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.
Thor Ice Scraper
The pitch: "Scraper" is not really a fair description of this powerful tool. With the two-handed design and serious build quality, this thing casts ice off your windshield with extreme prejudice.
The goods: If you've never been late to work because of an $8 cheap brush-and-scrape tool that gave you one sore forearm, you might not need the Thor Ice Scraper. If you live in the colder climes, you'll appreciate the dual glass-safe blades, telescoping reach, rubber handles, and two-arm action of the Thor (originally dubbed the "Snowdozer"). The inventor is from Urbana, Illinois, so you know this thing has been field tested.
The result: Thor rapidly received enough votes on crowdsourced design site Quirky so that investment and production followed quickly on the heals of the proposal. More than 36,000 sold so far, after just a month in fast-moving development. [$20.99; quirky.com]