Welcome to On Small Business’s series spotlighting interesting crowdfunding campaigns, where we regularly  feature a new company or individual attempting to raise money through these new online portals.


Phil Foss raised more than $1,300 in one day for his shipping-container pen holder on Kickstarter. (courtesy of Phil Foss)

Who: Phil Foss, 37, a web developer for Higher Logic, an Arlington-based software firm. Foss is also the founder of Tyo Toys, a line of products inspired by street art and graffiti.

What: A desktop pen-holder that looks like a shipping container.

Where: Fairfax, Va.

Raised: $1,369 (as of May 5) of a $300 goal. The campaign began May 4 and goes through June 3.

What’s the pitch?

Phil Foss is what you might call a connoisseur of corrugated plastic.

Ever since he stumbled upon the ribbed material two years ago, he’s been looking for way to incorporate it into new products.

His latest creation: A pen-holder that looks like a shipping container.

“I was looking for something that was very simple to produce, and this is what I came up with,” Foss said. “The shape itself is simple — it’s just an open-top rectangle — and the ridges are good for hanging pens.”

He fashioned a quick prototype using a sheet of plastic and four bolts, and posted it on Instagram to show his 4,700 followers.

Immediately, someone from California placed an order. He bought 250 of the containers, emblazoned with a company logo for Built Rite Industries.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said. “It looked cool so I thought people would want it, but it happened very fast.”

After that, he decided to try his hand at Kickstarter. Earlier this year, Foss used the crowdfunding site to raise $1,561 for a Hot Wheels driftpad — a corrugated plastic surface that allows toy cars to “drift” or have their tail end swing out as they corner.

“That turned out really well,” he said, adding that he has sold more than 300 driftpads to date. “So I thought, maybe I’d do it again.”

How did you come up your $300 goal for the pen holder?

“I set a low bar,” Foss said. “I think people enjoy over-funding something simple.”

Foss said he knew he didn’t need too much money to get started.

He already had a U.S. manufacturer lined up, and the actual containers don’t cost much either: A single prototype is about $60, but if he orders 50, he gets them for $5 a piece.

He decided to set a goal of $300 to cover his first 50 products, as well as shipping costs. A $14 pledge on Kickstarter will get donors one blue shipping container; for $24 they get two, one blue and one orange.

“There are decent margins as long as I have the quantity,” Foss said.

But, he added, “selling plastic doesn’t pay the bills.”

For that, he has his day job as a web designer. Foss has a degree in graphic design from James Madison University and in his spare time runs Tyo Toys, a line of products inspired by street art and graffiti.

How quickly did you meet your goal?

Wednesday morning, before he’d even gotten his coffee, Foss sat down at his work computer and set up his Kickstarter campaign.

It went live at 10:51. Then he waited.

“It was a couple of hours of nothing,” he said. “I was getting worried. I thought, ‘What if people don’t think this is that cool?,’ ” he said.

But he needn’t have worried, Within a few hours, the donations began pouring in. He met his goal in six hours. Within 24 hours, he’d raised $1,340 — more than four times what he was seeking.

“I knew it looked cool, so I can’t say I’m totally surprised,” Foss said. “I knew people would buy it.”

 

More in this series:

Meet the composer who’s raised $100,000 to make music for cats

Pun-ny animal stickers

‘The Book on Making Money’ seeks, well, money

College for Wizards

A guide to brushing your teeth

Math- and science-inspired dresses

A Fitbit-inspired monitor for newborns

Donald Trump stress cube

A commute-friendly purse for shoes

Editor’s note: Our coverage in this series does not constitute an endorsement. For more information about crowdfunding, please check out this SEC Fact Sheet.