“Have you heard of crowdfunding?” When the answer to this question is no, the first example of a crowdfunding success story is almost always the Pebble Smartwatch, which raised more than $10 million through crowdfunding with pre-orders of their product. Though the Pebble is certainly the most successful crowdfunding story, it may also be the most atypical. In other words, the odds of your crowdfunding campaign being the next Pebble are low.
The following are a few key differences that set the Pebble apart from the vast majority of crowdfunding campaigns.
1) Strong, Established Prototype – Developer Eric Migicovsky’s Pebble had a successful prototype in his 2010 product InPulse, which only worked for Blackberry but provided similar functionality to the Pebble, which works for iPhones and Androids. InPulse brought in $200,000 in revenue, which is no small sum, especially when compared to many crowdfunding campaigns that appeal for seed funding with very little in the bank. Both Mashable and the New York Times had already written articles about InPulse; Migicovsky’s name was familiar to many developers long before the Pebble. The early prototype also gave the team a strong foundation on which to build the new product: the Pebble didn’t launch its Kickstarter campaign until more than two years after the InPulse had hit the market.
2) High-Quality Connections – Pebble Technology had already raised $375,000 in angel financing before looking to Kickstarter to raise more money. Migicovsky’s team was granted seen funding and support through Y Combinator, the major incubator often called the “bootcamp for startups,” and the same company that helped produce Reddit, Scribd, and Dropbox. The prevailing story is that Migicovsky was snubbed by VCs and angel investors. While this is true to some extent, $375K isn’t a bad place to start. At a minimum, the angel funding process, the connection with Y Combinator, and the previous success of InPulse made sure the Pebble team’s name was known in key funding and tech circles before its campaign launched. These connections allowed the Pebble to achieve its $100,000 funding goal within the first two hours of its campaign’s launch on Kickstarter. That level of immediate funding is simply impossible without the strong base of support Pebble had going into its campaign.
3) Snowball Effect – As the biggest crowdfunding success story to date, the Pebble gained traction across various media outlets before its campaign even ended. These news stories helped launch the campaign even further, far past its initial base of support. While the Pebble certainly had an established foundation, its success far surpassed anybody’s expectations, which is to say that even the perfect formula can’t be expected to produce $10 million in crowdfunding.
There’s plenty to learn from Pebble’s success: crowdfunding campaigns can do best when they are prepared for it, a strong relationship with donors can prove critical, and almost anything can happen when the crowd backs an idea. So you aren’t Pebble. But that’s okay: nobody expects you to be.