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Karen Wang

This is part 2 of our conversation with struggling artist turned dice-making millionaire, Karen Wang. In part 2, Karen shares her experience launching her first Kickstarter—which ultimately lead to $2 million in sales. You’ll hear about how she got into dice-making, what she learned, and all the interesting mistakes along the way.

How to make it in the dice business (Part 2)
How to make it in the dice business (Part 2)

How to make it in the dice business (Part 2)

Ep
135
May
26
With
Karen Wang
Or Listen On:

How to make it in the dice business

This is part 2 of our conversation with struggling artist turned dice-making millionaire, Karen Wang. If you missed part 1, go back an episode and listen to that first.

In part 2, Karen shares her experience launching her first Kickstarter—which ultimately lead to $2 million in sales. You’ll hear about how she got into dice-making, what she learned, and all the interesting mistakes along the way.

You might think raking in millions of dollars in sales is great. But what happens when you have to then follow through? How do you deal with such massive demand? And what other pitfalls do you have to look forward to?

Instant success comes with a responsibility. And Karen is no stranger to that fact. Listen to how she’s navigated the world of manufacturing and all the big challenges that come with it.

Hosted By
special guest
produced by
edited by
music by
Appearances

Episode Transcript

Greg:
Welcome to The Futur Podcast. The show that explores the interesting overlap between design, marketing, and business. I'm Greg Gunn. This is part two of our conversation with struggling artist [inaudible 00:00:36] bespoke, luxury dice-maker, Karen Wang. Now, if you missed part one, go back one episode and listen to that first. This will make a lot more sense when you do. For everyone else, enjoy part two.

Chris:
Okay. So, you're done with the season, you are looking for things halfheartedly, how much money had you saved up at this point?

Karen:
I think a little bit under $30,000.

Chris:
Okay. So, you have $30,000 in the bank and is that the most you've ever had as a fully formed adult in your bank?

Karen:
Yep.

Chris:
Okay. So you must have felt pretty good, right?

Karen:
No, I felt terrified because I didn't know what was coming next.

Chris:
Why would you feel terrified?

Karen:
Because I didn't know if I would ever get a job again. I didn't know if I would want to continue working there. My fear of failure and insecurity is I think much higher than most people realize.

Chris:
So melodramatic.

Karen:
Yeah.

Chris:
You have $30,000 in a bank. You're like, the world's going to end. I can't believe it. Is that really what you were feeling?

Karen:
Yeah, I think I was really worried because I didn't know if I would be good enough to get another job. I didn't know if anyone would hire me again. It was my first job in animation. I didn't know if I wanted to keep working in animation.

Chris:
Yeah. It seems like to me, thus far in your story, you're like a cat. You always land on your feet. I don't like Laksa, I'll go here. I'll go to SVA dev, I'll got to Art Center. I'll get a scholarship. Yeah, I don't want to do that anymore. Oh, you work for me, then you'll work for it. In your life, it seems like you always landed on your feet regardless of how impulsive your actions might have been. What is it about your life experience that tells you this is not going to work out?

Karen:
I think it's deep rooted in my childhood and growing up with the type of insecurity that we had when I was younger. I'm always projecting out into the future.

Chris:
Well, let's talk about that.

Karen:
Well, we struggled a lot financially. At one point, my mother was injured in a work injury, and I remember the feeling of not knowing whether or not they were going to take care of her, and then also realizing that I myself was not in a position that could take care of her. It was a very helpless feeling and I always had a fear of being in that position.

Chris:
Okay. You're living in Los Angeles. When say you guys struggled a lot, tell us what that means.

Karen:
We were on food stamps. I remember there was a point where we had to be very careful about our food, so it was difficult. I think I was just always aware that our family didn't have a lot of money. We would fight over money a lot. To me, in that sense, having enough money meant security, it meant that there wouldn't be discord between your family members and that you wouldn't have to worry about decisions like, are we going to pay rent and food or healthcare? Because prior to Obamacare, if you didn't have healthcare and something happened, you were in a lot of trouble. For example, I remember a distinct conversation I'd had with my mother when I was 12.
My mom had just come back from the doctor and my father was away in China, and she told me that the doctors have found a lump, but she hadn't been buying healthcare, and there was no one else for her to tell at this point, because there weren't cell phones, so it was hard to reach my father. As a 12 year, there's nothing I could've done about that. Luckily, that turned out to be a scare and not something life-threatening because she wouldn't have been able to get health care at that point. But I've always felt like I wanted to be in a position where I could help my family if I needed to.

Chris:
I see. Okay. So, you're talking about like, through most of your childhood, money was an issue, never had enough, compromises were made, and you may do, but there's a tension or friction around the subject of money, right?

Karen:
Yeah. It felt incredibly superfluous for me to pursue something like art and then to drop out twice and make all of these seemingly incorrect decisions because it felt peaceful.

Chris:
Oh yeah. Well, there's two sides of this thing. Before I go there, when we talk about like you fought about money, who's doing the fighting and what was the fighting about?

Karen:
In my childhood, it was my parents. They would fight about very basic things, because everything was a stressful conversation. We didn't have enough money. You didn't know what to spend it on. That was a lot of the fight. We had to talk about, do we spend it on this type of food? Do we spend it on this type of education? Is it worth it to let our kids try this new thing? Everything was a fight.

Chris:
Who was the advocate for sending you to school and paying for these superfluous pursuits? Was it your mom or your dad?

Karen:
I think they both wanted to send me there to do it. Oftentimes, I think when I was younger, a lot of times we'd go to free classes, a lot of times community classes. They may have regretted sending me to those community art classes, but I think my mother really always pushed for it and tried to make sure that I had some extracurriculars available to me.

