The success of a failed KickStarter

Last night I got the email that our Kickstarter failed.  This does NOT mean that GearLab, Jr. failed as a game.  As a matter of fact, starting today, you can order it from the Cogbots website.  For me, this means we are not $27, ooo in debt.  I should backup a bit, for those of you who have not been following along.

GearLab, our travelling community driven kinetic art piece, has been a huge success. We continue to take it to Makerfaires, Steampunk and ComicCons and art openings as a feature. We have had schools and science museums order parts to build their own. Everywhere we went, people would pine for the space to have one at home.

This drive to have a smaller, cheaper version  was the birth of GearLab, Jr  photo (4) a build your own Gear Puzzle Game . We did design and prototype work in the shop and tweaked it until we were ready to show some other folks. We took it with us to the Steampunk  World’s Fair  for wider play testing, as well as to test the price point by taking some pre-orders.

The game has a lot of pieces ( and holes!) and took over 11 hours to cut on our equipment.  It is made from high quality cabinet grade plywood so it will last and feels good in your hands.

We had no idea what to expect.

The results were overwhelming.  People loved it. They thought the price was reasonable, and started giving us more and more ideas for potential markets.  “Take it to the Montessori market and it will sell like hot cakes” we were told by the Montessori mom who pre-ordered one for home and one to donate to her school.  “This would make an awesome bar game”, another customer told us as he pre – ordered one for his home.  People of every age were getting into the idea of competitive challenges and came back day after day at the show to see what the new challenge for the day was.

It was infectious. We got more and more excited about the game we already loved.  Maybe this really was a breakthrough product… maybe this was going to be huge…   would we be able to see our game in specialty game stores some day?  It was starting to feel surreal.  But if the market was really that wide, the orders would flow so quickly, we were in trouble.  The single CNC machine in our art studio could never handle that kind of volume.

It is important to us that our products remain locally made of high quality materials.  I spent much of the drive back from New Jersey to Indiana with my laptop open, running numbers in excel.  Building models in excel, we calculated the minimum volume needed to support equipment dedicated to cutting just this one product and  the cost of the dedicated equipment and infrastructure upgrades to support it. We talked through how we could re-arrange the shop in the studio to make sure we had the space and the pacing we could produce for large orders.  It was going to be a $27,000 investment.

The thought of making a $27,000 investment without a true proof of market made me a bit nervous.  We decided to use KickStarter  to truly test the market.  If the market was as hot as everyone was telling us it would be, the Kickstarter would fly, and everything would be great.  If the KickStarter did not meet the target, then we would put the game in our web store and continue on.  We knew it would take about 650 orders/yr to sustain dedicated equipment.  But for the Kickstarter, we not only had to raise the $27,000 – we had to raise the cost of the materials for the game and the shipping as well.

More spreadsheets were born. I finally came up with a spreadsheet I liked where I defined the different reward levels, put in the costs/revenue for each level and play with projections for how many at each level we thought could come in.  From that, we could project total number of games to be built, total material and shipping costs and a target for the Kickstarter could be set.  It looked like between $60K – $85K. That felt a little crazy.   We took the game to some more gatherings and events. The feedback continued to be uniformly amazing. I pushed Dave for some design tweaks and he came up with some ways to keep the game pay identical but cut a few small costs and bring the cut time down to 10 hours.  I re-ran the numbers and we had a new target, $57k. It was time to launch.  Either there was a hidden huge market out there, or we just had niches of devoted fans who wanted to think that everyone would love us.

During the KickStarter, we took the game to 2 different MakerFaires.  The more people play with the game, the more I believe in it. I am a firm believer in things that engage kids of all ages in STEAM/STEM activities. Reactions like this still give me goose bumps:

This game is still one of the proudest things I have helped to create- and I look forward to watching it get into the hands of folks who will love it through generations.

So what does this “failed” Kickstarter mean for us?  The mass market that our fans wanted to believe in, isn’t there – yet.  Maybe someday, maybe not. But in the meantime, we are not carrying an extra $27K in debt and the art studio can instead invest that money into continuing to build and design cool new things.

