Great ideas can crop up anywhere, but the distance between a concept and a shipped product is measured in sweat and money. Since services such as Kickstarter and Quirky debuted in 2009, an increasing number of entrepreneurs have turned to platforms that entrust the crowd with financing, design, and even marketing decisions rather than relying on risk-averse investors and innovators too close to their own work. The result: A diversity of new products that solve age-old problems and embrace a wired future.
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Sites like Kickstarter and the anything-goes Indiegogo are strictly crowdfunding sites, in which users pledge money to fund projects they like, whereas sites like Quirky take it a step further; visitors to that site not only help vote on which projects get made, but also submit, chime in, and vote on everything from pricing to product names to marketing slogans. These sites blur the line between consumers and creators by giving the invisible hand a visible impact on the rollout of new goods. When everything clicks, funders and voters have the chance to push the market in a new direction rather than passively buying corporate products. This new economic model's most famous test case, an e-paper timepiece capable of displaying e-mails and text messages dubbed the Pebble, has already sold 85,000 units. Crowds turn into mobs in a hurry.
In other words, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are serving as midwives for the birth of cool. And an impressive number of excellent products have already been backed by millions of individual financiers and financed thanks to the backing of millions. There are plenty of silly and pointless ideas as well, but here are 12 innovative and useful products that convinced us that Kickstarter, Quirky, and their ilk are more than a passing trend. Results are results.
The pitch: Sometimes you can't hear the doorbell and sometimes the person at the door isn't someone you want to see. DoorBot sends video and ringtones right to your phone so you can quickly open the door for your mom and avoid that annoying neighbor.
The goods: Attach a weatherproof and secure DoorBot unit just off your door, connect it to your WiFi network, and wait for someone to ring. Your phone will notify you and provide live video and a two-way audio connection. Yes, that means you can actually catch the UPS delivery person and tell them where to leave the package. Along with weatherproof housing and multiple phone-ring capabilities, the DoorBot comes with a strong antitheft guarantee: If your DoorBot gets lifted, it is replaced for free.
The result: Because it was funded on the patent and vetting-focused Christie Street crowdfunding platform, which holds unspecified funds in escrow until inventors prove they're making progress, it's hard to tell exactly what DoorBot pulled in, but it's available now at the DoorBot site. [$199; getdoorbot.com]