Chris:
Yeah. This is a testament to your mom and dad, because as immigrant families are, it's like, you don't have a lot of opportunities and pursuing the arts, all these extracurricular activities cost a lot of money, relatively speaking, when you need brushes and paints and canvases and things to do. The tools, I mean, for a family that's struggling, that's a thing that you have to really seriously weigh. That's why I think people in the lower social economic strata struggle to send their children to pursue things like music, art, dance, any of those things, because it costs money to do. It costs a lot of money relatively speaking. Okay, so I get that now.
Here you are still like jumping around. I can only imagine how conflicted you might have been as a child, as a person growing up thinking, man, every time I make a change, there's an implication here that might not work out, and my parents, as hard as it is for them to support me, still support me, but I'm not exactly making a good case for myself at this point. Was that going on in your mind?

Karen:
Oh my God, yeah. There was like this constant feeling of being a failure because I'm using valuable resources when we don't have a lot of resources to pursue all these things, but I'm not seeing any of them through to the end. But as I evaluate how I'm feeling about things, I just know it's not going to work. Ultimately, what it came down to is, again, some cost fallacy. If I'm already using too many resources for something that's not going to work, using more resources for it isn't going to help, but it was still difficult to basically recognize at those points, this isn't working, I made a mistake. I need to try something different.

Chris:
Yeah. I guess the counter to all that is, how do you know it's a mistake in that moment when it could just be you just being indecisive? I don't want to harp on that. I just want to plant that seed because I know that our audience is thinking that. Was this so clear to you or was there some self doubt that I have a history of just squishing things? Because obviously there are people who finish SVA, went on to do other things and become successful. There are people who went to Laksa, who finished and became successful illustrators, entertainment designers, motion graphics people. People who pursued a career in storyboarding.
Were you that resolve in your mind that no, this is not me just switching again, because I feel like it, I have to listen to my heart, I know this is not right?

Karen:
I think all of these jumps within art. That was me trying to find a place where I fit, where I felt like the work fit me and fit the level of stability and security that I was seeking. I think the closest I ever came to work that truly fit me was basically when I did storyboards for motion graphics. I really liked the process of coming up with those conceptual boards, but I couldn't see myself painting style frames, which is, I think ultimately what a lot of agencies hired for. I was never sure. I don't think you can ever be sure when you make a decision like that. I only know with the knowledge that I had, I wasn't happy, which means that I wasn't putting my all into it.
There's no way that I can compete in such a hyper competitive field when there are incredibly talented people putting their all into it, loving it and breathing it.

Chris:
Okay. Fair enough. Let's jump back. You're done with cartoon network, you have this fear like you're never going to work again for some reason. What do you do in that time? I think you were mentioning like you were anxious getting depressed, and some of your friends said, Karen, you need to calm your nerve down. Let's go play some games, right? So, you're immersed in this world of Dungeons & Dragons, which I hadn't known at that time, but it was making a resurgence in America and in the world.
A game that I played as a child that I played with some sense of shame, because if kids found out about it at school, it meant that that was a source for them to tease and pick on you because it's a super nerdy thing to do. And here there's this kind of resurgence and you're in the RPG world again, the tabletop games.

Karen:
First, I want to say, we're finally cool now. It just [crosstalk 00:10:35].

Chris:
Are we? Just want to make sure, the nerds don't get to write the rules and say, hey, we cool.

Karen:
I'm very excited that all of this has hit the mainstream and so many people are getting to enjoy it openly. Yeah. During that time, basically I was really struggling. There was a ton of stuff also happening in my personal life that was very destabilizing. I had gone through a very, very painful breakup, and basically some of my friends realized, oh, Karen is in a bad place. Let's ask her to do something, but I was in such a bad place, I would constantly cancel or avoid them because socializing took so much effort.
Finally, this guy is actually my roommate now, I canceled on him, I think something like three or four times in a row, and finally he said, "Hey, Karen, for my birthday, we're going to play Dungeons & Dragons. I want you to come." At that point, I had canceled on him so many times that basically I couldn't cancel again on him on his birthday. So, I got up, I got myself ready and I went there and I played and I had a good time, and he kept that game going. So, that group would consistently meet up. I think really having a group of people to interact with where there wasn't all of this pressure on work, I think it pulled me a little bit out of my depression enough for me to at least remove some of the inertia that was in my way.

Chris:
Okay. So, now you're a Dungeons & Dragons geek. Okay, so you're doing this thing and then you're like, hey there's probably something more you can do with this Dice, because I mean, there's levels to the Dice game but the levels aren't that high, and you become fascinated with Dice and then you don't know anything about it, but then you start to learn how to make molds, and you're deep into the culture at this point.

Karen:
Yeah, and a big part of that is that basically anytime I become a fan of something, I become just sucked into it, I become obsessed with it. So, I really wanted these guys to exist and I didn't really see people making dice like it at the time. I basically just started brute force experimenting. I think if you can remember when I worked with you on storyboards with Sharpies, I wasn't great at visualizing out what I wanted, but what I would do is I would brute force, just draw through stacks and stacks of Post-it notes until I got the exact frame that I wanted. My process for creating dyes was very similar. I would just do a ton of experiments.

Chris:
Okay. Now, for people who don't play Dungeons & Dragons, how many different dice or die are there?

Karen:
The core group is comprised of seven dice. There is a 20 sided die, which is basically, I think the face character. You have a D12, D10, a D percentage. Those two both have 10 sides each, and together you roll a number from one to 100. You have a D8, a D6 and a D4, so seven pieces.

