Will Open-source Crowdfunding Help Sustain the Hardware Startup Boom?

By Cameron Scott 

selfstarter, lockitronJarred Sumner is just 16 years old, and he has launched two products this month: Lockitron, a gadget that lets users open doors with their mobile phones, and Selfstarter, an open-source alternative to Kickstarter.

Kickstarter, which actively curates fundraising projects, declined to host Lockitron’s pre-order process. So Sumner and his colleagues wrote their own code. On Thursday, they open-sourced it on Github. By Monday, it had been forked, or modified, 150 times, and 500 users were following the project.

The crowdfunding site Kickstarter helped usher in a boom in hardware startups at a time when software was ascendant. For instance, Ninja Cloud, Everpurse iPhone charger, Ubi and several 3D printers have gotten off the ground on Kickstarter.

“Before Kickstarter, it was difficult to validate your market — to see if your product was something people actually wanted,” explained Sumner, who works fulltime for Lockitron.

But Kickstarter’s reputation was damaged when projects that had apparently reached their funding tipping point, such that contributors’ payments were processed, failed to ship products. The company has since clarified that it isn’t accountable for project deliverables and tightened its rules for hardware projects.

Kickstarter declined to comment for this article, but Sumner said the company had responded positively to Selfstarter.

As an open-source project, Selfstarter invites users to adopt and adapt its code. Users must host the code on their own websites, which presents a barrier to entry for non-tech fundraisers but not to startups. Selfstarter users won’t benefit from Kickstarter’s recommendations, but few projects rely on Kickstarter to drive traffic to their fundraising projects anyway.

Sumner said he will make some changes to the Selfstarter code over the coming weeks, but the ultimate goal is for the open-source community to take it over.

“We wanted to start the conversation of what happens to hardware startups after Kickstarter,” Sumner said.