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.
Who: Bret Wortman, 51, president and chief executive of the Damascus Group, a software development firm in Fairfax.
What: The Wrap Buddy, a plastic contraption that allows you to mount rolls of wrapping paper to a table.
Where: Jeffersonton, Va.
Raised: $2,042 (as of May 12) of a $13,800 goal. The campaign began May 3 and goes through June 2.
What’s the pitch?
The holidays are tough for Bret Wortman. His family goes crazy, he says, buying up gifts for Christmas, Mother’s Day and birthdays. And he’s usually stuck wrapping them all.
“Typically I would wrap on the floor — which means, unless you’re 16, you’re going to be hurting,” the 51-year-old said. “My back would hurt. My knees would hurt. And then, to make it all that much worse, my roll of gift wrap was constantly rolling off and getting lost.”
It was enough to cause a meltdown.
One day five years ago, Wortman couldn’t take it anymore. He stormed out of his living room and into his wood shop (a.k.a. his garage), where he fashioned a make-shift wrapping-paper-holder using two blocks of wood and two dowels.
“I stuck the roll of paper between them and basked in the glow of adoration from my loving wife,” he wrote on his Kickstarter page.
Every year, when the holidays rolled around, he took out his invention. “And every year my wife would look at me and say, ‘You need to sell that,’ ” he said.
Five years later, he’s finally following her advice. He has perfected his prototype and lined up a manufacturing plant in China. But first, he needs to raise $13,800.
How has the Wrap Buddy evolved since your first prototype?
Two Christmases ago, without telling his wife, Wortman bought himself a 3-D printer for about $2,000 and stuck it under the tree (after he’d wrapped it, of course).
He spent the next nine months learning how to use it. He played around with different software applications and printed out simple models that he found on the Internet: boxes, bins, a miniature replica of the Woolworth Building.
“I spent a lot of time figuring out the limits of my printer: How close to the margins can I get? How many can I print in one day?,” he said
Finally, about a year ago, Wortman printed out his first Wrap Buddy. It took about a day to print and assemble.
He has made about 25 prototypes since then, tweaking each one and giving many of them to friends and family for feedback.
“I’ve got about 15 of them out in the wild for testers to use,” Wortman said. “Family members, neighbors, people I know would actually use these heavily during the holidays.”
When his mother complained that the contraption was difficult to clip onto her table, he extended the arms of the clips to give them more leverage. He’s also made the product more compact and easier to disassemble so it can be easily put away when not in use.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work to optimize the design,” he said. “This is all pretty new to me.”
How did you come up with your $13,800 Kickstarter goal?
Wortman said his original hope was to produce Wrap Buddies in the United States, but that turned out to be too expensive. Just creating the molds for the products would have cost about $35,000 in the U.S., he said.
Turning to China, he says, ended up being much cheaper. The $13,800 he is seeking on Kickstarter will cover the cost of molds, as well as production and shipping expenses for a batch of 600 to 800 Wrap Buddies.
Wortman has already spent $20,000 of his own money on his invention, and says he is hoping his crowdfunding campaign will help him make the final leap to production. For a pledge of $19, he is offering his Kickstarter backers one set of Wrap Buddies in their color of choice: red, green, blue or white; $34 will get them two sets.
“I’m very debt-averse, so I didn’t want to take out a loan,” he said. “And I also believe that validation [on Kickstarter] is the best way to decide early on if your idea has legs or if you should give it up.”
But Wortman already has at least three loyal fans: His wife and kids.
His 10-year-old son recently took the Wrap Buddy, along with Wortman’s patent application, to school for show-and-tell.
“He was so excited about it,” Wortman said. “It went over great. His teacher even kept my copy of the patent application.”
More in this series:
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.