Mike Isaac

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Making It to CES on a Kickstarter and a Dream

pebble_watch_kickstarterFor tech companies large and small, it’s never been cheap to show your wares at CES. It’s the trade show’s unofficial barrier to entry — front enough cash for a booth, and you’re welcome aboard.

But while the prices may still be high, the ways inside are starting to shift. Instead of relying on VC bankrolls, some smaller outfits are taking funding straight from you, the people who want to buy their products in the first place.

How? Simple. The rise of Kickstarter, the privately owned crowdfunding platform company that debuted a little under three years ago, has democratized the fundraising process for thousands of would-be entrepreneurs. Pitch an idea for a prototype invention or service on Kickstarter.com, and the people can vote yay or nay with their wallets. It’s socialized venture capital 101, and it has been a boon for the relatively unknown creative tinkerers. And many have found their way to Las Vegas for CES this year.

Take the Hapifork, for instance, one of many small, goofy gadgets debuting at CES this week. In order to better control your eating habits, the fork will send slight vibrating jolts to you, the eater, if you’re scarfing down food too fast. The premise is so silly, it’s hard to believe the product wasn’t pulled from the pages of The Onion.

The iMusic Body Rhythm manages to trump the Hapifork in the department of the asinine. It literally looks like an electronic toilet seat cover, which you’re supposed to wear like a life vest around your neck. Plug it into your MP3 player, and the vest vibrates to the beat of whatever song you’re listening to. This, my friends, is frivolity unhinged.

imusic_body_rhythmBut that’s the thing. Though I may think it’s ridiculous — and I’m sure I’m not alone in that thought — you, the masses, have already spoken. Folks are backing the Hapifork, the Body Rhythm, the Kogeto Dot iPhone camera and other wacky products in droves, using the Kickstarter platform. The people get to decide whether or not these pursuits are worthwhile.

While that grassroots popularity is important, it’s only half the battle. There’s still value in getting the item in question onto hallowed CES ground. It’s the event where distributors and retailers walk the floor, deciding what items may make it onto the crowded shelves of their stores in the coming year. It’s where big companies go to see what the little guys are doing, and how they can potentially work with them. It’s a breeding ground for partnerships, partnerships, partnerships. No Kickstarter campaign can offer that sort of networking value.

So yes, all roads still lead to Rome (or rather to the Bellagio, in CES’s case). It’s just that now those roads may be paved with the dollars and support of the many, rather than the few — no matter how crazy the idea.

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of Pets.com would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”