All Posts in Business

January 23, 2014 - No Comments!

Developing Global Connections with Hop the Pond

HTP_logo-5282047448dc4860f915889d6afd7fddPolar vortexes aside, it’s no secret that we love our hometown of Chicago, and we love it even more when people want to visit. So we were excited to team up with new client Hop the Pond, a young company that helps students with J1 visas find temporary work, housing, and fun things to do in Chicago over the summer.

Hop the Pond was started by Chicago native Mark Reiter and Irishman Kevin Egan. Both had tough experiences as students traveling abroad, where they had trouble getting part-time jobs and affordable places to live, as well as knowing where to go or what to do for entertainment.

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January 9, 2014 - No Comments!

Shopify Helps Us Launch Maria Pinto’s New E-commerce Site, M2057.com

The M2057 by Maria Pinto Shop

“It’s certainly no coincidence Maria Pinto’s clothing and accessories make us feel amazing and empowered; it’s by design.”

— Kristina Moore, Forbes Magazine

This week we launched the brand new M2057.com, the e-commerce site for fashion designer Maria Pinto’s new collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto, and the follow-up to her groundbreaking Kickstarter project. The successful campaign, which raised more than $270,000 this past fall, proved there was a market for Maria’s designs, so she decided to build an e-commerce site to make them more widely available.

This was a fun and interesting project for us, both since we were excited to continue working with Maria, and because it was our first time using the e-commerce platform, Shopify.

Building an e-commerce site from scratch is a long and expensive process, so for retailers who want to get their stores up quickly and affordably, Shopify presents a good option. The platform offers online retailers a cost-effective, off-the-shelf solution which includes hosting, customizable templates, and software to manage backend processes like order fulfilment and shipping.

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December 12, 2013 - No Comments!

Roger Ebert Documentary Raising Funds on Indiegogo

It’s been seven months since Roger Ebert passed away. A few of us had the honor to attend his funeral, which happened to be the very same day we were scheduled to launch his new website, RogerEbert.com. Out of respect to what Roger would have wanted, we went ahead with the launch as planned.

It’s a testament to Roger and his work that, as we expected, users are spending a lot of time exploring and searching his archived content—something they previously couldn’t do very easily. It’s also exciting that users are seeking out new reviews: Traffic is up 9% year-over-year with a unique visitor increase of more than 44%. I think Roger would be proud of that.

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November 18, 2013 - No Comments!

An Agile Approach to Developing Teams

In the development world we hear a lot about the term “Agile.” In software this refers to an iterative approach to development that relies heavily on collaboration between cross-functional teams, feedback, testing, and continuous improvement. It's the approach that Table XI uses to design and build websites and mobile applications.

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November 14, 2013 - No Comments!

Company Culture in 6 Seconds: 3 Tips for Making a Great Vine

vineWhat makes a good Vine video? I've found it's helpful to think backward. If a friend visited the office, what would I be certain to point out? Is there anything particularly ridiculous or hilarious that I couldn't describe to a stranger? Or finally, is there something I really want to see happen that I can set up under the auspices of, "Hey, can you help me shoot a Vine?"

As a format, Vine is best-suited for capturing small, microcosmic moments (like, say, when it snowed for the first time this year and minutes later an office-wide Nerf battle erupted—Vine gold).

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October 24, 2013 - No Comments!

7 Tips for Running a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

kickstarter-badge-funded-m2057-2Last week we reached the end of a hard-fought race, filled with unforeseen obstacles and a couple of unexpected reroutes. But it was well worth it—when we reached the finish line, we’d beaten our goal and proved more than a few skeptics wrong. No, we didn’t run the Chicago marathon in record time, but we did help fashion designer Maria Pinto launch a new ready-to-wear collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto, by raising more than $270,000 on Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that helps artists, technologists, designers, and anyone with an idea and a business plan bring creative projects to life. Since its launch in 2009, 5 million people have pledged $847 million, funding 50,000 creative projects.

Maria Pinto came to us with the idea to launch a 13-piece capsule collection of dresses, jackets, and accessories through Kickstarter. Out of the gate, we knew we were up against some interesting challenges with this particular campaign. Maria is an internationally recognized designer who gained renown for dressing stylish, dynamic women like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Brooke Shields. But after shuttering her high end store in 2010, Maria had been out of the designing game for a while, and the fashion industry can have the memory of a fruit fly.