Chris:
Seven pieces, and they're typically solid color. The edges are rounded because it's cheaper to make them that way and they're pretty bland and generic. What is the kind of dice that you had envisioned in your mind that you're like, you know what? I haven't seen these and I'd like to do these?

Karen:
I really wanted to put flowers and dice. I really wanted to put glitter, more inclusions. I was looking at nail polish at the time, so I really wanted to put something called iridescent chameleon flakies. So, they are a type of plastic that's shredded, that's put into nail polish that creates sort of ... It looks like glitter, but you can't really see the cutout shape. It's not consistent. It's irregular. It was really just looking at adjacent parallels in fashion in nail polish and jewelry, and kind of bringing that aesthetic over into dice. I wanted something that spoke to me. It was a little bit more feminine, I think.

Chris:
Yeah. Well, it is very feminine because as you described this, I was like, there's no way I would come up with that because I'm not really into flowers and glitter and nail polish. So, it's definitely you bringing your perspective, your lens, and infusing it with something that people have taken for granted like, this is the way it's supposed to be. So, you're experimenting with all this stuff. Now, I remember something, because you were telling me, you were like, hey, I got an idea for a Kickstarter project. I was like, okay, Karen, we've seen you dabble in so many things before. This is yet another thing that you're going to try. Okay, so when you tell me this, I'm going to tell you honestly, what I was thinking. I was like, oh, for every successful Kickstarter project, there's a graveyard of unsuccessful ones.
I've heard this before. I'm going to be honest with you, heard this before, where somebody sees someone else having success and they try it too, and they're like, oh, it didn't work out. What I wanted to do with you is to say, Karen, test your idea, validate it, but go quick, because I don't want you to like end up seven, eight, nine months later brokenhearted to say, like, it didn't work out. I was really pushing for you to like, hey, I don't know anything about this world, I don't know if it works or not. I'm not following this, but just go get it done. Is that how you remember the conversation?

Karen:
I do. I remember you said that what you're offering is a commodity. There is nothing that is going to keep people from copying you. You need to get this out into the market and test that idea, and I got to work.

Chris:
Yes, you did. And worked you did. So, you started making dice. You figured out how to come up with certain formulas and recipes. If people don't know, you should look up Dispel Dice, she has an account on Instagram, and you'll see exactly what we're talking about. They do look like little pieces of resin jewelry, if I could say that. Some look like precious stones, but they're kind of everything that you could think of for fantasy role-play, and although it was from this place that was inspired by nail polish and fashion and glitter and flowers, as a man, I look and I'm like, I don't know why somebody didn't make these things before, because they look amazing.
I'd love to roll up to my next Dungeons & Dragons game and just say, check these bad boys out. Bring me a little extra luck in the game. But they are beautiful. They're very eye-catching in the way that light bounces around them. You almost feel guilty for playing with them, but they're really, really cool.

Karen:
Ah, shucks, thank you.

Chris:
Yeah. Okay. Let's build up the story now, let's move it a little quickly. From the point in time in which you commit to this idea of I'm going to go make dice and do a Kickstarter project, how long did it take before you actually got your campaign together and launched?

Karen:
Okay. This I actually wrote down, because as we can tell from this conversation, dates are not my strong point, or memorizing anything really.

Chris:
Facts and figures, not my strong suit.

Karen:
I have a lot of weaknesses. In fact, most things, if you throw a dart, it's going to be a weakness. I purchased resin and silicone for the first time in January, 2019. I actually pulled up my credit card history to buying that.

Chris:
Good, so this is all fact-based.

Karen:
That is also coincidentally, when I started to gain weight and lose muscle mass. I don't know if that's correlated, but I became pretty obsessive. I began posting on Instagram on March 6th, 2019. I posted on Twitter, I believe a week later in March, 2019. I had my first sample sale of a few sets testing the quality on October 30th, 2019. It sold out instantly. It was a bloodbath and people were very upset with me. I was very sorry that it was ...

Chris:
So, you sold out super fast.

Karen:
Yeah. I was worried the site was going to crash. The Kickstarter launch date was November 6th, 2019. We are a bit behind because of coronavirus. The fulfillment date was November-

Chris:
Wait, wait, hold on. You're telling us part of the story terribly, I have to say.

Karen:
Okay. Sorry, help me out.

Chris:
I'm going to help you. So, you decide in January of 2019, this is what we're going to do, and you have some credit cards purchases that signaled a date, to memorialize the date.

Karen:
Yes.

Chris:
Okay. So, you go into this world and you're learning everything because you're ordering silicone and you're ordering resin, and all them parts and pieces that you can, and you're just going deep into this world. So, you're experimenting and are you showing off your products on social media?

Karen:
I'm not very experienced with social media. I start posting on Instagram on March 6th, 2019.

Chris:
Okay, hold on, March 6th. Excuse me, so that's like a little over two months or two months-ish after experimenting and making stuff. You started sharing on Instagram?

Karen:
I started sharing on Instagram first.

Chris:
Okay, makes sense. Yeah, and how did you take pictures of the dice at that point?

Karen:
My cousin had lent me a camera that he had received as a present for his wedding from his groomsmen. It was a Nikon D6 DSLR, and he had a few lenses that he was letting me try. It was a 50 millimeter and a 35 millimeter lens.

Chris:
Okay. So, now you have to like, on top of like learning the formulas and recipes on making dice, you're also learning photography at the same time?

Karen:
Yeah, very badly. I was trying to shoot dice with like a 35 millimeter. There were some issues.

Chris:
Did you have to crop into it really tight?

