I have been both fortunate and unfortunate in discovering the crowdfuding website Kickstarter quite early on. I have “backed” a.k.a. bought a variety of early stage products on Kickstarter since then and have had hugely varying levels of success and satisfation.
If you’ve ever backed any project on a crowdfunding site, you’ll be inclined to agree; things rarely ever go as planned.
In the end, it isn’t about receiving an shiny new product or feeling like I’m a part of something greater than myself; it is about the journey (lol). There extremely valuable and insightful lessons to be learnt that aren’t immediately obvious.
If you've ever wondered what it takes to bring an idea into the real world read on, trust me, it’s not as lame as it sounds.
If you’re expecting to browse a crowdfunding site, back a project, and have the product arrive at your door a week later you will be severely disappointed.
In reality, you should expect the product to arrive at your door anywhere from 6 months to 2 years later, with the real possibility of it never arriving at all. Meanwhile, you should expect strenuous amounts of back-and-forward communication between the project creators and yourself; filling out surveys, voting on colour and material preferences, inputing postal addresses etc.
Depending on how smooth the project goes you’ll be receiving constant updates on the problems they’ve faced and how it will effect your product and the estimated ship date.
If you are fortunate enough to actually witness and receive a shipped product, there is a highly likely chance that it will not resemble what you had initially ordered.
I once backed a gym / protein water bottle, simple as it sounds. It arrived an entire year later, didn’t work as intended and the bottle material had been changed to a disgusting smelly rubber material that attracted dust and dirt abroad. Not great for something you’re meant to drink from.
Let me reiterate that for emphasis; it was essentially a water bottle.
That is not to say that all my experiences with crowdfunding have been dissapointing. A small percentage of products I backed did arrive in a timely fashion and I was quite surprised and pleased with their quality and construction.
The collection of my experiences in crowdfunding would strongly be categorised as either a hit or a strong miss.
I ain’t even mad.
For me at least, I think there is more to be gained than some quirky bleeding edge “concept” of a product. Heck, backing a crowdfunding project isn’t even about supporting the project and helping it’s creators “realise their dreams”.
Instead, backing crowdfunding projects serves as a cheap way to access current, real-time, real-world projects that help you gain an insight into what it actually takes to deliver a product / service to market.
Backing a crowdfunded project takes you on a serious entrepreneurial journey and illuminates what it really means to be a small bootstrapped startup. A large majority of the project creators on crowdfunding sites do not know what they are doing. Like real entrepreneurs, they have to dive headfirst into the water and figure out how to swim whilst drowning.
Don’t back a project for it’s material rewards. Back it so you can get front row seats to witness the happenings of a real world product development cycle. From the inception of a seamingly great and straight forward idea, to generating enough marketing buzz for it to be successfully funded. To go from prototyping to machine tooling, to full-scale production runs and packaging all the way to organising global scaled warehousing and logistics.
Along the way you’ll learn of all the problems the project team will run into and how they did or didn’t solve them. You’ll experience first hand the user-experience they provide to their crowdfunders (investors) and how their effective their communication methods are. You’ll see what they initially proposed and what actually arrives at the consumers door step.
Finally, with greater-than-your-average-consumer insight, you’ll witness either the birth of a successful company or the fading of yet another entrant to the unforgiving business world.
MBA / Startup school lessons for as little as $1
So you’re convinced that you should check out and possibly back a project or two. Great.
I recommend scouting a few projects and keeping up to date with all future projects on Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Draw up a list of the one’s that interest you and use the shotgun approach by pledging the minimum amount (usually $1) to each project. By doing so you’ll be sure to receive the full updates to the projects and be able to track their progress. (For $1 don’t expect to actually receive anything other than a digital Hi 5).
If you’re game enough, maybe even try pledge a bit more to actually receive a product — but only if you really believe in the idea; and more importantly — the people behind the idea.
Warning: your experiences and lessons learnt may vary depending on how well and often the project creators communicate, organise and run the crowdfunding project. By pledging the minimum amount to a variety of projects, you ensure that you will experience a broader range of issues and lessons.
Expect the process and duration of the crowdfunded projects to run from a medium to long-term time frame as crowdfunding is not an overnight experience.
Keep an open mind as it is sure to widen your perpective on what it actually requires to take an idea and turn it into a real world product. Good luck!
PERMISSION TO REPUBLISH: