Kickstarted? Now What?

David Lang

Co-Founder of OpenROV, a community of DIY ocean explorers and makers of low-cost underwater robots. Author of Zero to Maker. And on Twitter!

69 Articles

By David Lang

Co-Founder of OpenROV, a community of DIY ocean explorers and makers of low-cost underwater robots. Author of Zero to Maker. And on Twitter!

69 Articles

It turns out Kickstarter is just what it says: a start. Don’t let the countdown timer – 30 Days, 7 Days, 48 Hours – fool you into thinking this is anything remotely close to a month-long sprint. The Kickstarter campaign is like the montage sequence in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke trains with Yoda. An awful lot happens in a short, condensed period of time, but there’s a long buildup before and even more action afterward. It’s a short, hectic month in the middle of a much longer process.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the buildup to a Kickstarter campaign and my mental model for understanding it: the Artist-to-Audience Ratio. I tried to debunk Seth Godin’s  statement that a Kickstarter project is the “last step” but I didn’t go into much detail. Now that we’re in the thick of the after-Kickstarter-craziness with the OpenROV project, I thought I’d take some time on the topic.

First of all, it’s crazier than I expected. I think this is probably true for every Kickstarter project that gets funded, but especially so for those who are building actual, physical products. To give some context, there seems to be a spectrum of options based on how many widgets you need to produce.

On the one end, there are basically handmade goods, like The Floating Globe Lamp. In this situation, the next steps are pretty straightforward: build and ship them. Other platforms and tools seem to be a more common option – Etsy, Unique, Craft Fairs – but there’s certainly a long tail of low-volume projects on Kickstarter. In either case, if the demand grows past a certain threshold, the bottleneck eventually becomes the maker’s ability to make things fast enough.

On the other end are the Pebble watches of the world. Projects and products that go crazy on Kickstarter and clearly need a full-on manufacturing strategy. As complicated and intimidating as that may appear, my understanding is that the next step is fairly straightforward in this situation: work with PCH International or Dragon Innovations to navigate Shenzhen, China.

Of course, this is overly simplistic. Running your own handmade business or working with a manufacturing partner can be unthinkably hard and strenuous. I would never intend to downplay that. However, I’m more concerned with the middle of that spectrum – the handmade business-gone-crazy or the small-batch manufacturer that doesn’t have enough volume to justify one of the big manufacturing partners. That’s where OpenROV sits. And so have a lot of the other maker businesses I know.

It’s a strange sort of no man’s land that hasn’t been fully explored. Companies like MakerBot and 3D Robotics are blazing a trail, and companies like TechShop and Ponoko are busy trying to provide the right services to support this new type burgeoning enterprise, but there’s still a long way to go.

One thing I do know: we’ve had to learn a whole lot in a short amount of time. From all the business administration stuff like legal and accounting, to sourcing parts, to managing inventory, to finding space. It’s been (and continues to be) a whirlwind. Eric and I unloaded everything we were thinking about onto a whiteboard in his garage. After a few days it was covered with part sources, lead times, design changes, testing needs, and anything else we could no longer keep in our cluttered heads. At one point, we spent a few minutes just staring at the board, then at each other, then back at the board. We’ve got it under control, but it’s a lot.

As has been our philosophy, we want to be as open and transparent about OpenROV as possible. For the sake of the project, as well as the off chance we can make the process a little easier for any groups that come after us. I plan to write a series of posts that deal with each of the issues on a more in-depth basis: basic business administration for makers, sourcing and inventory management, packaging and shipping, finding space, etc.

As always, let me know if you have any specific questions. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’m happy to share anything we’ve learned.

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