This afternoon, more than sixty hardware hackers, makers, movers, and shakers defied the drizzle to gather under a large tent at Autodesk’s SXSW Create pavillion for the official SXSW Hardware Startup Meetup. Organized and hosted by Ryan Brown and Bartley Gillan, the main event was a panel discussion and open Q&A with SF Hardware Startup Meetup organizer Nick Pinkston and the founders of four active hardware startups representing some 1.75M in pledged crowdfunding dollars among them.
Memoto, a wearable “lifelogging” camera that automatically snaps a geotagged photo twice a minute and can run continuously for two days between charges, was launched on Kickstarter in October of last year, and was 1000% overfunded—to the tune of $550K—in just over a month. Swedish co-founders Martin Källström and Oskar Kalmaru had a number of interesting observations about the Kickstarter experience, particularly about how it’s changed since the new rules for product development projects went into place last year.
“Crowdfunding,” Källström said, “is more than just funding. It’s also market research.”
On the other hand, he adds, Kickstarter’s new policy—that products must have working prototypes at the beginning of their campaigns—means that backer feedback comes at a relatively late stage in the development pipeline, when radical changes are more challenging.
Cinetics is an Austin-based startup that got rolling (heh) back in October 2011 with CineSkates—a set of GorillaPod-compatible skate wheels that allow for smooth rolling video shots in a highly portable package. The CineSkates Kickstarter was 2300% overfunded ($487K) and Cinetics followed on with CineMoco—a motion-controlled camera dolly—a year later. CineMoco, too, was overfunded to the tune of 127%, bringing in $117K.
“We don’t just think of Kickstarter for product development,” says founder Justin Jensen. “We also use it to pre-sell production runs of our products.”
Jensen also had some inspiring things to say about the quality of the feedback they had received from Kickstarter backers.
“Not just criticisms or complaints, but well-thought-out ideas. People e-mail us detailed engineering drawings, stuff that took real time to make.”
Ube, another homegrown Austin firm, is developing a complete line of smart “drop-in” home electrical fixtures designed to simplify home automation by making each switch, plug, and outlet a client on your WiFi network, able to report and respond through a smartphone app. Their first product, a touch-controlled dimmer switch, is currently a little more than halfway to its $280K Kickstarter goal, with 25 days to go. Ube’s founder, Utz Baldwin, used the phrase scope creep to describe the tendency to get too ambitious amid the giddiness of a skyrocketing pledge count and an overwhelmingly positive public response.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of your backers and overcommit yourself,” he warns.
Austin-based Supermechanical got started in early 2012 with co-founders David Carr and John Kestner’s Twine Kickstarter. Twine is a WiFi-enabled sensor block that detects environmental changes—like acceleration, temperature, moisture, and light—and responds as programmed by tweeting, texting, or e-mailing. Attached to a door, for instance, it can be programmed to send you a text whenever the door is opened. Twine was eventually funded at $557K, some 1500% of its original goal.
“We didn’t really think of ourselves as a startup,” said Kestner. “We were just two guys with an idea, and Kickstarter helped us make that transition to what I would call a startup.”