Kickstarter Brings It All Back Home

Kickstarter is a machine to build dreams. Whether it’s funding the publication of a novel, production of a movie, or the manufacture of, say, a little bike light, the site has proven time and time again that ideas – dreams, let’s say – cannot be deferred.

Now the company is at a crossroads. Because it is such a popular platform and because so many blockbuster projects – the Pebble smart watch, the Ouya – have gotten funded and funded quite impressively, the rest of the world now thinks Kickstarter is the greatest pre-order engine ever.

There’s the rub: in becoming a place to pre-order pie-in-the-sky products, Kickstarter faces a number of problems. First, it has become the place for established manufacturers to test their potential products for popularity. It has also become a place for hardware manufacturers with potentially little or no experience to raise money for projects that run over in terms of manufacturing time and under-deliver. To prevent this, the Kickstarter lads have added two new rules to the Kickstarter guidelines.

Product simulations are prohibited. Projects cannot simulate events to demonstrate what a product might do in the future. Products can only be shown performing actions that they’re able to perform in their current state of development.
Product renderings are prohibited. Product images must be photos of the prototype as it currently exists.
Products should be presented as they are. Over-promising leads to higher expectations for backers. The best rule of thumb: under-promise and over-deliver.

Glenn Flieshman, writing on BoingBoing, notes that this move could be detrimental to Kickstarter’s financials but, in the end, makes the community stronger.

This new policy seems absolutely consonant with Kickstarter’s chief stated goals: turning ideas into reality, not selling stuff. Kickstarter takes 5% of all funded projects. With these rules in place, perhaps Pebble would have funded at $1,000,000 instead of ten times that. That would have reduced Kickstarter’s fee from $500,000 to $50,000. But the potential drop in commissions doesn’t seem to bother the founders as they recalibrate against their founding mission. It doesn’t hurt that many of Kickstarter’s investors are community builders who may want a financial return, but not at the expense of the broader mission.

Kickstarter is about funding an idea that has legs as is. It helps fund an artist’s vision and a writer’s research. It helps fund a designer’s idea for the next mousetrap, not the next Sony. In the end, both creator and backers benefit from this decision and it helps keep obviously bogus ideas (and I personally think Ouya enters into the category) out of the funding stream.

We’ve entered a fascinating era. Everything is possible and dreams can come true. I don’t mean that in the Walt Disney/Peter Pan kind of way, either. Ask any experienced engineer or designer if they ever wished they could build something cool by themselves without subjecting themselves to the corrosive patronage of corporate life and they’d jump at the chance. A mere year ago, that process would have been impossible. Thanks to the the social and business proof Kickstarter brings to bear on the hardware startup, however, things are a whole lot different and a whole lot better.