The rise of online crowdfunding platforms over the last decade has created a whole new pathway for some robot startups. In the process, crowdfunding campaigns have helped to catapult hardware and robots into the public eye, captivating our imaginations. Quite simply, crowdfunding is a form of entertainment just as much as it is a form of fundraising. And learning how to tell your story to others is a critical part of turning a project from imagination to product.
Crowdfunding is not new of course. The principles of crowdfunding are extensions of existing cultural practices. in 1720, the author Jonathon Swift created a low income loan scheme in Ireland that at peak was used by approximately 20% of the population. Dr Mohamed Yunus launched a microfinance program in Bangladesh in 1976 that became the Grameen Bank. The Grameen Bank now has more than 8 million borrowers, primarily women. You can call it a systematic approach to ‘small, short and unsecured’ loans and the internet has made microfinance possible on a whole new level. Although artist oriented crowdfunding sites started as early as 1997, Indiegogo was one of the first of the massively popular crowdfunding sites that came after 2006, when coincidentally, Dr Yunus won a Nobel Prize for the Grameen Bank.
Today, Indiegogo are partnering with Silicon Valley Robotics and Robohub in Robot Launch 2014, the first global online startup competition for robotics. Robotics is still an emerging industry and Robot Launch 2014 is a way of bringing together early stage startups to receive top quality mentoring and other assistance. One of the awards will be for the most popular startup and one of the rewards will be assistance with an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.
As Kate Drane, Indiegogo’s hardware lead says, it’s all about giving people access to funds and resources that are out there, creating community and empowering people to do things for themselves. Indiegogo ran their first hardware startup workshop recently, have an hardware entrepreneur in residence and are building up a library of resources to help crowdfunding campaigns for hardware and robotics startups. Sadly fewer than 50% of campaigns meet their targets – but as platforms take a % of your campaign funds – it’s in their best interests to help you become successful.
Indiegogo is carving out a niche as a supporter of hardware projects, not just creative endeavors. In some respects this seems to be a riskier business – you have to trust that at the end of 6 months or a year, the project that you funded will become a solid working reality. That something will go from imagination to product. Producing real new devices that work as claimed and don’t cost significantly more than projected is not easy. However, compared to say a new band producing a CD, you realize that in one instance the physical object may be easier to create, but the risk is still as great. The final result is still going to be unknown.
That’s where the story telling is important. How well can you explain your vision to the rest of the world and capture their imagination. Robot Launchpad has collected some good resources for storytelling. There are templates for a pitch deck and a one page investor summary. There’s also a link to Nathan Gold, the DEMO coach and now Kauffman NEXT coach, and David Rose’s TED talk. I really believe that telling the right story is the secret to creating a good product.