The formula for inventing a new gadget used to be simple: have an idea, set up shop in your parents’ garage, eat only ramen, and eventually create a multi-billion dollar company. Crowdfunding has changed all that. Promising ideas go from a web page to million-dollar production runs in no time. But is it really working?
Kickstarter is famous not just for its successes but also the number (and scale) of its failures. Whether it’s a pocket-sized drone that crashed and burned, a playing card project that cut and run, or a laser razor that never existed in the first place, crowdfunding has a reputation for outrageous moonshots and outright fraud. But itt’s not a reputation that it necessarily deserves.
Looking at the numbers, Kickstarters work far more often than not. In an independently-conducted, Kickstarter-funded study of tens of thousands of projects, only nine per cent failed to deliver at all. A whopping 65 per cent of projects even delivered on time! Those aren’t terrible numbers — one in ten failures is actually pretty good, and you can strengthen your chances of success if you choose your projects carefully.
I say this because I’m an unashamed Kickstarter junkie. In the last year alone, I’ve backed five projects to the tune of $US700 ($928), which is a lot of money when you’re an impoverished blogger. Do I regret it? Hell no.
Pebble Time watch
It turned out to be a good move. I got my watch on time, and the final product was the same thing that they promised on the Kickstarter page. We’ve got a much more in-depth review, but after months of use, the Time still hits the sweet spot as a simple smartwatch with killer battery life, for far fewer beer tokens than you’d spend on an Apple Watch. My only complaint is the screen, which is covered in a material that gets scratched to hell.
The very, very late.
Naked Filter, a water bottle with an in-built filter
Exactly a year later, I do have the bottle in hand, but it took a while. Promised delivery was August last year, and mine arrived in February. Not ideal, but the end product seems to be worth it. As my old colleague Wes found when playing with an early prototype, it’s easy to drink from, and the filter is completely out of sight. I can’t swear to the effectiveness of the water filter, but I haven’t got violently ill yet.
Summer continued, and I kept spending money. August saw me buy my most unexpected Kickstarter success — Fishbone, a docking station for electronics. It’s a well-designed charger with powerful USB ports and integrated cable management, but that’s not even close to the best part.
The best deal.
I saved the biggest project for last. In September, I sunk $US375 ($497) into Peak Design‘s new camera bag, along with a bunch of accessories. Again, we’ve got a more detailed review, which you should read, because this bag is utterly fantastic. I’ve been using it as a daily commuter bag that can also carry my camera, and it excels. The bag is supremely well-built, and the attention to detail on stitching, straps, and pockets is phenomenal.
The sure thing.
Not getting burned by Kickstarter is reasonably simple: stick to ideas that are plausible and made by companies or individuals with reputation and experience.
The biggest pitfall of the new products seen on Kickstarter is moving from prototype to production. The giant delay in Naked Filter’s bottle wasn’t due to some problem with the filter system. It was a leak the company found when it started trying to mass-produce a simple plastic water bottle.
I talked to a few crowdfunded companies when researching this article, and a common theme of their experiences was the difficulty of manufacturing overseas. The founder of Revols, a Bluetooth headphone startup, described a “parasitic industry” of Chinese manufacturers who jump on unsuspecting entrepreneurs that have never mass-produced electronics before, causing months of delays, design changes, and price increases.
The promise of crowdfunding is that in return for fronting cash, you’ll get your product cheaper and faster than you would otherwise. For me, it’s worked: I saved about $US200 ($265) off retail for all the stuff I bought and received my stuff well before it was on general sale.
But is it worth the stress, delays, and potential fraud? That’s between you and your credit card.