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Good ideas can come from anywhere, but great ideas are obvious—in hindsight.
When Kyohi Kang was living in a small, cramped apartment, he wished he could have a window that opened to a beautiful view. For the last five years, he’s been building a product that makes the dream a reality: the Atmoph Window, a smart digital window display.
Imagine looking out of your window into the beautiful view of a different country, or even peering into the views of the world of "DEATH STRANDING". The Atmoph Window connects you to stunning views around the world, with ambient sound as well.
Here’s the story of how a great idea became a compelling product, and how it grew from a dream into a Kickstarter, and finally into an ecommerce brand.
A window into a different world
The Atmoph Window is a portable screen that also provides ambient light. It even has a frame, like a real window.
The screen can be set to various views in picturesque locations, or even live stream from a camera on location.
You can choose to set the screen to views from beautiful countries like Spain, Italy, or Switzerland, or show the indoor view of a factory scene of Karimoku, Japan’s famed timber furniture maker, or even a coffee bar in Kyoto, and listen to the ambient sounds.
The Atmoph Window seems like a product that excites customers and drives word-of-mouth. When we shared about the product in our ReferralCandy Slack, team members were excited.
The ‘referrability’ of the product was also why it succeeded on crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and why Atmoph is seeing amazing results from their referral program—about 1 in 4 customers came in through referrals.
The truth is that the product took almost 15 years to come to fruition. It started when founder Kyohi was in university.
Wanting to see adventure
In university, founder Kyohi Kang lived in a tiny apartment. The only window opened up to an ugly view—the dreary apartment next door.
If anything, the view made him feel even worse. He wished he could look out into a beautiful view, one that would cheer him up.
Kyohi dreamed of a window that would make his world feel bigger—that would stir up the feelings of wonder and adventure in him.
Kyohi realized that his dream must be shared by many, especially in population-dense Japan but also for the people who live in cramped apartments all around the world.
The dream percolated in the back of Kyohi’s mind as he pursued his career, and then he finally decided to make it a reality and build the window of his dreams. He started the company with a fellow engineer and a designer to create the Atmoph Window.
He knew that to raise funds, he needed to present a working prototype to investors, so he decided to purchase an expensive 4K camera and fly to New Zealand to capture the landscape.
Taking pains to take
For Kyohi, it was important that the view from the window be as realistic as possible. If he show the investors wonderful views, they would be more likely to back him.
His plan was to explore and find beautiful views and capture them with his camera. But the journey proved difficult, and he even broke down in tears at one point.
Kyohi encountered all manner of frustrations and trouble on his first day. After driving for hours, his car tire burst.
He found a beautiful view, but it was so tranquil and static. Nothing moved for hours, making it look like a still photo.
Even when he did find a good spot, curious explorers and drivers would wander up and interrupt his recording of the ambient sounds.
With nobody to talk to and no cell reception, Kyohi felt the most alone he had ever been. He also felt the weight of expectations. The funding for his startup depended on the quality of his footage.
Luckily, his hard work paid off. Over the next seven days, he managed to capture 20 different views. He even saw a rainbow on the last day, which he took as a portent of good luck. Impressed, the investors gave him enough seed funding to launch the project on Kickstarter and on Makuake, a Japanese crowdfunding platform.
Growing through word-of-mouth
On the crowdfunding platforms, the Atmoph window was very well received.
The idea of a digital window was extremely shareable, and Kyohi managed to raise 20 million yen (~$180,000 USD) on Kickstarter and seven million yen (~$60,000 USD) on Makuake.
Looking back, Kyohi admits that he focused too much on engineering and not enough on marketing: “I thought putting our product on our website was enough, but that’s not true in this world.”
Struggling to build a marketing machine
Kickstarter was a great way to get the brand out there and collect pre-orders, but it was not enough to help market Atmoph.
The small team of 15 back then was largely focused on production, and they did not know how to do marketing. Tokinari Shioya, who works in Sales at Atmoph, recalls that they tried several avenues to generate attention.
First, they tried ads on Google and social media but because of their lack of experience, they realized they had no idea who their target market was. Their ads were not very effective and did not drive good ROI.
They had one last idea. They knew that their customers loved their product; perhaps the customers could introduce the Atmoph Window to people who might make a purchase.
As they were working on that idea, they found ReferralCandy.
Finding success through referrals
Referrals helped scale up Atmoph’s sales in Japan. Close to one in four customers were referred by a friend.
Tokinari also shared that Atmoph’s top 10 referrers were responsible for almost 87% of their referrals.
Because they are not relying on other channels like paid social, referrals are helping to drive most of Atmoph’s sales.
For Tokinari, the personal touch of referrals was most important. It helped overcome the perception of crowdfunded products as buggy prototypes.
The social proof also helps to reassure potential customers who may hesitate over the price tag.
Perhaps most importantly, the referral program is also helping to grow their international sales and encourage customers from abroad.
And, Tokinari believes that referrals will help Atmoph work with influencers in the future.
“Influencers are unlikely to promote products unless they can earn some money from it,” shared Tokinari when we interviewed him for our case study. “Having the referral rewards will help us to approach influencers for collaborations in the future.”
And to the future, Atmoph Window 2
Atmoph generated word-of-mouth through a compelling product and a successful referral program. This has led to the success of the crowdfunding campaigns for the Atmoph Window 2 on Indiegogo and Makuake.
Word-of-mouth has definitely brought them success. On Makuake, they raised over 50 million yen (~440,000 USD), representing 50 times their fundraising target!
From a tiny dream in a small room, the Atmoph team is slowly reaching more people and sharing more views. The Atmoph team has also started to share their journeys and favorite views on the Atmoph staff blog, appropriately named ‘Adventure’.
For Kyohi and the team, their goal is to share the adventure and give their customers a story to tell.