Illustration by Sergey Shevchenko
Big Ideas

Kickstarter’s Approach to Hardware Innovation

It may very well be that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Unfortunately, with hardware products there can be a year of development standing between an initial idea and the final unveiling.

That’s a pricey gamble, especially for innovative, trailblazing products where the ideas tend to be more hit-or-miss. Not a problem if you’re a visionary of the generation, but not everyone can consistently descend from the mount, arms brimming with assured success and your name is Steve Jobs.

This is the traditional product development cycle – come up with an idea, dispatch engineers to the bunker, and a year later ask, “sooo… who wants one?”

Kickstarter turns this on its head by asking the big question upfront. And if the answer is yes, that’s when you hit the GO button (possibly with a flying champagne cork).

As others have noted, Kickstarter is selling MVP’s – minimal viable products. This is the idea of getting a product in the hands of users as soon as possible, which necessitates paring it down to the most basic feature set.

Why invest in embellishing your champagne bottle laser sight with bells and whistles and Bluetooth connectivity when you don’t even know if anyone wants a champagne bottle laser sight?

And it’s crucial to sell the thing.

If nobody will buy it, that’s a pretty good indication of whether anyone will buy it. On the other hand, if it does sell, those early adopters will likely be vocal, tech-savvy folks whose feedback will guide the development of a more polished version for the mainstream market.

Fundamentally it’s about getting feedback early and often, making constant course corrections rather than sprinting head-down for too long.

Software developers have been moving in this direction for years, constantly getting faster and better, but hardware developers lag far behind because there isn’t a clear translation for many of the methods and techniques.

After all, you can’t rebuild the project after every small tweak when rebuilding the project involves a soldering iron or a Dremel. You can’t A/B test in plastic and metal and silicon.

But the MVP is finally a tool that hardware developers can use, and Kickstarter is demonstrating it on a grand scale.

Getting user feedback from the start, gauging mainstream success without having to go through an entire product development cycle – these are powerful advantages that benefit individual inventors and Fortune 500 companies alike. The secret is definitely out among the maker community.

As for the rest of the hardware industry, why are you still sitting on the sidelines?