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The Most Successful Kickstarter Project Ever

$4 million from the crowd? Kickstarter reaches new heights.
April 17, 2012

I’ve waxed geeky on various smartwatches before, but there are several reasons to be particularly excited about Pebble Watch.

First, of course, the specs: it works with both iPhone and Android; it uses a nifty e-paper display; it links to your phone using Bluetooth, and can push you important notifications; it’s kind of stylish, as geekwear goes. Pebble Watch even seems to have aspirations of becoming a platform, and will be releasing an SDK so other smart watch enthusiasts can code watch-apps of their own. Plus, it has a simple, pronounceable name, free of typographical idiosyncrasies–a sure way to this tech blogger’s heart. This video gives you the rundown.

But the main reason people are buzzing, rightfully, about Pebble Watch, is the simple fact that it has already become the most successful Kickstarter offering of all time. Between the moment I began writing this post, and the moment I wrapped up writing this sentence, the project’s backing rose from something around $3,794,300 to… (hang on a sec)… $3,794,440. I just clicked refresh again, and it jumped to $3,794,940. This is already 38 times the company’s stated fundraising goal of $100,000. And there are still 31 days to go until the funding window closes.

Forbes and others mull what has made this particular project so successful: a proven track record (the Pebble guys were behind the inPulse smartwatch), simplicity, compatibility, etc. I’m less interested in the causes of this campaign’s success than I am in its effects. As BuzzFeed puts it, “these are VC-level [venture capital] numbers, not crowdsourcing numbers.” Just as a new law legalizes crowdfunding, the phenomenon takes on epic proportions.

Am I the only one whose excitement over Pebble is undercut by just a tinge of regret? What I love about Kickstarter is that any scrappy entrepreneur with an idea can go out there and get funding for his back-of-napkin vision. When you look at the two most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date (here, the runner-up), they involve established or semi-established companies whose promotional videos wear their production value on their sleeve. These aren’t rogue designers, tinkerers, or DIY “makers.” And this isn’t, in a meaningful sense, a kick-start–it’s a 90-yard punt.

And of course, on the one hand, that’s fine–good, even. I love that Tim Schafer can use Kickstarter to market directly to his fan base, and bypass the conservative, wrongheaded publishers who think the adventure game is dead. 

But what I faintly dread is an era where a slickly shot Kickstarter pitch video is considered de rigueur–an era when high-priced PR and consulting comes to dominate even the supposedly scrappy, bootstrapping corners of this already PR-saturated business.

Perhaps the blogger doth protest too much. I just clicked refresh again: $3,811,376. Whatever works.

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