Pebble's frantic success proves Kickstarter is a marketing tool

Original author: Issie Lapowsky
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When Pebble launched its original smartwatch campaign on Kickstarter, the startup achieved its $ 100,000 fundraising goal in just two hours, becoming one of the most funded campaigns in Kickstarter history.

Three years later, Pebble broke her astonishing record by earning $ 500,000 in just 17 minutes in her last Pebble Time watch. When I started writing this article, the campaign had already earned $ 1.9 million. When I finished it, the amount already reached $ 4.3 million.

Such success does not surprise anyone who has been following Pebble since her first campaign. Being initially a risky enterprise, today Pebble has become a significant company with a popular product that is sold in such well-known stores as Best Buy and Target. In particular, in this strange time of projects with 10-digit sums, Pebble would hardly have problems with collecting venture capital. The question is: why did the Pebble Time watch ever go live on Kickstarter?

In the campaign video, Pebble CEO Eric Migikowski tells potential lenders: “We are back on Kickstarter to work directly with you - the community that found us here.” And it really can be true. Although, regardless of whether Migikovsky understands this or not, this is also marketing.

This is a small change in the role of the Kickstarter site. The fundraising service has turned into a place where companies that have already risen well enter the market on their own and spur interest in new products - an interest that periodically overshadows projects that really need Kickstarter help.


Previously, Kickstarter positioned itself as a place where independent artists, filmmakers, craftsmen and entrepreneurs could receive money for their valuable ideas. Co-founder and former CEO Perry Chen said in an interview with The New York Times in 2009 when the site was just launched: “Money has always been the most difficult obstacle to creativity. "We all have many ideas that we would like to realize, but if you do not have a rich uncle, you will never be able to put these ideas into practice."

Kickstarter is still the place to embody various ideas. But Pebble has shown that this place has a different purpose. In an interview with Backchannel online magazine about the Pebble Time campaign, the current Kickstarter CEO emphasized this imperceptible shift - though not recognizing it as a shift. “The Pebble Time project will show that the real power and benefits of our platform are not just about money,” he said, “it’s about society and marketing.”

In other words, it's about marketing. Bring the idea to an extreme point — one where any company, regardless of size, can use Kickstarter to gain access to the public and market its products — and Kickstarter will be a microcosm of the market dynamics that he originally wanted to change.

Kickstarter is not the only platform that is struggling with this problem. Recently, in a WIRED editor’s column, one master accused Etsy of losing their souls, as Etsy sellers are now allowed to work with third-party manufacturers. This led to an influx of mass-produced products, which complicates the competition for sellers of home-made goods. The resulting network effect is good for Etsy, as well as for Kickstarter. Entering the mass market has become more difficult for sellers and creators on these platforms than ever before.

Price of freedom

At the same time, it's hard to blame companies like Pebble for trying to make money that way. Especially considering the fact that Pebble for the first time ever posted a substantial project on Kickstarter. It was a valuable idea from a small but strong team that the venture capital community rejected, and which gained its popularity on Kickstarter to a greater extent due to its merits.

Fundraising on Kickstarter helped Pebble make sure there was market demand and gave the company creative freedom that she would never have received if she had to answer to the capitalists. That is why the Kickstarter site is constantly credited with, let's say, a push in the technical revolution. Unlike most traditional tech investors, the crowd is more willing to support risky projects like Pebble and Oculus Rift.

Therefore, it makes sense that Pebble - one of the most significant success stories on Kickstarter - will want to repeat its success after some time. But the question still remains open: if successful companies like Pebble continue to return to Kickstarter, how many more successful stories will appear on this site?

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