Crowdfunding As Leading Tech Indicator

Almost 2 years before Apple released its watch in 2015, the Pebble smartwatch was already on sale. Even more remarkable, the capital needed to design and produce the product did not come from Big Tech or venture capital. Rather, it came from +68,000 individuals who pre-ordered a watch on crowdfunding site Kickstarter.

Pebble itself is no more – Fitbit bought the company in 2016 – so this is not a rags to riches story like so many tech fables. The initial product got mixed reviews, and subsequent updates weren’t much better. And then Apple came along…

This is, however, a lesson in how crowdfunding is a useful leading indicator of consumer interest in novel tech products. Tens of thousands of people pre-paid an aggregate +$10 million to a new company whose product wasn’t even in production. They would not have do so if:

  • There was a strong competing product from an existing manufacturer
  • The pricing wasn’t right
  • The stated product features didn’t fit their needs

Fast forward a few years, and crowdsourcing sites remain a go-to resource to understand which new technologies really resonate with consumers, and at what price points. Yes, many of these products will ship late or not at all. That’s not really the point, however. When thousands of people essentially roll the dice to prepay for a tech novelty with little marketing and no established production history, you know there is real demand out there.

Here’s what’s big right now on crowdfunding sites, looking only at projects that have already exceeded their fundraising goals by a wide margin.

Home automation

  • $219 for a wireless outside camera with 1-year battery life, motion sensing alerts, AI-powered facial recognition, smartphone access and remote speaker. So far 6400 people have prepaid $2.2 million for the device, which competes indirectly with offerings from the likes of Amazon’s Ring. (Kickstarter)
  • $170 for an air purifier that also monitors the air quality in your home, delivers that information to your smartphone, and doubles as a pot for a house plant. (Kickstarter)
  • $67 for an automated dog toy that rolls around on the floor either to your smartphone-enabled commands or via its own algorithms. (Kickstarter)
  • $99 for a device that provides an extra layer of security for home-based Internet connected devices like security cameras, door locks and appliances. (Indiegogo)
  • $60 for 6 electronic “Tags” that attach to food storage containers, allowing you to use an app or Amazon’s Alexa to monitor what’s in your fridge for freshness and/or replacement.

Health and Fitness

  • $70 for a smartphone-connected device that monitors jump-roping exercises, allows you to compare your performance to others, and analyze your sessions. (Kickstarter)
  • $69 for a sensor that monitors your posture and feeds information to smartphone app that suggests exercises throughout the day. (Kickstarter)
  • $138 for a ring-like device you wear at night to monitor your heart rate, blood-oxygen levels, and breathing while asleep and feeds that data to a smartphone app that evaluates potential issues. (Indiegogo)

Personal Technology

  • Consumers continue to search for the perfect earbuds for their phone, with numerous crowd funded options getting multiples of their asking amounts. Some offer simultaneous translation of foreign languages, others promise water resistance for swimming. (Kickstarter and Indiegogo)
  • $149 for an Intel-powered 5 inch mini computer with Bluetooth keyboard that runs Windows 10. (Indiegogo)
  • $449 for augmented reality glasses that overlay what you would normally see with computer generated images. (Kickstarter)

Our key takeaway from all this: winning product ideas are just as much about price as function. We couldn’t find a single overfunded project with a price tag much above $500, regardless of what it promised. This is no doubt in part due to the risky nature of being a crowdfunding customer – you aren’t going to shell out $1,000 here.

But the price point issue reminds us that disruption isn’t just about the technology; by its nature it is also always about price. Consumers are clearer eager for novel products across a wide array of tech-enabled applications. They just have to be supremely affordable as well as useful, new and creative.