The Kickstarter pitch video is the modern-day equivalent of two guys poking at a boxy computer in front of a crowd of bearded tech enthusiasts. It’s a 21st-century version of a 1975 meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club where the attendees have just gotten a walkthrough of the first Apple computer from two young Steves Jobs and Wozniak.
The Club is best-remembered as something of the birthing ground of the immensely successful computer company. It was the place where Wozniak retooled his designs and got the occasional help from other club members. He writes:
Without computer clubs there would probably be no Apple computers. Our club in the Silicon Valley, the Homebrew Computer Club, was among the first of its kind […] A lot of tech-type people would gather and trade integrated circuits back and forth […] We had similar interests and we were there to help other people, but we weren’t official and we weren’t formal.
The Homebrew Computer Club closed shop in 1986, but this same spirit of collaboration and innovation can be found today in sites like Kickstarter and its crowdfunding ilk. These sites (specifically their tech categories) fill the same hole as the Club, and then they fill a few more, providing the infrastructure to get investment money. People who like what they see in those aforementioned pitch videos can contribute money to help bring the project to completion.
Tech projects creators will usually offer their finished product in exchange for financial backing. For those especially attention-getting ideas that prompt money to rain from the sky, like the $US10.2 million-fetching Pebble smartwatch, it’s not unheard of for a relatively small-scale project to be vaulted into the spotlight and turn into serious business. Consider the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset or the FORM-1 3D printer. Both projects grew over time from small-scale germs of ideas into sexy, fully-realised products that got enough attention to move serious money. Just like Apple.
Although there’s a case that letting people throw dollars at you is enough to be considered “collaboration,” it’s not unheard-of for project backers to want to get involved more practically, maybe lend some brainpower or other resources to problems the team may encounter along the way.
Brook Drumm’s own 3D printer project, Printrbot, is a strong example here. Not only did he smash his fundraising goal, but his Kickstarter backers got their hands dirty in the best way possible. Before the fundraising campaign had even concluded, they were offering ideas of their own in the project’s comments. When the finished product landed in backers’ hands, they even improved their Printrbots after they received them and sharing their improvements with the crowd.
If you’re an aspiring tech billionaire who’s already conceived of the Next Big Thing, don’t make the mistake of writing this off as just some fashionable way to get another trivial iPhone case to market. Kickstarter has its hipster cachet, sure, but it is a plausible avenue for getting any project off the ground, even those with considerable expenses outside of tech. Director Spike Lee, for instance, used it to raise $US1.4 million to put towards production costs of his next movie.
In the same way that Homebrew Computer Club gave the Apple I the critique, consideration, and improvement it needed, Kickstarter’s publicity, collaboration-friendly environment, and money-collecting capabilities make it a fearsome tool for the Wozniaks and Jobses of the future to punch big mean holes in the tech ceiling.