(Updates to add comment from Kickstarter in last graph.)
When Jason Giddings posted his idea on Kickstarter in November to build a glass keyboard and mouse controlled by multi-touch gestures similar to the iPad, he didn’t even have a name for it. The former U.S. Army helicopter pilot expected it to be a side project, despite raising nearly triple his goal of $50,000.
That changed in December when Software Solutions & Technologies, a Swiss consulting firm, spotted the project on the popular crowd-funding website and flew the Oregon native to its office in Zurich to discuss a possible investment. The next month, they traveled by helicopter to a glacier at the base of the Matterhorn in the Alps to sign a $3 million deal.
“As a rule, we don’t actively go looking for these opportunities as we’re not a VC organization,” said Mark Collins, a general manager at the firm. “This was our first experience with Kickstarter. You might say we jumped in the deep end.”
Now, Giddings is relocating his four-person operation, which he named TransluSense, to a 16,000-square-foot office in Sandpoint, Idaho, and is planning to hire 15 assembly workers in the next month or so. Meanwhile, Software Solutions & Technologies is designing programs that will interface with the devices.
Giddings’s story is the latest example of how crowd-funding sites, which have been touted as an alternative to venture capital, are opening the doors to bigger investments and startup opportunities. Of course, in the end, they still have to execute.
With the additional capital, Giddings has gotten more ambitious with his project. He now wants to make a consumer-ready product, rather than the one geared towards programmers that he initially pitched to his 550 Kickstarter backers. As a result, the product missed its July target date. The keyboard is expected to be available in stores in about a month, Collins said.
“The Kickstarter money would have been enough, I think, had we stayed with the initial strategy,” Giddings said of the $143,584 raised from the site. “This $3 million basically allows us to really make this a world-class product.”
Giddings is already planning for his next crowd-funded project. His TrickTrac software would turn an Apple mobile device into a laptop-like trackpad to control a computer. Giddings tried Kickstarter again, but he said the site wasn’t interested. A Kickstarter spokesman said the project didn’t meet submission guidelines because there was no prototype or manufacturing plan. So Giddings has taken the TrickTrac to Indiegogo, one of the site’s competitors.