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The Story of Outdoor Element and the Fire Escape Kickstarter

The Story of Outdoor Element and the Fire Escape Kickstarter

Kickstarter Story

Michael Mojica

Michael Mojica

Founder

Outdoor Element

We design and manufacture adventure and survival gear to inspire individuals to explore with confidence.   

🇺🇸 South Denver (Englewood, CO)

📅 Formally formed the business in 2012. It was more of a side hustle then. I quit my day job just over 2 years ago now to be “all in”

🏆 2 …1 is still with us (me)

💵 Revenue = It varies …from $18K to $60k (on a good month) …I’m always surprised how little I actually get to bring home #EntrepreneurLife 

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Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Michael Mojica…my native name is Bodaway which means “Fire Maker”. You might find a common theme in much of my product line.  In 2012 I defected from Texas and moved to Colorado. I thought I loved the outdoors before, but then I met a 14er (mountain exceeding 14,000 ft of elevation) and experienced seasons with a real spring, fall, and winter. I had plenty of summer experience. This new part of the country also did not have fire ants, chiggers, nor high humidity. Don’t get me wrong, I love Texas, I love the people and the attitude, but this new backdrop was perfect breeding ground Outdoor Element.

A close friend of mine and I had been talking about starting a business for some time and this was the ideal backdrop. Jonnie and I redesigned the typical survival paracord bracelet and launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise capital to get it off the ground. By education, I am a mechanical engineer. I had spent most of my career in aerospace but also dabbled in the medical field on the side. For this project, I designed a fire-starting buckle for the bracelet with a ferrocerium rod and hardened stainless striker integrated into the buckle. We were the first to introduce this type of buckle to the outdoor industry. Outside Magazine wrote about, I was even awarded a design patent from the USPTO for it. We thought we had this entrepreneur thing in the bag!

But then, I was surprised by how fast a product can get knocked off. A few months later there were several “overseas” knockoffs in the US market. This was a major kick in the pants. I also learned that great friends do not necessarily mean perfect business partners. Within the first 18 months of we found ourselves with very little revenue stream – like a trickle, and also realized that the partnership would not workout.

I continued to work my 8-5 and keep OE as a side hustle. A few months later, a mutual friend set up a meeting with Joe Brown. Joe had previously helped other small businesses scale and become solvent. A few months later Joe was part of the OE team.

We launched the Firebiner® on Kickstarter in September 2016 and were able to raise over $100K in 30 days. The Firebiner® is a fire-starting multitool carabiner.

Here is a quick 30-sec video showing all of the features. 

This was a crazy time …I learned the many hats of a true entrepreneur, from mechanical engineer and designer, graphics and packaging designer, logistics backend, envelope stuffer, marketing, janitor and CEO. It’s not always pretty…most days it is not pretty and hard, but it is rewarding. There are 3 partners at OE…but we are not above enlisting the help of our wives and kids to get the work done. I know most days are filled with the daily grind with built-in golden nuggets. I also know the American Dream is alive and well if you have the vision, innovation, guts, and determination. 

Since the firebiner®, we have launched a couple of knives (yes, one of the knives, starts fires) and another generation of the fire-starting carabiner that we call the Fire Escape. With a native name like Bodaway, there tends to be a common theme for our product development.

The Fire Escape is the result of a conversation I had with a SAR (Search and Rescue) group at the Outdoor Retailer Show.. They told me they loved the firebiner® and they would love to see a fire-responder themed carabiner. I took some quick notes on my phone and several months later the Fire Escape was born.  

We have applied for trademarks, design and utility patents for most of our products. Let’s face it, if we don’t protect our intellectual property then we become a free R&D source for the knockoff vultures, who suffer from lack of creativity and innovation, who are constantly circling small business and crowdfunding campaigns. Yes, I have a strong opinion about this. Check out the campaign for the Fire Escape on Indiegogo!

Walk us through the process of creating your products.

Before starting and during the early stages of starting my business, I was a mechanical engineer and spent most of my time in aerospace. I was pretty familiar with general design and manufacturability principles. I kept several small notebooks of sketches and designs. I would often tinker in CAD and build simple models of my designs. Because of my love for the outdoors and design, Outdoor Element was a natural evolution. Because of my experience, I had developed a good support system and network of individuals and shops for mentorship and building prototypes.

A friend of mine, Rocky, owner of a small machine shop, Das Bruder, outside of Waco, TX has become a great asset for creating physical prototypes. I also have a friend, Dallas Stahle who worked in manufacturing overseas. He was able to make key introductions and provide guidance along the way for trusted manufacturing.

Never underestimate the power of your own personal network. Most people want to help a friend chase down the American Dream. Now that we have great relationships with our manufacturer, they are willing to provide samples at a very minimal cost. And now that the Fire Escape Kickstarter campaign has ended, we will plan to make an initial production run of 10-15K units.

