February 11th, 2012

Aptly named: Elevation iPhone dock takes Kickstarter to $1 million heights


Aptly named: Elevation iPhone dock takes Kickstarter to $1 million heights

Today, the biggest tech story in Portland isn’t a Web site, an iPhone app, or an open source project. In fact, for the first time in a long time, it’s a hardware story.

Meet the Elevation iPhone dock. A project led by Portland’s Casey Hopkins. And the first Kickstarter project to crack the one million dollar ceiling.

The project successfully completed its funding today—at nearly $1.5 million—after an amazing journey. And it was part of an incredible 24 hours at Kickstarter where two projects cracked the million dollar mark.

But what about the story behind the story? Well, I took the opportunity to ask Casey a few questions about the Elevation project. And I also chatted with Portland’s Andy Baio, who served as both an advisor and CTO for Kickstarter back in the early days.

Casey, obviously, this is a passion project for you. And you love it. But $1 million? Did you see that coming?

Breaking records and going way over $1M? That was far more than I ever anticipated. I knew though, that I had a product that I would really want for myself and with all the products I have designed for other companies—that has been a very good barometer of market success for me. And there is a large subset of people, especially in the Apple community that appreciate good design and high level craftsmanship. I can’t wait for people to hold these.

Casey, what surprised you most about the success of your project? The coverage? The acceptance?

Yeah, it was pretty shocking when it exploded on the first day – going viral like that isn’t something you can expect or plan for. It has been two months since I have had a solid night’s sleep.

Andy, you were with Kickstarter in the early days. Were projects of this magnitude what you were thinking? Or is this level of funding a surprise to you?

I’m not surprised at all. From the beginning, people were skeptical at the maximum amount of money a project could raise, but I’ve always felt there’s no limit at all. It depends entirely on the audience the project creator brings to a project and how badly people want that thing to exist.

Take a look at legendary game designer Tim Schafer’s new adventure game project, which launched to huge acclaim and raised more than $1 million in its first day. Tim couldn’t get a traditional publisher to buy an old-school adventure game, so skipped it entirely and went to fans. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see more million dollar projects over the next couple months as bigger-name creators get comfortable with running a project.

Andy, Portland has ties to two of the top grossing Kickstarter campaigns of all time (TikTok and Elevation). Why do you think this model tends to work around here?

Portland has more projects, per capita, than any city on Kickstarter, and is in the top ten most active overall. I think the reasons are clear: it’s filled with creative, independent, tech-savvy people that are desperate for funds. The job market isn’t great, there’s no major funding sources here, and the only limiting factor for launching projects is the money to get them off the ground. Everyone’s able to tell a compelling story to their respective audiences, raise the money, and retain complete creative control. It’s the fuel for a new creative industry.

So Casey, what’s next? Is there another Kickstarter project in the works? Are there job offers from a company in Cupertino?

Focus now is 100% on getting these manufactured, no small task. So after we ship these ~15,000 docks, we will be back in design and prototyping phase. There are a lot of overlooked products out there, ripe for disruption, that I am excited to now be able to go after.

I would also say that while $1.3M is a huge number, it will be very expensive to manufacture and ship our ~11,500 pre-orders. Everything left over will be rolled into more R&D equipment and people.

Andy, we’ve chatted about what makes for a successful Kickstarter project. Why do you think the Elevation dock was so successful?

Like Tik-Tok, they tapped into a need that was being unmet in the marketplace and offered a product at a great value over its future retail cost. Maybe more importantly, Casey had a compelling, sincere story that everyone understood. It’s an everyday irritation, and from the pitch video, you could tell ElevationLab has the skill to pull it off. In essence, this kind of design-oriented project allows backers to preorder a product before it exists. And for the creator, they can test the market and raise the money without any personal risk.

What about you, Casey? What advice do you have for someone thinking about proposing a Kickstarter project?

I would say you should really polish your pitch. I wrote a bit more on Hacker News.

Thanks to both Casey and Andy for taking the time to provide their insights.

Oh and one more thing. What’s it look like behind the scenes? Well, Casey was kind enough to share a screenshot of his Kickstarter dashboard, to give you an idea of what the ride was like.

Elevation iPhone dock dashboard
Click for larger image

For more information, visit Elevation iPhone dock on Kickstarter.

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