Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Sep. 13th
The ecosystem around crowdfunding services like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo is evolving rapidly. Faster in some ways than the core services themselves. Recently we wrote about OutGrow.me, a site that has gathered up information on succesfully funded projects that then routes users to pages where the products can be purchased. A directory listing, or yellow pages, for the crowdfunding set.
That site is not alone in the post-Kickstarter space. The Denver, Colorado based TinyLightbulbs, founded by brothers Matthew and Mark McLachlan earlier this year, offers a different path for crowdfunded products. More than a listing service, TinyLightbulbs is a dedicated e-commerce site, a fully functional online store for crowdfunded goods.
Turnstyle spoke with Mark McLachlan recently about how the site came to be, and the McLachlan brothers ambition to turn TinyLightbulbs into a soup-to-nuts solution for crowdfunded entrepreneurs.
Read the interview after the jump…
What was the tipping point that led you to start up TinyLightbulbs?
After having a couple of successful Kickstarter projects, Matthew quickly realized that post-Kickstarter sales of his product were unstable and slumped, as the excitement and visibility from the campaign had ended. After speaking with a few other Kickstarter creators, he found that this was a common trend.
While platforms like Kickstarter are excellent at launching a product, there was no “next step” for those individuals once they had the product in their hands. We saw the need for a platform that all creators would naturally progress to once their project ended, and decided that we would start TinyLightbulbs to fill that very real need. And as creators have become increasingly aware of TinyLightbulbs as the site for their completed product, individuals looking to purchase completed products have also come to know that they’ll find them on TinyLightbulbs. Since launching in January of this year, we have grown TinyLightbulbs to be the recognized next step for crowdfunded products.
What do you look for in projects and project creators that you add to the site?
As we have developed TinyLightbulbs to be the go-to marketplace for crowdfunded products, it is important that all of the products that make their way to TinyLightbulbs have an independent background. Crowdfunding is all about normal people that have chosen to make their ideas a reality not through sources such as venture capital or large organizations, but through their own funds, as well as those of like-minded individuals.
As long as the product meets these specifications, and is a finished product – we don’t sell Etsy-esque products (e.g. crafts) – then it’s welcome to call TinyLightbulbs its home.
Out of curiosity: why no films in the marketplace?
Adding film and music in general is an idea that we’ve been playing with for a while. At this point, there is a large focus from our customers on design products. Additionally, many of the film and music projects deliver their product in a digital format, which is something we are working towards offering. We will most likely start with offering music and then later open up the site to film as well.
What’s the revenue proposition for creators? Why use TinyLightbulbs and not just stay independent, build their own net-storefront with Paypal?
A lot of time, money, effort, and skill goes into making and maintaining a website. These are all resources that can be better allocated to other areas, such as starting a subsequent invention or developing the next big idea.
As mentioned earlier, a lot of visibility is lost when the project leaves Kickstarter. With a marketplace like TinyLightbulbs, a website with much of the Kickstarter and Indiegogo communities visiting, we provide a platform where their product can live on.
We often have people coming to our site looking for one item, and leaving with that item as well as several others, as they are easily able to find countless creative, crowdfunded products right there.
We are sometimes asked if TinyLightbulbs is only for products that are not being sold on the creator’s website. The answer to this is absolutely not – while we do exclusively sell several products, many of the project creators on TinyLightbulbs sell their product on their own independent sites as well. They see the value of selling through their site as well as a site that draws users specifically looking for crowdfunded products, ultimately ensuring that they reach as many individuals as possible.
Retailing deals are part of your business model, what’s the team’s retail background and what kind of market penetration do you offer creators?
We are partnered with a national sales force (a team with exclusive rights to large companies, such as LucasArts and PopCap Games). They have a large sales team and great relationships with big box stores, such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc.
We love having crowdfunded products on TinyLightbulbs, and we wanted to take it a step further than that. This particular aspect of TinyLightbulbs is allowing us to take these products both to our catalog as well as the shelves, where they will be exposed to a completely new audience.
You mentioned that TL was getting involved in the pre-Kickstarter part of the crowdfunding process, what role do you see your site playing for creators there?
Just as much as we love providing the next step for crowdfunded products, we take great pride in the fact that we are also a platform for creators before they even launch their project. Having much experience with our own crowdfunding projects, we understand how difficult it is to get the ball rolling with certain aspects such as prototyping, manufacturing timelines, etc.
What we’re providing pre-Kickstarter consists of several factors. We have a large directory of contacts in all areas of manufacturing, which allows us to connect creators to experts that will most benefit their project. Additionally, we are in the process of purchasing a 3D prototyping machine. We will be providing 3D prototyping services free of charge to any individuals wanting to crowdfund their idea. This is a service that can easily cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars if done elsewhere. Finally, we are able to share our knowledge of the crowdfunding industry with potential creators, as we are familiar with all major platforms and what works best on each.
Essentially, we are providing a full-featured preparatory/mentoring service to any interested creators. We’re there at the start, and once they’ve been funded, we’ll be there to work with them again.
Crowdfunding continues to evolve, do you believe that Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and the like need to make major changes, or do you see more sites like your own rising to fill in the missing parts of the puzzle?
As TinyLightbulbs has continued to grow, we’ve believed more and more that the current crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo will most likely continue to develop their focus. We don’t see these platforms trying to branch out into what TinyLightbulbs has established, as this could potentially result in them diluting their business model.
They do the actual crowdfunding part, and they do it well. We enjoy working with innovators on a personal level.