Kickstarter has a new champion: an elaborately designed picnic cooler that has drawn the most backing in crowdfunding history.
Crowdfunding, which gathers contributions from the public over the Internet, has so far created few commercially successful products. Pebble smartwatches are perhaps the best-known, unless you count the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset, which is still more promise than product. Still, people keep trying: Kickstarter hosted more hardware campaigns in the five months through May than in the previous several years. These campaigns offer a fascinating window into what the public really wants -- before the ideas fail for various less interesting technical and business-related reasons.
Enter the Coolest Cooler, product designer Ryan Grepper's second attempt to sell the public on a cooler that's a party unto itself. It has a built-in blender that the inventor claims can make 6 gallons of margaritas on a single charge. Other features include a Bluetooth speaker to play music from your phone, a phone charger, LED lights for those all-night parties, extra-wide wheels to navigate sandy beaches, a rubber strap to hold other luggage and storage space for the included plastic plates and knife. There's no technological breakthrough, just a serious attempt to turn a mundane object into something fun. A glorified lifehack.
Grepper's first attempt -- which boasted a grill -- was a failure, in part because the campaign started in winter and in part because Grepper didn't have all the details down. This time around, the project has already accumulated more than $10 million, far exceeding its $50,000 target. The funding campaign ends Friday.
It's easy to dismiss the Coolest Cooler's runaway success as another fluke like the potato salad that raised $55,492. I think it's much more than that, sort of like reinventing the bicycle.
Consider, for example, a new bicycle called the Denny, created by Seattle design firm Teague and custom builder Sizemore Bicycle. It has automatic gear shifting, electric hill assist, auto-adjusting lights and a carbon belt in place of a chain. The killer feature is the square detachable handlebar that doubles as a lock. Although this is not a crowdfunded project -- it won a Levi's-funded bike design competition -- the designers are swamped with requests for a Denny. I'd get one if I could (I'm less interested in the Coolest Cooler, though I could have used one 20 years ago).
We often think of technology as magical. Tech companies do their best to maintain that perception with talk of drone delivery, intelligent homes and driverless cars. What we often really want, however, is small, incremental help with everyday tasks. The ability to make cocktails on the beach. A built-in bike lock. Technology, and invention, doesn't need to be rocket science -- it's about simple but ingenious functionality.
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