Karen:
Yeah. I was just right up on the dice, and I remember just thinking, why am I so far away? How come the dice looks so small? Because I didn't understand anything about photography. I was coming into it completely new. I also didn't really understand anything about social media. For example, questions that I asked my friends would be like, so what's a hashtag?

Chris:
Okay. You're doing it regardless. It doesn't need to be perfect, but you're doing it. I think later on, you probably realize you need a zoom lens or a macro lens, right?

Karen:
Yeah, at some point I decided, all right, let's just pony up and put down the money. I use an 85 now, which is much better.

Chris:
Gives you a nice adaptive feel too. I love the lens.

Karen:
Yes, it's very fu to play with. I'm still not very good at it.

Chris:
Okay. So, you're posting and ... Because I remember a conversation with you and you were like, Chris, I'm blowing up on Twitter. Did you see what's happening? I'm like, Karen you're not ... You are blowing up on Twitter. Holy cow. You decided to then share some of these images on Twitter as well?

Karen:
I did try to share it on Twitter, and I think the day I shared it on Twitter, I had a few friends retweet me with followings and it did blow up. I remember just messaging you saying, hey, thank you so much for encouraging me to basically make something and share it with the world, because that was something that you would encourage all of your students to do. I think I was always really afraid to put myself out there, but it was received so warmly by people that I reached out and let you know, I was like, thank you so much. I never could have imagined that people would be so receptive.

Chris:
Yeah. When we say you blew up, from the moment that you posted, when did you say like, I blew up, and from zero to how many followers are we talking about here?

Karen:
I think the first day we ended up, gosh, I don't know, it was either 6,000 or 9,000, I can't remember the [crosstalk 00:22:24].

Chris:
In one day?

Karen:
Yeah.

Chris:
Holy mother. Wow.

Karen:
I was stunned. I could not believe ...

Chris:
That's blowing up.

Karen:
Yeah, I couldn't believe that many people wanted shiny rocks.

Chris:
I know. My goodness. Okay, so I noticed something else too. You've been saying we. Is there more than one person at this point?

Karen:
In the company?

Chris:
Yeah, because you keep saying, we. We didn't know, we didn't expect.

Karen:
Oh yeah.

Chris:
Who was it?

Karen:
Yes. That friend that I had mentioned that had encouraged me throughout this entire process, her name is Susan, and so she was really with me every step of the way, along with some of my other friends. They were very closely monitoring this. I could not have done this without the support of my friends and the encouragement, because I had a lot of self-doubt. I constantly doubted whether or not anyone would even want these dice. I had to get past my insecurities and just keep posting it. Because a lot of times, it just feels like I'm spending money and sending it into a black hole working on something that no one else will care about. I didn't know that people were going to respond the way they responded on Twitter.

Chris:
You cannot know. I mean, as much as anybody's going to tell you they know, you do not know you. It does feel like that. This is just part of being an entrepreneur. It feels like a giant hole in the ground and you put good money into the hole and you never see it again, and that's why it's very important to get market validation as soon as possible, because if you're going to lose, lose early, so you can make adjustments. Right?

Karen:
Oh, I didn't know that, but-

Chris:
I was telling you that. That's literally what I was trying to tell you when I'm like, Karen, move fast. These things are commodities because somebody will beat you to the punch and you'll be, even if you started before, they'll just look at you like a copycat. You got to move fast. Yeah.

Karen:
Yeah. My friends really believed in me. I think that, that kind of kept me going, but there was so much uncertainty because I got to say, dice making is a pretty expensive hobby. When I was posting on Instagram, the first few days, I would be like, oh, I got five new followers today, I feel pretty good.

Chris:
Wow, five new friends.

Karen:
Yeah. It was just a very uncertain time for me because I didn't know what I was going to do with the future. Just because I have this validation from all these Twitter followers, that doesn't mean that that's going to translate to sales. It doesn't mean that it's someone who's really willing to put money down for this product. It doesn't mean that I'm going to be able to get this product made for a price that people are willing to pay. There was so much uncertainty.

Chris:
Okay. At some point though, you do start a campaign to sell some dice, right?

Karen:
Yes. In November, I launched the campaign on the 6th.

Chris:
Wait, wait, before then, you didn't sell any dice at all?

Karen:
I had a sample sale. That was one of the website almost crushed.

Chris:
Okay. I'm trying to help you with the story here. You're supposed to tell me about that part.

Karen:
Okay. I launched a sample sale so that people can see these dice in the real world. Basically, it sells out within seconds. People are camping for the dice.

Chris:
Wait, wait, wait, do you tell people in advance? Okay, the dice are going to go on sale, I have a limited quantity on a day and date, and so there are like waiting with bated breath?

Karen:
Yes.

Chris:
Okay. How many dice had you intend to make? How many sets?

Karen:
I think it was under a hundred, so it was a pretty small-

Chris:
That's not a lot though, a hundred sets. That's like 700 dice.

Karen:
Yeah, it was under a hundred. I can't remember the exact number at this point. I should have written that down, but it sold out pretty much instantly. I learned a lot about e-commerce that day, things to keep in mind for the future.

Chris:
What did you learn?

Karen:
I learned that, for shopping cart options, A lot of people don't like it when you have to check out through PayPal because it doesn't hold it in the cart, but that's an actually very expensive feature to have in a shopping cart for most small e-commerce sellers.

Chris:
Okay. Anything else?

