Toolmakers build support on Kickstarter

Lockitron

If you were hoping to launch your quick-drying spackle on Kickstarter last fall, you may have been out of luck. Or at least that’s how the story at Lockitron goes: In October 2012, co-founders Cameron Robertson and Paul Gerhardt took to TechCrunch to explain how their smartphone-enabled deadbolt was rejected by the crowdfunding platform for falling under the prohibited category of home improvement.

To be sure, it’s not entirely clear whether this was a categorical ban or an isolated case. According to Kick-starter’s Justin Kazmark, there was never an outright injunction on home improvement, but the company did introduce new guidelines for hard-lines and industrial design projects around the same time that Lockitron submitted its bid. Makers and builders who fall within this purview are now required to show their work: no product simulations, no product renderings, and no “pre-ordering” via multi-quantity pledges on what’s essentially an unfinished product.

Though Kazmark acknowledges that the company’s guidelines have evolved over time, it’s possible that a couple projects were held to different standards, or that someone on staff misrepresented the rules, he said.

In either case, here’s where we stand one year later: Lockitron raised $2.2 million (nearly 15 times its original goal) via pre-orders on its own website; a new upstart called Christie Street was launched to answer the call for a hardware-friendly crowdfunding platform; a number of home improvement products have, after all, had success on Kickstarter.

For some products, this may be what it takes to get ahead in the post-recession marketplace, but not for the reasons you’d expect. Rather than established, cash-strapped companies trying to gin up their liquidity, it seems that new brands are launching concurrently with their Kickstarter campaigns, and money isn’t even the biggest motivation. What these start-ups are seeking is feedback on product demand — before the fact.

Take LIFX, for example. The WiFi-and smartphone-enabled light bulb with its full spectrum of color settings saw wild success on Kickstarter (more than $1.3 million pledged of its $100,000 goal), but even the makers behind it didn’t anticipate the level of demand it would see. Having put the product on everyone’s radar, the company has been busy scaling its business accordingly and getting ready to ship to international retail stores.

“Kickstarter was more for idea validation than a capital banking exercise,” said Simon Walker, head of global marketing at LIFX. “It has the added bonus of allowing people to pre-purchase and to [amass] a large amount of customers before you ever go to product, which is a great advantage.”

Outlaw Fasteners, which aims to solve several pain points associated with deck screws via an innovative product design, tells a similar story: The point of its campaign was to “begin at the grassroots level with a demand for the product before any kind of retail strategy is put together,” said marketing director Ron Elmore.

When considered from this perspective, Kick-starter begins to seem much more hospitable to those outside the traditional tech community — say, the minds behind a fastener company — who are trying to thrive in an increasingly digital age.

“We knew that if any demographic would find validity in the concept, it would be the Kickstarter community” and its host of early adopters, Walker said. “There’s actually a huge opportunity [for home improvement]. Connected home is an exploding industry right now.”

Both Outlaw Fasteners and Bosse Tools, the maker of an ergonomic shovel, exceeded their funding goals.

Elmore stressed that it wasn’t enough to build a good Kickstarter campaign, though the quality of presentation is what makes or breaks these kinds of efforts. Outlaw hired social media pros to launch a PR campaign in tandem with the Kickstarter campaign.

Beyond reaching the correct audience, it was the demonstration of the actual use of the product that proved especially challenging.

“We assume [the video] is being watched by a knowledgeable user of home improvement,” he said. “We wanted to test the viability of the product in the hands of the person who’s operating the drill, so our content had to show people using it and clearly explaining its benefits, whether you’re a professional in the industry or if you’re just putting up curtain rods. The campaign couldn’t leave anything unanswered. [Questions like] ‘How did you coat the screws?’ would be asked by a pro.”

At the end of the day, the components of a successful crowdfunding campaign ring true for all market segments: high-quality video content, branding, packaging and product display, as well as a certain amount of restraint.

“There’s no magic,” Walker said. “It comes down to having an engaging product that people see value in and that they ultimately want. The whole idea was [it being] something the market hadn’t seen before.”

Outlaw Fasteners

Deck screws with a grudge against stripping, wobbling and bit changes

Raised: $109,926 of $100,000 goal 

Story behind the story: It won Pro Tool Review’s “Innovative Product of the Year Award” while it was still in its fundraising phase.

Where are they now? Getting ready to fill all those freshly minted orders.

LIFX

The 16-million-hued, everlasting light bulb you control with your smartphone 

Raised: $1,314,542 of $100,000 goal 

Story behind the story: The campaign raised $1.3 million in just six days — more than 13 times that of its original goal.

Where are they now? Proliferating their wares internationally.

Bosse Tools

The futuristic shovel your back will thank you for

Raised: $64,142 of $60,000 goal 

Story behind the story: The 24-year-old founder won several entrepreneurship competitions in college before deciding to launch Bosse Tools upon graduation. 

Where are they now? Gearing up for production, whilst scheming about future ergonomic tool innovation.

Cole-Bar

The world’s only multi-function hammer with a built-in crowbar

Raised: $135,250 of $100,000 goal

Story behind the story: The Cole-Bar Hammer was a joint vision shared by Indianapolis inventor Lance Hyde and his 11-year-old son Cole, who died in an accident months after conceiving the idea. Cole-Bar is the first hand tool ever to be successfully launched on Kickstarter.

Where are they now? Taking pre-orders online

Lockitron

The never-panic-over-your-front-door-again app

Raised: $2,278,891 of $150,000 goal 

Story behind the story: Was only surpassed this July as the most successful self-funding campaign (ever). 

Where are they now? Taking on additional pre-orders in the midst of its official launch.

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