Julie Tucker
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What is Kickstarter’s record project?

The creation and development of a unique smartwatch raised a record $20.3 million on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website. It was the biggest ever success in terms of money raised on the platform, with the first $10.3 million being collected in just five weeks.

As the largest funding platform in the world for new and creative products, Kickstarter was set up in April 2009 to “help bring creative products to life”, according to its founders, Perry Chen, Charles Adler and Yancey Strickler.

How did Kickstarter begin?
The three entrepreneurs collaborated to launch the Brooklyn-based fundraising platform, which was described by the influential Time magazine as being among the Best Inventions of 2010. Chen, now 43, came up with the idea for Kickstarter in 2001.

The former Tulane University student developed his idea for eight years before its launch with his business partners. Over the years, the site has raised millions of dollars for innovative inventions, which are funded through public donations, rather than the traditional means.

The invention of the Pebble smartwatch brand was Kickstarter’s biggest success to date, raising the staggering sum of $20.3 million in two separate campaigns, the first in 2012 and the second in 2015.

How was the Pebble smartwatch developed?
Eric Migicovsky, a partner at Y Combinator, came up with the idea of a watch that would behave like a smartphone, displaying messages and selecting Android devices. Initially, he took his idea through the business incubator programme run by Y Combinator, the American seed accelerator.

Also known as a start-up accelerator, a seed accelerator arranges fixed-term, cohort-based programmes that include investments, connections, mentorship and educational components. The programme culminates in a public demo day to accelerate growth.

In the early days, the smartwatch was known by the brand name Allerta – the company that had developed and sold the inPulse watch for BlackBerry devices.

Migicovsky’s new smartwatch was a success and unlike many of its competitors, it generated a considerable amount of revenue during the Y Combinator programme. Migicovsky raised $375,000 from “angel investors”, but was unable to raise the additional funding that he needed.

Undeterred, he rebranded it the Pebble smartwatch and pursued crowdfunding through Kickstarter. Migicovsky’s company (by this time known as Pebble Technology) launched a Kickstarter campaign on 11th April 2012, with an initial fundraising target of $100,000.

Each backer who spent $115 would receive a Pebble as soon as they became available, with the first 200 backers receiving the watch for $99. This meant they were effectively pre-ordering the Pebble, which would go on the market at $150, at a discounted price. This was an unusual way of marketing a campaign and raising funds, but it worked.

The fundraiser had met its $100,000 goal within two hours of going live. Six days later, it had become the most funded project since Kickstarter began, having raised more than $4.7 million. With another 30 days left until the campaign ended, funding continued to pour in.

By 18th May, when the campaign closed, the funding totalled $10.2 million, which had been pledged by 68,929 people in five weeks – the world record for the most money raised by a Kickstarter project.

When did the Pebble go on sale?
The first batch of Pebble smartwatches was shipped to Kickstarter backers in January 2013. They could be connected to Android and iOS devices and would show messages and notifications. There was an online app store, which distributed Pebble-compatible apps from numerous developers such as Uber, ESPN, GoPro and Runkeeper.

Featuring a thinner body, a Corning Gorilla Glass screen and metal buttons, a new steel-bodied Pebble, called the Pebble Steel, went on sale in February 2014. It came in two variations – brushed stainless steel or a matte black finish.

In 2015, Pebble launched a second fundraising campaign on Kickstarter to fund its second generation of Pebble smartwatches – Time Steel and the Pebble Time. The new campaign was as successful as the first, bringing the total raised by Kickstarter to another new record of $20.3 million.

On 7th December 2016, Pebble sold its intellectual property to the American company, Fitbit (the manufacturer of wearable technology specialising in fitness tracking) for the sum of $23 million. Some of the Pebble staff moved to work for Fitbit after it closed down as a company.

As of December 2018, Fitbit is the third largest wearable technology company, behind Xiaomi and Apple. Co-founder of Fitbit, James Park, has an estimated net worth of $660 million. Park dropped out of Harvard, where he studied computer science, to become chairman and CEO of Fitbit in 2007.

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