Perhaps you have an idea that you’d like to produce for hundreds or even tens of thousands of people, but you don’t have the resources to make it happen. You could try to find one or more large financial backers, or you can instead attempt a grass roots approach with many smaller financial backers via crowdfunding.
The basic concept of this type of effort is that you have an idea that you think will appeal to a large audience; then you pre-sell it to them. In exchange for some sort of reward, whether it’s a thank you note, a sticker, or a fully-assembled product, customers “back” a project with a promise to pay a certain amount of money if a project is funded.
As a seller, this gives you the obvious benefit of startup capital, but also provides a critical test of whether or not people actually want to buy what you’re selling. If your project is funded, once the products are distributed, the customers will hopefully be quite enthusiastic about being in on the ground floor of the next big thing, perhaps even telling others about it.
You may think that this type of funding is only for smaller enterprises, and certainly some are. On the other hand, one of the most well-known crowdfunding Kickstarters, was the Pebble watch which raised over $10 million. Another crowdfunding success, now in the process of fulfilling their promised boards, is called CHIP, a $9 computer that’s “built for work, play, and everything in between.” Like many crowdfunding campaigns, these represent a product that had not been seen yet—the e-paper smartwatch—or what seems like an immense bargain in the $9 CHIP computer.
Besides a great product, crowdfunding campaigns need a great marketing effort to go along with them. CHIP’s campaign, for example, features a cheeky video in a workshop with several presenters outlining the board’s benefits. If you need help producing this type of promotional video, there are several companies available, and a simple search should at least give you some ideas.
Once you get your product on the market, as a MakerPro, the feedback you get can be very useful. If you’re not successful, you know that you need to rethink the product or marketing.
On the other hand, be prepared for success. Many of these campaigns are not totally thought out, or are even scams in some cases, so be careful. Even if you have a good prototype, mass production, perhaps at a scale you never anticipated, may be an entirely different challenge. Pebble, for example, raised just over 100 times its original goal, and, as you might suspect, getting these watches to customers, or backers as they are known, was a challenge. Though a good problem if handled correctly, be sure to have a best-case-scenario plan in place.
Hackaday has a detailed article about why Kickstarter products fail, so if you’re considering trying it, that article might be a good one to check out as well.
Jeremy S. Cook is a freelance tech journalist and engineering consultant with over 10 years of factory automation experience. An avid maker and experimenter, you can follow his exploits on Twitter, @JeremySCook.