Crowdfunding isn’t only about consumer products like the Pebble smartwatch or unabashed panhandlers like Amanda Palmer. It’s also becoming a system through which even the most technical companies are able to raise awareness and funds for their products.
Few companies know this better than Nodejitsu, which recently announced a crowdfunding campaign meant to help it better manage the npm Registry, a tool that allows Node.js developers to utilize external modules. The service experienced a number of outages in early November, forcing the company to acknowledge that it needs to improve the service and the infrastructure on which it runs.
“We knew that npm was important. We get all the data, so we get to see what email addresses and what companies are using npm,” says Nodejitsu CEO Charlie Robbins. “When you look at that information, you just know that it’s an extremely important part of the Internet.”
So the company figured that it would cost around $200,000 to purchase the hardware and develop the software that would allow the service to stay online. It prepared to spend that money out of pocket when Robbins realized that it could probably raise the necessary funds by appealing to the crowd. The service was obviously being used by many developers — why not ask them to subsidize its development?
Nodejitsu created the campaign and launched it to coincide with the month-long gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It expected to raise some funds over the next 30 days; it ended up raising 75 percent of its goal within the first 72 hours, and has since raised over $230,000 from more than 1,000 backers in just two weeks. The campaign is a success, and the npm Registry will no longer experience crippling outages at such a frequent rate.
This isn’t the only developer-focused service supported by the crowd. In 2012, Travis CI raised $134,729 from a variety of companies and individual investors to continue development of its continuous integration service. Michal Papis is currently seeking $50,000 to create the next version of Ruby Version Management, a tool that provides a “consistent Ruby runtime environment,” and has raised over $32,000 towards that goal.
None of these projects appeal to as broad an audience as the latest-and-greatest indie hardware product or the latest release from a fairly well-known artist, but that hasn’t stopped them from finding support from “the crowd.” Part of this might be attributed to the passion developers have for new technologies; another part might be found in developers’ rising salaries. (Robbins guesses that many of those backing the consumer-focused technology products on platforms like Kickstarter are developers for this very reason.)
“We’re obviously witnessing an incredible proliferation in the way that new things get funded, or even the way that improvements to old things get funded, and crowdfunding to me is one of the most significant inventions in that regard,” says Bloomberg Beta’s Roy Bahat. “Crowdfunding is coming to unexpected places and funding the improvement of the Internet through developers, not just consumer-facing products.”
This underscores a lesson learned through the comparison of Indiegogo and Kickstarter, which approach crowdfunding in unique ways: crowdfunding isn’t the sole province of any one type of platform or project; it’s a new funding method that only seems to become more important as time goes on.
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