Pando

Stompy: A Hardware Project That Even Kickstarter Must Love

By Sarah Lacy , written on August 3, 2012

From The News Desk

This morning as I was reading the PandoTicker to catch up on what I missed while sleeping, I came across Stompy. Stompy is a six-legged robot seeking to raise funding on Kickstarter so he can exist. (Or more appropriately, his creators are.) They want to raise a whopping $65,000 to build something utterly impractical. A huge six legged robot that is so huge a car could drive underneath it.

Stompy fulfills little purpose other than being awesome. Backers don't get their own Stompys -- they get a range of clever thank-you gifts like their name shouted from a mountain top, a T-shirt, a bumper sticker or if they're really generous a ride on Stompy. I have to admit, I was tempted momentarily by the $5,000 thank you: Your company logo on one of Stompy's legs and an imprint of that logo on his foot. I imagined --  for a moment -- when the robot apocalypse comes, PandoDaily's logo stomped all over cars and houses; dotted all over a nuclear wasteland, and decided against it. That, and, you know, we're an unprofitable startup that shouldn't be spending $5,000 on a totally impractical robot.

Sipping my morning coffee, I started watching the Stompy video thinking, "Who would fund this? This is no Pebble watch. All it is is a cool thing. Don't they get what the hardware-Kickstarter revolution is all about? It's about assessing demand and bootstrapping a real product." And then it hit me, there may well be one group of people who had the exact opposite reaction. Who thought, "Finally! A tech company gets it! Kickstarter isn't about finding pre-venture capital to build a tech company, it's about funding wild, outlandish, creative projects that could never exist otherwise!" That group, I imagine, is Kickstarter's founders.

I have never met Kickstarter's founders. They are notoriously press shy. And from what everyone says, they have been reluctant to embrace the revolution in gadgetry their platform has enabled.

Sure, multi-million dollar projects like the Pebble Watch have brought the company huge payouts. But Kickstarter was created to fund creative projects like films, or albums, or art, not startups. It's guidelines make that clear: "Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects," it begins, following with a big emphasis on "projects" and not commercial entities. But that's the Internet: You can't control how people will use your platform.

What's happening at Kickstarter has reopened people's imaginations about what they could build in the physical world -- not just online. I, for one, have long hoped for a hardware resurgence in Silicon Valley, but as the cost of creating Web sites plummeted, VCs became increasingly reluctant to fund anything hardware-related. The broken down and reconstructed China-enabled modern supply chain changed a lot. It enabled companies like Jawbone and Square to be built. But investors willing to take that early risk were still elusive.

Until Kickstarter. Kickstarter proved that I wasn't alone -- that thousands of people wanted a resurgence in awesome hardware and they were even willing to risk their own capital to make it happen. If you won't fund this, VCs, we will! It's the equivalent to where the startup world was in the mid-2000s when no one would back consumer Web companies, but open source software and commodity servers had made the costs of starting a business so low, entrepreneurs could do it without VCs. If that hadn't happen, we wouldn't have had most of the early wave of social media and user generated content companies.

I hope that Kickstarter sees how amazing what they've enabled is to the tech community and embraces it. It's not about greed or capitalism; it's about creativity. It's about circumventing the gatekeepers. It's about the Internet disrupting one of the last frontiers of consumer technology. It's about potentially bringing lame hardware companies to their knees by enabling a new island-of-misfit-toys generation to build cooler products that people want.

Perhaps Kickstarter could see Stompy as a middle ground towards reaching that peace? It's a tech company, in a sense, but it has no discernible commercial value other than delighting nerds everywhere.

I, for one, gave Stompy $40. I will wear my T-shirt proudly.