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Fri August 16, 2013
The Kickstarter Phenomenon
The products that have been available to us have, historically, often come from big companies. But now, thanks to a crowdfunding website called Kickstarter, that's all changing.
- Ethan Mollick, professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania
- Edgar B. Herwick III of The Curiosity Desk
Say you're in the market for a watch. You have a few options: you could go to the department store and pick one in a familiar style, from a familiar brand. But what if you wanted something you couldn't find in stores -- like a smart watch that syncs with your cell phone and buzzes when you receive text messages?
For that, there's Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website that connects up-and-coming innovators with big ideas to people who want to see them become reality, says Ethan Mollick, professor at the Wharton School. By donating anywhere from a couple dollars to a hefty chunk of change, Kickstarter supporters can bankroll a huge variety of projects: from plays to indie movies to new gadgets.
One of the site's biggest success stories is the Pebble watch, an E-Paper smart watch that syncs with your smartphone. Over 68,000 people donated a combination of more than $10,000,000 to see Pebble hit the market; today, the company has shipped over 90,000 watches to more than 150 countries worldwide. But that's just one example of what Kickstarter can do: for more niche markets, there are also projects like, for example, BronyCon: The Documentary, a film about male adult fans of My Little Pony.
Crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter present a wealth of opportunities for entrepreneurs, but Mollick says it's a model that's not without its challenges - though perhaps not the ones you'd expect. Surprisingly, he says he has found little fraud on the site - developers rarely take money for ideas and then vanish into thin air - but he has found that, almost without fail, projects deliver later than expected.
"One of the biggest predictions if you're going to be an entrepreneur is overconfidence," Mollick says, and this overconfidence can lead to underestimating how much time, work, and expertise is needed to bring a product from the research and development stage to market. As a result, projects that receive funding often ship late - sometimes months late.
So, we wanted to know: what motivates people to contribute to Kickstarter? And what kinds of projects are most alluring? So we turned to WGBH's own Edgar B. Herwick III of The Curiosity Desk, who asked local Bostonians about their Kickstarter contributions: from friend's surgeries to giant robots. For Edgar's investigation into the trials and triumphs of Kickstarter, tune in to our full segment above.