Kickstarter is the undisputed king of crowdfunding, the service entrepreneurs turn to when they need money to back their great idea. If people like it, they pledge cash to bankroll the project in return for perks like special edition versions of the end product. On March 3, Kickstarter announced it had surpassed $1 billion in pledges.
That $1 billion invested in new products over five years (Kickstarter launched in 2009) may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the cash that tech companies like Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) throw around on acquisitions. It pales in comparison to the $19 billion Facebook dropped on WhatsApp.
But Kickstarter projects have become the “garage” of this decade, especially for those in the technology field. Kickstarter provides a way for budding designers and engineers who have an idea to showcase it to potential customers and investors, and use their pledges for monetary support to get that idea from the drawing board to the shelf.
The crowdfunding model means you don’t have to undertake the gruelling formality (and risk) of securing a bank loan, or hoping angel investors will commit a stack of money to an unproven idea — instead, you convince a bunch of people that they should buy your product and essentially pre-pay in order to ensure it gets off the ground.
Not every idea is a good one, and not every entrepreneur can successfully manage their Kickstarter project even if it is successfully funded. However, there have been some smash successes, like the Pebble smartwatch — which got its start as a Kickstarter project.
In recognition of Kickstarter surpassing the $1 billion mark, here are five of the most influential Kickstarter projects, at least when it comes to the consumer technology field.
5 of the Most Influential Kickstarter Projects: Pebble Smartwatch
Sony (SNE) has had a few kicks at the can, with the first being described as “maybe the worst thing Sony has ever made.” Samsung’s (SSNLF) Galaxy Gear sold poorly and suffered embarrassing return rates by unhappy buyers.
The Pebble smartwatch, on the other hand, has been a breakout star in the category.
Starting as a Kickstarter project with a goal of raising $100,000 to produce an app-running smartwatch with a customizable face, vibrating notification alarm and e-paper display with 5-7 day battery life, the Pebble smartwatch quickly surpassed $10 million in pledges from nearly 69,000 backers.
The Pebble smartwatch has since been a Consumer Electronics Show highlight, has landed on shelves at Best Buy (BBY) and become the first home run the fledgling smartwatch market has seen to date.
5 of the Most Influential Kickstarter Projects: TidyTilt
The market for iPhone cases is saturated, but there is still room for unique concepts that the big players don’t necessarily want to take a risk on. The TidyTilt (which we reviewed in January) brings the benefits of Apple’s iPad smartcover to the iPhone 5s, adds built-in cable management and a magnetic mount.
TidyTilt started as a successful Kickstarter project for a pair of design students ($10,000 goal with $223,000 raised).
Computer accessory giant Logitech (LOGI) had missed the boat on iPhone cases. Rather than pay through the nose for an established company or take the time (and risk a flop) developing its own, LOGI snapped up the TidyTilt — a proven success with considerable buzz around it thanks to that Kickstarter campaign — and brought one of the designers in house to work on future products.
5 of the Most Influential Kickstarter Projects: Ouya Android Video Game Console
One of the most epic battles to hit the living room is brewing right now as Amazon (AMZN) preps a set top box that reportedly supports video games from its app store, while rumors suggest the next version of the Apple TV will play the vast library of iOS game apps on the TV.
Both were beaten to the punch by the Ouya, a $99 console that plays Android game apps. Ouya hasn’t released sales figures, but it has set a bar at that price point (for both the console and a wireless controller), while proving that Android games can indeed be played when scaled up to the big screen TV experience.
Ouya was the second-highest-funded Kickstarter project to date, raising $8.6 million on a $950,000 goal. Regardless of Ouya’s ultimate success, those numbers alone served as a good indicator for Apple and Amazon that there’s a market for bringing mobile games to the living room, and people are willing to pay for the ability.
5 of the Most Influential Kickstarter Projects: Formlabs Form 1 3D Printer
3D printing is another high-tech industry that seems on the verge of exploding. And while companies like 3D Systems (DDD) are tackling the consumer market with models like the Cube 3D printer (you can read our review here), there has been less effort to target the professional level of 3D printing. Not industrial-scale 3D printers, but desktop models with the accuracy to serve as professional prototypers.
That’s where Formlabs saw an opportunity. The MIT Media Labs spinoff launched a Kickstarter Project for the Form 1 3D printer, looking to raise $100,000 to manufacture the professional, high resolution printer.
The Kickstarter campaign raised $2.9 million. Formlabs shipped 900 of its $3,299 3D printers within a year, and that success helped it land $19.3 million in Series A financing to go up against bigger, established competitors like Stratasys (SYSS).
Without the exposure — and the money — it gained from that highly successful Kickstarter project, Formlabs would have had a tough slog trying to attract investors for an expensive, unproven 3D printer in a market getting crowded with startups.
5 of the Most Influential Kickstarter Projects: Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset Developer Kit
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard of the Oculous Rift VR headset. The high-tech headset has been called not only the future of games, but also of movie viewing.
The problem with such an impressive — and game changing — piece of hardware is that it requires content in order to succeed. Oculus VR already had the headset prototype, but needed to get developer kits with headsets into the hands of developers in order to create content.
The company chose to launch a Kickstarter project for Oculus Rift developer kits, including the hardware and SDK, hoping to raise $250,000. The company wildly exceeded that 2012 Kickstarter goal by raising $2.4 million, attracting attention from big video game studios and helping Oculus Rift progress to the point where it won numerous “Best of CES 2014” awards.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.