Where there's a Whill there's a way.

At Levaté, we love seeing the latest trends and innovations in the wheelchair space. In particular, wheelchair designs are becoming sleeker and more fashionable, instead of looking purely utilitarian and clinical. We think this is a great trend and we hope to see it continue to grow. Whill is one such company trying to rethink Wheelchairs.


In 2010 Satoshi Sugi was inspired to rethink how and why wheelchairs work through an interaction with his neighbor, a wheelchair user. Sugi says that the man told him how defeated he felt, how people viewed him as weak, crippled, and that he had even given up going to the grocery store less than two blocks away.  To combat these misjudgment, Sugi and several other engineers designed the Whill power wheelchair.


Their first version, the Model A, combines high performance with unmatched aesthetics.  From the seat sliding forward and backward to allow for smoother transfers to the moveable arms that you can position in whatever way makes you comfortable, the Model A is an incredible work of art.  You can control/steer Whill by using either a device analogous to a computer mouse or an ergonomically designed joystick. It has 360 degrees of motion and an incredibly small turning radius.  Another surprising fact is that each wheel on the front of the Model A is made up of 24 separate tires, which allows for increased maneuverability indoors and through various types of terrain (grass, gravel, etc.).


Additionally, Whill incorporates an Acceleration Management System that enables users to customize the speed that their chair moves through an easy to use iPhone app. The Model A can move up to 6 miles per hour and boasts that is has increased stability when compared to normal wheelchairs. 


The Whill’s sleek design and easy to use features draw in potential customers. You will have to pay for the option to use the Model A. It costs $9,500 but includes a one year warranty that covers all parts and maintenance that is needed.  Preorders are currently being taken and inquiries about purchasing a Model A can be sent through their customer friendly website, whill.us.


No one at Levaté has ever used the Whill but it looks like they are on to something! It is great to see a company that combines top-notch functionality with 21st century aesthetics. We look forward to seeing how the Whill performs and we wish them the best.

Kickstarter After Action Report

See our previous article for some context on the results of our Kickstarter campaign. We raised $13,235 over 40 days, falling short of our $30,000 goal. Here is our Kickstarter page.

After the Kickstarter ended, we discussed as a team how the campaign went. This article is a synthesis of this and other conversations and observations, with the intent of learning what we can improve for any future crowdfunding campaigns we run.

First, I'll say that we put a lot of work in up front to prime our network for our Kickstarter launch. This paid off: we raised $6000 in the first 24 hours, or 20% of our goal. But over the next 39 days, we only made $7,235 more, or $13,235 total.

In the spirit of being answer first: Our project was very early stage compared to most Kickstarter projects, at least in the hardware category, and ours was a product for a small percentage of the population. This meant that users outside of our personal networks were unlikely to contribute.

Were we to repeat the campaign, we'd do a smaller goal (perhaps $15,000) for less time. We would have used smarter outreach, getting introductions to second degree connections at media sources and potential sponsoring organizations. We also would have done this earlier than we did (particularly in the case of the sponsor outreach, which we started in full force somewhere about halfway through our campaign).

Big Picture

Our Kickstarter video was viewed over 2,000 times, so plenty of people saw it. However, we only had 67 contributors. That's a conversion rate of 3%. I'm not sure what a typical conversion rate is for a successful Kickstarter project. We could have gotten more contributors at the same conversion rate, or we could have done a better job at convincing those who did visit the page to contribute. 

Of the 67 contributers we did have, here's where they came from:

Social Media

In a famous article on Hacking Kickstarter, the author wrote that for them, twitter and facebook were the biggest sources of contributors. Interestingly enough, that was not the case for us. As you can see, Twitter doesn't even figure on the list, and Facebook was only responsible for 11% of our total contributions. Instead, half of our contributors and 66% of the total amount came from our website. That meant that it came from our direct outreach via email, Facebook messages, and the like. We know this because we typically sent our direct contacts to a landing page on levatelift.com, that then had a link to the Kickstarter.