Buy your GearLabJr and join the Gear Challenge Community today.


Final Passivation

IMG_3817 Yesterday finished assembly and this morning was the final passivation.

Early in the process we do a hard passivation with Nitric Acid, but at this point it is a special Citric acid solution that cleans and passivates.

Passivation sprayBecause it is a much less acidic solution, this one can be applied with a squirt bottle, and it tends to cling and stick to the metal.

We let it sit and do its chemical magic with the Stainless Steel,  and then Rinse like crazy.  After a few trials, we figured out that a regular garden hose just did not give the rinse we wanted without taking a very long time, so the last few have been power washes like the one this morning.


Power Tools… FTW

IMG_3675The base of When the Earth Moves is the Point where the largest base gear is erupting from the earth, so a smooth finish made no sense….  but the Hammered Stainless Steel looks man made and manipulated. We wanted something more natural and yet cracked looking.






After some experimentation on scrap pieces, David discovered that his air hammer made an excellent “crinkle” finish, so we are adopting that for the base.

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It is much faster than hand hammering, but LOUD.  Turn your volume on before hitting play…

Raising up Gears 3 and 4



The other day we reached the point where 2 more gears got mounted onto the statue. With the gantry crane and a helping hand from a friend, it went like clockwork, and was one of the easiest things we have done in the project thus far.




If I had a hammer……

We have talked a lot about “shiny” in these posts, but that is not the only finish for Stainless Steel.  On When The Earth Moves, the base and uprights are going to be forms of Hammered Stainless.

How do you get Hammered Stainless?

This is a fun part,( although kind of back breaking) and I even got to get in on some of the action:

An Evening Glow

The protective layer on Stainless Steel comes not just from lots of polishing, but also from an acid treatmentIMG_3604 ( Nitric Acid in our case) and then a following with a citric solution.   It has been so incredibly hot outside that in order to keep the acid effective, Dave has had to spritz it down with a little water occaisionally before finally washing it off.  This treatment is what creates the hard chromium layer on the Stainless Steel and helps to prevent corrosion.

it is a citric solution that the statue should be washed down with once a year to remove any residual crud that might build up from sticky hands and whatever is in the water evaporating off.

All of this is well worth the effort, in the evening light you can really see the reflective glow of the shiny surfaces contrasting with the shadows.

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Assembly and test

As the finish  process on the Gears starts to come to  a close, the structural work begins.

IMG_3618The first First step is getting the uprights in place and a small gear topped on…

Once you have that, what else could you expect to happen?

The base comes home….

We got the call that we could come and pick up the base from Stephen’s Machine, and were filled with a mix of excitement and nervousness. Nan had been sick for days, battling some odd  virus, so Dave prepped and organized for transport. Luckily we got a fever reprieve window to record our baby coming home, and although it had the potential to be catastrophic in Dave’s mind, all of his prep and the professionals at Stephen’s meant that it went smoothly and easily.

There were two goals for the morning.  First, of course, bring her home. Second, create the base template.  While forklifts were going to have the half ton base lifted and moving, this was the perfect chance to set her on plywood and create a template of the base for the site prep crew, allowing them a model for where to drill holes, rather than relying on measurements alone.

Before we even started with the  transfer into Maynard ( our trailer), Dave worked with the crew at Stephen’s to get the template drawn.

Then, it was time for the transfer. It went quickly and painlessly. The little cart you see her being transferred onto in the trailer is the one Dave and his dad were building when he learned some new technique lessons.

You don’t just toss a thousand pounds of  stainless steel love in the back of your trailer and drive off,  it needs to be blocked and braced and locked into place.

IMG_3388In case you did not get a good look at the current state of the base with all the movement in the videos, here is a static shot.  A few days of polishing and she will be glistening.

This weekend will be the non-fork truck unloading of the base at home , and installation of the gantry to start with the piecing of the parts.  There has also been incredible hours of polishing this week, so more sneak peaks at the progress on the gears- stay tuned!