Meet the Kids Who Made Crowdfunding Cool
Dan Provost and Tom Gerhardt friends, designers, and co-owners of Studio Neat, on a cold February night in 2013, ducked into The Clover Bar at Brooklyn for some alcohol-induced R&D. They wanted to pep up their in-home bars and discovered the answer in the bottom of a glass. The Clover Club is one of Brooklyn’s best cocktail bars worth its in-house bitters, all served with a single, huge square of clear ice. Provost loved the idea and they both investigated about making it at home.
A problem they loved and which, Studio Neat, their company, specialized in solving. The next three months were spent in filling freezers with failed experiments and eventually decided to make a big piece of ice, and cut out unclear parts. That was a doable solution and they sourced all parts needed into a nice package at Austin, Texas. Studio Neat started their Neat Ice Kit campaign on Kickstarter in August, 2013 their fourth campaign, and biggest hit yet, raising $155,519 from more than 2,200 backers. For the same price as 5 cocktails from Clover Club, you could make yourself some ‘awesome ice’ at home.
The Kickstarter Factory
Manufacturing at scale, with one high-quality product to a hundred or a hundred million is really hard. Starting a company like Studio Neat for Gerhardt and Provost was difficult a decade back. But with Kickstarter, 3D-printing, and a flourishing ecosystem of hardware companies to actually design products, Studio Neat outsourced everything from manufacturing to bookkeeping and commerce. The two partners built an international business with just a 3D printer, two iMacs and two standing desks and are a model for every modern company where anyone with an idea can design, manufacture and sell products everywhere. Silicon Valley was almost entire built by techies in start-ups in their own garages and only much later moved on to huge campuses with free food and whatnot. The next generation of hackers and makers might remain in garages.
The Kickstarter rocket ship
With similar tastes and interests, both partners are rather finicky with strong feelings about design. When Apple launched the iPhone 4 in 2010, there were only real cameras then, mountable on a tripod. Nothing like that really existed. After a few months of design and refining, they had a little nub of a thing to screw your phone into a tripod, acting as a makeshift kickstand called Glif. For funds to mass-produce prototypes, the Glif was put on the crowdfunding platform in October, 2010 with a video explaining Glif and why help was needed to make it. If you backed them, you’d get a Glif when ready. They hoped to sell a few, setting the goal at $10,000. John Gruber the video on his blog, Daring Fireball and Gerhardt and Provost increased their funding goal by three times and within a month, raised $130,000. Kickstarter’s first big product was Glif and it changed the game as before 2010, there were hardly any gadgets on Kickstarter, a site for music and movies. With Glif’s success, other first-time designers/makers emulated the Studio Neat method. The video style, the contribute-to-preorder offer, is legend stuff now. Back then it was creative and innovative on Kickstarter. Suddenly the partners had more than 5,000 orders to fill, created Studio Neat, and set out to make, package, and ship thousands of Glifs.
Hiring more people could be done as after the Glif, they had many Kickstarter hits such as the Cosmonaut stylus, the March Madness bracket phone app, the Neat Ice Kit, and the Simple Syrup Kit. They’ve released successful apps, too. The Glif won a design award from Core77, and reviewers declared the Cosmonaut as the best stylus available for the iPad. People like Studio Neat’s stuff, and business is good. But they like being small, simple and with good work-life balance.
Studio Neat outsourced everything to Premier Source with 5,000 people waiting on their Glif. You can snag Studio Neat’s wares on Amazon, or on their own dedicated website where Shopify handles all of the shopping carts and credit card numbers. Shipwire does order fulfilment. They refined the perfect algorithm for a small business to make real things and sell them everywhere. When starting up, they had some friendly advice from the founder of Dodocase Patrick Buckley. Studio Neat is a small company that doesn’t seem small. Now they help others get up to speed the same way.
The New Factory
Everything’s outsourced and the people doing it, are really good at it. That gives both the freedom, to follow their instincts and not worry about the results, letting them design whatever they want. They had an Obi failure too. Now they are designing a remote stand for the Apple TV and a cocktail-rimming tray. Everything the two talk about, turns into a brainstorm: a veritable snowstorm of a hundreds of ideas in just 60 seconds! It’s safe to say that there will soon be a Kickstarter hit coming up.
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