Fire-eaters: FineGrain returns to Kickstarter after a troubled product launch
I've always been amazed by fire-eaters. The idea of sticking a flaming object down my gullet (have fun with that one, commenters) frightens me, mostly because I suspect that I would make a mistake and spew ash for the rest of my life. But the idea of watching other people swallow fire and use any mistakes as learning opportunities is oddly exciting -- which is why a Kickstarter project started after its founders delivered their previous product a few months late caught my attention.
That project is the Coburns, a set of wood-carved iPad stands designed by FineGrain in Provo, Utah. It has already raised more than three-times its goal with several days left before the campaign ends, and its co-creator says that the first units will start shipping just a few days later. That's the company's first step towards becoming a sustainable startup instead of a side project created by two students in their spare time.
FineGrain's first project was a set of iPad sleeves dubbed Bowden + Sheffield. The company raised $20,241 on Kickstarter and received plenty of media attention for the project, but manufacturing issues forced it to cancel one case and delay the other by several months. (It's hardly the first Kickstarter-backed company to delay its hardware.) So when it decided to create the Coburns set, the company knew that it needed to deliver the product without delay.
"Some people raise a ton of cash on Kickstarter and then fail to realize that the only reason they’re in existence is because of the backers. So we, for this project, made sure in advance that manufacturing is ready to go," says FineGrain co-founder Eric Rea. "We’ve actually been able to get some good-faith loans and advances from manufacturers, because we’re not going to be able to get the money from Kickstarter right away."
This required the company to change its product development process. Its iPad sleeves were designed on a $1,000 budget and created in the machine shop run by the university Rea and his co-founder, Levi Price, were attending. The duo worried about prototyping and manufacturing after they raised the funds on Kickstarter, which led to the problems mentioned above. This time they designed and tested the product before partnering with a local wood-worker, who has agreed to produce the iPad stands before receiving payment.
The result is a simple product built from two small blocks of wood, a few magnets, and some carefully-designed notches made to hold a variety of iPad models. Unlike other iPad stands, which are easily forgotten in couch cushions and messenger bags, the Coburns are small enough to carry in a pocket. That doesn't mean that they'll take the accessory market by storm, but the project's significant over-funding shows that at least a few hundred people are willing to give FineGrain -- and iPad stands -- another shot.
FineGrain swallowed fire with its first crowdfunding project, and it ended up with a few minor burns as it learned what does and doesn't work when trying to bring its products out of its young co-founders' heads and into consumers' hands. Now it's returning to the combustible crowdfunding stage with a few scars, a new product, and perhaps a bit more knowledge.