Building a hardware company, or even releasing a single product, takes more than a successful Kickstarter project. While the crowdfunding service allows inventors to raise capital and awareness for their product concept, it’s really only the first step on the long path from ideation to completion. And, given Kickstarter’s insistence that it’s not a store, distribution is one of the hardest problems hardware-focused companies encounter along the way.
Some companies, like Brooklyn-based Grand St., have tried to address this issue by selling a few hardware products at a time and bringing Fab’s content-as-commerce strategy to the technology market. Others, like Quirky, provide feedback and support throughout the entire development process and then sell products through their own storefront and retail partners, including Target, Amazon, and Best Buy.
Then there’s Anvil, an ecommerce company billing its Pack Store as the “cure for the Kickstarter hangover” and the “App Store for hardware.” Unlike Grand St.’s curated deals or Quirky’s focus on development as well as distribution, Anvil is betting that hardware makers and consumers want a one-stop shop that anyone can sell through.
Anvil CEO Thomas Marriott says that the company was founded after he wondered where all of the iPhone-compatible accessories — “appcessories” — were after Apple opened the iPhone to third-party hardware makers in 2009. As the Internet of Things connects the online and offline worlds, a trend Marriott refers to as “pervasive computing,” having a place to purchase connected hardware will become increasingly important, he says.
“What is the difference between the app revolution and all of these app-related products?” Marriott asks. “The conclusion that we came to was that when Apple opened the iPhone to third-party [app] developers, they did it with a robust tool chain and a clear, consistent, guaranteed path of getting to market [through the App Store].”
And so Anvil hopes to be the hardware equivalent to the App Store, selling connected hardware through its Pack Store and offering hardware makers a guaranteed storefront. Products are divided into categories like Housewares, Toys & Games, Photography & Video, and so on, then further differentiated into sections like Must Haves, Perfect Presents, and Kings of the Hill — much like the App Store’s Editor’s Picks and What’s Hot sections. (That, dear readers, is my entry for the “Sentence with most capitalized letters” competition.)
There needs to be a “centralized distribution platform” for connected devices, Marriott says, so consumers understand why they’re paying $250 for the Nest thermostat instead of buying a much cheaper, but un-connected, product from another company. The Pack Store is designed to answer that question on each product page, offering information on the Pack — the item itself — and the App that powers it in quick succession.
Anvil takes a small percentage of the profit from products sold through the Pack Store. Marriott says that the amount varies depending on the product’s price and Anvil’s deal with the hardware maker, but the company plans to introduce a flat rate in the future. Companies will also be able to directly add products to the Pack Store, with Anvil enforcing a few guidelines (no profanity in the description being one of them). These practices are, again, modeled directly after the App Store.
Beyond its mission to bring the App Store model to hardware, the Pack Store is intended to be “the next step” for Kickstarted products. Companies can add their product to the Pack Store’s Reservations page, allowing potential customers to pre-order the product while companies seek to maintain some of its initial hype.
Companies building connected devices “need to know that there is a place they can go” to sell their product, Marriott says. Otherwise they’re left with what seems like a lot of money, a slew of Kickstarter backers expecting a finished product to ship within a certain timeframe, and no guidance as to what comes next. Anvil is betting that becoming the store Kickstarter refuses to be will help answer that last question — and will prove to be a viable business, both for itself and for the companies selling on its platform.
[Image Credit: gato-gato-gato on Flickr]