Mobility

The XS Powercard: a crowdfunding story

The XS Powercard can charge your devices and provide portable storage. Learn about the development and crowdfunding process that is bringing it to the public.

I wrote an article last month on how to keep your mobile devices fueled on the go, covering several portable recharging options. Since then I've discovered an upcoming product by Xyra almost ready for release (available June 26) called the XS Powercard which can provide both power and storage, all in a tiny package that fits inside your wallet.

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The concept is straightforward; the Powercard can be charged up then used as a reserve power source for your Android or Apple device (you need to specify which type at purchase time), offering 2200 mAh of battery capacity as well as an 8, 16 or 32 Gb flash drive.

What is mAh?

mAh represents "Milliamp Hours." This is a unit for measuring electric power over time and in this context refers to the total amount of energy a battery can store at once. As a point of reference, my Samsung Galaxy S3 came with a 2100 mAh battery, and the iPhone 5S shipped with a 1560 mAh battery, meaning the XS Powercard can provide each with at least a full recharge (in the case of the iPhone approximately 1.5 charges).

The Powercard can also be connected to a power source then charge your smartphone and itself in sequence, conveniently ensuring that it is fully ready for use. It also offers middleman data transfer and synchronization between a computer and a device.

The possibilities of the Powercard are interesting, but the stories behind how it came about and how it's being funded are also worth a look. I've written about crowdfunding in the past, specifically in reference to Sohin Shah's Valuation App , which was brought about via this modern-day investment vehicle (and the energetic efforts of the app's creator). Lyndsey Gilpin also provided a nice summary called " The rise of crowdfunding: 10 things to know" here on TechRepublic last April.

Let's take a closer look at how crowdfunding works in the case of the XS Powercard to see how mobile products (and other inventions) can be brought to life.

What does crowdfunding mean?

In the not-so-good old days if you needed capital to invest in a product you had to pound the pavement, sometimes through unsolicited drop-in visits, hoping to convince companies, financial institutions or perhaps even family members to take a chance on you. It was tedious, manual and required a combination of luck, persuasiveness and knowing the right people. Those without the proper combination of these traits never saw their ideas brought to fruition.

As with so many other things, the internet changed that. Now you can start an online campaign to compel backers to give you funding for various projects - inventions, real estate, non-profits; anything that might require capital - and get the word out across borders and cultures. You still have to prove why your initiative is worthy and offer some kind of assurance to investors that they'll benefit from handing you money, but thanks to internet connectivity you can reach a wider and more diverse class of prospects with fewer costs and footwork up front. In short, you'll spend less "hat in hand" time and have more opportunity to develop and polish your product, service or endeavor.

Meet Indiegogo

The XS Powercard is being funded via an Indiegogo.com campaign. Indiegogo is one of the top 10 crowdfunding sites out there, according to www.crowdfunding.com. They offer some guidelines for newbies on how to get up and running, and their blog is also a good source of material such as how to conduct a campaign. Their platform is universally available to anyone, anywhere, to raise money for any purpose.

In terms of fees, they offer fixed funding ("great for campaigns that can only continue if they raise a certain amount of money") and flexible funding ("great for campaigns that will benefit from any amount of funding.") In either scenario Indiegogo will charge you 4% of what you've amassed if you reach your goal. However, if you don't reach your goal fixed funding means you don't owe them any fees, whereas flexible funding means you owe them 9% of whatever you've raised. The fees apply differently to verified non-profits: if you reach your goal they'll take 3%, but if you come up short then they charge 6.75%.

The XS Powercard Campaign

The XS Powercard Campaign is straightforward: it states what the product is, what it does and why you should buy it.

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I recommend checking the page for the latest details (which includes a frequently asked questions (FAQ) link and a "Stretch Goals" page showing their funding aspirations), but the screenshot shows the basics: the links across the top will show you updates, comments, funders and a gallery of images. They have currently raised $33,038 (as of June 12th, 2014) of their initial $50,000 goal (they also have "stretch goals" of $70,000 and $90,000, respectively, meaning they'd like to pull in $90,000 if the demand reaches that level).

Customers can contribute which in this case means buying an XS Powercard which will be shipped once the release date has been reached. At the time this article was written backers could put down $39 plus $10 for international shipping (required for customers outside India). Other "perks" are available which I'll cover in a bit. It's also possible to simply donate to the campaign through their page to help support it.

The stretch goals page shows a product timeline:

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This page also addresses a very important question (which I trust you've already wondered about):

"What if we don't reach our goal?

For many of you who might be wondering, 'What if they don't reach their goal? Where will my funds go?' we answer: they will all go into the production and delivery of your perks. The $50,000 pledge goal includes allocation of funds for expansion, such as hiring employees, marketing, meeting minimum order quantities to reduce costs, etc. If we do not reach our goal, we will forgo these expenses and put everything towards the production and delivery of your perks, even if it is at a higher production cost for us. You are our number one priority and your satisfaction is paramount. The total funds raised if we do not reach our goal will be allocated to creating a quality product for our Indiegogo backers. If you have contributed and selected a perk, you will receive it."

Talking with Xyra

I communicated via email with Armaan Gandhi, Co-Founder of Xyra to get more familiar with their campaign and what generated the idea for the XS Powercard.

Scott Matteson: "Can you tell us in brief how the Indiegogo.com campaign works?"

Armaan Gandhi: Indiegogo is an international crowdfunding platform that enables individuals, businesses, non-profits, or even ideas, raise money to bring their product/service to market. We require $50,000 to meet our fixed expenditures, including certification processes, as well as working capital requirements enabling us to achieve reasonable economies of scale. Our Indiegogo campaign is essentially a product pitch that anyone with Internet access can view.