On the other hand, our viral-factor was very low- no referrals from Twitter, and few from Facebook. We tried various strategies to try and jump start a viral loop on social media, to little effect. This included getting posts and tweets from influencers and media sources. For a while, Andrew Stewart got a series of high profile celebrities with millions of followers to retweet our campaign. Curiously, this led to no contributions.

This reinforces a general conclusion we drew over the course of the campaign: Few strangers contributed; nearly all of the contributions (especially in the larger sums) came from personal friends, family and connections. Just by doing a quick count of the contributors, I can say that at least 45, or 67% of our contributors, already had an existing relationship with the team before the Kickstarter. I think this is due to the particulars of our campaign: it was a socially focused project for a very specific subset of the general population, instead of a consumer project. It was also very early stage, and expensive for a typical Kickstarter project. This will probably influence our strategy if we do another crowdfunding campaign: We may need to do smaller campaigns focused on rallying as many of our personal connections as possible, and not count on lots of contributions outside of that, at least until we have a finished product. I'll talk more about that later.

A lot of what came from Facebook may have been from a series of ads that we ran over the course of the campaign. It's unfortunately difficult to say how many contributions ultimately came from these ads, but we know the following:

We spent $363 on Facebook ads, and the ads were seen by 32,000 people. Of those 32,000 people, 850 clicked through.

11 people contributed a total of $1495 through Facebook, but let's assume that one of those was a single big donation given by someone we knew who used a link we posted on Facebook to navigate to the Kickstarter page. Unfortunately the Kickstarter metrics don't tell you how each individual contributer was referred to the site, so this is a best guess on our part- what we do know is that all of the big contributers ($500+) were personal connections and friends.

That leaves 10 contributors with an average contribution of $50. 8 of the 10 contributors needed to have come from the Facebook ads for them to have paid for themselves.

So with 8 contributors from the Facebook ads, we would have made about $40 after subtracting the $363 investment. If we assume all 10 contributors for a total of about $500 came from the ads, that means we made about $140 on the ads. Better than nothing! For future Kickstarters, we may want to monitor their performance more closely at the beginning and make an earlier decision about their efficacy.

Media Outreach

We were disappointed that we failed to get more media coverage than we did, especially from local media. James Simpson of Goldfire Studios was kind enough to give us a lot of great pointers and feedback on how to plan our campaign, and he mentioned that something like 50% of the contributors to their Kickstarter campaign came from Oklahomans who picked up on the story via local news sources.

We would have thought that OU, OKC, and Norman media sources would have loved our story. We made sure to reach out directly to the relevant editors instead of the general inquiry email. We sent several follow-up emails. In the end only the Norman Transcript got back to us, and that was very late in the campaign.

The biggest thing we could have done to improve our chances, I think, would have been to do some digging on Linkedin a few weeks before the campaign to find a 2nd degree connection to someone at the news source, then asked to be introduced.

Kickstarter Collaboration

Late in the campaign, as we brainstormed new strategies, we decided to reach out to other wheelchair related projects on Kickstarter and offer to cross promote.

While the only ongoing campaigns were doing much worse than ours (think 4 or 5 backers), we went ahead and reached out to previously successful projects and asked them to promote our project amongst their connections and previous backers. Of the 6 or 7 past projects we reached out to, only 1 responded. I think he may have tweeted about our campaign, but he only responded to our first email. So this turned out not to be an effective strategy for us. We couldn't even play the numbers game and reach out to a ton of projects, as there just aren't that many wheelchair related projects on Kickstarter.


About a third of the way through the campaign, we used a service called Backershub. As the name suggests, they manage a community of thousands of repeat backers of Kickstarter projects. The idea is pretty simple, project creators pay to have their project promoted to this community through email newsletters and Facebook posts. We went for the $297 option, which includes a mention in an email newsletter among 5 or so other projects and two unique Facebook posts to the private group. The service came recommended to us by an acquaintance, and the online reviews seemed to be generally positive.

