Rocío Lara, Flickr.
Crowdfunding makes the startup world go round.
No one really likes asking for money. I can recall working in a shop and though it was my job, feeling guilty for asking and taking money from a customer for something that I thought was a little overpriced. That’s probably more of a reflection on my personality but it’s true, money is an awkward topic and no one enjoys straight up asking for it.
So it is interesting to have this cemented sense of hindering pride in a world where asking for money on a larger scale is acceptable – otherwise known as crowdfunding.
So far a massive $1,517,006,704 – probably more as I type - has been pledged to Kickstarter projects worldwide. That’s a huge number coming out of normal people’s pockets for, in a lot of cases, products that haven’t even reached completion.
And people back the most random things. In fact right now some questionable 3D printed penguin charms are overtaking a campaign to set up a kids 3D printing workshop – priorities people!
Currently there are around 30 open Kickstarter campaigns under the “3D printing” tag. Some have already reached their target and others have barely kicked off. The point is that each of these campaigns comes with a few words or a video that essentially says: “please back me” – asking, suddenly doesn’t seem so shameful.
Musician Amanda Palmer presented a famous TED Talk on the importance of asking after receiving a barrage of negativity for working with Kickstarter to fund her music since ditching her record label. But it has worked. There’s a sense of community now that’s taken on a life of it’s own and allowed her to personally connect with her audience and offer them a completely unique experience. If someone believes in the product, they can support it in whatever way they see fit. If a song is worth $2 they’ll pay it, if it’s so good it’s worth $10 of their hard earned cash then it’s completely up to the consumer to pay it.
3D printing can do the same. This is a technology that’s full of startups and enough Converse and coloured hoodies to out-cool a Hollister billboard. For companies just starting out, in university labs and garages across the world, crowdfunding is often the only feasible way of getting any financial backing - unless the technology is in fact so hot that one of the big boys decides to snap it up for a pretty penny. If you are in fact wearing high-tops, tinkering in a garage and this happens, then mini high five and power to you.
But back to a more likely scenario, it is exciting to witness how crowdsourcing has become a completely acceptable way of doing business. It’s like the cold calling spree for the digital age where you don’t actually have to physically speak to another human being to ask for a handout. You don’t call, you Tweet, write a blog post, leave a comment. Is the key difference these days that asking is “anonymous”?
People appeal to people and this industry is full of personalities, some that have taken on a life of their own either with questionable beards or managing to maintain the image of a student whilst securing $5 million in funding. It makes sense for these inspiring individuals to put a face to the funding and make the most of this community spirit that flows through our geeky circles just like the music scene.
Crowdfunding has acted as a springboard to success for so many 3D printing start-ups. You only need to look as far as something like Formlabs to see how it is enabling young companies to not only compete with the top 1% but become a part of it. Of course it's not all plain sailing, it certainly has it's pitfalls but if the product is good it can be a real game changer.
As a twenty-something who’s had it pretty much ingrained since the recession that aspiring to be as successful as your parents will have to do (contradicting everything I’ve ever been taught), I’m happy that young businesses have access to this form of financing. For 3D printing, this is even more pertinent. If additive manufacturing is to live up to its “next industrial revolution” status, then crowdfunding is a great way to support the innovators and the makers that have the keys to an industry that could open a gateway to many more opportunities.
But getting back to right now and the deal with crowdfunding is that if people believe in your product enough to back it, you’ve got to give something back. Be it a simple thank you on a website or a 3D printer delivered in the time it said it would be, giving has to be rewarded. Keep to those promises and as Amanda Palmer said, you have the power to “ask without shame.”