Best of MAKE: Our Year in Crowdfunding

Computers & Mobile
Best of MAKE:  Our Year in Crowdfunding

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.

12 thoughts on “Best of MAKE: Our Year in Crowdfunding

  1. Anonymous says:

    My favourite kickstarter of the year was the cosmonaut stylus. I got one as soon as it came out and it’s a really great product. Really professionally done.

  2. Ryan Turner says:

    While I will admit kickstarter has done great things for the maker movement, I feel that the way projects can get over-funded is dangerous.

    Do we really need to spend nearly a million dollars building yet another 3d printer?

    Too many of the projects getting funded by kickstarter are redundant as well.  I don’t mean to pick on only the Lasersaur project, but it loses to the project in nearly every metric except marketing.

    I’d venture to say that upwards of 50% of the money donated through kickstarter is pure waste, and a few projects are blatant money-grabs.

    1. PanoWorks says:

      Hi Ryan,

      While I agree with you in principle, I disagree with you on the details.

      I track about two dozen peerfunding/crowdfunding websites – mostly those that deal with product ideas but with them comes a good share of IP proposals (books, movies, music, etc.) and charities as well.

      Limiting things to physical products… Is it dangerous to be over-funded?  Yes.  This is absolutely true as some people are not prepared to scale to the size that such over-funding commands.  However, sites often make clear that you have to have a game plan for if/when that happens.  For most sites this simply means that you don’t post any goals set to specific dates.  If you do, you will end up with people complaining about later delivery than expected*.
      However, it’s not really that bad as the ‘goal’ set in funding projects is usually what is needed to ramp up to scale.  For example, a large cost for any project is often initial tooling – be that an up-front cost at a printing press or having molds made.  But once you’ve got those, telling the manufacturer to make 10,000 instead of the initially projected 1,000 just makes everybody happier.  Even shipping can become cheaper as you can negotiate with USPS/FedEx/UPS/DHL/whoever a cheaper rate for a guaranteed shipping of the greater number of units.
      ( * Just to re-iterate what was mentioned in the article – a lot of people do see KickStarter and other funding sites with physical product projects as a storefront, which they most certainly are not. )

      Do we really need ‘another 3D printer’?  It seems like the market has spoken, and the answer is ‘yes’.  The fact of the matter is that while there are other great 3D printers, they are often not deliverable as a complete kit (and sourcing appropriate motors is not always as easy as you’d think), or when they are, they can be fairly complex.  The Printrbot clearly makes some compromises (Z-stability, for one – but that can be rectified) to make a much simpler design that performs almost as well as the other offerings.

      This of course also ties into your redundancy and marketing argument.  One thing I have seen across peerfunding sites is that iDevice projects are all over them.  There are more iPad stands than you can shake a stick at – and most of them are no better than the 20 commercial offerings in your local Best Buy – but if people are unaware of those 20 offerings (marketing), they may very well choose the project instead.  Or they are aware, but like the project’s offering better – or they would prefer to fund ‘the little guy’.  Whatever the reason, there’s really no point in arguing about it – the Printrbot’s comments (only backers can comment at most sites, but you can start backing at $1) certainly had plenty of references to other projects out there, as did the main description.  In addition, people should of course ‘google around’ to see if similar items are on offer.  You wouldn’t just walk into a store and purchase the very first phone in sight either – you’d do at least a cursory comparison to see which you’d like best.  If that means you like something other better than the project’s offering – simply don’t fund it.
      And yes, that means that if you think you have a superior product, you’re more than welcome on most sites to add your comment pointing it out (just don’t sound like a sales pitch).  Alternatively, write about it on your site, blog, twitter, etc.

      Which is also the best way to deal with ‘money grabs’.  I can tell you with 100% certainty that as far as peerfunding websites go, KickStarter is the least moneygrab-ish.  One thing to look out for with any of the sites is how the funding model is set up.  At KickStarter, the project owner only gets the funding if the goal has been met or exceeded.  If the funding goal is not met, the project owner gets nothing whatsoever.  Compare this to e.g. IndieGoGo where all funding goes to the project owner (minus the site’s share, of course) even if the goal is never met.  That’s why you’ll see a lot more of the ‘just give me money’ projects at the latter variant of peerfunding website compared to the former.

      That is not to say that KickStarter doesn’t have ‘money grabs’.  A recent project was for a handwarmer in the shape of a heart – certainly something that already exists but maybe theirs was nicer.  However, that very handwarmer was already made by the project’s owner, including documentation and packaging.  The project owner was actually selling them on a website, at a far lower price than the lowest funding amount that would see the funder receiving the item.  That website mysteriously went blank a few days after the project was set up.  So, yes, there are of course ‘money grabs’ – but using one’s brain, and a bit of ‘googling around’, can prevent you from being duped.

      Now, I mostly dealt with the projects that result in a physical product.  When you say that ‘50% of money donated through kickstarter is pure waste’ then you have to keep in mind that 1. this is in the eye of the beholder and 2. that 50% I would presume also covers other projects that may result in e.g. a band’s recordings, an indie movie being made, etc.  For those, the first point applies even more.

      The other category, ‘charities’, is something KickStarter doesn’t allow but I think you’d really dislike those.  One project I’ve seen come by is that a kid wanted to take a photography class but strangely enough his professor only wants his students to use nearly the most expensive dSLRs – and wouldn’t you please get him the money to buy it and finish his course.  In another project, a young girl (riiight) wanted her mommy to have an iPad 2 because it would make life so much easier.  But even if you dislike them personally, these also very much garner positive attention from people who just want to do good for their fellow man.  A woman at IndieGoGo got a set of new front teeth.  Should we blame her for not having the appropriate medical insurance to cover that, even if we all know that unless you happen to get it as benefits through your employer, it’s ridiculously expensive?  Or should we applaud her (or her family, rather) for putting it forward to the world, and applaud ‘the world’ for deciding to help her out even if we personally wouldn’t have?

      Perhaps some food for thought :)

      The sites I track, in case you’re wondering, are: KickStarter IndieGoGo Pledgie RocketHub sponsume Pozible CROWDFUNDER investedin fundry peerbackers GoFundMe Causes Fundly VenCorps StartSomeGood CKIE fondomat Ulule Quirky WeFund
      ( Quirky is the odd one out – it’s ‘design’ household products and it is more of a voting process for the idea to take hold with the company behind Quirky while also allowing ‘presales’ at a lower price should the product goes into production – but it is an interesting process to follow. )

  3. kentkb says:

    I love the Idea, and have help fund 19 in 2011. Some for just the reward of helping out something I liked. 

    All but one were funded or over funded. To me over funding like: 
    just shows what a great idea it is.

  4. ed gaile says:

    that TILT chair on kickstarter was an exceptional design and user friendly chair ….comfortable and practical…..comical video and design

  5. JD says:

    a lot of great things done in 2011, let’s hope that 2012 will be better :)

    Take a look at this new crowdfunding platform ( that brings innovative companies seeking capital, and investors wishing to participate ACTIVELY in their development..

    to be continue…

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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