Kickstarter and crowdfunding: Traction or drag of the crowd

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I think a lot these days about the crowdsourcing revolution. Whether it’s crowdfunding in the form of Kickstarter and its peers, or crowdhosting like Airbnb, or crowdsharing of information, like on sites such as Trustpilot or Yelp, these things definitely have their good and bad sides.

Today: Crowdfunding

Many times in recent weeks I have been traveling – and every single time, I face some kind of phone-charging crisis. I don’t think I am alone in this. We’re all busy and counting on our phones as our connection to the world – to stay in touch, to take and send photos, to do our online banking (in fact if my phone dies and I lose access, I can’t access my online bank at all). And now that the TSA is apparently asking people to turn their electronic devices on to prove that they actually are working devices, having a charged phone while traveling is a necessity for security reasons. Since I am one of those people who worries when there is not even a reason to worry, I am always thinking about whether I have the right cable, or where I might find a power outlet wherever I happen to go. I know from experience that the phone battery is only going to last X number of hours, maybe fewer hours if I engage in more activity – and that’s a strangely helpless feeling, especially when you’re in the middle of Budapest or sitting in one of those not-so-business-friendly airports that has NO power outlets anywhere.

With this panic in mind, I often flip through projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo to see what kinds of things might solve my problems. One day I found a smartphone keyless door lock, the Goji, on Indiegogo which got me pretty excited since I live in multiple places and often panic about what might happen if I lose my key in one city and arrive at one of the other places to find that the key is missing? (My neighbors have keys – but what if they aren’t home? And maybe I don’t want neighbors to have keys. A keyless locking system controlled by mobile phone would let me give them immediate access if they needed it – but then rescind it just as easily so the nosy old lady up the hill doesn’t just come in whenever she wants. Haha!)

And recently I found the Revocharge system – which is a magnetic, snap-on battery and case for iPhones and Androids. This might not have excited me to such a degree had I not just experienced a series of on-the-go battery failures, the elusive hunt for a power outlet and then losing the one power cable I had for my iPhone 5 while wandering around in Berlin. Does the Revocharge solve all the problems? No, you still have to not lose the battery or the case – but the chances are good that they would be connected to the phone anyway – it is not like some stray cable that could fall out of my bag or be left anywhere. My only disappointment, of course, is that this is not available right now! It’s still seeking Kickstarter funding. (For that matter, the Goji is not shipping yet either. AND… if I want to operate all my door locks from my smartphone, I need to have my phone charged all the time, too! So these products go hand in hand… our lives are more entwined with our phones – we can’t afford to let them die!)

When it comes to successful crowdfunding campaigns, though, I keep looking at different campaigns and am never really sure what propels some of them to success and not others. The two aforementioned campaigns absolutely serve real needs and are not “pie in the sky” ideas – both exist (at least in prototype form). In the case of Revocharge, it is addressing a universal problem. This campaign has a long way to go, so its funding goals may be met.

But I wonder about some of the campaigns that create a desire – that definitely do not serve a real need. Case in point: the “coolest cooler”. Serves NO need at all – and has more than 8.5 million dollars pledged to its cause. Or the campaign that famously set out to get money to make potato salad.

Why are people inclined to give money to something that is gimmicky and has no real real-world application?

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