Long ago, I recognized the World Wide Web for what it was: a
great equalizer, a way for little-guy businesses to compete with
industry giants. Of course, that was assuming they already had a
product to sell. Back then, you still had to go through traditional
channels--starting with raising capital--to take an idea from
concept to production.
is the great equalizer of the modern era,
allowing anyone with a cool idea (and a great pitch to go with it)
to raise money from interested parties around the world. It's a
concept more widely known as "crowdfunding," and it's really
For example, perhaps you've heard of the Pebble
, one of the very first smartwatches
to hit the market. It began life on Kickstarter and generated so
much buzz, major players like Apple and Samsung are expected to
introduce their own smartwatches in the coming months.
And then there was the "Veronica Mars" movie
that creator Rob
Thomas took to Kickstarter earlier this year. His goal: raise $2
million to get the project off the ground. His result: nearly $6
million in contributions from fans eager to see the popular TV
character reborn on the big screen.
So, yeah, Kickstarter is kind of awesome. Same goes for
similar crowdfunding sites like FundRazr, Indiegogo, and
However, there are a few things you should know before making
a contribution to any project you find on one of these sites --
things I learned the hard way.
1. Be prepared to wait
Last October I was in the market for a new case for my iPhone
4S. I spotted an IndieGogo project for something called the
ReadyCase, which sounded really cool: a sort of Swiss Army Knife
iPhone holster, one with a built-in multitool, USB flash drive,
kickstand, headphone cord clip, add-on lens ring, and so
There was nothing else on the market like it, and although the
price seemed steep at $60, I decided to fund it. The only downside
I could see was that the product wasn't scheduled to ship until
February. Ah, well, I'd lived with a naked iPhone this long, I
could wait a few months longer.
February finally rolled around: no case. The developer cited
various production delays and said it would be ready in March. Came
March: no case. Came April: no case. It eventually arrived--in
This is not an isolated thing. Another project I funded, a
tiny game controller for smartphones and tablets, was also
scheduled to arrive last February, and it, too, was delayed
until...wait for it...August. Bottom line: When you fund a project,
take the "planned ship date" with a big grain of salt. Even the
aforementioned Pebble, with its $10 million (!) in crowdsourced
funds, arrived about eight months behind schedule.
2. No refunds
When you fund a project on Indiegogo, Kickstarter, or the
like, you're not purchasing something in the traditional sense.
Rather, you're making a donation (much like you would to, say,
NPR), and at certain pledge levels, you receive a "reward," usually
in the form of the product itself. The item is, for all intents and
purposes, your tote bag.
When my ReadyCase finally arrived, I discovered a handful of
problems with it, to the extent that I wanted to return it.
However, I was informed that because my donation was exactly that,
there were no refunds.
Bottom line: When you fund a project, you're rolling the dice.
The finished product may not live up to your expectations, and you
probably won't be able to get your money back if it doesn't.
Always, always check the fine print.
3. Some projects are just marketing efforts
Although Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and its ilk were designed to
help budding projects get off the ground, some established
companies are using them for sales and marketing.
For example, I get a lot of pitches from PR people. About a
month after I reviewed a new product from a non-startup, I received
an e-mail informing me that "Widget X is now on Kickstarter!" In
other words, the company was hoping to generate extra buzz by
positioning its product as new, exciting, and still on the drawing
board, when it fact it had already been shipping for a month.
There's nothing technically wrong with that, I suppose, even
if it does kind of violate the whole crowdfunding ethos. And feels
kind of slimy. Bottom line: If you spot something of interest on
Kickstarter or a similar site, do a little Googling to make sure
it's not a product that already exists.
Have you ever a funded a Kickstarter project? If so, were you
happy with the outcome? Share your stories in the comments!Veteran technology writer Rick Broida
is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his
money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC
World and Wired.