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Kickstarter deadlines can lead to frustration, fallout for inventors

Trident Design CEO Chris Hawker
Trident Design CEO Chris Hawker

At first, the meteoric rise of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter appears to be the product inventor’s best friend. But in reality, peek behind the curtain with me, and a chaotic world of missed deadlines and angry backers stare you down.
There’s no doubt that Kickstarter is an amazing tool for people to raise money and hopefully see their projects to fruition. Raising funds has always been the hardest part of getting a dream project off the ground. Now, the Internet has done for fund-raising what it previously did to dating–which is to make it easier for anyone with the gumption to write a good profile to find interested parties.
Sites like Kickstarter have eliminated false scarcity by creating an open market for project funding. As a professional inventor with 20 years of experience in the field, I have watched this development with great interest. Barriers to entry have lowered once again, allowing even more people to jump into the product design fray. There’s never been a better time to be a product inventor.
But, here’s the rub -- Kickstarter is now making headlines for the kind of reasons they would prefer to avoid. High profile hardware projects are missing their deadlines and backers are getting angry. The statistics don’t look good as CNNMoney recently reported that 84% of the top 50 most-funded projects on Kickstarter have missed their target delivery dates.
Kickstarter has taken steps to try and address this situation by requiring that only working prototypes be shown in videos. This is a valiant attempt to raise the bar on projects to increase the likelihood that the teams have what it takes to deliver, but in my professional opinion, it’s really not that strong.
I have been developing and commercializing inventions for over two decades and I’m hear to tell you that prototypes are the easy part. With just under $100 and a new 3D printer cued up, I can turn a napkin sketch into a physical product over lunch. After bringing close to 70 products to market, there are most certainly a few facts that cannot be avoided. Product development (especially manufacturing) is hard, it’s expensive, it’s frustrating -- and yes, at times, it’s the greatest job in the world.
For all of you new Kickstarter inventors, I applaud you, but please know that you really don’t know what you’re getting into until you’ve walked down this path in its entirety. You most likely won’t understand that your first prototype, while it may look close, is typically only 20% of the way to being a completely developed product. You just can’t possibly know all the unexpected situations and unique requirements that will drain cash from your freshly funded accounts.
Let’s just assume for a second that you are one of the lucky ones and, after several iterations, you’ve completed a successful prototype. I’m guessing you’ve probably never experienced the fine art of dealing with Chinese factories. It is here that 45 days quickly turns into 90, with even more time wasted waiting for your samples to be shipped back. While your prototype might be perfect, you might not understand that your molds from your manufacturer will need several rounds of tweaking too. This is a journey for those that live for the high risk, high reward way of life. For some, this is what life is all about; for others, this might not be a great fit.
In order to hit the estimated deadlines that most Kickstarter project owners promise, every single phase of their project would have to proceed without a hitch. This is near impossible as there are just too many variables involved regardless of project type. I am not saying that it is impossible to succeed. Of course it’s not. It’s just hard, albeit rewarding, and the process almost always takes longer than expected. These simple facts are absolute truths that every inventor and backer should know before swimming in these crowdfunding waters.
Kickstarter, and crowdfunding in general, offer entrepreneurs, big thinkers and well-healed backers an amazing new tool to add to their arsenal. As with any new tool, there’s a learning period where people are trying to figure out how to best put these new tools to use. As both project creators and backers become more familiar with the realities of hardware product development and adapt their expectations, it will give them all a better chance at success and simple happiness.
If everyone, from the over-anxious inventors to the disgruntled backers, could just take a deep breath and read the following excerpt direct from the Kickstarter FAQ -- life would be a little sweeter for all.
“Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative ideas. Many of the projects you see on Kickstarter are in earlier stages of development and are looking for a community to bring them to life. The fact that Kickstarter allows creators to take risks and attempt to create something new is a feature, not a bug.”
About the Author

Chris Hawker, Founder of Trident Design, is an idea guy. Chris has spent the last 20 years thinking up, developing and selling innovative consumer products in a variety of industries. From pet care to cooking to gardening, Chris has brought numerous products to market through a variety of business models including licensing, private label manufacturing, marketing, distribution and more. To date, Chris is probably most well known for the PowerSquid, licensed to Philips—an innovative, award-winning, and commercially successful power strip that continues to be a fan favorite.
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