Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
We are Scribit – the team behind the world’s first write & erase robot.
What was in the heart of this success?
First of all – Scribit, the innovation, result of our joint efforts. Scribit is a vertical plotter that can draw any content sourced from the web and update it in real time. The intelligent writing robot that ushers in a new way of presenting digital content, makes it possible that you instantly reconfigure and personalize a wall – whether it’s a storefront, an office lobby or your living room. The second major factor is of course the people who constitute this passion-driven team – innovators, engineers, interaction designers, marketing experts. We all have different backgrounds and education but share in common a passion for creativity and robots.
Our team has come to the understanding that Scribit’s clients fall into 3 main categories:
- Art and tech lovers who are eager to have a new piece of art on their wall every day;
- Business owners who are looking for new outlets to interact with their clients, and finally,
- People occupied in the sphere of education (lecturers and students) who are after new ways of teaching and learning.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Scribit comes with some pretty impressive credentials. It was originally designed as a concept by the influential Carlo Ratti, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Laboratory and founder of the Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) innovation and design studio. He showcased the idea back in 2015 for an installation he designed in Milan.
However, the dream of a vertical plotter that anyone could install in their home or office had appeal that extended way beyond a single art exhibition. That’s what was proven when Scribit landed on Kickstarter in June 2018, and racked up USD 1.6 million in pledges against a stated goal of just USD 50,000.
All things considered, the best way to validate your idea is to discuss it with everyone you can engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue. People who tend to keep their ideas to themselves are normally not bound to success.
Scribit, which means “s/he writes” in Latin, stems from a long investigation of writing machines developed at CRA’s practice. This includes the installation OSARCH at the 2011 Istanbul Design Biennale, the façade of the Future Food District at Milan’s World Expo 2015 (selected by Guinness World Records as the largest image ever plotted) – and, more recently, UFO-Urban Flying Opera, a project in which a fleet of painting drones is employed to draw a collectively-sourced image.
We should admit that the idea is not new, but before us the concept was not developed and brought to the people as a finished product. With the indispensable help from our umbrella company, Makr Shakr Srl, leaded by Emanuele Rossetti (a graduate at UK’s City of London Polytechnic, with a PhD in Applied Mechanics, Rosetti has a strong track record in developing, structuring and executing big projects in public organizations: head of Overlay department for the Torino Organizing Committee for the XX Winter Olympic Games, CEO of Nussli Italia and securing and managing large construction projects for the Universal Expo Milano in 2015), a new team was appointed to bring the project to life. At that point, Andrea Bulgarelli and Andrea Baldereschi, currently Scribit’s CTO and CMO, were having their own start-up experience, as foundling partners at Remidi.
Further on, a whole team developed around them, which is what Scribit is now. Having based their future strategy for Scribit on the previously acquired knowledge in product design, engineering and marketing, Baldereschi and Bulgarelli took the decision to initiate the project as a crowdfunding campaign – as they viewed it, the best suited way to understand the market.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Scribit’s CTO, Andrea Bulgarelli, started working on the project in September 2017. His main preoccupation initially was to explore the idea of inclusion of all the features normal vertical plotters have, but combined in one product. Primarily, the innovation was in moving the motors from external hardware to central one – the main body of Scribit itself.
We are not going to conceal the fact that we are constantly taking wrong decisions and learning from them – we feel that this is a part of the whole process of having a start-up.
Another venue to explore were the colors. Upgrading on the mono color option, the idea of multiple colors was introduced, with the 4 markers that Scribit nowadays supports. The next step was that the desmodromic mechanism of the simultaneous functioning of the 4 markers was patented.
Another pivotal moment was to decide on a solution that makes it as if Scribit is “fighting gravity”, hanging on the wall on “invisible wires”. The team opted for Dyneema wires, normally used in the fishing industry – a solution strong, but very discreet. We are now picking the fruits of this wise decision as our visitors at CES Las Vegas 2019 have reported that they didn’t actually see the wires until they paid special attention.
An underlying motif throughout our whole process was that we wanted to use outstandingly high-quality components and materials to distinguish ourselves from potential competitors. An example for that is Scribit’s magnesium chassis, its spiral cable as well. Part of the main reasoning was also the circumstance that our backers would put Scribit on the walls of theirs houses, offices, etc., and we wanted the robot to be aesthetically pleasing, apart from functional.
Bulgarelli and Baldereschi were mindful of many issues that they had formerly been faced with during their previous campaign. They have opted for local Italian manufacturers for the main parts of Scribit and decided to set the assembling process in Italy too, where Scribit’s headquarters are.
Needless to say, finding the right partners is always one of the keys to success. When we say success, we are talking of course about our current and temporary situation, as we have a long way ahead of us, a lot of room for improvement and a lot more to prove. Luckily for us, North Italy is a good place to find partners to work with when it comes to metal and plastic industry. The excellent quality reputation that the products manufactured locally have bears the label “Made in Italy”, which is still a valid stamp for quality.
