Projects

Crowdfunding and its impact on traditional business models

I was recently interviewed for the April issue of Design Quarterly, you can read the article entitled ‘Drawing a Crowd’ here.  The article features Australia’s first campaigns to be launched under the new Kickstarter banner. Below is my interview in full with Design Quarterly:

Featured projects include the DIY Concrete House Ring, alongside Luto, Modeska and Orbitkey.

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Left: Modeska, Right: Luto

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Left: Orbitkey, Right: DIY Concrete House Ring

 DQ: Can you please provide a short description of the concept you applied for funding with through Kickstarter?

LB: My name is Linda Bennett, I am an architecture graduate, designer and writer. I have since established my own design company, Architact. The DIY Concrete House Ring was one of the 1st projects launched at 10am on November 13th 2013, under the new Australian banner.

Rooted in the architecture and construction industry the DIY Concrete House Ring is a high quality silver and concrete composite unisex ring. Available in 5 unique designs or a design your own alternative, the ring is packaged in a DIY kit, which invites you (the user) to experience the unique and rewarding process of making.

The DIY Concrete House Ring brings together materials, knowledge and technologies from various trades otherwise not accessible. It is the world’s first concrete ring that has undergone refinement in order to bring its incredible process into your hands as a DIY kit.

The ring is casted within a complex but easy to use moulding system of silicone. Your new DIY kit contains 16 individual components that were specifically designed and manufactured for the DIY Concrete House Ring.

The DIY Concrete House Ring is not limited by the aesthetics of materiality. You are free to create infinite colour and texture possibilities. No two rings are identical, through the process of making you create the personality of your ring; represented by tiny cracks, imperfections and scratches that continue to evolve over the lifetime of the ring.

The DIY kit allows you to make a single silver and concrete composite ring. It is possible however, to reuse the high quality silicone casting mould to make other rings from different materials. My favourite trick is to create a replica crayon ring providing a beautiful juxtaposition between permanent and temporary. It’s a great way to involve your family (kids love this one!) or create gifts for other people.

Since the completion of the Kickstarter campaign I have been busy establishing my own design company, architect. I am currently working on a branding and marketing strategy. The rings have also developed further, and are now available in timber, brick and concrete. The rings can either ‘made by me’ (made by archi-ninja) or ‘made by you’ (DIY – as per the kickstarter campaign). A new design will also be released in the coming months after kickstarter backers vote for their favorite design from a selection of four options. Additional to this I have also been working extensively on package design and a retail market strategy for 2014.

DQ: How did you first hear about Kickstarter?

LB: I first heard about Kickstarter in April 2013 (4 years after it’s initial launch) when two close friends were in the process of preparing for their own kickstarter campaign. Their project, the hibermate was launched under the US handle and exceeded their initial funding goal of $10,000 within the first 24 hours (a massive success!).

Throughout and well beyond their campaign turned to them for advice and they have been incredibly supportive in sharing their experiences and networks. I made sure to observe their process and to understand the logistics and dedication required to launch a project on Kickstarter.

DQ: What motivated you to use it as a funding platform over other funding methods?

LB: To me, Kickstarter felt like the obvious choice over other funding platforms. I felt my project embodied what Kickstarter stands for and the morals upon which they are grounded. Kickstarter provides an opportunity to level the playing field for young creatives; having backed and supported other projects on Kickstarter before launching my own I felt an attachment to a community of other like-minded and passionate people.

A strong value alignment existed not only between kickstarter and myself but also between the backers who support the projects. Perhaps as a Gen-Y I felt comfortable reaching out to those online for funding (rather than traditional mediums) and to allow myself to leverage my existing online networks established via archi-ninja.com.

Ultimately Kickstarter is paradigm shifting; shaping and making possible a creative future for bring new products onto the market or at very least and into the public eye.

A broad spectrum of projects is funded via kickstarter from films and games to music, art and design. Architecture in full scale is just starting to appear on kickstarter (including those seeking funding for refurbishments, blueprints or design services). How crowd funding, crowd souring or open sourcing might affect the architecture industry is truly exciting.

DQ: To what stage had your concept been developed when you applied to Kickstarter?

