If you haven't heard of the Pebble Watch yet, you might want to get your checkbook ready before clicking this Kickstarter link. The Pebble is Kickstarter's most successful project to date, a Bluetooth-enabled wristwatch that connects to your iPhone or Android to do everything from show you text messages to control the music on your home stereo system. So far, its creators, Eric Migicovsky (the founder), Chris Lalansingh, Andrew Witte, Rahul Bhagat, and Adam Thagard, have raised nearly $4.4 million from backers who depend only on faith, photos, and a brief video describing the device.
Founded in 2008, Kickstarter helps creative types raise money for their pet projects, so we were a little surprised to see a mass-produced piece of electronics top its charts. Most of the successful projects pull in four-figure sums, and so Pebble's $4.4 million is a far cry from the sum your random bedroom guitar player is trying to collect in order to record his first EP. Just imagine how many pen pal art projects or digital literary magazine launches you could fund with $4.4 million. And it's also worth considering that the level of professionalism that Pebble's founders brought to Kickstarter -- they previously created the InPulse watch, which won national press attention -- might up the ante.
We can see how some people might be irked. David Zax at MIT's Technology Review is one them. "Am I the only one whose excitement over Pebble is undercut by just a tinge of regret?" Zax wrote. "What I love about Kickstarter is that any scrappy entrepreneur with an idea can go out there and get funding for his back-of-napkin vision. When you look at the two most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date (here, the runner-up), they involve established or semi-established companies whose promotional videos wear their production value on their sleeve. These aren’t rogue designers, tinkerers, or DIY 'makers.' And this isn’t, in a meaningful sense, a kick-start--it’s a 90-yard punt."
In all likelihood, the multimillion dollar success of the Pebble Watch is a consequence of Kickstarter growing up. And as the site grows, Zax fears, it's original appeal will die. He bemoans the end of "an era when high-priced PR and consulting comes to dominate even the supposedly scrappy, bootstrapping corners of this already PR-saturated business." But Pebble's chief Eric Migicovsky thinks about it in a more democratic fashion. He sounds like a renegade when he talks about breaking from conventional fundraising models. "With VCs, they worry about models and size of market and stuff like that," Migicovsky told Bloomberg's Mark MIlian. "With consumers, one of the things I love about the videos, we just showed how you’re going to use it."
When you really think about it, the Pebble Watch may usher in a new era for Kickstarter. Suddenly, very big things are possible. Instead of wringing our hands over the Kickstarter becoming a haven for already-established companies that just need a little bit more development funding, we'd rather consider dreaming about how the Kickstarter of the future could include fund-raising for projects far beyond what we think of as "creative". Kickstarter's listed categories don't include "Gadgets," and it says pretty clearly in the project guidelines section that business ventures are a no-no. Maybe those rules are a little bit loose, and coud get even looser. Imagine what this platform could mean for politics or charity. That would be something to watch.