One of our biggest stumbling blocks were the markers our robot uses. Being a big part of the overall product experience, they turned out to be quite a challenge. Since we were not able to find markers with continuously reliable enough performance on all the surfaces that Scribits supports, we decided to actually create our own markers. That’s how the Scribit Erasable Markers were brought to life.
All things considered, Scribit is based on the know-how of a core team who has already been through the entire start-up journey and shaping product experience for Kickstarter and Indiegogo backers. That is why many of the challenges that we have faced were already anticipated, but frankly, it is practically impossible to predict all the drawback on the way. We were also privileged to be part of an ecosystem of partnering companies which were well-wishing and good advisors, and propellers for our success.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our biggest lesson and valuable insight at the very onset of our online presence was that the first thing you want to do is “tease“ people, creating a landing page where they can not only be informed (subscribe to newsletter, etc.), but also interact in their capacity of artists, developers, community.
Initially we were financed by our partners CRA (Carlo Ratti Associati), and our umbrella company Makr Shakr Srl – both, established companies with incredible track record in design, architecture and robotic fields. The financial back that we have received was the key for the successful initial take-off.
At first our online presence was based on website plus social media. Via the latter we managed to create quite a buzz. Our ambitious goal however was to create a community of people sharing our passion for innovation and embracing the idea of Scribit and what it stands for, to keep them informed and involved, so on the day of the launch of the robot on Kickstarter, they will be ready and willing to support us.
Andrea Baldereschi, as a young professional with significant experience and insights in the field of crowdfunding, knew that for Scribit’s debuting campaign the most critical will be the preceding 3-month period of hard work and laying the basis for the first crucial 48 hours of the campaign.
Scribit has debuted with flying colours indeed – in the first 60 mins the campaign raised USD 50.000, in 24 hours – USD 180.000. In the end of our Kickstarter campaign the sum total raised was exceeding USD 1.6 million, ranking Scribit’s campaign among Kickstarter’s 150 most successful campaigns ever. Upon finalizing it, we saw Indiegogo with their InDemand platform as a natural continuation to popularizing Scribit and cultivating a community of very involved backers. To whom we have a very deep sentiment, they are our Achilles heel so to say, the backbone of Scribit, the engine of the whole process with their support and even criticism.
Another important insight that we had was that you need to lay the groundworks, to be prepared with high-quality media assets (video, pictures, other marketing materials). It is really worth it to invest in top notch media resources when you aspire after proportionately high standard result.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Scribit’s official launch on the market is yet to come. We have recently completed our Indiegogo InDemand campaign, and we are at the very beginning of Scribit’s independent life as a product. The support by our amazing community and Kickstarter’s team, has unlocked the full potential of the Indiegogo platform, in particular the Indiegogo in demand, which was a continuous success, totalizing more than USD 700.000 raised and enjoying the support of over 1800 backers.
Within spring 2019 we are to deliver the pilot Scribit batch to our backers. Largely based on our Kickstarter’s campaign we have observed that 30% of the current traffic comes from existing partners, 30% was boosted from PR campaigns (interestingly enough, most of the media exposure we get, we do not pay for but was initiated by the media partners), and 30% was built by FB agency partners. We have also moved to e-commerce, with Scribit being available for pre-orders solely on our website. Currently, our main occupation in terms of e-commerce is to generate traffic to scribit.design.
Our main recurring revenue stream and a side project of ours is the App gallery. It has been said by Scribit’s inventor that the device functions as a Spotify for images (artworks). Scribit will offer users access to a broad range of digital content, structured around mini Apps. In this global marketplace, people, businesses or institutions – from artists, to museums, to media organizations – can develop and upload any type of content. Especially important is the role of the collaborating artists. They will be able to use our App as an online mini gallery for their works, which will provide them with exposure throughout the whole Scribit community. While a substantial part of the images would be free, others will be arranged in paid galleries, and the artists will be receiving a sum each time their artwork is selected by a user.
We are constantly working and experimenting to find new markers and inks to leverage full Scribit potential. While the robot is compatible with many brands of markers, the only precondition for their use being the supported by the device diameter, the ink of those could not be erased by Scribit. Our Scribit Erasable Markers, however, allow for this function. Also, we can continuously check and monitor their performance.
Apart from our own e-commerce, we are planning in the near future to explore the possibilities of partnering drop-shops, Amazon included. We also plan to multiple our presence via retail distribution, that being scheduled for the very beginning of 2020.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Frankly speaking, the path ahead of Scribit looks at times challenging, but without the shadow of a doubt very exciting. We are living the reality of the saying that “Hardware is hard”. We are convinced that having a hardware start-up is harder than having a start-up in any other field because of the numerous unexpected issues that you are confronted with due to the specifics of the field.
