January 14

The Joy of Kickstarter

Not enough people know about Kickstarter.

If you’re reading this, then chances are that this seems a fairly ridiculous statement. Yet, if it merits repeating given the events of Brexit and the US election over the last year or so, those of us that do spend a great deal of time online (myself included) tend to forget that not everyone chooses to live in the Internet bubble.

And, even if you do know of it, have you ever actually used it?

So, let’s start with the basics – no judgement here. From the KS site: “Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects.” Since launch in 2009… “14 million people have backed a project, $3.5 billion has been pledged, and 137,636 projects have been successfully funded.”

Importantly, Kickstarter is not a web-shop. It’s a means of helping to bring creative projects to life with micro-funding payments, that typically are ‘rewarded’ (their terminology) with a specific product or service for a fixed price, provided the total investment offered for a product passes a creator-defined threshold within a certain time limit.

However, press-room terminology aside, one might use Kickstarter exactly like a web-shop – albeit with a risk, as the funds used to back the project are regarded as an investment, not a purchase – where a specific product/service is bought for a specific price.

So, that’s where it becomes interesting.

In this age of global premium brands, it’s a way for the end-user to support the creator and/or manufacturer (thereby often cutting out large portions of the distribution and retail network typically associated with the delivery of a product – and thereby it’s associated cost) of a well thought out product. Which is another way of saying that the end-user benefits from such a product – as it may never have been made available and/or may never have had global visibility and reach that KS offers.

For the sake of this article, let’s focus on products, rather than services – as that’s the majority of what’s on offer on KickStarter.

In some cases, the products are of terrific quality. And as someone that’s getting a little more experienced at spotting a winner on the site, those products that do get funded, are well thought-through, well presented and often look like they deserve to get turned into a reality.

Also, if you spot something early, there is sometimes an early bird bonus, meaning that the pledge is further discounted, as a reward for helping to generate momentum, which can make a real difference for larger items.

In the last year, I’ve enjoyed getting to grips with a wide variety of projects, most of which were backed – but not all have yet been delivered.

Under the category of ‘classic guy stuff’ – all for 40% to 50% off the final RRP.

  • I’ve bought two bags by Stubble & Co, billed as The Perfect Everyday Bag For Men) – brilliant quality, sized as a carry-on, hardwearing zips, four colours, leather corners and metal feet, with laptop sleeve and pockets.
  • One bespoke WingbackCash Wallet’, which offered customisable metal fastener, thread and leather, plus an inscription. This has streamlined my pocket no end (no more loyalty cards and receipts!).
  • A weird watch by Xeric called the ‘one handed RQ’, which is very pretty but a prime example of form over function. One I probably would not have bought again in hindsight.
  • Two work bags – a shoulder bag and backpack from Lifepack, which was marketed around an anti-theft theme but also has built in solar charged power packs. This one has been a little delayed.
  • Finally, an ‘intelligent camera assistant’ called Arsenal, which acts as an AI for a DSLR camera, to automatically determine the best manual settings for light, distance etc. Again, this is yet to arrive and has been delayed.

And, firmly under the category of Geek stuff (the majority of board games that are funded come with a huge number of KS exclusive stretch goals – ie more swag – at no extra cost to the backer. These can sometimes be found on Ebay post-launch at a huge markup, for the most successful games):

  • Monster Slaughter – a boardgame twist on the 80’s horror film ‘cabin in the woods’ trope, where players use the underside of the box as a cabin and each adopt a set of monsters to try to ‘hunt down’ insufferable teems. Violent theme aside, it’s presented as a cartoon b-movie and the miniatures for this look amazing. Due out later in 2018.
  • Spirit of the Forest – the complete opposite to the above. A gentle card game, which is currently still live at the time of writing for anyone that wants to get involved.

And, you can just file this one under ‘weird but probably useful’: Uni-lid, a bunch of multi-purpose lids to reduce the need for cling film/saran wrap usage & wastage. Just funded, so due later this year.

As an example of the breadth of content that is available, on the Fashion section right now you can find ‘swimwear for teens that feature pockets’, or ‘a panda coat’ whilst one creator is insistent that ‘the fanny pack is back’.

So, aside from the challenge of wading through the sheer volume of projects on Kickstarter, what are the downsides?

There’s a lag – sometimes months, sometimes around a year or so, depending on the complexity of the product, from the KS campaign closing to the products being delivered. That’s very different to the immediate gratification of a high street shop or even an Amazon Prime same-day/next-day delivery.

Sometimes something you like the look of isn’t appealing to a broad enough audience – so you back something, look forward to it, only to find that it didn’t hit the funding target. There’s no cost to the consumer in that scenario – it’s just a little disappointment for all concerned.

Retailers and industry watchers – particularly in the games industry, which I am closest to, of those sectors touched on above – posit that Kickstarter is rapidly changing the dynamics of the space. Whilst industry disruption is generally regarding as being consumer-friendly on the whole, that’s not always the case. Most retail environments provide the consumer with the means of both getting hands-on with a product as part of the purchase and also, critically, to participate in a community, whether that’s something as simple as talking to a salesperson for advice, or a gathering of like-minded people in a real-world setting. Kickstarter is unlikely to be able to compete with either aspect against the retail experience, which is worth bearing in mind as the micro-funding space continues to mature.

Still, overall, if Kickstarter and other similar sites are the vehicles for offering more choice and variety for products that are reasonably priced whilst offering creators with the chance to turn a concept into a business, then overall, I’m in.