10 Kickstarter Projects Every Geek Should Support

11/9/12Follow @wroush

[Updated 6/5/2014] We’re living in a golden age for creators and entrepreneurs. If you don’t believe me, just look back about a decade and try to remember how hard it was to publish a book, make a movie, record an album, raise a seed round for your startup, get your software onto a mobile phone, or find a manufacturer for your awesome new widget. Now we’ve got technologies and funding models that make all of those things practical for anyone with a little talent and grit.

One of the most encouraging developments of all is the rise of crowdfunding forums: not just Kickstarter, the first and most famous crowdfunding site, but also Indiegogo and Quirky and RocketHub and (soon) Wefunder.

The upside of these sites for creators is fairly obvious. They represent a convenient—though certainly not effortless—way to raise money without having to give away an ownership stake in your company or indenture yourself to a bank or a bunch of angel and venture investors.

But what about the crowd? The benefits for the funders of these projects haven’t been talked about as much—but they’re just as key to the success of the crowdfunding system. There’s the swag, of course: the T-shirts, CDs, autographed postcards, and other mementos most project creators hand out to supporters. And more importantly, there’s the satisfaction of being part of a community that’s helping something new come into the world.

But related to that, there’s the opportunity to influence the direction of innovation, at least in a small way. Traditionally, that kind of power has belonged to people with pockets far deeper than mine, and probably yours.

This week, in an effort to make more use of this new power, I decided to create a small World Wide Wade Kickstarter Fund and contribute to 10 projects that I think are cool. I capped my fund at $100 and divided it up equally into 10 chunks. Yes, that’s peanuts, but I’ve got my reputation as a tightwad to protect. And the point isn’t really to help push these projects over their fundraising threshold—it’s just to have a little skin in the game for a change. (Don’t worry, I’m not about to start copying the bloggers who invest in the same startups they write about. That would be a violation of our ethics policy.)

There’s no common thread to these 10 projects, except that in some way they all represent creativity at its best, whether in the form of hardware, software, animation, community projects, or documentary film. I’ve collected the projects and their videos in alphabetical order below so that you, too, can donate if the mood strikes you.

But act soon, because time is running out for some of these projects. In fact, it seems likely that several of them won’t meet their goals without a last-minute surge in donations. In a few weeks I’ll write a follow-up column and let you know how the campaigns turned out.

For Pinterest fans, I’ve collected these examples, and a few more, on a public board called Kickstarter Projects I Love.

Update 11/16/12: I’ve added two more projects that deserve your attention—From Holden and Spark.

Update 6/5/14: I’ve updated the list with the final status of each project.


Bright Ideas: A Crowdfunding Almanac

Fundraising progress as as of Nov. 8, 2012: $6,090 pledged of $25,000 goal

Days to go (as of the original publication date of this article): 14

This one is a little meta: It’s a book about how to succeed at crowdfunding, featuring interviews with the creators of successful Kickstarter projects. It’s from Matthew and Mark McLachlan, brothers in Colorado who raised more than $44,000 on Kickstarter to build Soundjaw, a clip-on thingie that increases the sound output of an iPad or iPhone.

Final Status: Project canceled Nov. 22, 2012


The Leapyear Project Book

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 8, 2012: $15,838 pledged of $29,200 goal

Days to go: 20

Rather than go to business school, Chicago-based social entrepreneur Victor Saad decided to take a year to do 12 apprenticeships in 12 months. Now he’s working on a book intended to chronicle his own experiences and encourage others to take similar risks with their careers.

Final status: Funding successful, $31,049 raised.


The Looking Planet—An Animated Short Film

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 8, 2012: $7,876 pledged of $18,000 goal

Days to go: 3

It’s the beautiful trailer for this 15-minute, computer-animated short sci-fi film that won me over. I love the retro-futuristic look, with its touches of Jules Verne gadgetry.

Final status: Funding unsuccessful, $8,417 pledged.


Mothership HackerMoms

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 8, 2012: $10,630 pledged of $10,000 goal

Days to go: 8

This is just about the best cause I’ve ever seen on Kickstarter. MotherShip HackerMoms is a non-profit organization building a child-friendly hackerspace for creative moms in Berkeley, CA. They’re raising money to finish construction, buy equipment, and organize classes. The project has already met its goal, but the more money they collect, the fewer corners they’ll have to cut.

Final status: Funding successful, $12,564 raised.


Romo—The Smartphone Robot for Everyone

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 8, 2012: $142,048 pledged of $100,000 goal

Days to go: 5

In 2011, the founders of Las Vegas-based Romotive raised $115,000 on Kickstarter to build Romo, a robot on treads that uses an iPhone as its camera, controller, and brain. After spending months putting together 2,000 of the devices by hand, they’re now raising money to build a sleeker, more manufacturable version of the device, which is designed to support remote two-way telepresence on the cheap. The company calls Romo “a pet, a toy, a robot avatar, a powerful educational tool, and a blank slate for robotic programming.”

Final status: Funding successful, $170,034 raised.

Scroll down for next item.

Sparse Bicycle Lights

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 8, 2012: $2,864 pledged of $45,000 goal

Days to go: 29

I love these battery-powered LED bicycle lights not just because they look cool, but because they’re impossible to steal without taking apart the bike itself. They’re from a small San Francisco design firm devoted to products for urban bikers.

