13 Jul 2021

Innovator Interview: Bird Buddy

Customer Story

Our VP of Sales and Marketing, Terry Arbaugh, discusses the Bird Buddy innovation with two of the co-founders, Kyle Buzzard and Franci Zidar, in our Innovator Interview Series. Watch the video to see the interview.

 

 

Do you have an innovative product and are searching for the right hardware design and manufacturing partner? Let’s see if we’re a good fit. Get started here.

--

Learn more about Bird Buddy:
Website: https://mybirdbuddy.com
Blog: https://blog.mybirdbuddy.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mybirdbuddy

--

Transcript

Terry:
Welcome to the Innovator Interview Series brought to you by SEACOMP, where we help innovators deliver awesome. We are joined by two great guests today and we're going to jump right in. So please tell us who you are.

Franci:
Hey, my name is Franci. I'm one of the co-founders of Bird Buddy. I've been building digital products for about 15 years. I'm a bit stronger on the tech side, it's the first like truly hardware product that we're building, which is kind of intimidating but at the same time exciting. We started this journey late December 2019 and you know the rest is kind of history. I'll let Kyle also introduce himself.

Kyle:
My name is Kyle. My background is in industrial design. For the past 15 years been developing a ton of different consumer electronics products for companies like Google and Logitech and others. I'm a co-founder and managing the hardware and industrial design.

Terry:
Awesome, thank you guys. Now Franci, I'll start with you, tell us a little bit about the company.

Franci:
The company is a pretty interesting one. I think the fact that it was kind of born during the pandemic, right in the thick of it basically, had some side effects in terms of how we’re structured. Pretty much it’s split in half almost, between Slovenia and at this point somewhere around Chicago area. The software and product and marketing and all that kind of lives in Slovenia, whereas the engineering, industrial design, logistics and all that stuff is happening stateside. I think we're about 25-ish strong right now and growing. I would have thought that would have been a much harder thing to do, to a scale team to this size, but it's so far so great. So we're super happy about that part.

Terry:
Awesome. Kyle, anything to add on the company?

Kyle:
No, I think it is an interesting challenge working across so many different time zones, having different team members in different countries and just managing it both with a centralized hub there in Ljubljana and then a decentralized team in the United States. I think because there was a decent amount of practice from everyone due to the pandemic going into it, we kind of had a chance to refine what it is to work remotely and organize things as a team. It seemed like it would have been a lot more challenging to set up, but I think all the pieces were in place for us to be able to do this successfully so far.

Terry:
That's really interesting. Actually the pandemic maybe helped, took away some of the pressure to try to co-locate and travel all over the world and do all that. It's like. “Well that can't happen so let's just move forward this way.” Cool, awesome. Now Kyle, I'll start with you on this question: how did you first get involved with the company? And we'll go to the product next but, how did you first get involved with this operation?

Kyle:
Our friends at Ioterra had met Franci and Ziga. I think there was a desire to look for funding and to some extent some expertise on the hardware side. So there was an introduction made there. We just, it felt like we really meshed as far as personalities and goals and vision for what this idea was and I just fell in love with the idea in general. Part of the reason that I moved out of big city was to get more connected with nature. We see that 7 out of 10 people have kind of a similar feeling. They feel disconnected and so I think this was just a super exciting project and venture for me personally. It aligns with kind of what I get excited about. We started out those conversations, felt like it would be a very complimentary and mutual fit as far as coming in and joining the team and being a part of this to help grow. I jumped in last August basically.

Terry:
That's fantastic and Franci, for you, you said you started in December 2019 so this was your idea, you started it. Can you maybe tell us about how you first got going?

Franci:
Sure. Basically, the way it happened is that I just came back from the states in late 2019, working on a different project and was kind of looking for new challenges and something new to do. As luck would have it, I was drinking beer with the third co-founder basically, Ziga, and thinking about a new project we might want to do. And he threw out this idea he had actually for a while which was a bird house with a camera. It immediately kind of clicked with me because the previous project I was working on was like a Pokemon Go as a platform and it clicked with me. Basically it's kind of the same thing right, it's gamifying the real world but not with virtual creatures but with actual birds. So then that same night we hashed out how it could have AI, how you could have electronics and all that stuff kind of came to be. I guess I got super excited about it and it actually again, because I did have some free time, or at least time that I didn't want to spend doing anything else, I allocated it towards market research, started building the landing page, and all that stuff. The first half of 2020 basically was kind of trying to get the thing off the ground to make a good business case for it, to show that there's a demand for it, that it's not just us liking the product and the idea, but there's actually people who can get excited about it and would actually be willing to buy it. That was how I came to be basically a part of the Bird Buddy story.

