TL;DR – I just got done with a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. I’m also an active Tindie seller, and enjoy this platform immensely. Is this an either-or paradigm? Should you choose one or the other? I’d argue each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and can sometimes work well together.
A New Product to Sell!
So you have a new idea and you’d like to test the waters to see if others might be interested. With no upfront listing fees and a straightforward interface, I’d propose that Tindie is a great platform for doing so, especially for items targeted towards those in the hardware space. At the same time, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Crowd Supply don’t collect fees until your project is funded either, and expose your product to a somewhat different market.
So how do you decide where to sell your new device? Having sold hundreds of items on Tindie, and recently run a successful Crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, I don’t claim to be an expert, but at least have enough experience to intelligently comment on the subject.
In today’s world of on-demand PCB fulfillment, 3D-printing, and other such manufacturing services, you don’t always have to spend a massive amount of money to get high quality multiples of a design. At the same time, you may be able to get a significant discount for buying 1000 of an item in a massive(ish) order, versus buying 5 to have stock for initial customers. For those times when small-run production doesn’t make sense, testing the market and getting initial costs paid for upfront via crowdfunding can present significant advantages.
Also, don’t overlook the fact that having a start and end date for your campaign may give you extra motivation to get something done rather than put it off over and over. This limbo period before you’re actually fulfilling pledges, but people know about it and can comment, means that you have time to think about your design and revise early prototypes before actually sending it to customers. In the case of my recent campaign, this resulted in several incremental improvements based in part on suggestions from others. If I already had a product in the field, implementation of a new design could have been problematic.
Crowdfunding campaigns can become incredibly successful, landing a significant amount of money–and responsibility–in your lap. This can be a very good thing. However, if you haven’t considered production costs carefully, or how you could scale up, this also may mean damage to your reputation and/or wallet. Shipping 1000 “things” where you take a loss is certainly more painful than shipping 1 or 2 items on Tindie, where you can quickly adjust your pricing structure.
With a board or part that you developed in-hand, it’s relatively easy put it up for sale on Tindie. For that matter, if you order a PCB for personal use and have spares left over, Tindie is a great place to test out if you’re not the only one who needs such a board, and if they’re actually willing to pay for it.
I may be a bit biased, but with its close relation with Hackaday.com and a number of Tindiarians that I know and interact with, I feel like Tindie is less of an anonymous online marketplace, and more of a hub for exchanging goods and feedback with a community of hackers. As such, items that solve a very specific technical problem (e.g. my Raspberry Pi cooling fan controler, or Brian Lough’s Power BLough-R, which strips 5V from a USB cable for 3D-printer use) can be successful here.
Something with a more mass market appeal (i.e. Pebble) may have a better chance of massive sales on a crowdfunding platform. Of course, massive numbers aren’t always better. Depending on your goals, you might prefer to at least start out selling a few of niche item X each week, rather than 10,0000 of item Y in one shot.
Another thing to note here is that if you’re entirely new to crowdfunding, there can be a hesitance for people to pledge to an unknown entity. If you’ve sold items on Tindie, this can be referenced as part of your “fulfillment resume” for crowdfunding. It can also give you the confidence to know that if a funding campaign is fully backed, you can actually manufacture your device en masse.
Popular crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and Crowd Supply basically charge 5% of pledges + a transaction fee. Tindie charges… 5% of sales + a transaction fee. While you’ll want to build that into your price, monetary listing costs aren’t going to be the deciding factor as to what type of service you use.
What you might consider, however, is how hard is it to actually list a product? In my experience, Kickstarter has a fairly standard WordPress-ish interface, as does Tindie, and I’d assume other platforms aren’t too far off. What seems to be expected out of crowdfunding campaigns, however, is much more involved, often telling a story about why your product is amazing, and why they should back you. This takes a significant amount of time, versus maybe an hour or so to create a simple listing on Tindie. Of course, you can put in a lot, or very little effort on either platform, likely with commensurate results.
Once you’re run your campaign, and you deliver an awesome product, more people will likely want your product. Here Tindie can help. While the temporary nature of campaigns is obvious, recurring revenue from sales on Tindie is the name of the game. While not yet a consequence of crowdfunding, I love getting orders, printing out a shipping label, putting an item in the mail, and thinking, “Wow that’s neat, I got a bit of money for that small action.”
In reality, there is a lot of upfront work to get to that point, but if you’ve put in the time to crowdfund an item, you might as well keep the momentum going. In the case of my campaign, I set up a listing on Tindie with no stock, then linked to it from the finished crowdfunding page. This allows people to get on a waitlist for when the device is fully for sale, without actually selling items on another platform before you fulfill pledges.
So choose your platform carefully, and remember that you don’t have to stick to one or the other. Tindie may be best for item X, while crowdfunding might be good for Y. For that matter, the optimum platform can be different for one person than another depending on your experience and goals, and could even change over time.
Of course, I’m not the only one to explore the differences and similarities between Tindie and crowdfunding. You can check out the discussion on Hacker News/Wired here, dating all the way back to May, 2014!
Keep Reading ›