Lance Williams kickstarted an idea and turned it into an outdoor brand
“If a sleeping bag had a baby with a hammock” is how Lance Williams describes the Bison Bag, a project he started with his wife Julia in 2014. The idea: combine the warmth of a sleeping bag with the “setup anywhere” nature of a camping hammock.
But this isn’t first foray into entrepreneurship.
“I’ve always been creating my own companies ever since I was little … crocheting beanies and selling them at school … spray paint stencils, that kind of stuff.”
So when he got the idea for the Bison Bag from a conversation with his father-in-law, he had a decision to make. For Williams, ideas come easily — it’s the motivation to execute that can be difficult.
“With any idea I have, I immediately buy the domain or start designing or pondering a marketing strategy. And if I don’t do anything within 24 hours I wipe it away.”
For Williams, if an idea isn’t good enough for him to act on, it’s probably not something that an audience will ever find interest in either.
With years of experience as an online marketer and the current creative director of Proof Eyewear, he went for it: he started designing prototypes in Photoshop.
With a rough prototype in hand, Williams scoured the internet for an outdoor goods manufacturer that could turn a sleeping bag into a fully functioning hammock. Easy, right?
“The first prototype got to me and there was some definite design flaws,” says Williams. To get it just right, Williams went back-and-forth with the manufacturer to work out the flaws, but this was just the beginning of getting the Bison Bag ready for buyers.
In late spring 2014, Williams started a campaign to sell the hammock hybrid through Kickstarter. He chose the crowdfunding route because he could pre-sell bags, avoid investing his own money and the process is something he’s already familiar with.
“Since I know photography, video and marketing… Kickstarter is a really easy way for me to generate a lot of money for companies, because I can do it all myself, really quick. Because of Proof [Eyewear] and side projects for myself, I’ve been part of ten different Kickstarter projects.”
The Kickstarter campaign went live May 14, 2014, and to the surprise of Williams, it was shared on outdoor websites and hammock enthusiast forums.
“I didn’t know there was a whole crazy hammock community. There are tons of forums. I even met a guy and his kids who sleep on a hammock every night!”
Williams reviewed feedback from the hammock community on his soon-to-be-launched product. “The hammock forums and websites got ahold of it and were completely bashing us.”
He took the harsh comments in stride and coordinated a final round with the manufacturer to fix the biggest flaws he was getting from the community.
Even with the initial resistance from hammock enthusiasts, the Bison Bag blew past their $15,500 goal and made just over $20,000.
With money in hand, Lance finalized the Bison Bag design and gave the “thumbs up” to the manufacturer. By the end of 2014, Bison Bags were shipped to the funders.
“We spent every single penny and more getting the Bison Bags ready. After it was all sent out, I had $150 left in the bank account.”
For Williams, this first launch wasn’t about making money. It is the stepping stone to building something bigger.
“We haven’t made any money off Bison Bags yet, it’s all gone back into the company.”
What he’s learned from the original Bison Bag is going into Bison Bag G2 (version 2) — an updated version designed with a small air pocket between the hammock and the sleeping bag, meaning a warmer, more comfortable bag during chilly outdoor nights.
Williams’ next step is putting Bison Bags under a parent company — Camp Clayborne Outdoor Goods (named after his father-in-law). The plan: bring on more Bison Bag variations, more colors, more materials and new products.
Keeping him inspired and motivated is his very vocal audience and other Boise businesses owners starting projects for themselves.
“I meet people almost on a daily basis in Boise that are doing really rad things. I’m proud to be part of that.”
Note: Going camping? Check out the Bison Bag and other Boise-made products at campclayborne.com.
Photography by Mike Kerby of c308 Marketing.
UPDATE – 7/20/15
Lance launches a Kickstarter for the Bison Bag G2. Check it out »