William Painter Sunglasses: From Kickstarter to Reality
We got our first look at William Painter sunglasses at this year’s Snow Conference and were instantly intrigued. The high-end titanium shades feature a built-in bottle opener on the temples and definitely speak the language of our industry. Apparently we aren’t alone as Will Ferrell has even been representing for the brand and named its first offering— the JackHawk 9000.
A team of four friends from Southern California, Patrick Eckstein; Zach Luczynski; Steven Dempsey; and Matt DeCelles, got the idea for the brand, which is named after a late nineteenth century inventor who patented more than 85 devices including a safety ejection seat for passenger trains, for a project for the Cal Poly Ski Team and turned into reality with the help of a campaign on Kickstarter in May 2012.
We caught up with Co-founder Patrick Eckstein to learn more about the trials and tribulations along the road to market in December 2012.
Where did the idea for these shades come from and who’s behind the company?
The idea came about when one of our partners had to come up with a product to sell the Cal Poly Ski Team, they had a club of around 6,000 people and they knew that they liked to drink, a lot. There are four of us, Patrick Eckstein (CSUSM grad and nightlife marketer), Steven Dempsey (Cal Poly grad and marketing for major wine label/startup), Matt DeCelles (SDSU grad, head of Alumni association and entrepreneur), and Zach Luczynski (SDSU grad and entrepreneur). We started the idea off on Kickstarter to get our initial funding and have been selling pairs since December of 2012.
They’re made from the same material as an SR-71? Do they make you go faster?
Of course they do. They also make you realize your inner superhero. They are built to be light, strong, and have excellent optics.
How difficult was turning the idea into the actual product? What were some of the lessons, trials, and tribulations?
It was amazingly difficult. You can see why there is such a high failure rate for startups. Turning the idea into a reality was much harder than any of us could have imagined, however we found that there are many perceived “barriers” that are really only in the mind of the business owner. Once we found a way to get around certain problems, we realized that it was really only an idea that was in the way of achievement. We have since gone to China three times, soon to be more, sourced materials, built a website (a few times) and got into and sold out of several high-end retail locations.
Some of the lessons were definitely to make sure you understand your arena before you go into battle. We, of course, learned this the hard way— you want to make sure to take small, careful steps, which are actually very large steps, and watch out for other’s mistakes.
One of the biggest advantages we have had is our advisory board, they come from all different, albeit successful, backgrounds and know their respective markets. It has been amazing for us just to sit and listen to their failure and success stories. We have been able to bounce ideas off of them, learn from their mistakes and grow much faster than I think we normally would have. It has helped us navigate the dangerous waters numerous times.
How did you get Will Ferrell preaching the gospel?
We actually met Will at one of his Will Powered cancer charity benefits. He was really great, he actually approached us, we gave him a demonstration of the product then aptly named the Jackhawk 9000 after one of his movies and we let him use the product himself. After he used it he looked at us and said, “You guys just changed the world.” Obviously we were ecstatic.
What else are you doing on the marketing front?
Right now we are really just working on our online presence and making a great community of like-minded people. We have really stuck to our guns when it comes to materials, optics and overall quality. So we want to continue doing that with each pair/product that William Painter represents.
We are always looking to work with other similar brands and retailers who have the same sort of product/company philosophy that we do.
What tips do you have on running a Kickstarter campaign?
Ha, that’s a tough one. First, I would examine as many successful campaigns as you can. See what they did right, and what they did wrong. Then mold your campaign after that. Stick to Kickstarters rules—they can be lame, but it’s best to stick to the— you can get bumped or kicked out. We had to change our campaign twice because we wanted to do it differently. In hindsight we would have just stuck to the old rules that they have.
What retailers are you currently in and are you seeing price resistance coming out of the gate at over $160? Seems like that quality might actually help sell them?
We are currently available at the following retail stores:
The Lobby (in the Anti-Mall in Orange County)
Kahunas Surf (in the San Luis Obispo area)
SouthCoast Surf shop locations (2 in San Diego)
KNYEW (Las Vegas)
The Napa Jet Center (Napa Valley)
We are currently working on our Las Vegas partnerships with Daylight Pool, the newest daytime party in Las Vegas opening this summer, as well as The Light Group, one of the largest event production companies in Las Vegas.
And as for the price tag, we have been really successful in our retail locations simply because once you hold a pair you can clearly see the superior quality to other brands’ sunglasses. The price tag has actually helped to keep us out of some markets, which has actually been a positive, as well as help us get into some markets because of the quality, optics and packaging.
You guys launched with one frame. How do you grow and keep these from being “gimmicky”?
We will be continuing to evolve—making better sunglasses, packaging, optics, etc. We have found that the barrier to entry for “high quality” sunglasses is actually not that high, so for us to open up a new high-quality-utilitarian-eye-wear category was not as impossible as one might think. We also refuse to compromise the quality of our product for price point.
We stick to the things that really matter to William Painter—to be high quality, to be unique, and to be iconoclastic. From that I think we can really show our depth of product, not just bottle opening sunglasses. We have taken the utmost care to make sure that we have real depth in our product, that it is not only a bottle opener, that they are made of high grade material, anodized twice, powder coated, and with top of the line tooling and top-notch packaging.
We are looking to become the trusted source for high quality, durable eyewear. We think we are sort of breaking the mold of what sunglasses can do and have done in the past.
Our customers are truly one of kind as well. They are not your normal buyer; we have people from all different walks of life, with all kinds of different professions. We are able to appeal to the surfer, skater, snowboarder, but also the golfing, car racing, mountain climbing, skydiver. We seem to have all kinds of people that really love our product. And not just for what it is, but for what it allows them to be. And that is really important to us.
What’s next in the pipeline?
Lots of stuff. More styles are in the works. As well as some possible collaboration with other high-end brands. Just taking it day by day at the moment. And having a great time while doing it.
Did you patent the bottle opener? How specific is it to keep others from jumping on board?
We patented the thing like crazy. At the moment we have been issued three patents with another five patents pending. We are working with two top tier international law firms who have been making sure we are protected all over the world.