Once only, a small beach party at Baker Beach in San Francisco, the Burning Man festival has grown into a spectacular celebration of alternative living, community experiments, and self-expression in the middle of Black Rock Dessert in Nevada.
Heralding decommodification and liberation, the annual festival gives its 60,000-70,000 visitors a unique opportunity to escape the norms of commercialization as well as the realities and dependencies of everyday life. The event is a one-week tour de force of individual expression and a rabbit hole that puts the visitor’s self-reliance to the test.
For San Diego based entrepreneur Katie Anne (Founder and CEO of the PÜPH clothing line), the Burning Man experience started out as a festive vacation in 2007. She had never considered becoming an entrepreneur back then, but returning for five consecutive years took her through a journey from being discovered, being recognized, being in demand, to finally answering that demand.
Self-expressionInspired by the festival madness – a unique mix of indie art shows, rave parties, inevitable exhaustion and depletion of water (it is a dessert after all) – Katie, like many other visitors tailored a special Burning Man outfit, just for herself. A costume to transcend into “being exactly who you want to be” as she puts it. For many, the cosplay is simply a part of the ritual; embracing the one-week illusion!
Her costume, was (and is) a complete and very feminine outfit created with “poof” balls, and at the center of attention, a bouncy and jazzy miniskirt. An obvious eye-catcher on Main Street, but even in the mix of literally thousands, Katie realized that she had stumbled upon a design that resonates among other rave outfits. This is when the idea of a clothing line starts to take shape. “People started approaching me during the festival, because they remembered the skirt from the year before,” she continues, “If your kind of crazy stands out at an event like that, maybe you are on to something.”
A massive hangover later, Katie found herself back at the desk in a stale office job lacking interpersonal interaction, and growing dependent on delivering routine solutions. Many people share this experience, but very few take action on it. Katie did!
Annoyed with the stark contrast between her job and her aspirations, she took to Etsy and similar platforms to get the entrepreneurial ball rolling. By doing so, PÜPH got good traction, and lots of feedback. This is essential for any company, but especially for B2C startups, because customer sentiments are shared via social media at a high pace, so getting the right product-fit, and getting it fast, is critical.
At this point Katie had validated her idea, the product, and the market, so it was time to either “fish or cut bait.”
Katie exemplifies a common sentiment if you look through crowdfunding pitch videos. Campaigners are simply feed up with the alienation between the value they create (inside a company) and the appreciation it receives (outside the company). In her own words, “I want to see and feel the reaction from people… and knowing that I had something to do with that!”
According to research from the Kauffman Foundation, women often times make for better entrepreneurs than men. The reasons for this are that women typically have a more nuanced view of the risks of their ventures, they have greater ambitions to become serial entrepreneurs, and their ROIs beat the average. Still, women face unique challenges as entrepreneurs; one of them is the perception of their credibility!
Katie shares several cases where (over-seas) vendors cut communication or divert her to junior female staff members when they realize she is a woman. Cultural differences are of course to blame, but for PÜPH’s Founder and CEO it is an inexcusable and definite turn-off.
When asked about approaching investors, the answer is prompt, “The last thing I need right now, is to compromise on quality and our mission – this is my time to take control.” She continues, “Reward-based crowdfunding gives me a great platform to tell the story behind the product, where I want to take it, and of course be transparent about WHY we do this” – she smiles through the phone.
In her campaign, she will aim for $50,000, which will mainly come from the skirt reward that costs $150. The budget covers materials, production, and storage space. It is a break-even campaign, in the sense that the funding goal balances the expected costs up until delivery, and the price points on the campaign will be the spot prices afterwards.
This makes sense because what Katie is really trying to achieve is to build up the PÜPH brand. Very few entrepreneurs focus on the branding effect before they launch, and the most common reasons for running a campaign in the first place are fundraising and product/market validation.
The PÜPH campaign is a little different, insofar as the last couple of years’ sales and customer feedback have validated the product as well as the market. The challenge at hand is therefore to build a brand without burning through the bootstrapped startup’s marketing budget.
We will follow the PÜPH campaign closely and see if Katie can flip this playful idea into a viable business and strong brand. You can find more information about the company its founder here: puphdesigns.com