Marc Barros has spent three years building a team and a product and learning about his customer. Now, his Seattle-based startup Moment is ready to offer a second generation of lenses and cases to take mobile photography even further.
With the launch of a new Kickstarter campaign today, Barros and the Moment team are looking to gauge how well they know their customer and get a read on the demand for a new trio of products for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
With a goal of $500,000, the company is also after the necessary funding to make those products and have them on phones by May or June.
It’s been a busy year of learning and adjusting for the small hardware maker. When we checked in with Barros last May, he had just raised $3 million in Series A funding and secured placement of Moment lenses and cases for the iPhone 6 in 50 Apple retail stores. Then came the tech giant’s radically redesigned 7 and 7 Plus.
“You know it’s coming because the internet says its coming, but you get nothing as far as advanced notice,” Barros said of being prepared for a new iPhone. “So anyone that makes just phone cases basically has to cheat — they have to gamble. They look at the pictures online and they make a decision: ‘Am I willing to tool this thing? Am I willing just to get really close?'”
Barros believes that if stuff shows up right away on Amazon, for instance, that means that manufacturer gambled.
“We can’t [gamble] because the optical alignment is really, really important,” Barros said. “The camera moved in the 7 versus the 6. So we couldn’t just make the lens and case; we had to wait to get the phone. That’s the most trying part for us. Not only do we have to wait for them to announce it, you have to wait two or three weeks to get your hands on all of it. And then you have to assess if your entire product line works or if it’s obsolete. So it’s incredibly stressful. Thankfully the way they’re implementing it, both one lens and two lens, the whole [Moment] system still works.”
Not starting from scratch certainly helps speed the process. The designers and engineers on Moment’s 20-person team hit the ground running last fall when iPhone 7 came out.
“We’re better at the design process. We have more talent, more experience,” Barros said. “We’ve been through a case once. You learn how the plastics mold, you learn a bunch of small details. By having a bunch of product out there you now have data back that tells you where it’s failing.”
Barros said that a small hardware startup can’t afford to endlessly prototype units like Apple or others can, so its early units end up being sold to customers. But he said this time around, with better suppliers and better experience, the engineering is much improved.
This time they’ll be offering a new, slightly larger wide-angle lens with improved glass ($99.99); a battery case (with built-in DSLR-style shutter button) that is constantly charging the phone and can be charged with an Apple lightning cable ($99.99); and a thinner photo case (without shutter) that accepts lenses ($29.99).
Backers on Kickstarter will get access to reduced prices on individual items as well as deals on photo kits that group items together.
“The premise of the Kickstarter is to raise the money to tool,” Barros said. “To tool the wide [angle lens], the battery case in two sizes, and the photo case in two sizes, the bill starts to get significant. You’re basically betting the entire company. You go to market without any understanding of whether customers care, you could bankrupt it. You need the customer demand.”
Successful Kickstarter campaigns got the company and its first generation of products off the ground in the past. In January 2014, a campaign for lenses raised $450,000. A year later, a campaign for the iPhone 6 case raised $693,000 in January 2015.
Moment is relentlessly trying to get more customers. Barros said the operating mindset is to keep spending very tight, with low overhead, and focus on customer acquisition.
“You just obsess about what works to get a customer — what do customers want? what do they like? — so we just spend all our time on the customer,” he said.
Moment is “constantly tinkering” with shopping experiences, Barros said, and just started using Fulfillment by Amazon. But he said of everything they’ve tried, content seems to be producing the greatest return.
The company’s Momentist channel on its website serves as a gathering place for everything anyone might wish they could see and shoot through their smartphone camera.
“We tried a bunch of community-based things, but at the end of the day we found that the content and the content stories go the furthest,” Barros said. “We have products that make it possible to tell amazing stories: rich video and stunning photos in unique places. So the content has been working the best to reach a whole bunch of new people. Each piece of content can get shared and re-shared, so you get anywhere from 5 to 10,000 to 15,000 views on a piece of content and that’s reaching a whole new audience.”
But it’s clear that Barros is obsessed with wanting to know more about who is buying his products. While the wide lens is Moment’s most popular item, being on Amazon’s FBA for a few weeks has Barros realizing just how much the retail giant is driven by search. And he said people are searching much more for telephoto lenses than wide angle on Amazon.
“Adding the Amazon piece is like adding a whole other channel with data,” Barros said.
Selling lenses and cases through Apple stores last year was a nice way to get product in front of customers, but other than getting information back on how many units were sold, the experience provided no additional data on what type of customer was looking for what product.
“If you make a software product or software app, you get some idea of the demographic of the user,” Barros said. “You can interact with the user, you can message them. You put the [hardware] product in a retail store you get zero. You get a spreadsheet with unit sales.”
Barros is optimistic that Moment has figured out how to make something that mobile photographers want. But there is a risk involved in going back in front of potential customers to see if they’re still willing to help fund a product’s iteration.
“If this tanks, if customers say they don’t want this, it forces us to go back to the board and figure out what happened,” Barros said. “Was the product wrong? Was the price wrong? Did people not care? You want to know that now before you go to tooling. Because it would take almost the majority of our cash to put all of these in motion with zero customer demand.”
But Barros believes, as he has from the start, that he’s onto something that will last because Moment is realizing what other manufacturers continue to ignore.
“None of the phone accessory makers get it,” Barros said. “Those who make traditional phone cases and battery cases are essentially competing over the same functions: power, protection and price. None of them are saying, ‘Oh, it’s actually a camera.’ That’s our point of view, that we think we can win the market with these products.”