If you're hesitant to invest in cool gadget pitches on crowdfunding platforms, your instincts are valid.
Research shows that only a quarter of Kickstarter pitches in the technology and design categories were delivered on time, and even after an eight-month delay, 75 percent of projects with reached goals then delivered. Better late than never, we suppose?
Hardware innovators now have another option. Today marks the official launch of HWTrek, a crowdfunding platform tailored specifically for hardware innovators that not only links them with a community of experts for consultations before crowdfunding but connects them with viable manufacturers afterward so the promised product can be successfully distributed.
"We learned that there's a gap on prototyping mass productions," says founder Lucas Wang, who is also the CEO and co-founder of Taiwan-based venture capital firm, TMI, which works with a number of international original design manufacturers. "We think it's crucial that the creators need more help and some community, someplace they can talk to the experts about their projects. And the original design manufacturers can also talk to the startups through our platform."
HWTrek guides a hardware product proposal through four stages. First, creators submit their projects to HWTrek (as they would to other current crowdfunding platforms) and can send a link to their virtual proposal to friends and colleagues for their feedback. In the second stage, hardware design and manufacturing experts can offer tips for tweaks and answer questions (there are currently nearly 40 invited experts hailing from Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron, among others). These experts can also endorse projects. There is no limit for how long a creator can remain in this stage, tinkering with plans and adding new features.
The third stage opens crowdfunding to the public community, who can then see which projects were endorsed by which experts from the HWTrek panel. "We redesigned this whole crowdfunding process to make people feel comfortable and confident that they can get what they see," explains Wong. If a goal is not reached within 40 days, its funds are returned to the original backers.
Those who do reach their goals can either then continue forward independently to secure their own manufacturers and distribution, or they can advance to the fourth stage – a hardware acceleration service that fills the troubling gap between prototype and sellable product. For a charge, HWTrek connects creators with the supply chain manufacturer they feel fits the project best, and ensures that the product ships and fulfills orders. It is up to the creators about whether they want to continue manufacturing with the select partner in the future.
Take note that while Kickstarter has revised its guidelines for Hardware and Product Design projects to prevent further disappointment in unrealistic deliveries, HWTrek aims to solve them at the source – supply. "We strictly limit the crowdfunding to preorders – it's not like a virtual product or service where you can contribute arbitrary donations," says Wong of the key difference. "This is not very healthy when you talk to the supply chain side; manufacturers need to know what the market demand is for your product. We think that if people like your product, they should buy one." So whether a Wistron expert or a community crowdfunding enthusiast in California, a person endorsing a project is not blindly investing an amount of money in a cool presentation. Instead, they're making an advanced purchase of the product, which they fully expect to ship to their doorstep months after a goal is completed.
HWTrek is now focused on attracting aspiring hardware creators as well as adding more international experts to weigh in before crowdfunders. And to celebrate the launch, HWTrek will match the fundraising of five projects: if a project raises $50,000, they'll provide an extra $20,000; if a project raises $100,000, they'll provide an extra $40,000. HWTrek's total investment will equal up to $200,000.