Karen:
The entire time I'm posting, people are pressuring me to sell my dice. They're saying, hey, we'll buy your experiments, where are the dice? Can we buy them? Can we buy them? At this point, I'm basically trying to source manufacturing so that I can satisfy what I think is a market demand at scale. I ultimately source the manufacturing and decide to launch a sample sale in October, 2019. There's less than a hundred sets. It sells out instantly. People were camping it. They were trying to snipe it. I told everybody, you can only buy a limited number of sets. If you order any more than that, I will cancel your order immediately.
At that point, and a little bit before that, I realized there's just no way I'm going to be able to satisfy this demand. I think that sample sale made it obvious to me that I myself needed to launch this campaign. I had already planned to do it, but now the demand was there. It took me a long time to get market validation because I think that was really the proof in the pudding. I still was unprepared for what happened on November 6th when we did finally launch that Kickstarter campaign.

Greg:
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from Karen. Welcome back to our conversation with Karen Wang.

Chris:
Now, the sample sell, what does that tell you?

Karen:
It tells me that people really want these dice.

Chris:
Yeah, and did that get you excited?

Karen:
It made me excited. It made me nervous, but even then, I didn't know if the desire for the dice was going to be enough to sustain a business, because the overhead of running a business, even in my inexperience, I realized, would be huge.

Chris:
Okay. All right. I think, at this point, as a friend, I'm getting really impatient with you too like, Karen, I've heard about these dice, I've already followed you on social media, what the hey, get this thing up, see how many you can sell. So, the day and date are coming, and you keep assuring me like, it's happening, Chris. I promise you it's that I'm just getting all my ducks in a row. You set up your Kickstarter campaign, what date that it's supposed to go live?

Karen:
November 6th, 2019.

Chris:
November 6th, so that's just a month after your sample sell goes bananas, right?

Karen:
Yeah, few weeks.

Chris:
Okay. And what had you done prior to the Kickstarter going live to juice to get people excited about it?

Karen:
Honestly, I had just been posting dice experiments Monday through Fridays. I would miss a day here and there, but I was pretty consistent. I had an email list where you could sign up for updates. I think, at the time of the Kickstarter, it was over 30,000 people, but really a lot of it was word of mouth. It was on Twitter, it was on Instagram. I had a very small Facebook following, but I really struggled with the Facebook interface, so I didn't start that until much later.

Chris:
Yeah. Let's just talk a little bit about the social media posts. Were you mixing and making dice every single day to like post on the gram, or had you made a bunch and then you would just photograph and release them once a day?

Karen:
I was making it every day. It drove my roommate kind of crazy.

Chris:
Okay, fresh batch.

Karen:
Because at 2:00 in the morning, she would just hear me making these dice.

Chris:
Yeah. Okay, and if you've ever worked with resin before, it's a tricky thing to work with. First of all, the fumes, they're very strong. You kind of need to know what you're doing. It can be a mess, so there's a lot of stirring sticks and plastic cups everywhere. If somebody didn't know about it, they might think you're making meth or whatever. It's just lots of stuff going on. And you're doing this on the daily, right?

Karen:
I'm doing it on the daily. I shudder to think what my neighbors probably thought seeing me in a pink bathroom with respirator on, all these fans going.

Chris:
Yeah. Karen White style. Right? Okay. There's like 30,000 some odd people who are just ready to pounce on your thing. You're at the last minute, you hit go, and what happens then?

Karen:
I think I was so exhausted getting all of the materials, double-checking everything. I really just could not believe how many people were pledging and how quickly they were pledging. We blew through, I think, a million-

Chris:
Wait, wait, wait. Let me make this dance. Hold on, hold on. Okay, you're exhausted.

Karen:
I'm exhausted.

Chris:
You post, right?

Karen:
I post.

Chris:
I know how this is. It's like when I release a video on YouTube, I'm like, okay, I wonder how many people are going to watch. I have to hang out for a little bit, even though I'm super tired at this point. So, you let it go, and what was going on in your mind in terms of like, man, if this campaign were successful, I'm going to do X by the end of the campaign. What number were you thinking?

Karen:
I had set it at 20,000, because I think that's what I needed to basically realistically make these dice. I had hoped it would be more because I needed to have something leftover so that I could basically pay rent at the end of this. But I was also just saddled with so much anxiety and fear that no one would want these dice and that I would have spent a year of my life doing something that no one cared about.

Chris:
Yeah, that'd be heartbreaking for sure. Just to make sure everybody understands, 20,000 means you could fulfill the orders, but that's not a success. That just means fine, I met my commitment. I can actually make these, and if you don't hit 28, then it's not worth doing it at all, but you're sitting there thinking, it needs to be more. I hope it's more. What did more look like? I know hindsight 2020 everything, but in that moment, if you were like, oh God, if we could do that, I'd be really happy. What number was that?

Karen:
Like $100,000.

Chris:
[inaudible 00:32:17] it may hit a hundred grand, by the end of the campaign, you're like, dude, I have like 80-ish K to play around with and something, so that I don't have to worry about the next year, something like that.

Karen:
Yeah. It definitely hit that.

Chris:
Well, let's take it step at a time. You hit live, and are you babysitting this every minute watching it, or you go to the bathroom, you eat a cheesecake or something, you come back and you're like, Jesus. How did that work out?

Karen:
I had stayed up the entire night prior to this, making sure everything was perfect. I actually went to take a nap around, gosh, maybe it was 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. My friends called me five minutes beforehand just to make sure I was up so I could hit launch at the time that I had specified. I hit launch I'm incredibly sleep deprived, and then it starts.

Chris:
How does it start? I don't know what this looks like. I don't even know what it sounds like.

Karen:
The numbers just started jumping up. I was shocked at how quickly people were pledging, because that means they didn't even read the Kickstarter. There's no way you can read the content that I had posted, or even watch the video that we had filmed for it and pledged at that speed. But people were so enthused and so excited and had been waiting so long. I mean, I was really overwhelmed and shocked. I felt numb.

