Today we speak with Sean Kelly of Draft Top, a start-up that's attracted almost a million dollars through crowdfunding and landed a deal from investor Daymond John during its appearance on Shark Tank. Here, Kelly shares with us the most important lessons he's picked up on the journey, and how that's helped his company thrive, even when Covid-19 struck. Stay with us and pick up vital tips on crowdfunding, advertising, product development and more.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
Why customer feedback is an essential part of product and business iteration and growth.
A proven way to launch successful Kickstarter campaigns for your start-up.
What to consider before buying advertising slots on media platforms, whether mainstream or niche.
How to secure free brand publicity on top-tier media publications.
And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, click to watch the full video interview here!
Visit Drafttop.com to learn more about how their unique product helps you enjoy the aroma, taste, and feel of canned beers and drinks by removing the can tops. Use the discount code, "harvest15" to receive a 15% discount at checkout.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Visit HarvestGrowth.com and set up a free consultation with us today!
Jon LaClare: Almost $1 million raised through two Kickstarter campaigns. An offer from Daymond John on Shark Tank, and a NASCAR race sponsorship. Check out this interview to get the full behind-the-scenes story of this founder's crazy success over the past few years.
Announcer: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of the Harvest Growth Podcast, Jon LaClare.
Jon: Welcome back to the show. Today I'm really excited to be interviewing Sean Kelly. He's got a product that's super unique and different. You got to check out their website. We'll have it in the show notes. Of course, it's drafttop, two Ts in the middle, drafttop.com. If you're watching the video, he is got the shirt on in front of him as well, and again, we'll put in the show notes for those of you who might be driving and listen to the audio version, et cetera. I'm going to let him describe the product. It's really cool, super different, and he's had a great success story behind this that we're going to dive into the details, but before I go off too much, Sean, welcome to the show.
Sean Kelly: Hey, Jon, thank you so much for having me. I'm really happy to be here, but just to describe why I'm here, I guess, is I co-founded a company called Draft Top. We're the world's first beverage can opener. We specifically made a can opener that takes the top off of your beer can, soda can, seltzer can whatever you want to drink out of the can to try and make it more like a pint glass, and it's been a lot of fun and it's been a crazy ride, and I'm happy to talk about it a little bit with you and your listeners.
Jon: Yes, and as I mentioned, I do encourage everyone to please visit the website just to check it out. There's a great video at the top. You'll see it in five seconds you'll understand exactly how this works, and I imagine I want to want to buy one. It's a pretty cool product, but either way, just check it out to see it. I myself, I drink a lot of soda, especially out of, cans and I love the concept for turning-- It's just a different experience. I think one of the things you talk about in some of your videos and your website is the smell is part of it. How does that make a difference? How would you describe the experience drinking out of a can after taking the top off versus traditionally?
Sean: Yes, absolutely. Some people may be thinking right now, "Why the heck would I ever need this? Why would anyone ever knew this was a problem? Why does this device exist?" Really it's about the aroma. It's about a couple different things, but mainly about the aroma and about the environment. We believe the cans are the best vessel for liquid. They don't let any light, they don't let any oxygen in The can technology has changed from your old dad's days from the '70s where they said, "Don't drink any beer out of aluminum cans because it tastes bad."
That's not true anymore. There is a micro and film in the can, the liquid never touches the metal. That might have been true in the '70s. Not sure anymore, but the reason we meant this was because we felt like the cans are everywhere and they're part of every experience. They're in your fridge, they're in your beer fridge, they're at the park when you're at a family reunion. They're at the tailgate when you're watching your favorite football team play. They're in all of these different experiences, and we just didn't like the idea of people pouring the liquid or beer, whatever, into single-use plastic cups and then tossing them out and have a perfectly nice vessel right there.
We decided to use the can itself, the vessel that it's already in, and develop a device that removes the top. By removing the top it's like a lot of people think about wine. They let it breathe. They put it through all these gizmos and gadgets to get it aerated, and then they sip it out of the proper glass. A lot of times hen you're at a brewery, they'll pour an IPA in an IPA glass, and they'll pour [unintelligible 00:04:04] in a different type of glass, and a Guinness has a specific glass. All of these are designed specifically to like enhance the aroma. If you enhance the aroma, you enhance the flavor and the taste and the experience of that beverage that you're enjoying. We wanted to be a part of that, and that's why Draft Top exists.
Jon: You talked about that protective layer. I'd never realized why the experience is at least better now that it used to be, and of course, even better with the Draft Top to take the top off is that same protective layer on the lid as well, or when you drink out of the lid, does that add some of that metal taste that we once had back in the day?
