“If you add up all the trends under way today, I believe we are beginning to see the start of something original, and perhaps wonderful.”
There is a sea change afoot.
In the past, if an individual had a great idea for a product or service they wanted to bring into the world, it was incredibly difficult to do so. Especially if their plan was for that product to make them a living. Entrepreneurship has always been a tenuous and risky pursuit, resulting in many ideas left buried and forgotten at the bottom of a desk drawer.
However, things are changing. We are now living in a world where those ideas can come to fruition with a surprisingly minimal amount of friction.
Fundraising platforms like Kickstarter are part of the story, of course, but it’s bigger than that. Designers, artists, writers, programmers, filmmakers, and creative folks of all stripes are now empowered to make great stuff with tools and resources that didn’t exist five years ago.
Furthermore, consumers have an appetite—rapidly becoming an expectation—to be connected directly with the creator(s) of the thing or service they’re buying. The need for the middlemen of the world is quickly vanishing.
Indie capitalism, a term coined by Bruce Nussbaum in an article for Fast Company, is the most succinct way to describe the product of this shift. It is defined by a maker system of economics that is centered around the direct relationship between creators and their customers.
What it all boils down to is this: it’s an exciting time to be making stuff.
Who We Are
Studio Neat has two employees, Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost (henceforth referred to as “we”). We met in high school in Round Rock, Texas, and became good friends when we went through the undergraduate architecture program at Texas A&M University together. After graduating, we drove cross country to New York City for grad school (Tom at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and Dan at Parsons’ Design and Technology program). After graduating (again) in 2009, we got jobs in New York; Tom worked as a software developer at Potion, and Dan as an interaction designer at frog.
During the summer of 2010, we began working on a product idea: a combination tripod mount and stand for the iPhone 4. Although the thought of generating some side income had crossed our minds, we mostly wanted to make it because it fulfilled our own needs, and, simply, we love making things.
For the next couple of months in the evenings and on weekends, we sketched out concepts, modeled them on the computer, and ordered several 3D printed prototypes (more on this later). After countless iterations, we had an elegant and simple design we were proud of, but one question remained: how the heck would we make this thing? We knew mass-producing it would require a process called injection molding, which takes a considerable upfront investment. In the past, this is where the story would have ended. Without the upfront capital, or the risk of taking a large bank loan, great ideas are abandoned. Fortunately, this is no longer the case.
At the time, Kickstarter was only about a year old. We had seen it used successfully to fund creative projects like books, films, art projects, software, and music, but examples of product design were few and far between. Nonetheless, we had a hunch Kickstarter could be the ideal way to launch our iPhone tripod mount, which we named the Glif, based on its unique shape resembling a typographical “glyph.” On the evening of October 3rd, 2010, we launched our campaign with a modest funding goal of $10,000. We hoped to sell 500 of them.
Within 12 hours of launching our campaign we had reached our funding goal, and by the end of the first day we had raised over $25,000. By the end of the 30-day campaign we had raised $137,417. Our pants were officially peed.
Six months later, after we had our business up and running on sales of the Glif, we launched our second project on Kickstarter, a wide grip stylus for the iPad called the Cosmonaut. It raised $134,236 in less than a month. And a year later, we released our first piece of software with Frameographer, an iPhone app for creating stop motion and time-lapse videos.
Though it may sound surprising, our story is becoming less and less unique as more designers are finding creative ways to bring their ideas to life. And experience is not required. Before the Glif, we had no industrial design, manufacturing, or retail experience; yet in the past two years we have released three hardware products (the Glif, Glif+ and the Cosmonaut), one piece of software (Frameographer), and one book (you’re holding it).
Why a Book?
For makers of things, there is something unquestionably enticing about books that document the creative process. They provide an opportunity to pull back the curtain to see how innovative minds work. Stefan Sagmeister’s Made You Look and Hillman Curtis’s MTIV are two of our favorite design books. Everything published by A Book Apart, and 37signals’ Rework have been hugely influential as well, for their brevity and clarity of focus. We took this inspiration and followed suit.
This book is about many things. It’s partly about our company, and how we operate. It’s also an instructional textbook, and part of it takes a look at our design process. Perhaps you’re interested in launching your first Kickstarter campaign, and you’d like some tips and pointers on how to make sure it goes smoothly. Maybe you’re curious about starting your own company, and want to see how attainable it is. Perhaps you already have a company and want to avoid the pitfalls we fell into. Or maybe you’re simply a fan of design, and enjoy seeing how the seed of an idea is brought to fruition.
We’ve kept the book intentionally brief, following our goals of simplicity and clarity. You should be able to read it in one sitting so that you can get back to making stuff.
As a disclaimer, this story is told through the lens of our own experience; we do not have decades of experience in the industry. We’re just two dudes who had a pretty interesting thing happen to us, and we want to share it with you. We’ve been fortunate in having front row seats for a very exciting shift in the consumer industry, and we’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. We hope you find something here you can take and use.
Let’s get to it.