Moreover, the Kickstarter audience skews heavily male and tech-savvy—not a natural overlap with Maria’s existing customer base or the fashion world. For the most part, potential M2057 customers didn’t know what Kickstarter was or had only heard of it in passing, and almost no one had used the platform previously. A huge part of our mission was to educate consumers about Kickstarter and how it works.

m2057kickstarterwidgetAnd lastly, this was one of the most ambitious fashion projects attempted on a crowdfunding platform. Maria wanted to raise $250,000, and she was offering seven dresses, two jackets, and four accessories in seven colors and five size options. By comparison, the average Kickstarter campaign goal is $5,000, and only 2% of successfully funded fashion projects have raised more than $100,000. We also got more than one skeptical headshake from people in the fashion industry who thought Maria was crazy for attempting to launch a new brand this way.

But Maria’s enthusiasm was infectious and we believed this was a viable, innovative way to bring a fashion collection to market. We were able to prove this concept, help Maria surpass her fundraising goal, and bring a new audience to Kickstarter along the way.

But it wasn’t easy. Here are seven things we learned that can help you get off to the right start.

7 Things You Should Know Before You Kickstart your Campaign

1) Set a strategic goal.

How much do you need to meet your business objectives? Don’t be arbitrary—do your homework first. And remember to take into account details like shipping if your project involves making and distributing a product—those expenses add up fast. Though campaigns can go for up to 60 days, Kickstarter recommends running yours for 30 days or less.

2) Offer relevant rewards.

Sometimes simple is best. Some campaigns offer dozens of rewards, and in doing so, over-commoditize the campaign and distract from the featured product itself. In our case, we thought a $75 original piece of artwork by Maria was a no-brainer: not only would this gift be relevant to a male audience, it would also allow even more people to participate in the campaign at a lower price point. But at the end of the day, it was the dresses and access to the designer herself that moved the needle. Nine people backed the campaign at high-end levels of $5,000 and $10,000, opting for rare opportunities like a day working with Maria in her studio or a custom-fit, one-of-a-kind design from her archive. What  kinds of unique experiences can your campaign offer? Thinking creatively about gifts that matter to your audience can lead to a big payout. As Kickstarter recommends, ask yourself if you'd buy your reward, and go from there.

3) Your video matters. A lot.

Your video is often the first interaction people will have with your campaign. Make it count. An effective video introduces you, demonstrates your experience and passion, and explains what makes your product unique. It doesn’t have to be expensively produced—you and your smartphone could suffice—but it should tell a good story and make people want to engage with you and your idea. Watch Maria's video below, and check out this compelling, authentic video for the Kangaroo Cup.

4) Shout your project from the rooftops.

Now is not the time for shyness. There are lots of campaigns vying for attention—how will you drive traffic to yours? You should have a 30-45 day plan of media outreach, events, and planned communications throughout the campaign. Tap everyone in your network and engage with both traditional and nontraditional media to broaden your reach—a write-up in an influential blog can be just as effective as a newspaper article. We sent email updates at least once a week (and often more) to our contacts, blasted messages on social media, and picked up the phone when we thought that could make a difference. We worked every media contact we had and tried to get Maria and her designs in front of as many people as possible.

5) Recognize what’s working, what isn’t, and adapt quickly.

Kickstarter campaigns move fast, and if you’re not making progress you need to be able to revise your strategy on the fly. Again, knowing who you’re trying to reach is key. We were fortunate that Maria had some good press contacts, but stories in the fashion media (not the natural Kickstarter audience) weren’t translating into pledges. We found the best way to attract backers was to get the dresses in front of women, so we staged a number of local events where women could see, feel, and try on our dress samples. We brought iPads and signed them up for Kickstarter accounts on the spot, and handed out cards with their favorite styles written on them and instructions on how to use Kickstarter. Kickstarter may be an online platform, but for our project, the human touch was crucial.

6) Cultivate your Kickstarter community. Get feedback.