Unfortunately, I don't think our use of the service resulted in any significant amount of contributions. After our first post on their Facebook group, I realized that all the other projects being promoted were products intended for the general consumer, and were basically already developed and just needing funding to begin production. In other words, as I mentioned above, our project simply wasn't going to be interesting to their community of backers. In hindsight, I could have done this research beforehand, drawn the same conclusion, and saved us $297.

Launch Party

We had a launch party the week we rolled out our Kickstarter. The format was pretty simple: we invited all our friends to a local coffee shop, Second Wind, on OU's Campus Corner on a Friday night. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple people here. Jeff Rothman, Second Wind's director, deserves a huge shout-out as he let us use the space for the night to support our cause. Michael Petri also got the OU Redliners, an a capella group, to sing a small set to kick off the night. We showed our Kickstarter video, talked for about 10 minutes about what our project was and what we were trying to accomplish, and explained how everyone could get involved. Afterwards, we mingled so that we could chat one on one with curious attendees.

We had about 20 friends and family show up, of about 40 that RSVP'd. We got about $60 in direct contributions from the event, and I know one of the attendees there I spoke with for a good while that night later made a $500 contribution. Rounding up, our launch party probably netted us about $600. Not a bad return considering that we didn't have to spend anything to put on the event.

Business Sponsorships

As our Kickstarter started winding down, and we weren't seeing a high volume of contributions, we decided to try focusing on securing sponsorships from businesses and high net worth individuals. We figured that getting 10 $1000 or $2000 sponsorships was an achievable goal, especially as we had $5,000 from 3 sponsors in our first day alone.

Generally I'd say the same trend we saw on the whole held true for sponsorships: personal and professional connections were often very willing to contribute, but we had very little luck with a cold-outreach strategy. Of the five $1k+ contributors, 2 were family members, 2 were good family friends, and 1 was a business connection we'd met with 1 previous to the Kickstarter.

Some other business owners seemed interested in sponsoring, but as the Kickstarter was winding down it became less likely that they would contribute in time. I think focusing on sponsorships would have been more successful before the Kickstarter started, to give our acquaintances and professional connections more time to make the decision and work through their organization's bureaucracy.

One strategy that may have led to more success had we tried it earlier was to ask for an introduction to a second degree connection at businesses that were socially or philanthropically involved in the Oklahoma City area.

Wheelchair User Outreach

Outside of our personal networks, it's hard to know how many of our contributors were wheelchair users themselves. We did receive excellent feedback from several wheelchair users who contributed, including an editor at Disability Today in the UK.

We hoped for at least 1 preorder for the lift, which we did not get. It would have been excellent validation of the product idea. That said, we're not surprised we didn't get a preorder: $1,000 is a lot to pay for a product that you won't see for a year. I know I'm starting to sound like a songbird singing the same tune over and over again, but the early stage of the product once again limited the potential of our Kickstarter campaign outside of our friends and family.


Running our Kickstarter campaign was a massive amount of work. We're open to the idea of doing another crowdfunding campaign in the future, once we have the finished product ready and we're looking to scale up for manufacturing. It may be on Kickstarter, or we may look for a platform that's better suited to our unique project.

Were we to repeat our project, I think we would have done a smaller amount because of the early stage the product is at.. Discussing it with the team, we couldn't decide if we would have done a longer or shorter campaign. I would have done a shorter campaign, as nearly half of all our contributions came in the first 24 hours anyway.

I think we also would have front-loaded our sponsor search, and spent more of our time reconnecting with more of our personal network instead of trying to spur contributions through social media and strangers. I think we could have easily have hit a lower target just through our friends, family, and professional network.

We're unsure how the time of the year affected how many people were able to contribute. We thought that less people probably contributed due to the usual holiday spending, but another team member pointed out that some may have been more charitable and giving during the holidays.

