival-family oriented we are.
We still put social media engagement at the top of our list.
Our dirty little secret? We only ran paid social for the last 5 days of the campaign, because our email and social component was so strong.
When we did run paid social, we advertised the campaign ending soon with enough existing social proof where we knew it would convert (reaching a 2X ROAS on a 5-day basis), and testing out how paid social will operate for us later down the road.
We earned a significant amount of media by virtue of authenticity. We aren’t selling a product as much as we are championing a new solution to some real problems.
When you attack real problems with a passionate, authentic team, you earn a significant amount of press from people who rally behind that story.
We’re extremely fortunate to have been in touch with some incredible groups with similar missions, including MixMag, TrendHunter, ThatDROP, and many others that told our product story.
Long story short - paid digital will work with the right audience and right product , but it’s a crutch. If you’re solving real problems and can’t put a pre-order list together, you’ve got a bigger issue with your product at large.
Our entire product will be closed-loop: no wholesale, no Amazon (no data control over customer profile), and no lossy funnel. Our customers want a Lunchbox-quality guarantee, and we’ll maintain that relentlessly.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We just completed our Kickstarter and are in the pre-order & rollout phase. We’re focusing on direct-to-consumer through our site and boots on the ground at festivals and shows. Full product rollout will begin in May 2019.
Short term our main focus is infiltrating this market, spreading the word, and showing consumers why the Lunchbox is the last festival bag they’ll ever need. It's not a hard pitch - it's true.
In the long term, we see so many more vertical markets the Lunchbox has viability in, including travel, outdoor activities, and other live events.
Our product margins average out to between 65-70%, but our pre-order margins are far below that as we’re mainly trying to deploy product into the marketplace. Everything will be sold via our online store or our partner vendor booths on site.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The #1 skill it takes to be an entrepreneur is being resourceful. The second? Being insane enough to do whatever it takes.
There’s a certain underlying level of crazy that all entrepreneurs possess. You have to be willing to take the leap knowing anything can happen and you only have control over a small percentage of the outcome.
Constantly be analyzing and re-analyzing how to make your product or business better, how viable it is in the market, and how you are spending your time.
Make sure no matter what you are doing you are learning, you are growing your network, and you are gaining skills to make you a more effective and competent entrepreneur.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Shopify for eCommerce. Find a third party logistics (3PL) supplier you trust for fulfillment - I’ve used Sweetwater Logistics in the past.
We’ve used MailChimp for email, Zapier for workflow automation, Airtable for CRM building, NeoReach to find influencers, Flume for cross-team Instagram activity, UpWork for outsourcing (my #1 secret weapon), Trello to assign tasks, and Google Suite for organization and documents.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I read a book every two weeks, but a few standouts are* *Zero to One, Shoe Dog, and Lean Startup are all books that have informed my journey and given me a new perspective on entrepreneurship.
I’m constantly striving to go deeper into different contexts, so that list is always growing.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Get started. Fail fast. Learn faster. Have a vision. Be so passionate about your product that you can't sleep at night. Don't ever give in to your doubts.
A lot of people are blind to what the market actually wants. That’s the truth - the thing you hold most true above ALL else. Will someone pay for your product? Will they pull out a card and initiate checkout? Will they buy it off your back?
Is the answer no, move on, or find a different customer.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Lunchbox is built upon a culture-first mantra. We don’t actively search to fill positions, but rather let the allure of the company and our team bring talented people to us. It’s that sticky, because everything we do channels the passion of the industry we find ourselves in.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: https://www.itsmylunchbox.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/itsalunchbox/?hl=en
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIZb25RUnwtRT4Gy6VqIPZQ
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Lunchbox has provided an update on their business!
Over 2 years ago, we followed up with Lunchbox to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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