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: With most phones, you're stuck with the buttons the designers settled on. Plug a tiny Pressy into your headphone jack, though, and you've got have a fast-action button that does what you tell it to.
The goods: Shoot a photo, set your phone to silent, or turn on a flashlight in one tap. Pressy's software allows users to set up whatever actions they want and link them to certain tap combinations. Tell your phone to send a text message saying "Driving home" every time you click three times, and set a 7 a.m. alarm every time you click twice. The idea came from the creator's dislike of the "tedious actions" most phones require: unlocking a screen, entering a password, finding and opening an application, shutting it off, rinsing, repeating. Pressy currently works only with Android phones.
The result: Pressy's developer, Nimrod Back, told 'Men's Journal' that Pressy is the "classic Kickstarter product." Having failed to draw attention from traditional investors, the project rapidly raised more than $585,000 on the crowdfunding platform from 24,374 backers, far beyond its $10,000 goal. Back says he'll start shipping in March 2014. [$27; pressybutton.com]