If we do another crowdfunding campaign, we will put these lessons into practice with the recognition that having a finished product will also change the equation significantly.

Hopefully you can learn something about your own crowdfunding campaign through our lessons. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments on our experience!

Merry Christmas,

Dillon and the Levaté Team

Norman, Oklahoma

December 19th, 2014

Kickstarter Wrap-up

Happy Holidays from the Levaté Team!

It's been a while since we've updated our blog, thanks to our recent Kickstarter campaign. Running that and seeing it through has occupied the majority of our efforts for the past month and a half.

As you may already know, the campaign was unfortunately unsuccessful. The page is still up, though, in case you want to see it. Over the course of the 40 days, we raised $13,235. $6,000 of that we raised in the first 24 hours. Our campaign goal was $30,000.

Our entire team poured a lot of time and energy into trying to make the campaign successful! Our priority, and the bulk of our time for not only the 40 days but several weeks in advance of the Kickstarter launch went towards sending emails, making phone calls, and brainstorming strategies to reach our target. If only for the amount of work it was, we are disappointed that we weren't able to reach our goal.

On the other hand, the Kickstarter was a win in a lot of other ways.

First of all, raising $13,235 is nothing to scoff at. We are incredibly blessed by each and every contributor. And since we're still committed to getting the Levaté lift manufactured, we want to humbly extend the offer to our backers to still make their contribution, this time directly through the Levaté website instead of through Kickstarter. You can find more details as well as a button to donate on this page of our website.

We made useful connections through the Kickstarter as well, connections that could potentially have large payoffs in the future. This includes connections to business sponsors, conferences (Levaté is now a sponsor of the Living the Dream 2015 Conference- you can use the discount code "levate" to get $49 off the registration), potential investors and mentors, industry connections, and more. We were also covered in a significant way in at least three media sources.

Finally, we have a better sense for the mechanics of crowdfunding. If failure is the best teacher, then we learned a lot about what didn't work and what we can improve for future campaigns. We want to dive into the specifics of why our Kickstarter wasn't successful in a later post, to digest more fully what we've learned.

Regardless, the entire team pulled out all the stops to make the Kickstarter successful. I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish and I look forward to an incredible 2015!

Merry Christmas,

Dillon, Ethan, and the entire Levaté Team

Monday Standup: An Overview of the Week

Here's what the Levaté is going to be working on over the coming week:

  • We have several calls with product design firms from all across the nation scheduled for this week. By working with one of these organizations, we can greatly increase the speed of the product development. We hope to have chosen our top 1-2 potential partners to move forward with in our talks.
  • Begin designing the expanding base component of the lift, which has not been incorporated yet into our prototypes.
  • Tweaking the latest prototype (which you can see in the videos on our homepage) so that it is ready to be used in a Kickstarter campaign.
  • Work with a friend of ours (thanks, Emily!) to launch a Kickstarter campaign! We have set our launch date for Friday, September 26th, so mark your calendars. This week, we want to schedule a filming session for Friday or Saturday as well as get a brief to Emily so that she knows what to incorporate into the Kickstarter page.
  • Submit all of our grant applications. We have worked with a grant researcher to identify 9 total opportunities. Of those, we can go ahead and apply to about half of them already. The rest, we'll have to wait for their applications to open up. While it will take a while to hear back from them, getting grant funding would be huge as it would be in sizeable chunks and we wouldn't have to give up equity stake in the company.
  • Work with our potential investors. We hope to finish up the licence agreement with OU this week, and continue talks with 3 potential investors who have expressed interest in funding us. This means putting together and editing documentation on what the structure of the investment deal would look like.

There you have it- Levaté's week at a glance! Let us know if you have any comments or questions.

Until next time,

Dillon Dakota Carroll

Video: Levaté Weekly Recap

We know it has been a while since we last posted an update on what we're up to! To reward you for your patience, take a look at the 2 minute video below where Dillon discusses what the team has accomplished in the past 2 weeks and what we're looking to wrap-up next week.

