As a freelance editor for Brit+Co. I wrote a lot of posts about Kickstarter campaigns. After a while, writing about campaigns that were well on their way to becoming fully-funded became my niche. We would be a part of the media fanfare that helped to spread word about campaigns for the latest subscription service for kids or the bike helmet that looks more dapper than dorky. While covering these campaigns I often wondered what happens after a campaign is fully-funded. What happens after you are given the money you said would put your dreams in motion? How do you fulfill the promises you made to your financial backers?
I reached out to Kimber-Lee Alston for some perspective. Kimber-Lee is an entrepreneur based in San Francisco whose campaign for "The Ultimate Suit for the Modern Woman" was fully-funded on Kickstarter last September. Kimber-Lee raised more than three times her goal of $10,000. 448 backers contributed a total $30,438 to make Kimber-Lee's vision for a "stylish go anywhere do anything utility suit" into a reality.
Before launching the campaign for the ultimate suit, Kimber-Lee was a recent college graduate with a Masters in engineering and an underpaid job as a secretary at an ad agency. An embarrassing Marilyn Monroe-esque moment involving a gust of wind inspired the idea for the Playsuit which evolved into her company Jolie Coquette. Kimber-Lee may be a graphic designer and product designer by background, but she is certainly no seamstress. It took her eleven hours to hand-make the first sample for the Playsuit. "I had tried hiring someone in the city and she took it upon herself to do the complete opposite of everything I told her to do. It was kind of hilarious except it wasn't because it was my life," she said. Kimber-Lee eventually found another local sample maker over Craigslist to help her refine the design.
Kimber-Lee launched the campaign for the Playsuit last August. She turned to crowd-funding because as a recent college graduate with no money of her own, she was having a tough time breaking into the world of Silicon Valley. "I decided to work really hard and develop the product on my own and then go to Kickstarter to test its viability and jumpstart the company," she said. "It was cheap, efficient and immediate — just what I needed."
Kimber-Lee quit her job shortly after launching her Kickstarter campaign. "I walked in one day, said goodbye to everyone, and never went back. I know a lot of people that hate their jobs and I was one of them," she explained. She now works on Jolie Coquette full-time and freelances doing graphic design work and creative direction for companies in the Bay Area.
After her campaign was funded Kimber-Lee said producing the Playsuits required a lot of work including fixing things that went wrong, packaging hundreds of orders and making a lot of apologies along the way. "Producing the design and fulfilling orders all boiled down to a lot of problem-solving and menial labor. I made a ton of mistakes and failed at a lot of things," she said.
Building a team has been the biggest obstacle Kimber-Lee has had to face as an entrepreneur. "I've gone through three different people for the role of operations manager at this point and they all pretty much left me hanging and completely ghosted when there was work to be done," she said. "It could be my managerial style, everything is such a learning process." Not having a team has resulted in Kimber-Lee running Jolie Coquette primarily as an army of one.
Kimber-Lee is focused on building the Jolie Coquette brand. "Getting her [Jolie Coquette] out there the way I want is an evolving process of navigating artistic expression in a world of relevancy. At this point it's a lot of fine-tuning and reaching out to bloggers and influencers with a similar vibe," she explained. "I'm introverted to the max and am not a big fan of large parties, but I've also started going to social events that I think align with the Jolie Coquette culture." Kimber-Lee is also looking forward to launching new colors, textures and silhouettes for the brand. "It's all a delightful, grueling, tedious gift of a process. I'm beyond excited for the future!"