Chris:
Like numb in delight or numb in exhaustion, or where is the numbness coming from?

Karen:
I think both. I think I was just so overwhelmed. I did not expect that reception.

Chris:
Did you cry?

Karen:
I did not cry. I was too tired.

Chris:
If you weren't so sleep deprived, would you have cried?

Karen:
I don't know. I don't cry that often, so it's hard to say. Yeah. God, that's a lie. I'm a baby. Probably yeah.

Chris:
Don't try to be so nacho. We know you play Dungeons & Dragons and dress up for anime [crosstalk 00:34:14].

Karen:
Whoa, that's not public. [crosstalk 00:34:16].

Chris:
It might be now. Okay. So, you're watching the numbers go crazy. It's like hitting the jackpot in the slot machines like prrr, and the coins are just racing out of the machine. Okay, at what point, are you thinking, okay, I'm too tired, I'm going to go to sleep and the numbers just it's crazy, it's crazy good?

Karen:
I had a friend who was monitoring it for me because I needed to get a few hours of shuteye. I went to sleep, I believe somewhere around 600,000 and woke up shortly before it was crossing over a million, and I was on a phone call with all of my friends when it was about to hit a million dollars. When I got a phone call from my bank, actually at this point, and my bank rings me up and says, hi, Karen, I just wanted to let you know that you have negative $12 in your bank account and that you need to deposit some money. I think the only feeling I had at that point was just numbness.
I was just like, okay, thank you. I had irresponsibly taken out a loan on a credit card to even fund the Kickstarter as far as it had been. Basically, it was zero interest for the first year, but if it wasn't paid off within a year, they would retroactively apply the interest on the principal balance. But at this point, I was all in.

Chris:
Right. So, you had burned down $30,000 of savings in that 11 months between Powerpuff girls and when this went live, right?

Karen:
Yep. Just paying rent, food, all of the supplies necessary to be casting as often as I was.

Chris:
Yeah. As you said, it's an expensive hobby, and then you took on an additional loan on your credit card?

Karen:
Yes.

Chris:
How much did you take out?

Karen:
I don't remember exactly. It was under $10,000.

Chris:
Okay. This means you've burned somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000 to launch this idea of yours, right?

Karen:
Yeah, some of it was living expenses as well, just basic living expenses.

Chris:
Right, I understand. You have to live, you have to eat. I get it. Okay, so you're doing this thing. Okay, bam, it goes crazy, $700,000. You're like, I could go to sleep now because that's seven times more than my expectations.

Karen:
Yeah. I mean, I was stunned. When I rolled over a million dollars on the first day, our highest unlockable was set in a million dollars. I didn't even want to set it that high because I was afraid it wouldn't unlock, but they unlocked it on the first day, and I was like, well, guess that's it, no more ad-ons, no more things. All of my friends and I were like, okay, this is already complicated enough. Let's add zero complexity to this. We're not adding any new items.

Chris:
Okay. So, it keeps going and keeps going, and by the end of the ... Kickstarter, is it 30 days or is it less than that?

Karen:
It is 30 days. The first day, I actually then remove the November, 2020 fulfillment date and add in August, 2021 fulfillment, because I don't know how high it's going to go, and at this point I wanted to cap the number of backers that I received.

Chris:
Okay. So far so good. Okay, so by the end of the campaign, what was the total amount?

Karen:
$2,392,156.

Chris:
Then the backer kit in addition was?

Karen:
on the backend, we raised $877,070.88 cents.

Chris:
Wow. Okay. I have to tell you the other side to the story now, my side of the story. Okay? So that we have one kind of place for all this to be put together. You told me about the campaign, but I forget about it, because it's like, my attention span is not eight months long. I can't remember. I think it was Matthew or Greg or somebody, I think it was Matthew, he came in and is like, "Chris, you know what? Karen's campaign, it went live." I'm like, "Oh, went live finally?"
He goes, "It's going nuts." That's when I look at it, I'm like, wait a minute. I think it's two days old and it's already past a million dollars. I was just in shock. I was in shock. Because I think you and I might have lunch or dinner a couple of times between these moments. Like, what is it? A couple hundred thousand? Where does this going to go? It's a million dollars. I'm sitting there thinking too, that campaign's going to end, I need to put in my order. I want to support you, but I also like want to get a set of dice.
So, I put in my order and it just, it was torturous to figure out which colorway I wanted. You came up with really clever, super nerdy, geeky Dungeons & Dragons names. I don't remember them exactly, and you'll tell us what they are, but I remember like Dragon's breath or just like, it just sounded really cool. Then I knew then that, at least as far as I could tell, you weren't someone who was trying to exploit a culture, that you are of the culture, and you spoke and used language that I was like, yeah, she's legit. She's got street cred. I mean, nerds don't need street cred, but I get it. You're in it.
You're from this place. You're like a Game of Thrones pro fan. You're deep in the fantasy world. I felt so happy for you, and that I'd seen you try so many different things, and just to know that, you know what? Fricking former intern just is a multi-millionaire. It's like, what the fricking A? What am I doing? I'm like a chump here working for the money. This is incredible. I'm so happy for you.

Karen:
Thank you, Chris. No, really, you spent a lot of the time mentoring me and really challenging a lot of the things that I thought about and why I thought those things. I think you, in some ways, made me believe that I could go and take these risks and try these new things. I didn't have to walk the path that I thought were set out for me. It gave me the courage to try these things. I'd like to clarify, I am not a multimillionaire. I have to basically spend this money fulfilling the campaign. We will be keeping some of it, and hopefully reinvesting it into the business. But it's been quite a journey. I think if I had known how difficult the journey was from the very beginning, I don't know that I would've signed up for it.
Because there were so many things that I had to learn, so many ways in which I was not prepared, but at the same time, as a result, I've gotten such an amazing opportunity to learn and to grow and to activate those parts of myself that I didn't feel fulfilled when I was doing one thing every single day over and over again.