Kickstarter offers a feature called “Updates” that sometimes goes overlooked. It’s like a blog for your Kickstarter project, and it’s an immensely valuable tool that keeps backers and potential backers up-to-date on your progress (or in some cases lack thereof). Updates bring your backers along on your journey: Keep talking and listen to the feedback they leave you in return. We got great feedback—and more pledges—when we started posting updates with photos and videos of Maria styling the clothes and showing off their unique features, like being machine washable and travel friendly. This gave people a greater appreciation for the collection’s value and added a personal touch of seeing Maria at work, in her element.

Plus, if you don’t make your goal, updates will still let you communicate with your backers, and you may yet be able to convert those early supporters into future customers.

7) Your backers are your best ambassadors.

Kickstarter is, above all, a community, and word-of-mouth has a huge impact on your success. The people who support your campaign make natural advertisers, because if you don’t reach your goal, they don’t get their product. We made a lot of sales at our local events, but it wouldn’t have been nearly enough had the women who attended not gone out afterward and told all their friends how much they loved M2057. Many women even volunteered to host their own events for their circles once they saw the collection. Send your backers emails and updates and give them concrete action items: “Forward to 3 friends,” “Share this link on Facebook and Twitter,” “Write a comment testimonial on Kickstarter,” etc. Empower them to be part of the community and the brand and to spread the word. Most likely, they’ll want to help.

"The Evolution of Fashion Show" featuring pieces from M2057 and Maria Pinto's archive collection.

"The Evolution of Fashion Show" featuring pieces from M2057 and Maria Pinto's archive collection.

So there you have it: Seven tips to help guide your Kickstarter. But remember that these are by no means rules—every Kickstarter is different and will have its own challenges and practices that work. Good luck on yours!

And if you missed the M2057 by Maria Pinto Kickstarter but are interested in the collection, don’t worry! An e-commerce site is on the way. Sign up here for updates to be alerted once it’s live.

September 25, 2013 - 1 comment.

5 Questions with Fashion Designer Maria Pinto

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We recently began working with renowned Chicago-based fashion designer Maria Pinto on launching her newest collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto. Maria came into the national spotlight several years ago for dressing Michelle Obama for several campaign events, including Election Night. Now she's become one of the first recognized designers to launch a fashion collection on the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. Here she talks about why she decided to do so, and her excitement about the confluence of fashion and technology.

What's unique about your new collection, M2057 by Maria Pinto?

This capsule collection of dresses, jackets, and wraps is all about fitting the needs of the modern woman. It's fashion that keeps up with you, that works for you, rather than the other way around. I'm taking the elements of my old collections, like high-end design, quality, and fabrics, but making them much more accessible. They're still beautiful, architectural clothes, but they're really versatile, machine washable, travel friendly, and they fit a variety of body types and sizes. All the pieces are easy to dress up or down, and could go perfectly from the the office to a cocktail party, and everything retails from $75-$250.

M2057 by Maria Pinto DressesHow can people order M2057?

You can pre-order the M2057 collection right now on Kickstarter, but only until October 14! In addition to the pieces themselves, we're offering some "behind-the-scenes" fashion experiences, where you can shadow me for a day or throw a fashion party at one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, Sepia.

Why launch M2057 on Kickstarter?

I really was looking to try something new. Everyone's told me I'm crazy for trying to launch on Kickstarter, and maybe I am, but I think the traditional retail model is evolving, and I think this could be the future of fashion. I love these experiments with bringing technology into the fashion world. It's not just about trying to sell a product—with Kickstarter, I'm building a community that will forever be a part of the brand. All backers will be listed on my website as special contributors, and will get special access to previews of future collections and other exclusive content. It's a way to more directly connect with customers and find out what they really want and need—we'll only produce what gets ordered, which also eliminates a lot of overhead and waste.

Jesse Dress singleSo M2057 is about looking to the future?

Absolutely. Literally, in fact. 2057 is the year I turn 100! But that applies in other ways, too. Looking at the future means looking at the future woman, and she's not slowing down any time soon. She needs clothes that can work for a lot of  occasions, can go a lot of places, and can hold up all day and still look great. I used these wonderful fabrics that have a high-tech feel and really work for modern, wearable designs, while still feeling soft and luxurious on the body. But they're incredibly functional, too. Unique designs that are high quality, machine washable, easy to travel with, and very flattering, all at a great value—to me, that's the future of fashion. A good one, anyway.

What have been some of the challenges with launching on Kickstarter?