Final status: Funding successful, $66,386 raised.


Square Frame

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 8, 2012: $1,121 pledged of $5,000 goal

Days to go: 5

Why should all your Instagram photos be stuck inside your smartphone? This frame is designed specifically to hold square, 4×4-inch prints, and the construction couldn’t be simpler: it’s made from a single chunk of aluminum with a wood insert.

Final status: Funding unsuccessful, $1,242 pledged.


Sunseeker Duo

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 8, 2012: $15,804 pledged of $70,000

Days to go: 2

Who wouldn’t want to fly in a two-seat, solar powered airplane (technically a “motor glider”)? A larger version of an earlier one-seat solar glider, the Sunseeker Duo has a 23-meter wing that’s nearly covered with photovoltaic panels. The project is led by Ramona, CA-based photographer/pilot Eric Raymond.

Final status: Funding unsuccessful, $25,927 pledged.


The Vela Music Project

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 8, 2012: $1,328 pledged of $50,000 goal

Days to go: 47

Think Siri meets Spotify. Vela is a voice-activated app that helps music fans find and manage music on their iOS devices. Actually, Siri can already find and play tunes in your iTunes library, but Vela’s Kickstarter page says its app also works with Spotify, Rhapsody, and Rdio.

Final status: Project canceled.


Who Killed (Or Saved!) the Music Industry?

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 8, 2012: $17,272 pledged of $30,000 goal

Days to go: 4

This is a documentary film on the digital revolution and how it has changed the way music is produced and sold, with an emphasis on the how musicians themselves have been affected. It’s from Ryan Phillips and Adam Russell, members of the rock band Story of the Year.

Final status: Funding successful, $33,381 raised.


BONUS PROJECT

From Holden—Perfect Men’s Shirts at Perfect Prices

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 9, 2012: $17,852 pledged of $5,000 goal

Days to go: 28

I haven’t invested yet in this new Kickstarter campaign, but I wanted to add it to the roundup because it’s the brainchild of former Boston hometown boy William Sulinski. I wrote about William back in 2010 when he and his partners were building a TechStars-backed startup called AccelGolf; he went on to help build Shareaholic, another leading Boston-area startup. His new company From Holden plans to offer tailored hoodies, polo shirts, T-shirt, and v-necks online at reasonable prices.

Final status: Funding successful, $51,712 raised. From Holden later changed its name to Pistol Lake.


BONUS PROJECT

Spark—Upgrade Your Lights with Wi-Fi and Apps

Fundraising progress as of Nov. 16, 2012: $27,978 pledged of $250,000 goal

Days to go: 26

Spark is a Minneapolis-based startup participating in the HAXLR8R accelerator program for hardware startups. Their Wi-Fi-enabled device sits between a lightbulb and a light socket and lets you control your lights from a computer, smartphone, or tablet. The company plans to encourage third-party developers to write apps that connect to the gadget. “We think the API will allow for a ton of great uses beyond just remote control; a few “Spark apps” we’re building are using your bedroom lights as a sunrise alarm clock, notifications via flashing lights, and geofencing (lights turn off when you’re away from home),” says co-founder Zach Supalla.

Final status: Funding unsuccessful, $125,588 pledged. But Spark Devices later successfully raised $567,968 for Spark Core.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.

  • Jason Love

    This is a really smart idea for a blog post. If it is okay I might use the same format. Not only does your backing help them, they get extra exposure from this post. I will be taking a closer look at the space animation and the book with the interviews from successful Kickstarter project creators.
    Cool post
    Jason Love, blogging at
    http://www.jasonloveslife.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.agresti.1 Karen Agresti

    Big hugs & thank you from Mothership HackerMoms. We’d be happy to chat with you anytime. Email us at info@hackermoms.org

  • http://www.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

    Wade, Like Jason I am pretty inspired by this post of yours. I’ve been quietly funding Kickstarter projects with no particular rhyme or reason. (You would have loved the film project Detropia, by the way–about Detroit.) And at Daily Grommet we pick up where Kickstarter leaves off so we are finding future Grommets on these platforms and investing heavily in their success by making them Grommets. (I just shot my first video about one this week.) But we’ve been talking about starting a fund like yours to help accelerate some of the projects there (not just product oriented ones). I am so going to steal your stuff here and do this. I was torn about the idea of the small dollars we could infuse but your post made me remember that our sheer act of sharing these initiatives will be just as helpful. Our community, like your readers, will love the curation aspect and the campaigns will get the boost they deserve. Thanks for doing this. And….you figured out Pinterest!!!

    • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

      Jules, I’m so glad you found some inspiration in this post. I think the match between crowdfunding and citizen commerce could be really powerful. I would love to hear how things develop with your Daily Grommet Kickstarter fund. And yes, I figured out Pinterest! I’ve been sold on it ever since discovering my new Warby Parker glasses there.

  • http://twitter.com/theyesmen The Yes Men
  • http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco Wade Roush

    Jason Love: Of course, feel free to use this format for your own blog post. There are a lot of Kickstarter projects that deserve more attention.