What?s the difference between Kickstarter and Amazon? A tradeoff between innovation and delivery risk. This tradeoff has scared off the tech press that has forgotten to cover risky innovation as well as delivered products. It has created a culture of trolls who forget that big companies often fail to deliver or make mistakes that go undetected until consumers find them. And it has created a culture of innovation junkies. There?s no such thing as free innovation and those willing to pay the price, back projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Kickstarter and crowdsourcing (including crowdfunding) broadly have become the most important point of aggregation for new innovations, capable of seeding an idea when there is an audience of hundreds for innovations which ultimately will have audiences of thousands or millions.
I have been asking the innovators about delivering and some have stepped forward to share their insights into developing projects designed for delivery.
Avid Union develops complex, refined apparel designed for technology. The team has delivered The Rib, a gun holster for high-tech, and tells me they have shipped 70% complete of The Shield, a spectacularly successful tech jacket that has been received with critical acclaim. They are an example of the payoff of investment in prototyping and close coordination with manufacturers prior to launching their projects. Avid Union is now on their third project, The Blade, Transformer Tech Case. Their president, Anders Hsi is a New York native who moved to China after graduating college and has lived there ever since. With collaborators Steven Yu and Andres the team is designing the clothing and accessories for the mobile, wearable computing era.
Simon: How do you prototype upcoming products like the blade?
Anders Hsi: Product design is not sexy; it is detail analytical work. We create a product design document with every last material and production procedure detail in Chinese so that our manufacturing partners are 100% certain of our requirements. We really do have to be experts in order to deliver great quality products.
Our final prototype is always made by our manufacturing partner. The difference between an artist and a designer is that an artist can make something excellent by themselves with the resources at hand whereas a designer must communicate their creation to the many people involved with production. Changing the mind of one person is difficult; changing the mind and habits of everyone involved in production is exponentially more difficult. An excellent product must scale effectively so that it can be shared with the world. This communication begins with effective prototyping with our manufacturing partner.
We cannot rely on the expertise of our manufacturing partners because they do not completely share our design vision. Manufacturers look to scale and regress to old habits. Innovation requires experimentation and new habits.
In order to make products fit for heroes, we have to continuously push our manufacturing partners. We must win their trust through effective communication and leadership, especially when we encounter the challenges bound to occur when truly creating something new.
A finished prototype is more than the expression of a design. It is a plan between all parties on how to cooperate to make an idea real and to share it with the world.
Simon: Explain work you do with prospective manufacturing partners before crowdsourcing begins?
Anders Hsi: With inherent conflicts of interest, finding a great manufacturer is more difficult than finding a great person to befriend.
With clarity and professionalism all parties are clear about what a project will take to succeed. When we begin a Kickstarter project Avid Union and our manufacturing partners really are ready for production. If we weren?t how could we possibly know our funding goal and delivery date?
Simon: What have you learned about the prototyping process from delivering The Shield and The Rib?
Anders Hsi: Although we had very high quality deliveries for both the Rib and The Shield (defect rates both lower than 3%, which is incredible for a product that has never been made at scale before), we definitely learned a lot of lessons.
With the Rib, we added customization options in the campaign and suddenly were faced with delivering 108 different SKUs! Many of our SKU’s only had 1 or 2 pieces on order, which makes quality control very difficult as the manufacturers never have a chance to learn through repetition.
With The Shield, we learned that it is difficult to combine crowdfunded innovation with online apparel shopping sizing choices. When 15% of our backers want to exchange sizes (normal for online apparel) we have to find logistic solutions to get everyone rewards that we really want them to be able to effectively use for a product that does not have any real stock. Our backers have been extremely understanding, but we are really determined to get everyone what they want and are limited by being a small company without major distribution channels.
We now really understand what it takes to offer customizability. Going forward, we will be able to greatly improve our planning and subsequent deliveries.
Simon: What advice would you give to other projects for preparing for manufacturing before crowd sourcing?
Anders Hsi: Do it! Do it for your backers. Do it for crowd sourcing’s future as a legitimate platform. Do it for yourselves. Try to find experts to help you. If you can?t or are not sure if you have, do it anyways. Be honest with your backers, commit to delivering great products, understand that you are taking a risk, and in the end, everything will turn out well.
Experts often do not want to work with risky projects like Kickstarter innovations. Prove them wrong and become experts yourselves. By solving these challenges and sharing our solutions with each other, all of us will get better. If super heroes like you can?t figure it out, who possibly can?