It's definitely not a traditional way to sell clothes, nor is it a typical Kickstarter campaign. For a lot of my customers or potential customers, they've never been to the site before, so educating them has been a big part of this, and stressing the urgency and that it's time sensitive. If we don't reach our goal by Oct 14, we don't go into production! So encouraging people to tell their friends, and share the links on Facebook and Twitter has been very important. But it's been gratifying to see that once people go to Kickstarter, they get it, and they're excited about it.

Connect with Maria and M2057 on Facebook and follow on Twitter (@mariapinto).

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September 24, 2013 - No Comments!

Tech + Fashion: How We’re Looking to the Future with M2057 by Maria Pinto

M2057 by Maria Pinto KickstarterFor the past few months, we've been working with internationally renowned fashion designer Maria Pinto to help her launch her new business and fashion collection on Kickstarter. This has been a real labor of passion for me personally. Maria is one of the smartest, most gracious and humble people I've ever met. She, like many entrepreneurs, has taken it on the chin professionally a couple of times over the years, and I'm working my hardest to help her get going again.

For those unfamiliar, Maria Pinto is well known in the fashion world for her work designing for Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and other celebrities, and for her high-end, highly constructed clothes. We owe the whole cultural consciousness surrounding "Michelle Obama's arms" to Maria's decision to put Michelle in a sleeveless dress at several prominent occasions. These dresses retailed for over a thousand dollars, with some reaching truly stratospheric levels (see Page 10 of the Spring 2010 collection for a yellow chiffon dress that has to be seen to be believed).

M2057 by Maria Pinto Isabella Dress

All of the excitement of the 2008 Obama campaign inspired Maria to expand her operations and open a retail store. Business was great for a while, but the economic headwinds of that era took their toll on her customer base, and Maria closed her store and stopped producing new collections.

I met Maria through our mutual friend, Emmanuel Nony, the fantastic restaurateur behind Sepia and NoMi. He mentioned a “fashion designer friend” who was considering re-launching her business on Kickstarter, and I had to hear more (admittedly, I knew who this friend was, and was very excited about the possibility of helping her with the campaign).

When I met up with Maria, it was clear that instead of re-launching her ultra-high-end collection, she was planning to create a new brand called M2057, named for the year she will turn 100. The new line is stunning, but better reflects the times in which we live. M2057 takes the same principles of structure and design, but the pieces are much more accessible: high quality, high value (dresses are $250), and designed to fit most body types and sizes. These dresses are perfect for any busy woman on the go, be it for work or for pleasure. I happen to be married to such a woman, and she concurs!

Since then, we've been working very closely with Maria on this, consulting on the project and building the M2057 website, so I've had a chance to see and touch the samples. The fabrics of these dresses are incredibly beautiful and they don't wrinkle, are machine-washable, travel well, and can be styled in many ways. I've watched rooms of women at the events we've been having around town light up when they see the product in person—the dresses are really that great. They've also gotten a lot of positive press attention.

In order to get the new business and clothing line off the ground, we've turned to crowd-funding site Kickstarter. The only way to buy the clothes is to "pre-order" by becoming a backer to support the campaign. We'll only be able to launch this new line if $250,000 worth of product is pre-ordered by October 14. When the goal is met, we'll go into production of the dresses and we will follow up with all backers on size, style, and color choices. Product will be delivered to your door in/around March, well in time for the spring season.

M2057 by Maria Pinto Squares Wrap Sophia DressIt’s been a fascinating opportunity and challenge working on this campaign. Nobody has really cracked the nut of online retail for women’s apparel; the personal experience is so important when it comes to high quality fabric and design. Furthermore, to a bunch of techies, Kickstarter seems easy to use—you can create an account directly or just link it to your Facebook account. All payments are handled securely through Amazon. And you don’t pay unless the campaign closes. But to those unfamiliar with crowdfunding, it has proven quite daunting in various cases.

We’re right in the thick of the campaign now, with less than 20 days left to meet our goal. We are optimistic that we’ll get there, but it hasn’t been a walk in the park. So, if you’re inclined to check out the video and maybe support the campaign, that would make my day. It’s not everyday you have a chance to buy something truly special for you or a loved one and support a fabulous independent entrepreneur in the process. We’ll look forward to sharing more stories from the trenches and lessons learned from Kickstarter in a subsequent post.

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