It’s impossible to hear the story of Studio Neat and not be psyched about the future of ideas and entrepreneurialism. In 2010, founders Tom and Dan came up with an concept for one of the first simple, elegantly-designed stands for the iPhone. Twenty four hours after launching it on Kickstarter, they’d raised over $25,000. Three years, and a few wildly popular crowd-funded campaigns later, they’ve helped re-write the rules on what it takes to create a kickass product in the digital age. Despite all that, they’re still nice, humble dudes who like to share what they’ve learned with the web (and the world). We chatted to them in the hope we could hopefully somehow absorb some of their smarts by symbiosis.
You guys have not only had four kickass Kickstarter campaigns – but you’ve also just written a book*, telling the world how you did it. So, how the hell did you do it?
You’ll have to read the book to find out! In all seriousness, I’m not quite sure how we pulled it off. At risk of sounding immodest, I think we both have pretty good taste, which helps a great deal. We’ve also noticed over the past few years since starting Studio Neat that our respective skill sets are extremely complimentary. This has undoubtedly helped keep the ship sailing straight and prevented us from stepping on each other’s toes.
To a larger point, I think much of it is right place at the right time. We are living in an awesome age, where two dudes can decide to make a hardware product with no prior experience, and because of all these new technologies and services (e.g. 3D printing, Kickstarter) we were actually able to make it happen.
In his foreword for your book, Clay Shirky says that you guys aren’t just creating new products, you’re helping to create a new model for starting a company. The pipeline – as he calls it – for brainstorming, funding, and distributing stuff, has changed. Can you share your thoughts on how stuff is now versus how it used to be?
The simplest way to explain the difference is probably independence. In the past, it was very difficult to create things independently; there always needed to be a gatekeeper (eg. record label, producer, investor) to help make your vision a reality. These roles are still somewhat relevant, but now more than ever it is possible to completely sidestep the “middle men” and do everything independently. This is extremely liberating, and creatively fulfilling.
As we’ve moved from an Industrial to an Information Revolution, some would say it makes more sense to sell an intangible, digital product rather than a physical, manufactured item. Yet you guys have had phenomenal success with the Glif. What do you put that down to?
Above – The Glif.
Above – The Cosmonaut.
I think the scale is tipping back the other way. With things like 3D printing, online e-commerce, order fulfillment options, etc., it has become easier than ever to make and sell physical objects. The psychology of customers also plays into the economics of selling hardware. Most customers would balk at paying $20 for an iPhone app, but have no problem paying the same amount for an iPhone accessory, even if the app would bring just as much joy and usefulness. It’s easier to see the labor, and justify the cost, of a physical product. This is an uphill battle that software developers face.
JUMP OUT OF A PLANE AND BUILD A PARACHUTE ON THE WAY DOWN
– STUDIO NEAT
We often hear about the wildly successful iOS apps that reach number one in the App Store. But for every Frameographer, there’s literally a million that never reach critical mass. How did you guys avoid that?
For starters, although we are very pleased with how Frameographer has performed and the critical reception, it’s a kind of a misnomer to label it a “hit.” We couldn’t sustain ourselves on the money it brought in, and consider it a side project. The App Store is a tough nut to crack, and seemingly getting tougher by the day. That said, I imagine we were able to have a successful launch due to our reputation with our past products, and some favorable press attention.
You’ve just launched your fourth successful Kickstarter campaign in the Neat Ice Kit. Four outta four ain’t bad. Can you spill on some of your ideas that didn’t go so well, or that will forever remain a crudely drawn sketch on the back of a cocktail napkin?
I hesitate to dog on any of our past ideas here, in case we decide to revisit them in the future, hah! I will say, all of our projects, and especially the Neat Ice Kit, have gone through countless iterations, some of which were quite terrible. I suppose this is a testament to the design process: just keep iterating until you get there.
Speaking of Kickstarter, although it’s been hugely successful in a lot of instances, the site has copped some controversy with recent campaigns by celebrities using the hive mind platform to back their new projects. Do you think it’s unfair for presumably well-paid Hollywood actors to benefit from crowd-funding? And what does this mean for methods of production for creative properties in the future?
No, I don’t think it’s unfair at all. I backed Zach Braff’s film on Kickstarter, and it’s been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve backed to date. A rising tide lifts all boats, and it’s been shown that big blockbuster projects help bring more people to Kickstarter, rather than “stealing dollars” from the little guys. I think anyone should be able to benefit from crowd funding. Just because someone is presumably well off doesn’t mean they should be cut off from a channel that helps connect fans and mitigate risk.
What’s next for Studio Neat?
Right now our main focus is on bringing the Neat Ice Kit into production, but recently we’ve put out a new iPhone app and an update to the Glif. Busy times!
(Image creds: Shawn Blanc and Studio Neat)