Sean: We believe that drinking out of cans with the tab on it, the way just popping the tab I like to say it sucks because you're like literally glugging out of it and your nose is pressed against the aluminum, and so people do tend to experience that aluminum aroma when they're drinking out of a can. It just doesn't do anything for you when- for the flavor, at least. If you care about how everything tastes, then drinking out of the can tab is probably not the best thing to do. Nothing against it. We're all for cans here, so if that's how you want to enjoy it, that's how you should enjoy it.
Jon: Let's talk about the, the origins of this. It goes way back. I know you guys met a little bit later in the process cycle of this, the product itself, but what's the true origin of this idea?
Sean: The true origin is my co-founder, Armand Ferranti, a friend of his showed him how to remove the top of a beer can with his canine teeth and he did it as a party trick and he got really good at it, and he thought to himself, "Hey, this experience is way better out of the can than it is pouring it or just drinking out of the tab." He decided that if we could come up with a way to safely remove the top then that might be better than having a lot of dental issues, and dental bill if you mess up your teeth, try to take the top off with your teeth.
Jon: That's funny. I can't even visualize that. I read that story about how that happened, but it just sounds scary to me to take it off with your teeth. I like your idea much better.
Sean: He did do it on Shark Tank. Yes, he did do it on Shark Tank. You can see it there.
Jon: That's right. Yes, that's right. That's funny. We'll get into that Shark Tank story a little bit later in our interview as well. Let's rewind back to 2012 or so. This is when the two you lined up and then spent a couple years getting it ready and then ultimately launched around 2015 or brought it into revenue. Tell us that story. We talked about how the product came to be. Now let's talk about how the business came to be.
Sean: We met working in Corporate America, and he brought me an idea and I was a big beer guy. I said, "Hey, this is would be perfect for the beer world. Everything's moving to cans. This is 2012." Bottling was going out of fashion. Canning was becoming a lot cheaper and easier to do for beer specifically, and there's about to be a huge wave of craft brewers popping up all over the US Beer Renaissance, if you will. We decided to try to do the best we could on a nights and weekends garage. Tinker around. I think Armen used to go and sit in the liquor store. He made friends with the liquor store owner by his house. He'd sit there and measure all the different types of canned tops.
Out of the fridge, just on the floor with like a not a ruler, but I don't know exactly what the tool is called, but he'd get it down to millimeter so we had a variance of what cans were out there. Anyways, during that process we tried to get something that was robust and an MVP or a minimal viable product, and then we wanted to actually see if people would purchase it. We got to working level where we felt it was comfortable enough where it was good enough to go out to the public with, and we started a Kickstarter in 2015.
It went really well. I personally sat down and researched every person who wrote about beer in the months before or in the beverage industry or anything about cans or beer or whatever. Our gadgets in the months before we launched and emailed them personally with all of our media kit and everything like that. When we launched and it went really well. We raised $214,000 in 30 days. No marketing just the outreach which helped us get into both Playboy and Food and Wine in the same week, which I think is crazy.
Jon: That's awesome. Yes, and that's, I think that's a step or part of the process that's often missed with Crowdfund or Kickstarter campaigns is a lot of people think like, "Hey, I've got a great product I can put it on that's going to sell itself." Or, "I need to spend a lot of money behind it, which it's a way to do it, it works, but I think putting that prep work in advance, like you talked about, is finding the influencers. Whether that's writers or whatever field they might be in. Not everybody's a TikTok influencer. People that influence the market could be writers for the New York Times, or Food and Wine or you mentioned Playboy, other magazines you might be in, and getting their attention. Not everyone's going to respond. Do that prep work, reach out, and that's interesting, and you said you really spent no money or very little money on marketing in that campaign, huh?
Sean: $0 on that. Like I said, it was really just researching. There's a great blog about that I was on the Tim Ferriss blog. He had a whole thing about how to do this step by step. It may be a little bit outdated now, but it's still a lot of good nuggets on it that you can remix and apply to today's world that may be a little bit different.
Essentially it boils down to writing the story for the person, because this content is, they need to push stuff out all the time. If you can write it for them and provide everything for them to where they can knock a couple of blog out of it in 10 minutes, then all of a sudden they're more likely to to write about you.
Jon: It ultimately comes down to, it's time versus money. You got to do one or the other, a combination of the two. If you can spend the time you did doing the research, reaching out directly to people that have big audiences, then that becomes your marketing. It doesn't have to cost money.
The alternative becomes you can do it without that. You spend less time on it, but you just need to spend more money. You pay to reach people directly or spend your time to get in front of them. It's the old scenario of marketing is really the way to reach out to many people at the same time when a one to many they call it.
If you had unlimited time, you could reach out one by one by one by one, and anybody could sell a good product. If they could talk to everybody. We just don't have that time. What you've done is in the middle. It's like you spend the time to other people that already have audiences in place, and it's a way to reach and touch their audiences inexpensive or freeway in your regards. That's a great way to describe it.
Then you did a second Kickstarter launch as well and even raised even more money. How far after the first campaign was the second one launched?
