Peter Dering had a problem. His camera wouldn’t stop swinging wildly while he was backpacking through Asia in 2008. It was annoying and dangerous. His solution? Quit his job and spend nine months building the Capture Camera Clip, a clip with a quick-release that allows you to securely carry your camera attached to your backpack strap. But the build was just the beginning.
“I didn’t think or care about how to sell it,” Dering said. “I was planning on going door to door to camera stores.” But there are only so many hours in a day to do one-on-one pitches. He had grown used to expressing his passion for the gadget face to face, and was good at getting people on board with the vision. What if he could do that with hundreds, or even thousands of people? That’s when three separate friends in a single week told him about Kickstarter. And that’s how Peak Design came to be.
“Great ideas don't sell themselves, and the process and costs of bringing a new product to market the traditional way can be huge,” said Adam Saraceno, director of marketing for Peak Design. “Kickstarter gave us the ability to bring our very first product to market with the help of thousands of folks all over the world who saw Capture as an answer to their needs.”
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding site that lets creative people gather money from the public in order to bring their ideas to life. Innovators pick a deadline and a minimum funding goal and consumers who believe in the concept offer funds to support the project. If the creative goal isn’t met by the deadline, the innovator doesn’t collect any money. And, if the goal is met, backing consumers often get the product plus perks, as a thank-you.
New companies typically rely on investors to help fund their projects. According to Dering, crowdfunding (the technical term for soliciting contributions from Kickstarter’s online community) also provides that much-needed funding. But instead of paying investors back or granting them stock options, Kickstarter allows Dering to get right to work, creating his product for his customers.
Peak Design claims to be the most crowdfunded active product company on Kickstarter. Over the course of eight years and eight campaigns, the brand has raised more than $20 million via crowdfunding. In fact, they’ve built their entire business model around Kickstarter. And future products keep coming to life in part from requests from their large Kickstarter following.
“I backed my first Peak Design product, Capture V2,” said Adam Hicks, who became so enthralled with the company that he later joined as head of customer success. “During that campaign I had commented to the team and directly messaged [them] regarding a 1/4-inch 20 tripod mount for the GoPro Kit.” Dering confirmed that his message helped inform the decision to change it to the POV Kit during the campaign and include a 1/4-inch 20 adapter.
The days after Dering launched his first Kickstarter campaign in 2011 were the most exciting of his life. Dering said: “It was the first time I experienced the power of the internet. These strangers I've never met before were backing this gizmo.”
Kickstarter users are called backers. They’re different than customers because, according to Dering, they tend to be more interested in helping an idea become a reality. Backers also tend to be more interested in the story behind the product. When Peak Design launched the Everyday Messenger on Kickstarter, for example, 681,000 viewers watched the explainer video all the way through; compare that with the 118,000 viewers who completed the video on YouTube. “That means we get to tell a story and we have longer, so we get to design products with deeper features than just the surface level,” Dering said. “We get to explain what all of these things do to make products that are better appreciated because they surprise and delight.”
For Dering, it’s the proximity to backers that makes a difference. He was the only Peak Design employee in the company’s first year, from 2010 to 2011, which meant that every single comment and message on Kickstarter came to him. After 5,258 backers pledged $364,698 to bring the Capture Camera Clip to life in 2011, some backers left comments on Kickstarter, saying they were worried about dropping their cameras while using the clip. Dering says he took their feedback to heart in 2012, innovating new products called the Leash and Cuff, which lets users keep their camera connected to either their neck or wrist. This time, 3,108 backers pledged $215,721 to support the project.
Peak Design doubled in size every year for the first few years. “We could not afford that growth if it weren’t for that annual injection of Kickstarter capital,” Dering said. And, what’s more, the company has almost zero debt. “Almost every dime has gone to two places: taxes and inventory,” he said. “And I’m actually a pretty big fan of taxes.”
After Peak Design proved themselves on Kickstarter year after year, REI decided to start selling the brand two and a half years ago. “They started out itty bitty,” said Danielle Deal, category merchandise manager for REI. “As we continued to see success—doubling the business each year—we thought, ‘holy crap, this is an all-store brand.’” That’s why, this year, Peak Design products are in every REI store, and online.
There’s good synergy between REI and Peak Design, Deal said. The best way to put it, she said, is that the brand fosters a spirit of adventure. In fact, “half the time I can’t get ahold of them because they’re out there living it.”
What’s equally exciting is their dedication to staying relatively small. Dering said that they’re not interested in taking on investors—and not for lack of outside interest. He wants to keep growth at a steady rate, but continue to have the culture of living adventure deeply embedded in the company.
“They’re still a small company and it feels really good to support that,” said Deal. And it also feels good, she adds, “to see them succeed and to see them have such a big impact on our overall business too.”