Chris:
Yeah. Let's be clear a couple of different things, okay? Because everybody can get caught up in the story, myself included, and just celebrate the success of a creative person fulfilling at least one of their dreams, which is to successfully launch a Kickstarter project. Not the amount, just to successfully have a project funded. Because like I said, for every project that you hear about, there's probably a thousand more that you don't hear about because they didn't figure it out, they didn't put in the work, or just was wrong product, wrong time. But that's not to say that the work is over. The work has just begun.
Because with all these orders that you get, it's a gigantic number of dice that you have to make, and you were able to make them by hand, but now you kind of have to make them at volume, at scale and do all these kinds of things. So, now you're entering in the world of product manufacturing, distribution, quality control, and all these kinds of things. I don't want to get into every horrible trials and tribulation that you had to overcome, but can you pinpoint a couple of key challenges that have happened since that fateful November?

Karen:
Yes, so I think there's a couple of things. I don't have any experience managing people or teams. I was a person who was responsible for my own work, and I had to make the transition into becoming responsible for the people who are now responsible for the work. That was a tremendous challenge, because I'm not terribly experienced as a person. Being able to teach the process in a way so that they could then teach it to other people was challenging. I think understanding how all of these systems interlink with each other was also challenging. For example, you have things, inventory control, let's take that as an example.
You have to understand the inventory that is coming in for your raw materials, how it gets processed, how quickly it's going to be used up, as well as making sure that you have the right things in stock at the right time so that you don't hold up the entire pipeline. There are a lot of technical things like that, that I had no experience, and especially coming from a creative background that didn't deal in manufacturing. Skills that I had to learn regarding legal, finance, administrative, taxes, it was really challenging for me in a lot of ways. I think that I didn't expect a pandemic to happen this year, and that was-

Chris:
Well, nobody does to be fair.

Karen:
That really caught me off guard. I think that moving forward, even just thinking about how to maintain this sort of beast that we've built up, because we built end to end manufacturing. Now I'm responsible for the livelihoods of the people who work for me. So, making sure that I can continue this business, continue making new products, and then also support these employees. I don't want to have to send anybody home. So, there's a ton of responsibility now that I think when I was launching that campaign, when I hit go, had not yet really hit me in full force.

Chris:
Everybody that's ever invested in a Kickstarter project knows this, it's a bit of a gamble. It really is, that most creative people who try to launch a product on Kickstarter mean well, but they're inexperienced or they're in way over their head. Even with experienced manufacturers, it can take a really long time to fulfill the order, an incredibly long time. So, we do it, I think, with the intention of supporting people, and sometimes we forget that we're just there to support them, and not necessarily because it's a way to get a product cheaper. So, these things can take a really, really long time, and I've experienced this.
It's almost like I forgot that I ordered something because it's so long, and so I've been on both sides, I've been a person who's had a successful Kickstarter and it's taken a really long time for us to finish our product, because we want it to be good. So, here you are, it's like 2021, full year. It's more than a full year now, right?

Karen:
Yeah.

Chris:
Yeah, and how are you doing on shipping products?

Karen:
We're shipping every day. So, we are behind. There were two waves. There was a November, 2020 wave, that was when all that waves products were due. Then there's August, 2021 wave. We are behind on the November, 2020 wave. It took us longer to get production set up that I wanted to. There were a lot of delays caused by coronavirus, just even shipping was a nightmare. You would have containers that would be held up. You would have things that would normally take a few days to get across the ocean, now take a few weeks. You would have packages sitting there for three weeks before they would move. So, all of that stuff really added up.
Now, I think we're really on the other side of that. Anyone who ordered for the August, 2021 wave should actually be receiving their shipping notice early.

Chris:
Okay, I don't know what wave I'm on. I'm still waiting for my dice, but I patiently wait knowing that I'm a fan, I'm a supporter, and such is life, and things happen. I'm sure you had to deal with a little blow back on taking so long, but I've seen some people share on social media, they got their first set and they're very happy with what they got, and I guess, they're gloating a little bit because they got their dice already.

Karen:
Well, thank you for supporting us. I mean, I understand why they're upset. It has been a long wait, but I feel like the number of people who have stuck it out with us and supported us through this time, it's just been incredibly touching, seeing how loyal and enthusiastic people are. Even a lot of the people who are frustrated by the wait, I'm still incredibly flattered, because that means that, even a year and a half later, they're this excited for the dice. That means a ton.

Chris:
It does. Do you have an expectation as to when you will be able to ship and fulfill all the orders?

Karen:
Yes, August, 2021 orders will probably be wrapped up by mid summer. So, you will actually be receiving it early. It's been an incredible experience.

Chris:
Yeah. Well, let's clear up one thing. People were upset at me because I came up with a clickbaity title. I admit it, because I want you to watch it, I want you to hear the story. Of course, I'm not going to say, a loser, nerdy comment, girl makes dice that don't work. Yeah, people are going to watch that video. So, I said, yeah, this-

Karen:
Wait, loser?

Chris:
Maybe I should have called it that. This artist becomes a multi-millionaire or a millionaire, or something like that. Okay, so let's talk about it. I think in total, it's a little shy of $3.2 million, if I'm doing my math right in terms of back backers, right? Something around there.

Karen:
My math is terrible, maybe.