The entirety of our sales is still online. For us what matters now is not having a big margin on the product but rather bringing it to the people and developing an understanding of what they love, what can be improved. One of the disadvantages of the hardware product is that it can expand the market geographically step by step due to the certification requirements. Initially, we will be focused on the EU and the USA markets, planning to steadily expand as to finally encompass worldwide coverage.
Having said that, our short term goal is to deliver Scribit to our backers and understand their experience with it. To improve the performance where needed is the long term one, and while doing so, to expand our markets, stepping on new ones and being a recognized presence there.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We are not going to conceal the fact that we are constantly taking wrong decisions and learning from them – we feel that this is a part of the whole process of having a start-up. Fortunately, taking inspiration and stepping on the knowledge of a previous hardware start-up experience is rather helpful. Many lessons have been already learned, many others are yet to be, some are even retaken, but as Baldereschi summarizes his philosophy – “Failure is the necessary step towards success”.
Despite the comfort we took in what has been learnt and cementing it as our know-how, we are always aware of the existence of the valley of death for hardware start-ups, the moment where most of the young enterprises in our field fail tremendously. That is the time frame between the crowdfunding and the continuous sales – very, very delicate moment that can lead to one’s demise as a small and aspiring business.
Our advice is simple and probably quite obvious but we act in accordance to it – if you really want to do it – do it on 100%, otherwise don’t bother to do it at all.
Our biggest issue as of now is the timing, and specifically, the estimated delivery date that we have set at the very beginning, which is perceived as a hard and fast parameter by the community, while it is actually just the best guess that a company can do at a very early stage of the lifetime of a project. We have done everything we could to respect the deadline that we had initially announced, but while optimism is what keeps our heads above the water and helps us overcome limits and extremely hard moments, it could also sometimes not be in our favour when we underestimate some bumpy parts of the road and we suffer a minor injury as a consequence.
Among the decisions that have proved good was the determination that we should be – always super transparent and tell the whole truth, even when we suffer blows in our process that we would rather not be in the focus of everybody’s attention.
Another one is that we have invested a lot in designing a beautiful product, product with philosophy that underlies it, not just a “thing”, but internet-of-beautiful-things. We are in a way riding a trend opposing the mainstream trends – to create technology that helps you disconnect and enjoy the meditative process of art for its own sake, the pure enjoyment of creativity that resides in all of us.
Last but by no means least, what appears to be the best skill that we have, is the ability to communicate our dreams and understand people’s dreams. We didn’t just created a product that we like, we made thousands of people co-creators in our process.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We also use Shopify – our website being based on the platform, Slack – to communicate with each other, Streak – the CRM for Gmail, and as we joke, our Holy Bible – the Asana application, with the help of which we organize, track, and manage our workflow and create codependencies between each-others’ tasks. Lastly, we use the social media management platform Hootsuite.
We believe however that tools don’t make a difference if you don’t use them properly, in that case they are just useless. With us social media is a tool of immense importance itself. Nowadays, with the never ceasing flows of information, the only way to be remembered is to be constantly present. Via social media we are trying to let people know who we are, not only what we do.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
While Scribit’s CMO, Andrea Baldereschi, is largely a fan of growth hacking books, it was Kickstarter and Indiegogo that kindly shared their possession of ready-to-use how-to bibles with us.
We are mostly influenced by real life and real art. Carlo Ratti and his environment have always been a huge inspiration to us in terms of knowledge and creative drive. In particular, his book Open Source Architecture had a very big influence on our team and work.
We are also great fans of Ways of Seeing, BBC TV series from 1972 that shaped our ideas about aesthetics and the concepts embodied in the images.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Our advice is simple and probably quite obvious but we act in accordance to it – if you really want to do it – do it on 100%, otherwise don’t bother to do it at all.
In our specific field one needs to be really fast because the rhythm of innovation is crazy. Having said that, we would suggest that you spend some time trying to fill out a list of 10 Beta testers, those friends and colleagues that you think will be certainly interested and able to test your product or idea. If filling that list takes you more than 1 minute, your product is likely a niche product and you would need to focus on a suitable strategy. If, however, it takes less than 60 seconds, the product has likely the potential to be a consumer one.
All things considered, the best way to validate your idea is to discuss it with everyone you can engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue. People who tend to keep their ideas to themselves are normally not bound to success. You need to understand what consumers think, to be able to turn your idea into something real.
Another tip – be careful when picking the people you will be working with – it makes all the difference. The bad is not so bad, the hard moments – you can overcome easily, and the fun is multiplied time and again.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We have grown from 2 to 14, and few new positions with Scribit will be opened as soon as we bring the robot to people’s hands. Feel free to check the position available at our website.
Currently, we are welcoming talented applicants for the positions Firmware developer and R&D expert. Write to us if you want us to evaluate your profile, or as Steve Jobs said: “We are always looking for genius to tell us what to do”.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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