As always, don't hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or if you'd like to be involved!

Dillon Dakota Carroll

Levaté Work Log, August 25- September 5

Since our last work log, here's been the progress we've made:

  • The newest prototype is nearly done! Good work Ethan, and stay tuned for pictures and video of it!
  • We successfully tested the size of the base we'd need for a completely stable lifting experience. The results were surprising- at 24 inches of lift, four 15-inch legs provided a stable lifting experience, and at 12 inches of lift, four 12-inch legs were more than sufficient to prevent tips and falls.
  • We've begun drafting the documents we'll need for grant applications. We'll also be working with Dr. Mary Isaacson at the OU-Tulsa campus, who has agreed to help with the case studies to improve our chances of receiving the grants. We've also connected with two professional grant writers who can help us write and edit the grant applications, as well as find more grant opportunities.
  • We've received a quote for product liability insurance. For a $10,000 annual premium, Levaté will be covered during the case study trials and commercial launch.
  • We've identified that Levaté will be considered a Class II device by the FDA, necessitating about $6,000 in fees as well as a slightly more in depth application, which we'll need to submit 90 days in advance of commercial launch.
  • Progress has been slow on the licensing agreement. We will be meeting the OU Office of Technology Development tomorrow to discuss the terms of the licensing agreement. OU is claiming ownership of the IP as we invented it through an internship program at the University of Oklahoma.

Here's what we'll be working on for the next two weeks:

  • Finalizing and filming the newest prototype
  • Working with our new connections to submit at least the two current grants we've identified through the National Institute of Health
  • Connecting with engineering consulting firms to get price estimates, as well as exploring new lifting technologies beyond pneumatic cylinders
  • Launching and publicizing a kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to fund Levaté
  • Moving the licensing agreement forward, and settling on terms that work for both Levaté and OU 

Let us know if you can help, or know someone who can help, with any of the above items!

Thanks, and until next time,

Dillon Dakota Carroll

Levaté CEO

Levaté Team Growing- Welcome MaryBeth and Michael!

The past couple weeks have been a whirlwind at Levaté HQ! Besides making progress on the items we talked about last time, we also had the opportunity to expand the Levaté team, as well as share our mission with audiences at 1 Million Cups in Tulsa and the No Boundaries Expo in Oklahoma City.

First, we want to welcome our new Community Engagement Manager, MaryBeth Davis!

MaryBeth, Ms. Wheelchair Oklahoma 2014, is committed to the health and independence of wheelchair users. She'll be beginning veterinary school at Oklahoma State University next year. In the meantime, we're thrilled to have someone as passionate and dedicated as MaryBeth on the Levaté team. She'll be coordinating and spearheading our outreach strategy with wheelchair users and the wheelchair community.

MB Davis.jpg

Michael Petri, one of the original Levaté team members during the Spring 2014 OU internship, will be returning as the Levaté Graduate Research Fellow!

Michael Petri is starting his Mechanical Engineering Masters Degree at the University of Oklahoma, and will be doing his Masters Thesis on integrating a wheel-powered component into the second commercial version of Levaté. The idea would be that as a wheelchair users goes about their day, this attachment would collect some of the kinetic energy of their spinning wheels and charge a battery. This battery could be used to power the Levaté lift, and perhaps also charge the user's iPhone :)

Michael's enthusiasm and commitment to excellence was an incredible asset to the original OU team, so we're excited that he's back with us!

The Levaté team also had the chance to share our story with the Oklahoma community. Take a look at the picture below of Dillon and Ethan presenting at 1 Million Cups in Tulsa! We'll be sharing the video of us presenting soon as well.

You may have also seen Ethan and MaryBeth at this past weekend's No Boundaries Expo in Oklahoma City. They had a great time connecting with the community there. Look for us at more events like the No Boundaries Expo in the future- and if there are any events you'd like to see us at, be sure to let us know!

Until next time,

Dillon Dakota Carroll

Levaté CEO