At one time or another, most of us have had an idea for a new product, or a way to change an existing product for the better. How many times have you seen a product advertised on TV and found yourself saying something along the lines of, “I thought of that years ago!” Someone else beat you to making that great idea happen. It’s frustrating, but the daunting process of working through the jungle of patents and lawyers in order to bring an idea to life has always been somewhat of a pitfall.
The Internet gives aspiring designers, artists, filmmakers, engineers and others a place to showcase their ideas and products. The Web has allowed us to create a worldwide marketplace, a digital shopping mall where housewives can make money selling boxes of “vintage” items from the garage and specialty manufacturers and artists can target specific customers and drive business to their shops.
So, what’s the next step for small business commerce on the Internet? What if you don’t even have a business yet? What if you’re just one person with a great idea for a movie, art piece, cookbook, food product, technological marvel, graphic design or band? Where can you go to get help making that dream come true? That’s where Kickstarter.com comes in. Launched in 2008, Kickstarter is a gateway that allows aspiring artists, designers and others to announce their ideas to the world and ask for a small donation to turn that idea into reality. It’s called “crowd funding,” and the concept has been around for quite some time.
How many times have you been asked at the checkout counter of a local retailer or grocery store to donate a dollar to a charity or organization? The idea behind asking for donations in this fashion is simple: If a million people give a dollar, what is just small change to us can have a tremendous impact on others. Kickstarter takes this idea to the next level, giving people the opportunity to pitch an idea to you in hopes of convincing you to make a small contribution. And that’s where the fun is. Kickstarter calls this being a “backer,” and your small contribution will get you perks—if the idea gets funded.
Each project has a monetary goal or pledge that must be reached in order for it to be labeled “funded” and move forward. If a project needs $5,000 to be completely funded but only receives $4,500 in pledges within the predetermined time limit, then no one who pledged money is charged and the project goes unfunded.
Should the project meet or exceed its goal, however, along with the satisfaction of knowing that you helped foster creativity and innovation, you’ll get something in return—perhaps a signed DVD of the movie you helped fund, a serialized art print from the artist, a free meal at the local restaurant you helped get started or an advanced copy of a technology product before it goes on sale to the public. Your perk for funding a project grows if you donate more money. Additionally, you’ll have access to “backer only” updates, which are quick updates from the designers or artists themselves that document, in almost diary form, how the project is progressing (e.g., “filming is complete … we’ve moved to the production phase” or, “the cookbook is back from the editors”). Going along for the ride and watching an idea come to life is part of what makes Kickstarter so great.
So far, Kickstarter users have pledged more than $125 million since its launch and have successfully funded more than 15,000 projects. That’s a lot of ideas and a lot of innovation happening at a time when we all seem to be looking for the “next big thing.” Kickstarter’s most successfully funded project to date has been the video game Double Fine Adventure, which raised more than $1.7 million—and the game isn’t done yet. Amazingly, the video game started with a goal of $400,000, and within the first 24 hours the company raised more than $1 million. Another successful project was an iPhone docking station from ElevationLab, which raised $1.4 million.
Through Kickstarter, we have a new avenue to pursue our dreams and freely exchange ideas with the end consumer. It looks like the American Dream is still alive and doing quite well.