How did you launch the Kickstarter campaign?

For the Fire Escape, we knew that Kickstarter was critical for launching the product. KS provides the ability to test the market with a new product and also minimizes risk. Crowdfunding platforms make it possible for individuals or small businesses to no longer seek out VC groups to fund an idea. I feel there is a place for VC investment, but platforms like KS provide another avenue for entrepreneurs to develop ideas. This platform provides more options for startups to try before being “forced” into an early equity sharing.

We don’t have a tiny social media following and because we have experienced other successful KS campaigns, we were able to reach out to our audience and let them know this new Fire Escape was being developed and invited our early supports to join us in this next journey. We also reached out to some industry experts and requested collaboration. Thru collaboration efforts over the past 2-3 years, we have been able to grow our customer email list to a modest size (for a startup). 

A few weeks before the campaign and during the campaign, we did our best to contact any media outlets that regularly covered crowdfunding campaigns or products in this outdoor/emergency preparedness space. We prepared a news press release and images for any bloggers and reporters. We have discovered that earned media is gold. It’s not always easy to find someone to take a chance to write about you…but the dividends are great when an article publishes.

What apps and tools are most important to your business?

Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are all critical apps/platforms for our company. Much of our product is best understood when experienced or demonstrated. All three apps allow for short video content. …as typical, email campaigns are the more effective ways to reach out to our audience and offer an excellent ROI. We use MailChimp for our email campaigns.    

For design, I use both AutoCAD and Solidworks. Both have their advantages. I can create several iterations of an object/profiles in AutoCAD in no time. When it comes time to create 3D models and prints for manufacturing, SolidWorks seems to be the industry standard. 

What are your sources of inspiration?

I love any books from Malcolm Gladwell – Tipping Point and Outliers comes to mind

Podcasts: Freakonomics, NPR’s How I Built This and Planet Money 

I always find a golden nugget in these readings or listens. Sometimes, I will share these insights with other entrepreneurs if I feel the information will be useful for their circumstances.

I also love the radical idea of the American Dream. I have had several conversions about white privilege, my minority status, and how ultimately the odds are stacked against me. Honestly, I feel this is mostly garbage. I believe strongly in this country that every individual is limited only by him or herself regardless of race or religion…and that every opportunity is obtainable.

I am also a God fearing man. Yes, I pray like it all depends on God, but also get up off my knees and work like it all depends on me. On a personal note, once I have achieved financial freedom, my plan is to dedicate much of my time with my bride in service work for my fellow man, because this is part of my American Dream. This is my paradigm and it drives me. God Bless America.

What’s been the biggest business challenge you’ve overcome?

The biggest challenge for my business is marketing …to me, it’s a dark magic that is claimed to be understood by every other individual that I bump into at tradeshows. Many have explained that I should only trust them for all marketing voodoo efforts. A pot of gold awaits if I simply commit to this person that I met 10 minutes ago who does not fully understand my product or my background.

I find myself reading countless forums and getting advice from every walk of life. I get that marketing works…but it’s definitely a science that I have not mastered. I also prefer grassroots efforts, so banners ads to the masses do not really appeal to me. I know I have much to learn and that is why I love this journey.

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?

Know your why. Don’t be afraid to live your passions and do not be afraid to fail. Your why get you through hard times and will get you up every morning while others take the day off. You have two options for failure, you can either learn from it or get burned from it. Choose to learn from it. …and never quit networking. That next individual might be the cause of your tipping point. You are full of good a great ideas, the world just needs to know about them. 

How are things today and what are your plans for the future?

The daily grind! It’s always an adventure full of daily fires and grand vision. Our most popular product is the firebiner®. We have sold about 150K units over the past two years. I recently flew to Chicago and met with buyers from Gander Outdoors to show them this product. We are in current conversations with them for product placement in all of their 162 shops.

Ace Hardware continues to be a huge supporter of ours. We are excited to show them our Fire Escape now that our Kickstarter campaign just ended. Below is an image showing the similarities and differences between the two fire-starting carabiners. We also have a couple more camping and survival gear products in the works. We are making prototypes right now and hope to launch at the beginning of the year. We know that the secret to success in this industry is quality and product innovation.

In addition, we recognize that without the great outdoors we would not have a business. We know it is important to giveback when possible. We have partnered up with Public Land Alliance (PLA). They help bring awareness and stewardship for our public lands. To learn more about PLA please check out their website here: https://www.publiclandsalliance.org/home

Where can we learn more?

Website: www.OutdoorElement.com
Facebook: TheOutdoorElement
Instagram: Outdoor.Element
YouTube: Outdoor Element

You can find the Indiegogo for the Fire Escape here!

Email: [email protected] 

We are not currently looking for any partners, however I think it would be a mistake if a serious firm approached us and we did not entertain the conversation.

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