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.

 

Microfunding Research

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece to kick start some thinking about innovative ways to fund research. One of the ideas was to have a site where you can raise money from several supporters, ala musicians seeking funding to make a record. Seems the site already exists: Fundable.org is a site set up to allow you to request sponsorship. If you get the required pledges by your due date, then they actually charge people and send you a check. If the pledges do not add up, everyone’s pledge is canceled and you are out of luck. This is bordering on “so simple it is brilliant”.

As Kevin Kelly recently pointed out, if you are a musician you can make a decent living with 1,000 True Fans. Since research often involves a little more capital expense, you could probably do good and interesting research with just two to three thousand True Fans. If researchers work together and share capital resources, a little less is not unfeasible.

Can you cure cancer this way? Unlikely. But could new, innovative and interesting discoveries whose investigation government science agencies consider too risky be made this way? Without a doubt. From browsing the site, I have not seen any scientific research projects, but if people can get someone else to pay for their ski trip and their vet bills, someone has to be willing to pay for interesting research.
Who wants to give it a whirl? If we post a project, I will be sure to let you know.