By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

How One Outdoorsman Turned His Love of Camping into Crua, an Innovative Crowdfunded Company

  • Launching products via crowdfunding offers a testing ground, a pre-order portal and an easy channel for collecting feedback about future brand updates.
  • The first production run of any product isn’t going to be perfect. The trick is to stay open to customer opinions so you can continue to improve.
  • Work-life balance is a challenge for any entrepreneur or CEO, but it’s important to learn not to take criticism too personally.

Derek O’Sullivan can’t remember a time when he didn’t love being outside.

“I always had a respect and love for the outdoors,” Derek says on episode 102 of The PR Maven® Podcast. “That stayed with me throughout my childhood and beyond.”

While Derek — who grew up on a farm in the southwest corner of Ireland — has a lifelong love of the outdoors, his relationship with outdoor equipment has been a little more complicated. “I found traditional tents to be quite uncomfortable,” he says. “A lot of the time, they’re either too hot or too cold or too noisy or too bright. I thought to myself, They don’t need to be. You should be able to have a comfortable night’s sleep in the outdoors.

And it didn’t stop there. Derek took that thought and turned it into action with the launch of Crua Outdoors, which introduced its first groundbreaking tent to the market in 2014. In his years as CEO of Crua, Derek has learned a few things about how to build a brand and community… on an international scale!

How One Outdoorsman Turned His Love of Camping into Crua, an Innovative Crowdfunded CompanyHarnessing the power of community through crowdfunding: build a loyal customer base and kickstart your entrepreneurship journey

The Crua team launched its first product with the help of a Kickstarter campaign and has gone on to launch six additional products using a similar strategy. Needless to say, Derek is a big fan of the crowdfunding model.

“It validates the idea of the product,” he says. “You know that you’re not trying to build sandcastles in the air. It gives us a chance to make sure  people want to buy it before you actually put it into production.”

Crua is so committed to crowdfunding, in fact, that they’ve expanded to equity crowdfunding, in which customers buy into the company with their orders. Equity crowdfunding is still a relatively new idea, but Derek has high hopes for it.

“Crowdfunding really has been central to everything we’ve done — be it people pre-ordering our products or actually buying into the company — and right from the start,” he says.

Derek shares what he’s learned about how to harness the power of community to grow your brand, whether you use crowdfunding or not.

1. Seek — and respond to — community feedback

Crua has found crowdfunding to be a useful testing ground and “pre-order portal,” but Derek also notes its use as a sort of ongoing customer focus group. The community built within the Kickstarter and Indiegogo platforms can transition seamlessly into a brand’s most committed and communicative customer base.

“The first production run is going to be improvable,” Derek says. “The crowdfunding community wants to be the early adopters and they want to have an influence on future designs of products, so it works well. They’re generally quite good to give their feedback.”

Customers often leave comments on product crowdfunding pages or send messages directly, but the Crua team also sends out surveys after each campaign to solicit that feedback in advance of future production runs.

2. Don’t take it personally

Like many entrepreneurs, Derek has struggled with work-life balance — and logging sufficient sleep hours! — since the early days of his business. He recalls late nights tending to crying babies while checking emails on his phone, struggling to shut down mentally and to separate himself from Crua.

“It’s hard not to take things personally and get anxious about things when you’re building out your brand and you feel it’s almost an extension of you,” he says. “But you do need the time to be able to tune out a little bit.”

While Derek admits he hasn’t overcome these challenges entirely with several years of entrepreneurship under his belt, he does credit his small but mighty team with helping him make progress. Surrounding yourself with a strong team, he says, creates the space for you to step away so that you can come back, ready to engage more fully with your community and brand.

3. Keep up the innovation momentum

With the expertise of his team and the feedback from his customers, Derek has led Crua to innovate on an ongoing basis. When it comes to new product development, “we take what our community says quite seriously,” he says.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced Crua to adapt some of its plans, but they still have plenty of exciting endeavors in the works — a rental platform for their outdoor gear, an in-person event in the Adirondacks (when large gatherings are safe again, of course), and a line of “glamping”-focused products. Crua will also continue improving on their existing product line.

“People are planning on a big outdoor season [in 2021] and we want to be ready for it,” Derek says.

4. Don’t expect it to be glamorous

Derek may be passionate about the outdoors, his customers, and the products Crua creates, but he’s also candid about the challenges of building a business from the ground up.

“Everybody, I think, looks in from the outside and they tell you it’s all great and you’re great and you get the pats on the head and the pats on the back and all that kind of stuff, but they don’t see the downsides of it, which means a lot of late nights,” he reflects.

Having reasonable expectations of the CEO experience can help entrepreneurs maintain a healthy mindset for weathering the inevitable ups and downs of running a business.

(And Crua’s innovative, climate-controlled tents can make it easier to weather all conditions, too.)

This is based on episode 102 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.