Fund the Revolution!

3/16/2013 Stephen Colbert 0 Comments

So here I am at Engadget Expand in San Francisco, California. I'm anticipating my mind being blown an average of about once every fifteen minutes, which so far has been the case.  There are some amazing exhibits to see. Every time I'm out on the show floor my ADD goes into full swing and I don't know what to look at.  I hope to be able to cover as much as possible, including the show floor, where there are not only a plethora of sponsor booths, but also the booths belonging to the companies participating in the insert coin competition of independent manufacturers and developers hoping to win $25,000 in funding, as well as the exposure that goes with winning.

The show got off the ground with Engadget Editor-in-chief, Tim Stevens, riding a ZBoard electric skateboard right past my seat and up onto the stage.  ZBoard is one of the many indie manufacturing companies represented at this show and thanks to funding operations like Kickstarter, we have seen a crowd funded revolution in product development. As Tim said in his opening statement, indie companies "no longer have to sell their soul to venture capitalists," because their products are now being funded by gadget lovers and other enthusiasts--the very people who will be interested in these products when they hit the market.

Tim welcomed co-founder of Kickstarter, Yancy Strickler, to the stage.  Kickstarter is at the center of the crowd funding movement.  Kickstarter has only been around for a few years, but has already seen massive penetration in multiple industries.  Examples of some of the more popular Kickstarter projects include the wildly popular game "Cards Against Humanity," Pebble Smart Watch, and even many film projects, including 10% of the Sundance film festival participant films.
The amazing thing about Kickstarter is it is an experiment itself.  It is a way for anyone with a vision to get a hand up without having to sell out.  In my mind this benefits everyone, because the manufacturers, developers, artists, or visionaries are able to, as Yancy worded it, "pass through the gatekeepers" to reach their market without losing any of the vision the creators originally had.

I'm waiting for the day that Kickstarter
is too mainstream for hipsters.

Customer engagement is also maximized because many consumers, especially early adopters, are almost intimately involved from step one.  We are beginning to see people carrying on their person, products that they know who designed it, where it was made, and how they did it.  Reaching consumers on this level has seen some mass success as can be seen with the Elevation Dock for the iPhone, or the Pebble Smart Watch, both of which were among the first projects to reach over a million dollars in funding, both meeting this goal within a week of each other.

The ways in which Kickstarter has leveled the playing field in many industries probably won't be fully seen for a few years yet, but I think it will be significant.  Even in the film industry, there have been 63 movies in the movie theater that were started on Kickstarter.  The crowd funding and crowd sourcing revolution is upon us and its influence will only become stronger over the next few years.  Yancy said it best.  "People want to create." I think it's a motivation many people have that is at the heart of Kickstarter and it drives them to make something new or improve on something old.

Thanks to Kickstarter we have projects that have been in use around the world such as a new type of automated minesweeper that is currently used in Afghanistan, an open sourced Geiger counter used in places like Japan after the damage to the nuclear power plant from the tsunami, and even the first civilian space suit.

It appears to pretty much just be a heavy mine exploding metal
tumbleweed, but I guess that's better than a heavy
mine exploding flesh human...

Will Kickstarter begin to define the industry, or will the million dollar funding packages of the most successful campaigns never be able to compete with multi billion dollar companies?  Will Kickstarter ever see a billion dollar project?

I think a lot of those questions are a bit far out to have the answer for today, but one thing is for sure.  People want to create and it is now easier than ever to do so, with the open source community, the rise of 3D printing, and the financial backing of potentially billions of people, we are sure to some big innovations coming and they won't all be from Microsoft, Apple, Google, Hollywood, or even NASA.

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