Terry:
Awesome, before we jump into the product just on that last point, the statistics on bird watching as a hobby are mind-blowing. Like after you start looking at them. So when you're doing your market research, can you tell just a little bit about what you found?

Franci:
Sure yeah. It's bird feeding actually. Bird watching is a bit of a niche, but bird feeding is like the second largest hobby in the US and around 60 million people consider themselves bird feeders. Interestingly, out of the other 200 million, over 50 percent basically see themselves as feeding birds sometime in the future right so even if it's not something that they're doing right now, it's appealing to them. I think that that's kind of almost our core audience. Everybody who would like to get into it, doesn't know how to get into it, now here's a nice smart product that kind of lowers the barrier, makes it a bit more exciting and engaging. And gets people super excited about it I think.

Terry:
That is so cool. Over 60 million bird feeders, just in the US and then obviously you've got a worldwide audience. I know you've had a lot of traction, not just in the US but obviously in Europe as well. So very, very cool. Let's jump to the product a little bit so Franci, I'll continue with you here, tell us about the product, what problem does it solve and how does it improve the world we live in?

Franci:
I think Kyle put it well. When I think ultimately the product, the problem it tries to solve or it helps solve, is people losing touch with nature. It's a way for you to get a notification that's not a task or it's not a reminder, it's a bird waiting at your Bird Buddy. I think that's one aspect to it but, other than that it again, it has a super broad appeal because people just maybe also want to smartify their home as much as possible. It's a pandemic now, we've kind of been locked in, everybody's been looking into their backyard and it's easy to see how people might want to have a gadget there that would make that whole experience a bit more engaging I think. 

Terry:
Very cool, Kyle?

Kyle:
To add to that too and this is probably more on kind of the impact side of things which is important as a direct to consumer company, having a mission and having something kind of overarching, but it's the fact that we're going to have hundreds of thousands of nodes collecting data on species and migratory paths so we can feed into conservation efforts. We think about like larger scale problems just as far as things that we could address with this technology, there's a ton of really fun and educational and kind of almost meditational things that we can do for the user, but there's also a massive impact that we potentially have for conservation efforts around the globe.

Terry:
That is really cool because like you described earlier, Kyle, we're attracted to the products, getting that personal connection, back to nature or moving out of the city but it's so much larger than that like the way you're the way describing it with conservation efforts and migratory patterns that is really really incredible. Moving on from that just a little bit, when we're talking about developing the product, what services did you hire SEACOMP for?

Kyle:
As you know, Terry, we spent a lot of time interviewing different engineering firms, different manufacturers, looking at the different models that would exist for us to partner or build up our team internally, how do we want to move forward with that. It was very important for us even before we went into the Kickstarter, that we had at least a couple of really strong options that we could pull from depending on the direction that the Kickstarter went. I think, in general, internally, as a team, we did not have the resources to do all of the mechanical, electrical engineering. I think in general, we wanted a team that was really cohesive, that had experience directly working between sourcing and engineering and manufacturing so the decisions that we were making super early on, had those perspectives, all baked in. So that we didn't design something over here in a bubble, kick it over, take it over the wall, and then figure out that, “oh those components aren't available or there's shortages or it's going to cause issues for XYZ.” So as we were going through this process, interviewing a variety of folks, including yourselves, what we found is that your kind of vertical integration of all these teams and kind of the in-house nature to all this stuff, and just the the amount of experience and kind of relationship that we were able to build, and that your team exhibited across those different functions, really helped us de-risk the program. And I think that's what it's been about all along. We were interviewing some of the Foxconns of the world and the people that had reached out that maybe on paper look like they'd be incredible because they're so big but the reality was, they didn't necessarily have all the services. We didn't have the confidence that they would give us their top priority or the A-team and that we would get the attention and that that would really de-risk it besides them just being big. So I think what we found was a really awesome sweet spot with you guys, where we feel like it's really a connection, an extension of our team and we have that really close ability to work back and forth.

Terry:
Awesome, thank you for that. And Franci, talking about the services you hired SEACOMP for and, along the lines of what Kyle just mentioned, what was most important to you when you were looking for a partner and what things were you most worried about? Franci, you mentioned it's a little intimidating doing a hardware product you haven't done this before. What were some of your big concerns going into this process?