LB: The conceptual foundation for the DIY Concrete House Ring was established a year prior to the launch of my Kickstarter campaign. The very first DIY Concrete House Ring was created in 2012 when I relocated from Sydney to Melbourne; it was a personal exploration of the meaning of home. It was such an enjoyable process that I wanted to share it with other people. In 2012 this was never my intention nor did I expect it to evolve as it has. That is exactly the beauty of initially designing for self; infinite freedom, iterations and the agility to let it flourish into something new. At the end of the day, designing for me is exploring my own desire to connect with as many people as possible, to influence their thinking, their daily lives and to create a bond with others otherwise not possible.

At the launch of kickstarter the technology and materials behind the product were about 80% established. If not a perfectionist some may say it was 100% complete. I am still working on the last 20% (spending 80% of my time) making minor refinements to ensure the product is as perfect as possible before sending it out to the community who made it happen. I feel a genuine responsibility to not let them down.

DQ: Did you need to carry out any further preparation before being accepted into Kickstarter?

LB: Kickstarter accepted the project within 24 hours of my first submission; they also sent a lovely personal note suggesting it was a wonderful campaign.

In the months prior I was attentive to the Kickstarter requirements. In the lead up to the launch date I spoke with many people who had their own kickstarter successes as well as attending conferences and reaching out to those with expertise.

I was working full time in architecture before launching so needed to be organised and prepared, much of the work for kickstarter was done in the early hours of the morning or on weekends. The absolute scariest part of the campaign was filming the kickstarter video; to be in front of camera is my absolute worst nightmare. I had many nightmares in the lead up to filming; to say I was freaking out was an understatement. As a designer one rarely has to expose their own personality in such a literal way, I feel more comfortable sharing myself through an object embedded with meaning.

DQ: Were there any unforseen obstacles in this process?

LB: There were no unforeseen obstacles in the lead up to kickstarter; I was 90% ready before even considering kickstarter as the avenue for sharing my product with the world. After talking with some friends I was convinced this was the way to go.

Upon launching I made sure for my own sanity that I was able to deliver on the promises I would make to my backers. At a personal level, I needed to ensure I was creating something I could be confident in selling.

DQ: What was the response to your Kickstarter listing? Where you satisfied with the funding you received?

LB: Initially the DIY Concrete House Ring was received with positive reception from Kickstarter, they recommended the project for media outlets including BBC. The DIY Concrete House Ring was also one of very few projects to be selected as a ‘Kickstarter Staff Pick.’

The community at large (including architects, jewellers and DIY lovers) also received the project with positive reception; touching feedback reinforced this. The funding came in consistently through the campaign and was pushed over the line a week before the campaign ended by a corporate sponsor, which I actively sought out. I am so grateful and touched that a community of individuals (some who know me and some who don’t) have brought this project to life through their belief in the product, without them this would simply not be possible.

DQ: Did you actively engage in promoting your concept when it was on Kickstarter? If so, how?

LB: Promoting the DIY Concrete House Ring beyond kickstarter was one of the most important factors to my success. Early on in the campaign the majority of my backers came from external sources and signed up to kickstarter for the first time, part of my responsibility was to educate these first time users and give them confidence in the kickstarter platform.

The DIY Concrete House Ring on Kickstarter was picked up by the largest architecture, design and fashion blogs including archdaily, a daily dose of architecture, dezeen, designboom, design milk and Frankie magazine. Reaching out to their large and targeted audiences was invaluable to my success; I also worked very hard to develop new corporate relationships.

Throughout the campaign at least 60% of my time was dedicated to educating, promoting and driving traffic to the kickstarter page. The other 40% was spent making improvements to the kickstarter page, creating new products and implementing feedback. It was imperative that I remained agile and open to suggestions from other people who had great ideas to contribute. Kickstarter became not only and exercise in community funding but also a community design project as they began to develop the product.

DQ: Were you successful in achieving your funding target?

LB: Yes, I reached my funding goal of $24,500 on December 9, 3 days before the end of the campaign (close call). For the full duration of the campaign I worked hard for funding. Should I have not reached goal I gained enough knowledge and personal growth to make it a worthwhile and challenging experience regardless.

DQ: What do you think the greatest aspect of Kickstarer is?

