Back in June I spoke with Chris Higham about his creation; Higham Whiskyboards. It still is one of my favourite interviews yet as we battled phone reception as he trekked across Sweden and I sat calmly on the sofa in my office taking notes.
Now all his hard work, aided by a highly successful Kickstarter campaign has come to fruition and I caught up with him again to see how the journey had been, here’s what he had to say:
Bringing Higham Whiskyboards to market has been a long, fulfilling and challenging journey. It started when I was studying product design ten years ago in Edinburgh. We were taught to keep a notebook on us at all times to scribble down fleeting ideas we had on the bus or in the middle of the night for example. This was one such idea and about seven years later I finally acted upon it and made one for my Dad’s 60th birthday.
I wanted to give him something a little different to the standard, albeit highly appreciated, bottle of whisky or golfing gadget. Instead I spent months making him a Whiskyboard out of cherry wood. It was huge at 70cm diameter, and thin, but it was well received and gave us a good excuse to dig out those long-forgotten-about malts and sit late into the night comparing them slowly in turn.
A couple years went by and almost everyone who had joined us on these “Whisky Nights In” had asked if I could make them one. Over time I did start to wonder if people outside Aberden might even be interested in one? It is a fairly abstract idea and is more about the social experience it creates and the encouragement it gives to non-whisky connoisseurs to feel involved. Personally I am no whisky expert, I just really like whisky!
What I like is to sit and listen to those with fine tuned taste buds talking about the whisky, learn where it’s from and the story behind making it. Then we take a sip and appreciate more than just the flavor behind the dram in our hands. If nobody knows then we get the book out and read what Michael Jackson had to say about it. Then of course we pour another.
I often get asked why I chose Kickstarter as a launching platform for Higham Whiskyboards. There are a couple of reasons. Firstly it tested whether there was a world market demand for my idea or whether it was never meant to leave the city limits of Aberdeen.
It was encouraging to have some support from my friends on the campaign, but I was also excited to see that 93% of the backers were complete strangers and from places such as Australia, Singapore, USA, Canada, Barbados, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and of course as close to home as just down the road in Aberdeen.
The second reason I chose crowd-funding was because I see that we live in a beautiful moment right now where anyone can have an idea, sketch it up, prototype it, source factories online and fund it all without private investment or bank loans; just by using crowd-funding. If you have the will and energy to go the long way you can keep control of 100% of your small startup and really create what you intended to make. For me this meant I could stick to my idealistic beliefs and use only sustainably sourced oak and avoid all use of plastics in the packaging. I want to make old-fashioned products that are built to last, not for future landfill, and give design and environmental impact more room at the table than return-on-investment.
It’s a tricky balance and luckily I have the support of my parents on the book keeping and business side of things. We are a very small operation and we manufacture in tiny batches of hundreds, not thousands, so we don’t yet benefit from economies of scale. There is also the costs of oak and luxury packaging and all the other things that may go unnoticed by many, but will be appreciated by a few and that’s enough of an incentive for me.
The Kickstarter campaign ran May through June and the support we received was phenomenal.
Our backers not only risked their hard earned cash on a product they had no guarantee of ever seeing, but they were also in constant communication with us, sharing ideas and creating a little community around Higham Whiskyboards. It really has evolved in a beautiful way. Greg at GreatDrams was backer number 48 and we were honoured to receive the support of such a dedicated whisky enthusiast [Editor note: aww, blushing]. The comments we also saw on Twitter and Facebook were heart warming and it was reassuring to know that what we were building was exciting whisky lovers out and not just our own small household.
The campaign was a success and as soon as we cleared the funding target we gave the green light to the factory. I had already spent 9 months working with them on samples, trying different techniques, sizes, shapes and materials. So everything was in place and that is when we got the news from our packaging factory that they were doubling their price.
This was frustrating as contracts were in place, the price tag was already sky high and it was extremely hard to find a factory that could actually build what we had had designed. As a matter of principle though we put our boots on again and in six weeks had sourced another factory and redesigned everything to deliver what we now like to think of as Higham Whiskyboards packaging 2.0. It came sooner than expected and was a marked improvement upon our initial designs.
It’s now November 2014 and we finally have everything together in its beautiful packaging with our distributor in West Lothian, Scotland.
Every single order from Kickstarter and our own website has been fulfilled and we are officially open for business. We can only hope that it proves as popular a gift idea this Christmas as it did three years ago for my father’s 60th. A few people have started to notice us and orders have started to flow, so I’d like to raise a glass to each and every person who backed us on this journey!
I wish you many great social nights at your Higham Whiskyboards!