Franci:
It has to be a premium product and it has to work the way it's advertised. And frankly, the way we want it to work for the whole thing to make sense. I think a big part of that decision and the whole conversation was to have a partner there that was able to listen and understand what we want to achieve, not necessarily exactly the specs that we want to throw at you and just have a design that way, but understand what's the intention behind a certain feature and then help us figure that out. I think that was super important to us, again, for it to work as intended, but also to be that premium product that we kind of want it to be. I think that's important to us. The other thing is that, again, me being anxious because it's a hardware product is that also it has to live outside. It has to survive the weather. It has to survive the cold and all that stuff. I have no idea how we would trust somebody to do that without us having constant insight into the process. I think that right now if we weren't a big part of that whole process of design and development basically, come September, when the first units get shipped, we just would have fingers crossed and hope that it would work the way we wanted it, both in terms of features and then both in terms of durability. So I think those were the two things that I personally feel like we're a big factor in us trying to figure out who to choose as a partner in developing the hardware.

Terry:
Awesome, thank you for that. This is kind of where the rubber meets the road answer, nothing teed up here of course, so based on what you guys just said, how is SEACOMP doing? Give us some comments.

Kyle:
So on the development side, Franci kind of alluded to it, like the fact that working together as a team, it wasn't just accepted like build to spec, right. It was much more collaborative in nature and there was pushback and general kind of ownership of those ideas and how to make them better. That was a bit unexpected and really wonderful as far as how we started partnering together and developing the technology because some of the original ideas that we had that we had gotten quotes from others to say, “yeah we'll just build this.” You guys were like, “No, we could probably do something more reliable. It might not be as cost effective but let's test it.” That was great. So we've had a great experience so far as far as working with the engineering teams developing the product in that way and coming out with better solutions than we went into it thinking we would have. I think too the other aspect of this is, just the fact that we're in a global logistics and supply chain crisis and trying to navigate this as a startup in a world where you know large auto manufacturers can't even build stuff because they're not able to find components. I think the strategic nature of how you guys have approached and we've been able to work together on this as far as like even how it trickles back to design, building in redundancies, so that we have backup plans if things do come up short, or we're not able to secure them or whatever. I've been extremely impressed and happy with with how that process has gone and to the point that we're at where we do pretty much have a a plan and a backup plan of how to deliver product to backers and eventual customers without being ridiculously affected or having stuff come out of the blue and hit us unexpectedly that could cause massive delays. I think just the advanced planning, the care that's put into it, and the strategies behind it has all been wonderful.

Terry:
Awesome, thank you. Franci?

Franci:
I don't think I have that much to add to that. I think that one thing that's kind of important to note here is that we are incredibly fortunate to be able, because I have no bearing here, so I have no idea how expensive this stuff normally is right, but we have the luxury of having an insanely successful Kickstarter and now the online sales to be able to say yes to all those tests. I feel great about it. I have no doubts about it but as you're kind of trying to set things up, if you're trying to set them up for success, I think that's kind of the luxury you need in that case. Because the cheapest option for us would be to go with somebody who would build the whatever spec we gave them and we would have no say in the whole process. We would just hope that it would work at the end. Luckily we didn't have to go that route and I appreciate like every dollar that was spent basically during the development that I feel like was spent for us, again, to build an amazing product but also to kind of provide some ease of mind to know that we're in good hands and the things are going to happen the way we we kind of want them to. Other than that, I feel like the whole collaboration has been great and like that also goes to the fact that Kyle is an amazing person but also an amazing industrial designer and has like a really broad understanding of this whole process. It's not just how you design the product and make it work in that sense, it's also all the small things that you would have never thought of so I think that the combination of Kyle and SEACOMP, I think is the reason why we can kind of focus kind of pretty worry free on the product here in Slovenia, on the marketing here in Slovenia, on all those things that we can trust that you know whatever's happening in the US is okay. I think that's important.

Terry:
Awesome, thank you guys so much for that. Yeah, we could do a whole hour or two, Kyle, on the supply chain crisis and how that's impacting sourcing and design and everything else but it has been really difficult to do all this during a pandemic. Just like you said, starting the company during a pandemic and all the different challenges that are in addition to the normal difficulty of launching a hardware product but we're not going to do that all today. So thank you for those answers. Before we wrap up here, I just want to ask Franci, where can viewers learn more about Bird Buddy? 

Franci:
You can visit our website. It's mybirdbuddy.com. We also have a blog at blog.mybirdbuddy.com. We have a bunch of amazing articles, the design is a bit outdated but, if you're interested in content it's worth it.

Kyle:
Also on Facebook, there's a ton of fun content that we post there, bird of the day, there's just really engaging things there and animations and stuff to check out.

Terry:
That's very, very cool. Anything we missed or anything else you'd like to add before we sign off?

Kyle:
I don't think so.

Franci:
I don't think so.

Terry:
Well, I appreciate it. I will reiterate one more time, please check out mybirdbuddy.com. Thank you guys so much for joining us today. I really, really appreciate your time.