Chris:
Yeah. I think a 2.4 plus eight is almost three ... Yeah, it's 3.2. Now, I don't want to put you in uncomfortable spot, but I imagine that after manufacturing costs and shipping and all that kind of stuff, you're still going to make some money, right?

Karen:
Yeah, we will be profiting from this. Luckily, I did my math right. I think a lot of Kickstarters, they get into trouble because they don't calculate enough of a margin for mistakes. Because I mean, just even if you calculate shipping wrong on this scale, you're talking about tens of thousands of dollars in terms of costs that you're going to have to eat. When I think about it from my experience, there is a tremendous risk whenever it comes to manufacturing, because you're putting down a lot of money, you don't know what mistakes are going to happen, where things are going to have increased costs that you didn't foresee, and so you have to build in these margins to absorb those shocks.

Chris:
Yeah. I think anybody that knows anything about manufacturing already knows this. It's just all the creative people who know nothing about manufacturing, who are like, oh my God, the margins are crazy, and that's just your own ignorance. Just take the fashion industry, go do some research, and then you'll come back and say, oh, I see. Fashion has tremendous markup for these reasons. Returns, defects overruns, underruns, all kinds of issues. They have to. That's how they can barely survive. What did what'd you want to say Karen?

Karen:
Oh, no, I was thinking about fashion. Dice are one size fits all pretty much. But something like fashion, where you have sizing issues, let's say I order a small, not all smalls are made the same. The number of returns per industry can vary wildly as well. I wanted to have a really liberal return policy, and that's why I built in those margins as well. So, if people weren't satisfied, I could say, hey, don't worry about it. Here's your money back.

Chris:
Yeah, I can't imagine somebody waiting a year and then getting their dice and saying, I want my money back. That would just be crazy, but I'm sure it's going to happen.

Karen:
Most people have been very, very thrilled. Like I've seen them pop up on social media. I don't know. It's really warmed my heart when I see people excited about it even a year and a half later.

Chris:
Yeah. Now, I have now, since the story originally aired on our channel, people are sending me updates notifications, not even just about you, but about other dice companies out there successfully getting your funding, and I saw one recently, I think it was yesterday, for over $2 million, because I'm sure you're aware of dice that light up. Have you seen those?

Karen:
I pledged for those. I bought those. I have a dice budget. Okay?

Chris:
Yes. That was like, wow. Now technology has evolved, rechargeable batteries and programmable lights. Holy cow. I don't want high-tech dice. I looked at them like, I have enough things I have to charge. I think for me, the novelty is like, it's already over. I watched a video. I'm like, I'm done. I don't need that.

Karen:
I'm ready. I need it.

Chris:
Okay. I think I know how to end this episode. I want to ask you this question, and take as much time as you need before you answer it. At the beginning of this conversation, we started to understand this complex narrative that was being woven that you need stability, that you need predictable income for safety, and you've grown up with not a lot, and you've made a lot of changes in your life. I think it was a shared concern by your parents having successfully launched this and worked through what I'm going to presume most, if not all of your manufacturing challenges, what's the dialogue with your parents now, and how are they feeling about this decision to let their child dream and support you in your endeavors?

Karen:
I think they're much more hands-off now. I think that they definitely trust my decisions more. I still get questions from my mom about what dice are used for, what is D&D. So, a lot of questions just asking what this is, but I think they feel a lot more comfortable letting me take my own risks and make my own mistakes.

Chris:
Anything else you want to say about that?

Karen:
I think that they've always supported me, but they've always challenged me because they were worried about a lack of stability, a lack of security. I will say that, even though my future is uncertain, that I have all of this responsibility and I don't know how things will turn out. I feel more activated. I actually feel more stable and more secure than I've ever felt in my life because I feel in control of where I'm going, and I think in a lot of ways, I had to let go of the illusion of stability and security so that I could pursue something that would bring me there. I think that what I was pursuing before was a trap. I felt incredibly trapped whenever I achieved it, which is why I'd always tore it down.

Chris:
What's your outlook on life now? What's your disposition?

Karen:
My number one priority is fulfilling to my backers. That's what I build my life around. That's what I've lived and breathed for the past few years now. But after that, it's just experimenting, trying new things. I think I feel more comfortable with the way I've lived my as well. I feel comfortable trying new things, and I realized that it's necessary to grow. I think all of those decisions that I made that yielded bad outcomes, I had to make those mistakes, I had to try those things in order to end up where I am now.

Chris:
No regrets?

Karen:
No. I can honestly say that I have no regrets, because if I had not made those decisions, I would not be who I am.

Chris:
Yep, and I'm glad that you did it Karen, and I'm glad that you didn't listen to anybody and you followed your own heart and you threw yourself head first, and you made it happen. Like I said, I am very happy and proud of you in terms of what you've been able to do. So, you're a testament to that spirit, that if you believe strongly enough in your dreams and you work like hell, a little luck on your side and support from some key players in your life, anything is possible. I appreciate you finding the courage to share this story with me.
I think this story is like a year and a half in the making, because you wouldn't take the booking with me to tell this story, so thank you, on behalf of everyone who's listening to the story. I hope, as a listener, you guys found some part of this that you can identify, and I hope that this inspires you to follow your heart and your dreams and to make it a reality. With that, thank you very much, Karen.

Karen:
Thank you for having me, Chris. It's been an honor. I never really thought I'd be on this side of the microphone.

Chris:
You and me both, here we are.

Karen:
My name is Karen Wang and you're listening to The Futur.

Greg:
Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do, and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode, and thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes of that much better. Have a question for Chris or me, head over to thefutur.com/heychris, and ask away.


We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time.

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