How a Trip to the Hardware Store Unlocked a Big Business Idea

Charles Ng founder of Orbitkey

As a 23-year-old uni graduate, Charles Ng loved jogging to clear his mind but hated the sound of keys jingling in his pocket. “So being a natural problem-solver, I grabbed a few things from the hardware store, used a little mechanical glue and created a solution,” says the Melbourne-based entrepreneur. 

Ng’s simple design involved locking the keys around a hub in an elegant leather housing and, a few months after he created his first prototype in 2012, the unique piece of hardware caught the eye of an old school friend. Rex Kuo immediately recognised how the key holder would prevent his phone from getting scratched by a pocketful of keys and saw a huge market for the invention.

Ng, an industrial designer by trade, set about creating a commercially viable version and within months the pair launched a Kickstarter campaign for their new product, which they christened Orbitkey because of the way the keys orbit around a single hub.

Charles Ng and Rex Kuo of Orbitkey

Ng and Kuo initially hoped to raise $10,000 in 30 days. When they surpassed that goal in the first 24 hours, the duo celebrated with “so many high-fives our hands started to hurt”. By the end of the campaign, the pair had raised more than $200,000 and Orbitkey was no longer a side hustle.

Ng left his job and flew to China to meet potential manufacturers, which is when he gained an insight into the challenges ahead. “Things didn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped,” he says. “I planned to go for seven days and it ended up being a three-month stint. By the end of the trip, I had changed my return flight seven times!” 

Fortunately, Ng was able to get things back on track and in April 2014, just five months after the crowdfunding campaign launched, the first Orbitkey order was shipped.

After successfully launching their brand globally and developing a worldwide network of customers through Kickstarter, Ng and Kuo soon realised they’d need more than one product to scale their business. So building on the original vision to “turn something messy into something neat”, they gradually expanded the Orbitkey line with elegant design solutions for a range of environments. Among the biggest hits were the Orbitkey Nest, a portable tech organiser and phone charger, and a vegan leather Desk Mat that landed just as vast numbers of people were setting up home offices during the pandemic.

Orbitkey Nest Organiser

Along the way, two key factors helped to propel Orbitkey’s rapid advancement. Crowdfunding helped to create a steady income stream by connecting the company with thousands of new customers and the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card allowed Ng to invest in digital marketing while earning millions of Qantas Points at the same time. 

“We’ve run six campaigns on Kickstarter and because our business is a pre-order model, we’ve been able to raise over $3.5 million before moving into production,” says Ng. 

“We use our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card in a similar way. As an online business, digital marketing is really important and using the Card allows us to run large campaigns knowing we have up to 51 days to pay for purchases.¹ That means we often have money from e-commerce sales coming in before payments are due, which has helped the business grow rapidly.” 

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Maximise your cash flow

That digital marketing spend regularly hits $100,000 a month but if it goes higher ahead of an important campaign, Ng knows that the Card has him covered. Businesses can access a dynamic line of unsecured funding,² meaning their spending power can grow as they do. 

“When we have a big launch, we need everything to align with great timing, great products and great marketing. And with no pre-set spending limit², our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card gives us access to a line of unsecured funding so we can focus our full attention on ensuring everything else is going to plan.”

Total sales across the range are already in the millions but Ng has his next goal in mind. He wants to sell 100 million Orbitkey products by 2040. “It might sound like a lot, but we're on the way there. Our company is built around effective organisation, and as we grow and become more efficient, we'll be able to scale up even further to reach that goal."

Unlock the possibilities for your business. Earn 100,000 bonus Qantas Points* with the American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card. Spend $3,000 on eligible purchases within two months of your approval date. New American Express Card Members only. T&Cs apply. Learn more.

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Charles Ng shares his top small-business tips…

The key to… managing cash flow

“Cash flow is one of the most important things for any business. It's why our wholesale customers ask if they can take delivery of stock and pay us 30 days later. Our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card lets us do the same thing for our suppliers without needing to ask for payment terms, because we know we have up to 51 days to pay for purchases.¹ That allows us to direct funds to other areas of the business so we can continue growing.”

• The key to… creativity

“Innovation is essential to the success of our business, but it also carries risk – when you come up with a new concept, you need to test it somehow. That's where our Kickstarter backers come in. They're already following our journey and by engaging them in focus groups we can make sure we're moving in the right direction as we develop new products.”

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Amex Qantas Business Rewards

• The key to… reducing travel costs

“Despite the growth of our e-commerce arm, retail is still very important to the business and our products are stocked in stores all over Europe, the US and South-East Asia. Attending international trade shows is vital to maintaining that presence but travel costs can add up very quickly. That's where our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card comes in handy; we use it every single day, earning up to 1.25 Qantas Points for every $1 spent on our business expenses.³ That translates into millions of Qantas Points that we can use for business flights, generating significant savings for the company.”

• The key to… making good decisions

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Coming up with an idea is only one per cent of the journey. Making it happen is the other 99 per cent and the more people you can have helping you, the better. We have a number of mentors that we consult on important business decisions and each one of them has expertise in a different area. Getting their feedback and applying it has been a huge part of our success.”

• The key to… operating a global business

“We currently have two staff members in Europe and another two just finished a trade show in New York. Those employees need to be able to operate independently when they’re on the road, so the ability to add up to 99 employee Card Members⁴ at no fee is really useful. And when we book travel on our Card we can utilise the complimentary travel insurance⁵ so they’re covered if there are any unexpected changes.”  

Unlock the possibilities for your business. Earn 100,000 bonus Qantas Points* with the American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card. Spend $3,000 on eligible purchases within two months of your approval date. New American Express Card Members only. T&Cs apply. Learn more.

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SEE ALSO: This Aussie Business Turns Coffee Husks Into Reusable Cups

*100,000 bonus Qantas Points: Offer only available to new American Express Card Members who apply, are approved and spend $3,000 on eligible purchases on their new Card in the first two (2) months from the Card approval date. Eligible purchases do not include Card fees and charges, for example annual fees, interest, late payment, cash advances, balance transfers, traveller’s cheques and foreign currency conversion. Card Members who currently hold or who have previously held any other Card product issued by American Express Australia Limited in the preceding 18-month period are ineligible for this offer. 100,000 bonus Qantas Points will be awarded to the eligible Card Member's Account 8-10 weeks after the spend criteria has been met. Subject to the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card Points Terms and Conditions. $450 annual fee applies. This advertised offer is not applicable or valid in conjunction with any other advertised or promotional offer. This offer may be withdrawn at any time without notice

American Express approval criteria applies. Subject to Terms and Conditions. Fees and charges apply. All information is correct as at 1 January 2023 and is subject to change. This offer is only available to those who reside in Australia. Cards are offered, issued and administered by American Express Australia Limited (ABN 92 108 952 085). ®Registered Trademark of American Express Company.

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