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Though it seems good form to use the umbrella term, for us here at MAKE, so far, “crowdfunding” essentially means “Kickstarter.” Searching the word returns exactly 100 published posts in our archives, dating back to the first kickstarter we ever mentioned (the MakerBeam project) in October 2009.  Of major competing crowdfunding sites, only IndieGoGo has received any significant coverage here, with eight total posts, and only one of those included a direct link to a project then in-funding (which did not, incidentally, meet its goal).

So, formality aside, this post is mostly about our year in kickstarters.  Founded in 2009, Manhattan-based Kickstarter was mentioned in four of our posts that year, 33 posts in 2010, and 62 this year.   Excluding general mentions of the site, posts that don’t link to a specific project, and posts that are following up on a previously-mentioned project, 24 different kickstarters were promoted on MAKE in 2011.  Except for Greg Leyh’s Lightning Foundry and Eric Strebel’s Solar Vox projects, all the linked kickstarters, below, eventually met or exceeded their funding goals.

Most Lucrative

The biggest kickstarter of 2011, taking top place in three of our six metrics, was undoubtedly Brook Drumm’s PrintrBot, a $500 FDM/FFF printer kit that, as of December 17, had raised $830,827, which makes it not only the most lucrative kickstarter we covered this year, but also (per Wikipedia) the second-most-lucrative in Kickstarter history.

  1. $830,827 — Printrbot: Your First 3D Printer by Brook DrummOur Post
  2. $259,293 — HexBright, an Open Source Light by Christian CarlbergOur Post
  3. $131,220 — The Oona: Whatever You Need It To Be by Sam GordonOur Post
  4. $114,796 — Romo– The Smartphone Robot by RomotiveOur Post
  5. $96,248 — Trebuchette – the snap-together, desktop trebuchet by Michael WoodsOur Post


Most Surprising

I calculate “surprise” in terms of how much a successful kickstarter exceeds its funding goal. For example, $830,827 is some 3300% of PrintrBot’s $25,000 stated goal, which gives it top slot not only in terms of total dollars, but in exceeding expectations as well. The runner up, pictured above, is Andrew Hyde’s Record Monsters, a relatively humble project offering creepy-crawly models laser-cut from used LPs; though it “only” raised $15,000, that amount probably comes as quite a surprise when your goal is $500!

  1. 3,323% — Printrbot: Your First 3D Printer by Brook DrummOur Post
  2. 2,950% — Record Monsters (Laser Cut Vinyl Record Puzzles) by Andrew HydeOur Post
  3. 1,312% — The Oona: Whatever You Need It To Be by Sam GordonOur Post
  4. 836% — HexBright, an Open Source Light by Christian CarlbergOur Post
  5. 739% — Project ShapeOko: a $300 complete cnc machine. by Edward FordOur Post

Biggest Per Capita Investment

This is the third category in which PrintrBot took top spot, with the average backer committing almost $460 to the project. The pictured runner-up is Eric Agan’s isostick, a USB thumb drive that emulates an optical drive at the hardware level, so you don’t have to keep a USB optical drive around just to install operating systems on netbooks and other small devices. Back in July, I bought into isostick at the $225 level, which means I committed a bit more than the average backer’s $159.  For my experience with that project, to date, see the end of this post.

  1. $459.53 — Printrbot: Your First 3D Printer by Brook DrummOur Post
  2. $158.97 — isostick – the optical drive in a usb stick by Elegant InventionOur Post
  3. $122.56 — The Lightning Foundry by Greg LeyhOur Post
  4. $108.11 — Solar Vox personal USB solar charger by Eric StrebelOur Post
  5. $99.65 — Romo– The Smartphone Robot by RomotiveOur Post

Smallest Per Capita Investment

Interesting to note that the two top performers in this category are both camera lens cap retaining systems, one covered by myself and one by Adam, which seems to speak to the commonality of the problem among photographers. Also interesting to find two “artistic” projects, here, (Matthew Goodman’s Playa Time Lapse movie and Sandy Antunes’s Space Calliope), as opposed to the “product development” kickstarters that otherwise tend to monopolize our lists.