Sean: We launched in 2019, December of 2019. That lasted for 30 days and I think 595,000. Then we did push marketing into that one. We did apply a lot of the same principles, but we threw a little bit more gas on the fire to get that out and make the most of the 30 days that we had on that platform and it worked really well for us.
After the first one, we took a lot of feedback from our customers and applied it to the product iteration process that we have. We went out and got an engineer and a new partner who's robotics and mechanical engineer. He helped redesign the tool. We made it a lot cheaper and we brought the manufacturing into the US, which was ultimately very timely for us.
With COVID hitting a few months after. Shipping container rates going way high, up until now, it just came down. It was about four years of iterating and expanding on it.
Jon: Then you mentioned Shark Tank already. Where did that fit into the timeline?
Sean: Shark Tank reached out to us in, I think February or March of 2020. They saw our Kickstarter. They really liked the product, that was interesting. It's never been seen before. We went through the process of the whole pitch process and everything like that, and our Shark Tank episode came out in February of 2021.
Jon: About a year from that first time they reached out to you, until it aired you [crosstalk]. That's pretty fast actually. We've interviewed a lot of Shark Tank guests. I'm successful, some not in terms of getting a deal, et cetera. Sometimes they're years. It could take a long time, but it's ends up being a positive experience for most. How did it help your business?
Sean: I think it was a positive experience, on the show we got a deal at the end in the back, we ended up just-- We got a deal with Damon John, who's fantastic. His team is amazing. I have nothing but nice things to say about him, and he's just a really genuine, awesome, awesome, awesome person.
We decided to go different ways after the show and that's okay. That's what happens sometimes in businesses. Maybe we don't fit his profile or he doesn't fit our profile or whatever, It doesn't matter but the process of being on there was great for us because it helped us get a lot of national recognition.
It's good in conversations for sure. It opens up a couple doors when you can talk to retailers. You can talk to potential people who want to buy your product and say, "Yes, we were on Shark Tank." Usually, when I'm telling someone what I do for a living, they say, "You should be on Shark Tank," and then I can say, "Yes, I already was so." It was a great experience.
Jon: That's cool. A question I've actually never asked or an experience I've never talked about in a podcast interview is a NASCAR sponsorship. That's an interesting opportunity that you took advantage of during the COVID times. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in sponsoring NASCAR?
Sean: Yes. Again, during COVID, things were just moving really fast for us. Everyone was buying stuff online. It was great. DDC market exploded and we happened to be at the right place at the right time. It was awesome for us. Because our sales were so great during the time and no one was going to live events because they simply couldn't or weren't allowed to.
NASCAR was losing out on some sponsorships and had people backing out and stuff. We ended up getting an opportunity. We were going to try and do something on premise with them and then something came up and they said, "Would you want to sponsor a whole race?" Which happened to be a nationally televised one on Saturday. It was like the second-tier NASCAR.
Not the Cup series, but the one right below that races on Saturdays. It was awesome. It was a Draft Top 250. It was in Martinsville. It was a Penn Ultimate Race in October. I think it was Halloween of 2020 actually. It was awesome. We got to go there and I felt like I owned the place. It was great. Got to say start [unintelligible 00:16:58], start your engines and they mentioned it on TV and we got to-- It was really a cool experience as a sports fan.
Jon: I can only imagine, there's a lot of value inherent in doing experiences or activities like that in our business. Sometimes they work well for the business also, sometimes they're gracious for the experience and not for the business. Did you find it overall helpful, profitable for your business?
Sean: I would say that our experience was probably, if we had to do it over again, I probably wouldn't because it was a lot of money. The measurable direct ROI wasn't as high as we thought it might be. That's nothing, it's not a knock on NASCAR or any sponsorships in general.
Sometimes you have to find things that fit your niche and/or maybe speak to the people that you want to speak to. We tried to squeeze as much juice out of this as we could. I think we did a good enough job for really being four guys in a garage at the time who were sponsored in NASCAR race, which is crazy when you think about it.
It's something, it was a learning experience for us. I think I'll be definitely more prepared the next time we go into the sponsorship world. I definitely think twice about sponsoring things now simply because I really want to make sure you have to be aware of where your dollars are getting spent and what are you getting back for that time and energy and you want to be able to measure that.
If it's not going well, then you have to be able to say, it's not, we need to move in another direction. It was definitely an experience and not one that I regret, but definitely, one that having the experience now would think twice about doing.
Jon: I think there's two different worlds in terms of marketing. There's the direct-to-consumer measurable where you can see and understand your ROI for virtually every dollar that you spend, whether that's TV, digital, wherever it might be. That's one side of it.
Then the other side of the equation is the branding side. There's a lot of brands out there, a lot of the beer brands, for example, they're never going to ship direct to consumer for various reasons. They've got to build their brand, their awareness and try to really separate themselves. That's a sponsorship, it can be as you mentioned very expensive.
