Inception-Totem

Kickstarter is a weird place. It’s home to projects that can be described as completely inane, sometimes fraudulent, and occasionally untruthful. But Kickstarter is also becoming more popular, and people are always formulating new ways to capitalize on its platform. But one thing I’ve never seen is a Kickstarter about a Kickstarter.

Well, now there is one, and it’s pretty strange.

The DockBLOC is one of the weirdest campaigns I’ve come across. I first saw it launch last week and was immediately perplexed and amused. All the creators claim to produce are very heavy slabs of metal. These large blocks are supposedly used to anchor flimsy device docks. That is, the plastic docks you place your iPhone in (or any device for that matter) are too light, therefore, they should be mounted on a heavy piece of metal so that you can grab them more easily.

The DockBLOC is that piece of metal, and it’s truly just a piece of metal.

People can invest in the venture, and if it’s funded they would receive their own metal slab onto which they can glue all their numerous device docks. Or, as the founders wrote on their site, they could also use it has a giant heavy beer cooler. It comes either in metal color or matte so “users” can paint it whatever color they desire. The founders remind everyone throughout the description that the project is completely patent-less and utterly simple. Seriously, it’s just a hunk of metal. Additionally, the founders will be completely open about the entire process to create an “open source business model” that people can follow.

Is this a joke?

I emailed the creators to ask about the product, and they appeared remarkably sensible and irony-free. According to S. Dirk Schafer, one of DockBLOC’s co-founders, the point of this campaign isn’t really the dock. “We wanted to create a Kickstarter project that creators could emulate to launch future Kickstarter campaigns,” he wrote to me.

Okay, so DockBLOC is actually about creating a Kickstarter for people to watch. It’s a meta-Kickstarter. Schafer explained that he saw numerous campaigns that had well-designed videos, PR crews, actors, and even factories in Asia. Those surely don’t represent the vast majority of people trying to fund their future products. Most people who want to use Kickstarter probably have little money, which is why they are turning to the platform.

So his idea, I gather, is to create a campaign that he can then document and share for those who want to know about the process. In other words, the DockBLOC is a case study on doing a Kickstarter.

At the same time, Schafer had to create an actual product. So he marketed a heavy slab of metal — something that is very cheap to produce and requires zero assembly beyond its cutting.

What I don’t understand is if the DockBLOC product actually has a point. To that question, Schafer maintains that he does believe in his metal slabs. “We’re serious about the product,” he wrote to me.

But therein lies the problem. What Schafer is really purporting to offer is the process of his Kickstarter and not necessarily what it produces; the piece of metal is just a simulacrum. It seems like Schafer had the idea to launch a Kickstarter and then crafted the product as an afterthought. If that’s the case, investors are buying into the founders’ tribulations as Kickstarter entrepreneurs, which negates the entire venture, because the emphasis is no longer on the production of a product but on something else.

Cue the “Inception” sound. I feel like I just jumped into a rabbit hole of self-reflexive Kickstarter campaigns. The exercise begs the quesion about what success, in this context, truly is. For example, a mistake on DockBLOC’s part could potentially be more helpful to document than a completely seamless campaign. So if the company fails, it’s actually succeeding? This is Fred Wilson meets Jean Baudrillard…

Either way, the DockBLOC has only raised around $600 thus far and has a long way to go until it reaches its $13,750 goal. And if it does, what then? Do investors get a block of metal or a book about what just happened? I mean, they do get the dock, along with the documentation of the process. But maybe pledgers should just be given the documentation as a book called “Kickstarter project as MBA.”

In the end, after writing this, all I got was a headache.