Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing and small-scale production for the win
if you are Running R&D at a major device manufacturer is a challenge.
You usually make products in huge quantities at fairly small margins. To recoup your development, tooling, and launch marketing costs, you need to create and sell a large number of products. To make that possible, you would probably need to do a lot of user and market research to make sure you have the best chance of success with your products.
That makes sense, but the business model itself means it’s hard to do anything really risky, which in turn means mainstream manufacturers rarely come up with anything really innovative.
If there were a mushroom growing device, would many more people grow mushrooms at home on a regular basis? There was only one way to find out: build one and try to sell it.
That’s where FirstBuild comes in. If you are a nerd of small appliances you may have seen it Opal nugget ice maker, the studio’s first major breakthrough; the Mella mushroom fruiting chamber; to be indoor pizza oven; or the Arden indoor smoker. I spoke to André Zdanow, president at FirstBuild, to find out where these ideas came from and how the studio is working to replicate those successes.
“The best known example is probably the Opal nugget ice maker. In the beginning, it wasn’t really a product at all — it was a technology that was being worked on in the GE Appliances refrigeration department,” Zdanow said, explaining that it turned out to be a headache. They wanted to put the “nugget ice cream” in a refrigerator, but couldn’t figure out exactly what the market size would be for something like this. “It is actually very complicated to put the technology in a refrigerator. In other words, it was a really great idea that engineers had been toying with for years, but in the context of the focus and economy of a multi-billion dollar company, it wasn’t something they could focus on.”
In a parallel universe, that technology would never have seen the light of day, but instead the engineers came to FirstBuild and wondered what would happen if they put the technology in a separate appliance instead of a full-sized refrigerator.
“We see a lot of people going to the store and buying this kind of ice cream. They call it Sonic ice or hospital ice. We decided to develop a prototype and see if people want it to be just an ice cream maker,” explains Zdanow. That was the origin of the FirstBuild lab’s success. “It started with rough concepts that looked like an ice cream machine, but with nugget ice in them. From there, it progressed through industrial design and finally to a $2.7 million crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in 2015.”