  • If they decide they like the product, they can contribute to our campaign and help our product come to market. They can contribute any amount to our campaign, the minimum being $1. Our campaign offers different perks for different levels of contributions. For example, if someone contributes $34 or above, they are essentially "pre-ordering" the XS Powercard, which they are entitled to receive in August (expected delivery date). Other perks include discount coupons, XS Powercard packs of 2, 3, 4, 10 and 20, upgrade data storage, Limited Edition XS Powercards, etc., all at large discounts. These are described and can be viewed and contributed towards on our Indiegogo campaign.
  • We use the amount raised towards the remainder of our fixed costs as well as our variable costs to bring the product to market, and also deliver these products to our customers. This money will allow us to manufacture the XS Powercard on a larger scale and expand the business, while also delivering our Indiegogo backers, our first customers, their XS Powercards.

SM: How did the idea for the XS Powercard come about?

AG: Smartphone battery life is a major problem in the digital world. Scoping portable chargers on the market, we decided to come up with something that added more value than just charging your phone. The idea for a portable charger that fits in your wallet came to us while the three co-founders, Armaan Gandhi, Arzani Irani, and Sahej Sethi, were on a conference call and two of them had low batteries. We thought about the fact that we leave our homes with our smartphones, our keys, and our wallets. Why carry more?

The co-founders of Xyra had always wanted to start something together, and being technophiles looking to solve a problem, we did our research and wanted to design a device that was portable, convenient, and elegant, and added more value than the average portable charger. The XS Powercard is an amalgamation of a 2200mAh charger, a data storage device (8/16/32GB) and a USB cable, seamlessly integrating into your life by fitting into your wallet. Its ergonomic shape and other features such as single-port smart charge, variable charge rates, smartphone protection, are designed to make the consumers life convenient without them even realizing it.

SM: How did you develop the product (brief overview of programming aspects, milestones)?

AG: A great deal of thought, effort, and time went into developing this product. Xyra's co- founder and engineer, Arzan Irani, was the key figure in this regard. The development process began when he was in his senior year at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, FL. He had to teach himself to design something that we had all imagined. Developing the circuit board was the first step of the process, while simultaneously developing the design and look of the XS Powercard. While the former was done by our engineer, the latter required all three co-founders to come up with a design that allowed the XS Powercard to exemplify and carry out the following functions: charging, data storage, data syncing, while fitting into your wallet.

The first circuit board was 7.2cm x 9cm. Developing and researching further, he was able to reduce the circuit board size by 90%.

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Once the reduction had taken place and design of the body was complete on paper (aka online), we used 3D printing to bring the first prototype of the XS Powercard to life. Continuous testing of the circuit board was being done throughout the development process. We wanted to create this product with a decent size battery that gave your phone a full charge, but was slim enough to fit in your wallet. We had 4 different prototypes, each slimmer than the previous, until we came up with a size that could hold a 2200 mAh battery and fit in a wallet. The design of the fourth prototype kept changing due to thorough testing of materials and the inclusion of the data storage flash drive and built-in cables. After 10-15 versions of the fourth prototype, we decided on our final pre-production prototype, which you see on our Indiegogo campaign. The transformation is truly extraordinary. Our final prototype maximizes the use of the space in regards to battery size, data storage capacity, built-in cables, and fitting in your wallet.

The XS Powercard was designed in the US, and since Xyra is an Indian based company, the product will be assembled and manufactured in India.

Here is a YouTube link that shows some of this transformation.

SM: How long did it take to get ready for market? Any anecdotes/entanglements/trivia to share on that process?

AG: The idea of the XS Powercard was conceived in December 2012. At this point in time, two of the co-founders were studying in the US (Florida and New Jersey) while the third was attending university in India (Mumbai). In January 2013, we had the first functional prototype ready, while in August 2013, we had the final circuit board and first fully functional XS Powercard prototype ready. Hence, it has taken around one and a half years to get ready for market. This includes locking in suppliers, production facilities, product molds, supply chain legal issues, finance and accounting aspects, and marketing and sales related aspects.

A few anecdotes/entanglements/trivia:

  • Starting your own company is not a walk in the park, especially when you're still studying. The three of us alone dealt with engineering, production, supply chain, finance and accounting, legal, marketing etc. while taking 18 credits and having part-time on and off campus jobs. Time management and prioritization of tasks was key.
  • During the first year, each of the co-founders were in different locations around the world. Communication and dedication brought this product to life, and we learned something new every step of the way.
  • Since the idea was conceived, the three co-founders have not been in the same country ... scratch that ... continent, for a period of more than 3 weeks (due to schooling as well as preparation for our Indiegogo launch). It just might happen this summer.
  • If you're getting into business with a friend, you have to learn how to separate professional from personal. It's hard to keep in check your beer chugging, high-fiving wingman as a true professional. We'd like to think we've tackled this challenge pretty successfully.
  • You cannot run a business part time.
  • A support system is crucial: family, friends, and our significant others.
  • Excuse us for being cliché, but if you really want to do something, go for it. We were in three different places around the world, juggling school, part-time jobs, social and personal lives; in the end, we knew what we wanted and pushed each other to make it possible.

SM: When will the XS Powercard become available for direct purchase, after June 26?

AG: Indiegogo allows a consumer to pre-order their XS Powercard online, with an expected delivery in August. Our Indiegogo backers will be the first to receive their XS Powercards.

After the end of the Indiegogo campaign (June 26), we will move to pre-orders from our website until we reach the point where we can fulfill orders immediately without having to pre-order. The higher the demand for the product, the faster we will reach this point. Simultaneously, we will be looking at tying up with distributors in various countries that have approached us to expand the business. Again, the greater the demand for the product, the faster one will be able to see it on the shelves.

About

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

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