A great idea is just that — an idea — until the person who conceived it makes the often terrifying decision to act on it. The resources needed to make this a reality, however, are much harder to come by. Over the last decade, a handful of alternatives to venture capitalists and angel investors have become available to early-stage entrepreneurs. Crowdsourcing is a great way to gather feedback and support, as well as create awareness.
Here are seven tech companies that embody the effectiveness of crowdsourcing.
The University of Southern California is known for many things, but recently, the university has established itself as one of the premier developers of robotics talent in the world. Launched out of the USC Viterbi Startup Garage in 2013, AIO Robotics has created a line of all-in-one 3D printers and a marketplace for all things 3D printing. In 2016, Founder and CEO Jens Windau told Built In LA: “It's quite hard for an early-stage startup to raise the necessary capital to get the manufacturers excited. For us, the Kickstarter campaign wasn't just about fundraising, we were aimed at drawing the attention of manufacturers and customers, so it was a big marketing tool for us.”
Headquartered in Santa Monica, GNARBOX, an external drive that allows photographers and videographers to transfer and edit files on the go, closed an $8.5 million Series A back in May 2017, but the extreme sports startup can trace its success back to a $500,000 Kickstarter campaign a few years ago. The funding came in at a key time for the startup, realized they needed to redesign the entire product before taking it to market. “We had a lot of trouble in terms of getting an actual product to market the first time we gave it a shot,” Tim Feess, co-founder and CEO of GNARBOX, told Built In LA last year. “We learned a lot of hard lessons from that, but we were able to use everything we learned to make the product even better. We redesigned the whole thing from the bottom up; we chose a new processor and rebuilt the entire platform, and it came out really, really well.”
With a whopping $1.825 million courtesy of fundraising campaigns on both Indiegogo and Kickstarter, iGulu is in the process of rolling out its hardware-software homebrewing solution that offers amateur brewers a connected way to manage their homemade beer. Founded in 2015, the startup monitors the beer’s progress while allowing the brewer to make changes and stay up-to-date via the company’s mobile app.
Vernon-based Lumi wasn’t always the packaging and supply chain management company it is today. Originally an e-commerce brand that allowed users to print photos on fabric using sunlight, co-founder and CEO Jesse Genet appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank. During the episode, she admirably held her ground against the sharks, and parlayed the experience into a successful Kickstarter campaign, eventually landing a spot at Y Combinator.
In late-2015, the company pivoted and began offering packaging and supply chain solutions for e-commerce brands, many of which are located here in LA. Today, the company boasts well over 500 customers, one of the coolest Instagram accounts in LA tech and a troublesome office pup named Flexo, who acknowledged my visit to the company’s headquarters by sprinting out the front door and into traffic (Flexo was not harmed and made it back into the office safely).
Many of us in the LA tech community like to celebrate all the innovation going on around here with a few cocktails, and in the case of overindulgence, the hangovers that follow the festivities. No one knows this better than Sisun Lee, who — while working at Tesla — took a trip to South Korea to visit friends and family.
During his trip, he took part in the raucous company happy hours the country is known for and paid the price the next morning, only to see his comrades make it into the office the following morning as though nothing had happened. After developing a working formula for a hangover cure, a product now branded as Morning Recovery, Lee launched a wildly successful Indiegogo campaign that was able to generate $250,000 in just three weeks, leading him to take on the project full-time. Last month, the company was named to Built In LA's 50 Startups to Watch in 2018.
Headquartered in Pasadena and incubated at the famous Idealab, 3D startup New Matter was co-founded by CalTech grads Bill Gross — an LA native and local tech icon — and Steve Schell, an engineering veteran, advisor and part-time CrossFit trainer. Back in 2014, the company launched an Indiegogo campaign that generated $683,804 to develop a cost-effective line of 3D printers.
To say the Kickstarter campaign for Solaborate, founded by Labinot Bytyqi, was a sensation would be putting it mildly. After launching a campaign in support of his startup Solaborate, and the company’s flagship product video communication device HELLO, Bytyqi blew through its $30,000 goal, eventually garnering more than $400,000. Bytyqi, who came to the U.S. following a series of armed conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s, introduced a suite of new products at this year’s CES, including HELLO 2 Creator Edition, HELLO Touch TV and two new HELLO gadgets, which Bytyqi initially designed so that he could better communicate with his family when he took long business trips.