Would you buy a product before it actually exists? That’s essentially what Amazon asks us to do each time a new Kindle is announced. We see a prototype with a list of features paired with the promise of an amazing e-Reader. Apple does the same thing with the iPad, soliciting pre-orders before you can see one in the Apple Store. But Amazon and Apple are public companies. We know who they are. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs (and now Tim Cook) receive the kind of media coverage normally reserved for elite athletes.
What if the product is a passion project envisioned by a guy who already works 60 hours a week for someone else? Or maybe it’s a gadget created by a high school kid. Maybe the creator is the genius behind products by an Apple or Microsoft, who now wants to birth something of his own. Would you pre-order products made by a veritable unknown before Best Buy works out a distribution deal?
Kickstarter allows you pre-order exactly this type of product. Many great inventions never make it past a working prototype because the creator can’t find a market. Kickstarter provides the market while the product is still being refined. You get the opportunity to pre-order the dream of a creative genius.
Granted, not every Kickstarter project is genius. There are some that probably shouldn’t ever get funding. Much like venture capitalists who invest in startups, buying into a product concept prior to launch is a leap of faith. But just like venture capital, if you identify the passion someone has for their project with the aid of videos and product descriptions available on Kickstarter, you have a fair degree of confidence the people you are funding will deliver. One big difference between Kickstarter and investing is that the creator retains 100% of the idea on Kickstarter while an investor typically gets a percentage of the company. If the project doesn’t meet the funding goal, you aren’t out any money, so your risk is lower.
On Wednesday night, Chris and I helped put together what I think was the first live event celebrating Seattle-based Kickstarter projects. It was a small gathering of about 25 people who came to meet the makers of four gadgets focused around the iPad and iPhone. Steve Isaac, co-creator of the TouchFire, which I will talk more about below, deserves most of the credit for pulling the event together. We showcased four local gadget makers exemplifying the best of what Kickstarter has to offer in terms of quality ideas seeking funding.
First up was the TouchFire keyboard for iPad, created by Steve Isaac and Brad Melmon. The genius of the TouchFire is its simplicity. Unlike the dozens of mushy-keyed add-on cases that bulk up the iPad and turn it into an underpowered notebook, TouchFire is a small overlay that adds tactile feel to the iOS onscreen keyboard. You get bigger keys as a result, because the onscreen keys tend to be larger than external counterparts, which translates to faster typing. Most important, TouchFire can be stored with your iPad case or iPad 2 Smart Cover, without increasing the bulk. I was admittedly skeptical about TouchFire before seeing it in person, but the design is truly genius. Apple should ship TouchFire with every Smart Cover. You can find out more about TouchFire at Kickstarter.
The second project we looked at on Wednesday was Romo, a robot body with brains provided by an iPhone. Romo interfaces with the iPhone to utilize the camera, to move, and can even be extended if you are capable of programming. Romo is definitely a geeky toy in its current stage, but I see potential for it to further extend the usefulness of the iPhone as the creators iterate. There’s opportunity for software updates through the iTunes App Store and I’m sure the creators have some additional features in the works. Romo still has a few days of funding left, so you should definitely take a look on Kickstarter.
Finally we heard from the guy behind PadPivot, which is one of the most versatile iPad stands I’ve ever seen. It fits the curve of your leg, swivels for comfort, can rest on a desktop with your iPad in portrait or landscape mode, and fold down and fit in a pants pocket. Describing the PadPivot doesn’t do it justice. Jim Young, creator of PadPivot, was the only person in the room to have successfully launched two projects on Kickstarter. His second project, CableKeeps, is a unique way to store and transport your iPhone or iPad charging cable. Both projects are now in production and available for purchase outside of Kickstarter.
What all four inventors who presented have in common is passion. They love their work and it shows. They all had that same kind of proud parent excitement you see when someone describes their baby taking her first steps. In other words, when you fund projects made by these folks, you’re genuinely helping them realize their dreams.
Have you ever funded a Kickstarter project? Would you pre-order a product to help the creator make the project happen or do you stick to products you can see on the shelf?