  1. $21.60 — Camera Lens Cap Holder by Mark StevensonOur Post
  2. $26.09 — The Nice Clip – a Universal Lens Cap Clip by Nice IndustriesOur Post
  3. $32.04 — Playa Time-Lapse 2.0 by Matthew GoodmanOur Post
  4. $33.52 — The Oona: Whatever You Need It To Be by Sam GordonOur Post
  5. $36.58 — Capturing the Ionosphere: Ground Station Calliope by Sandy AntunesOur Post

Most Backers

Sam Gordon’s Oona reconfigurable smartphone mounting system gets my vote for “overall runner up” for the year. Like PrintrBot, it appears in four of our six “top 5s,” including “most lucrative” and “most surprising.” Though sheer number of backers is the only category in which it takes top spot, it’s also notable for being among the cheapest 2011 kickstarters to invest in, with the average backer committing just $33.52.

  1. 3,915 — The Oona: Whatever You Need It To Be by Sam GordonOur Post
  2. 3,156 — HexBright, an Open Source Light by Christian CarlbergOur Post
  3. 1,876 — Trebuchette – the snap-together, desktop trebuchet by Michael WoodsOur Post
  4. 1,808 — Printrbot: Your First 3D Printer by Brook DrummOur Post
  5. 1,152 — Romo– The Smartphone Robot by RomotiveOur Post

Most Ambitious

Seeking more than a third of a million dollars, Greg Leyh’s scheme to surpass his own record for the largest Tesla coils ever constructed outstrips any other kickstarter we’ve covered, this year, in terms of the sheer fiscal magnitude of its goal, by at least seven-fold.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it also ended further from that goal than any other, wrapping up on December 10 a bit north of 10% of the way there.   I say three cheers for Greg’s big dreams, anyway.  I mean, just look at that picture.

  1. $348,000 — The Lightning Foundry by Greg LeyhOur Post
  2. $48,000 — Trebuchette – the snap-together, desktop trebuchet by Michael WoodsOur Post
  3. $35,000 — Solar Vox personal USB solar charger by Eric StrebelOur Post
  4. $33,000 — Radiation Detection Hardware Network in Japan by Marcelino AlvarezOur Post
  5. $32,000 — Romo– The Smartphone Robot by RomotiveOur Post

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Of the 24 kickstarters we promoted this year, 21 (87.5%) met or exceeded their funding goals, and 3 went unfunded.  Per Wikipedia, the general success rate of Kickstarter projects is only 44%, but that doesn’t imply anything about our ability to pick winners, since kickstarters often don’t appear on our radar until they’re already quite popular. Personally, I make it a point to only cover kickstarters that have already met or exceeded their goals, which saves me from difficult decisions about the many promotional requests I get from sponsors of as-yet-unfunded projects.

When it comes to putting my money where my mouth is, I have only bought into one kickstarter, ever, which, as I mentioned above, is Eric Agan’s isostick. The project was funded on August 22, and though I don’t have my 32 GB isostick yet, no particular delivery date was promised, and I knew that going in.  Eric has been very good about keeping his backers informed about the project’s progress, and though my initial enthusiasm has worn off a bit, I’m still glad I ponied up and still feel confident that I’ll eventually receive the reward I bought in for.

But your mileage, as they say, may vary.  And as exciting as the crowdfunding revolution is, some scandals and backlash are probably inevitable.  One of the things that concerns me personally about Kickstarter’s present model is the way it blurs the line between investors and customers.  I think many backers open their wallets for Kickstarter feeling like customers, but the Terms of Use make it clear that they are, in fact, speculators.  No guarantee that you will actually get the reward you “paid for” is expressed or implied. That, coupled with the lack of a clear feedback channel to report under- or non-performing projects, suggests to me that, as in most money matters, a healthy dose of skepticism remains a good idea.

If you’ve got a personal Kickstarter experience that you’d like to share, please let us know below.

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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