September 21, 2021

State of the Art: Financing the Stuff of Dreams Through Kickstarter

Come on, people. Open your minds. You don’t have to participate, but at least let the youngsters have their fun.

And then I started hearing people rave about Kickstarter.com. I was mystified by its success — and alarmed that I didn’t get it. Was I suffering from Early-Onset Fuddy-Duddyism?

Kickstarter is a “crowd-funding” site. It’s a place for creative people to get enough start-up money to get their projects off the ground. The categories include music, film, art, design, food, publishing and technology. The projects seeking support might be recording a CD, putting on a play, producing a short film or developing a cool new tech product.

Suppose you’re the one who needs money. You describe your project with a video, a description and a target dollar amount. Listing your project is free.

If the citizens of the Web pledge enough money to meet your target by the deadline you set, then you get your money and you proceed with your project. At that point, Kickstarter takes 5 percent, and you pay 3 to 5 percent to Amazon.com’s credit card service.

If you don’t raise the money by the deadline, the deal is off. Your contributors keep their money, and Kickstarter takes nothing.

But here’s the part I had trouble understanding: These are not investments. If you make a pledge, you’ll never see your money again, even if the play, movie or gadget becomes a huge hit. You do get some little memento of your financial involvement — a T-shirt or a CD, for example, or a chance to preorder the gadget being developed — but nothing else tangible. Not even a tax deduction.

Furthermore, you have no guarantee that the project will even see the light of day. All kinds of things happen between inspiration and production. People lose interest, get married, move away, have trouble lining up a factory. The whole thing dies, and it was all for nothing.

So why, I kept wondering, does anybody participate? Who would give money for so little in return?

Now, when you’re a tech columnist, you get e-mail pitches every day from P.R. people hoping you’ll write about their clients’ products. But in the last few months, I’ve started getting something really strange: pitch letters about products on Kickstarter. Products that aren’t even products, just concepts. Weirder yet, these pitches aren’t coming from the creators of those products. They’re coming from ordinary citizens.

I started reading about their projects. The one that seemed to be drumming up the most interest lately is called the Elevation Dock. It’s just a charging stand for the iPhone, but wow, what a stand. It’s exquisitely milled from solid, Applesque aluminum. You don’t have to take your iPhone (or iPod Touch) out of its case to insert it into this dock. And the dock is solid enough that you can yank the phone out of it with one hand. The dock stays on the desk.

The engineer behind this dock, Casey Hopkins, needed to raise $75,000 to make his dock a real product. But his pitch was so popular, it met that goal in only eight hours. “In 24 hours, it was at $168,000,” Mr. Hopkins told me by e-mail. “It was shocking. I couldn’t eat and I didn’t sleep for about three days. The euphoria lasted about a week; then it was nose to the grindstone to start getting all the manufacturing and a million other things in place.”

Today, with 16 days left to his deadline, he’s raised $700,000. That’s a Kickstarter success story, all right.

So is the TikTok Watchband, which turns an iPod Nano into a touch-screen watch/computer on your wrist. Its goal: $15,000. Its final take: $942,578. It’s now a real product and it’s for sale in the Apple Store.

The creators of the PID-Controlled Espresso Machine, a new design that brings the consistency of expensive espresso machines to a low-cost machine, sought $20,000 — and raised $369,569 by its deadline last week. The Cosmonaut wide-grip stylus for tablets blew past its target back in April; the video points out that for a low-resolution surface where you can’t rest your hand, a fat stylus makes more sense than a pencil-like one.

E-mail: pogue@nytimes.com

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=30d962270a40885320ac095ef8abb8d7

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