LB: At the launch of the campaign I had only two ring designs (two houses; the saltbox roof design and the gable roof design) after feedback from the kickstarter community and friends I released 3 new minimal designs and timber replica rings. Timber rings for those that could not part with as much money and the minimal design rings for those that prefer a more simple design or who prefer to wear smaller rings.

It was important for me to remain agile and to use kickstarter as a testing ground, establishing (rather than speculating) who my audience is and what they want. On the basis of obtaining measurable statics kickstarter is invaluable.

Kickstarter has a wonderful community who throughout the campaign suggested improvements to the page including additional images, content and diagrams to more clearly articulate the product. Beyond the additional launch page new images suggested that the rings would also make for wonderful key rings or can be placed on a necklace, diagrams explaining the exchange rates helped those outside Australia convert their local currency.

The kickstarter campaign also provided for personal growth beyond any expectation and perhaps through lack of sleep it was the most intense emotional rollercoaster. I received emails from across the globe, which told beautiful stories of people backing the DIY Concrete House Ring for their daughter (who was obsessed with the video), for partners who just bought their first home or for a wedding proposing. In an instant when reading such stories I was brought to tears, not just any tears but the uncontrollable “ugly tears.” I was overwhelmed and reminded that design does affect the lives of other people. When connecting with such people I am reminded exactly why I do what I do.

DQ: Is there anything in the platform you feel could be improved?

LB: Kickstarter has built an incredible platform, however one of their key criticisms relate to backer management post funding.  Alternatives have emerged in the market (i.e. backerkit.com) but the folks at Kickstarter certainly know this is an area in need of improvement. Creators are only able to send a single backer report to attain information relating to fulfilling their backer’s pledges (i.e. postal address). From this the backer’s replies are locked in once received and any changes are requested and updated manually, creating possible headaches for both parties.

Another area of improvement is to become more currency or local agnostic through converting foreign currency projects back to local currency based on geo-location or the Kickstarter profile.

DQ: Does it suit certain types of products/concepts over others? If so, which and how?

LB: The statistics released by Kickstarter each year are transparent and helpful to both project creators and backers. Games are one of the most successful genres of all kickstarter projects. When looking further into the other categories, particularly product design, there is a substantial trend toward utility projects.  Backers are often looking for products designed to improve their lifestyle through utility, not necessarily luxury. Technology and gimmick driven projects are also hugely successful.

Luxury products can also perform extremely well but are often tied back somehow to technology or gaming such as the Dice Rings. The DIY Concrete House Ring unrelated to technology, gimmicks, gaming or utility was a bit of an outcast when compared to other successful campaigns. Backers were required to connect with the product through its concept, desire and emotion rather than purchasing based on necessity.

DQ: In retrospect, would you do anything differently?

LB: In retrospect the communication of the product both on the page and in the video was a bit convoluted and complex, at the end of the day I wish I could have conveyed the complexity of the concept, design, process and technology in a more succinct and concise manner.

I could have better conveyed the important notion of community by involving my friends, nieces and nephews in the videos, with them making the rings alongside me but unfortunately they live in another state.

Having learnt some of the shortcomings of my communication on kickstarter I am currently working on rectifying this through new copy and imagery for my new website. As much as possible I updated the page and made changes throughout the campaign, creating new reward levels, designs, images, content and currency conversion charts.

DQ: What advice would you give someone interested in fundraising through Kickstarter?

LB: Bring your product or idea to the edge of life prior to Kickstarter. Not only will this reveal the full scope of the idea you wish to bring to life, but also demonstrate your commitment to potential backers.

Discuss your idea with friends and industry experts to deepen your understanding and be willing to make changes and be open to suggestions.  Find your WOW factor and point of difference, as yourself what you uniquely offer? The majority of backers on Kickstarter (including myself) often experience the sense of WOW when backing a new project; ensure your project will inspire the same reaction.

Make your video and page interesting and engaging, connect as much as possible with the individual, you are communicating with the kickstarter platform but each and every individual who looks at your page. You are connecting in reality with one person each time.

Despite the length of your campaign, be prepared for a Marathon. Managing kickstarter is a full time commitment (it is hard work) and this commitment should translate into the commitment of the product you hope to bring to life. For me the experience was a true test of my passion and represented my inability to give up on something I believe in.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the interview. Please leave your comments in the section below. 

 

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