Rejected Kickstarter Projects Build Their Own Success Stories

February 12, 2013
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Misfit Shine seemed like it should be a Kickstarter home run, capitalizing on the fitness tracker trend while simplifying it even further, down to a button-sized, machined-aluminum beacon that syncs to your iPhone. They had already been working on the device for a year, and even had a working prototype.

But eight days after sending in their applications, they still didn’t have a campaign.

Frustrated and demoralized by an absence of communication from Kickstarter, even though their page was ready to launch, the team privately discussed trying an alternative route instead.

“We made the decision to go with Indiegogo” explains Sonny Vu, Misfit Wearables‘ co-founder and CEO, ”and then … literally the morning after, we get a rejection notice from Kickstarter saying that they cannot allow any health and fitness products on their site.”

Misfit’s situation shows how Kickstarter’s growing pains are affecting the startup community, and how some are starting to respond. After a rash of late and questionable projects led to a policy revamp in September, Kickstarter tightened its requirements, especially for design and technology projects. The resulting rejected entrepreneurs have now begun finding alternative crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo, while some have even gone as far as creating their own independent, open source project-financing web interfaces.

Under the new Kickstarter policy, technology and design projects are required to include a section about their risks and challenges, and are prohibited from using photorealistic renderings of products that don’t yet exist.

“There’s a lot of noise out there, and it makes places like Kickstarter very cautious, and maybe that caution, we were the victim of that caution,” says Vu. “Who knows?”

So even though Misfit Wearables had years of experience bringing products to market — former Apple CEO John Sculley helped found it — Kickstarter deemed the Shine inappropriate for its site. But Indiegogo was a better home anyway, says Vu, because good projects float to the top, and there are more ways to pay. He also says the site’s customer service was a win, offering personal feedback on the campaign.

Misfit Shine reached its goal of $100,000 in nine and a half hours. It has since raised $480,000 with 15 days remaining, and is one of the biggest projects on Indiegogo ever.

“We get a lot of projects, period,” says Indiegogo co-founder and CEO Slava Rubin. “But yeah, there’s definitely a lot of people that get frustrated with our competition and with Kickstarter.”

No crowdfunded hardware can be fully considered a success until it makes it to backers, and the Misfit Shine is still in the funding stage. But Indiegogo has hosted Kickstarter-rejected success stories before, like the fly-killing Bugasalt, a projectile weapon that fires a pinch of salt hard enough to knock bugs out of the air.

But not all technology projects feel quite so “at home” on Indiegogo as these have.

Lumawake, a smart iPhone dock that tracks your sleep. Photo: Courtesy of Lumawake

Lumawake seemed like a Kickstarter home run, too. Like the Misfit Shine team, Lumawake’s founders had experience in their field, a product they felt was desired, and a working prototype — in this case, an iPhone dock that tracks your sleep, wakes you gently, and syncs with appliances and lights. Like Misfit Shine, Lumawake was rejected.

“We applied to Kickstarter, we got denied, we got basically a canned response from them saying that we weren’t following their guidelines,” says Scott Roehrick, Lumawake’s chief outreach officer. Kickstarter allows rejected projects a 500-character appeal, but since Lumawake wasn’t sure which guidelines were broken, that process wasn’t very useful.

“Ultimately we were never able to talk to a human being, so I don’t really know [why],” says Roehrick.

The appeal was rejected too. But unlike Misfit Shine, Lumawake didn’t think Indiegogo was a good fit.

“I looked at Indiegogo, and I just didn’t feel it was the right venue for the product,” says Roehrick. “I felt like, if we got denied from Kickstarter and went to Indiegogo, we’d just get lost amongst the noise.”

So Lumawake tried a different model, one it had seen deployed by another company called Lockitron: It built its own independent crowdfunding interface.

Lockitron was partly a victim of bad timing. Co-founder Cameron Robertson submitted their application the day before Kickstarter changed its requirements. Although Lockitron, too, got a canned response, Robertson says they tracked down one of Kickstarter’s co-founders.

“He said no, you weren’t rejected because your product didn’t conform to these rules, you were rejected because you’re a home-improvement product, and we don’t allow those,” says Robertson. “It was a little surprising to be categorized as that.”

Lockitron is a connected device that fits over a deadbolt, and locks and unlocks it via a command from your phone. (A previous iteration of the technology appeared on Wired last year.)

Lockitron, in Bandai Blue. Photo: Courtesy of Lockitron

“App-connected hardware and internet-of-things devices get a little bit lost on Indiegogo, so we decided against that,” says Robertson. So they built their own crowdfunding platform, Selfstarter, setting it up with Amazon Payments.

The major difference from Kickstarter (aside from being free) is that Selfstarter projects don’t charge consumers until the item is ready to ship. It’s riskier for the developer, but safer for the customer.

Part of why Lockitron can take that risk is because it had raised several hundred thousand dollars in angel funding. But they’ve shared the Selfstarter code on github, allowing other developers to use it too.

“That’s actually turned out to be a really cool thing, because now we’ve had a lot of folks who were either worried about getting rejected from Kickstarter or were getting rejected from Kickstarter for making these other internet-connected devices, like Lumawake, reaching out to us, and it’s been tremendous,” says Robertson.

The two companies have since partnered to integrate the devices — if you have both, Lockitron will lock your door when Lumawake notices you’re asleep.

“We wanted to work with Lockitron because we respect the way they’re driving innovation — snubbing kickstarter and going rogue, it’s the future,” says Greg Laugle, co-founder of Lumawake, in a press release. “Our open APIs made the integration seamless.”

Lockitron completed its campaign with $2,278,891, and is working with manufacturers, hoping to ship the product next spring. Lumawake has raised $90,000 of a $150,000 goal, with nine days remaining.

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