It is important to understand the difference. If branding is your goal, that's awesome that you could say, the Draft Top 250, man, what a rare experience for sure. You could talk about that forever and promote it on your website and in other campaigns that you do even in the future.
The cool factor is certainly there, but it is branding. I know you understand this, but for the benefit of our audience, the big difference right between measurable marketing direct to consumer marketing and then branded marketing like that as well. What a cool experience. I can only imagine. It's something you'll have that memory forever.
Sean: I couldn't send it better myself you nailed it. There is a difference between branding and sponsorships and then also direct-to-consumer marketing. Actionable marketing and you just got to know the difference going in.
Jon: For sure. What's next for your business?
Sean: Now there's a lot of things that are next. We have again taken feedback. We're always iterating on our products and we're always looking for that next thing. We're always looking to try and improve our experience. We literally just like last week launched what we call the Draft Top lift. A lot of the customer feedback from a previous versions were that they didn't like that the top falls into the can.
It's been very hard for us to figure out the engineering behind grabbing the top because some of you who may be listening to this or watching this right now, might be screaming put a magnet on it. Trust me we've heard that before. I learned the hard way. Aluminum is not magnetic or fares, whatever it is called. You can't put a magnet on it. It will not capture it.
I wish it could, my life would've been a lot easier over the past few years if it was. We've had to engineer and be scrappy with the way that we've come up with how to grab the top. Really the feedback we were hearing from our customers were like, "Hey, there's a little bit of a learning curve with this sometimes. I don't like that the top falls in. If you could grab the top and make a hair bit easier to use I'd be cool with it."
That's what we did. We're really proud of it. We're really happy with how the launch went last week and the customers have been awesome. They're really excited. You can tell they're emailing us and saying, "Hey you finally did what we've asking for." It just takes so long with molds and engineering and prototyping and testing. I never understood how much goes into making and designing even a product that is just a can opener.
Then putting it to market. It's crazy how much work is on the back end that people just don't see. If I could have gotten this out three years ago, I would've gotten it out three years ago but we couldn't. What's next is that we have a couple more products that we are hoping to launch in 2023. I'd be happy to share them with you when I can but we're really happy with the lift right now because it pulls the top off and it's easy to use.
Jon: Awesome. Check that out and love to have you back on the show once you launched your next round too we can talk about that. You've got a great product we talked about, you built a great business behind it had a lot of success over the years in this. Are there any resources that you recommend that have been helpful to you as you've built your business?
Sean: Yes, I listened to a podcast called My First Million. It's a great, great podcast about just ideation and thinking outside of the box specifically with D to C stuff and how to market to people and it's really interesting. Obviously your podcast I've been listening to it and it's been fantastic. I've learned quite a lot from your past guests especially with the grill cleaning guy that was really cool.
The diaper dust that was interesting too. I've been listening to a few and it's been great and then I would say a book that really changed the trajectory of how my life has been. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss and I think he just came out with one that's been an updated version of it but I'm a big fan of his and I think he's done a lot of good things and he really puts everything into perspective and makes it easy to follow. Dummies like me you know.
Jon: That's great. We were talking before our interview started about that book specifically and man it's been around for a long time and I think in our world we feel like everybody knows it but it's not true. Anyone who's launched the business in the last few years, he may not know much about it or may not have read it and or if you have for me it's been a long time I should pick it back up again. Some good principles in there. No book is perfect right?
He does a great job of explaining how to make business life easier and does he really work four hours? Probably not probably more right but he's got principles we can use to make our work life better, more effective, more efficient for sure. I recommend it as well. Sean is there anything I didn't ask in this interview that you think would be helpful for our audience?
Sean: I have a couple things. One, I have a discount code for everyone at Harvest 15. You can get 15% off your order @drafttop.com. Go grab the lift and that's going through the end of November. Then I totally forgot but I should just demo the product for you I have it here and I had it next to me the whole time. For those who are watching, they can actually see it work and not have to visualize it. Basically this is an open can and then this is the lift by the way we flip it on there. Grabs the top, squeeze and we just twist a couple times. Should pull the top right off.
Jon: You're doing a water seltzer can for our family friendly audience nice. I love it how that sticks in there. That's fantastic. That's great.
Sean: Sometimes I'll do a beer but I still got some hours to work after today.
Jon: That's right. Love it. Sean thanks again for taking the time this has been awesome for our audience. I really appreciate it.
Sean: Thank you so much, Jon, I appreciate it.
Jon: Please be sure to check out drafttop.com to learn more about Sean's great product and also be sure to check out Harvest Growth to see other episodes of our podcast that we've recorded. If you like this episode you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your consumer product business, please subscribe to our show and be sure to leave us a review. Thanks so much.
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