You can now read 10 articles a month for free. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Kickstarter propels local entrepreneurs

Singer who raised $1.2m is one of many who use crowdfunding site to fund myriad projects

 Joseph Schlesinger of Somerville used Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing website, to raise money for his robot-building DIY kits.

JONATHAN WIGGs/GLOBE STAFF

Joseph Schlesinger of Somerville used Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing website, to raise money for his robot-building DIY kits.

Joseph Schlesinger of Somerville needed $13,000 to develop what he thought was a pretty cool product: do-it-yourself kits for gadget enthusiasts to assemble and program their own spider-like robot, called Hexy the Hexapod.

So he turned to Kickstarter.com, the online resource for raising money from the general public — or “crowdfunding” — for all sorts of creative projects, from independent films to iPhone accessories to oddball art projects.

Continue reading below

Schlesinger posted the project on May 18. A day later, he blew past his funding goal. By the end of June, he had raised more than $168,000 from 861 people.

“It was a huge validation,” said Schlesinger, a 23-year-old Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduate. “As the money kept going up and up, I was thinking more and more about quitting my job.” And so he did, leaving his position as a software engineer to found a two-person start-up called ArcBotics.

Schlesinger’s is among the most successful Massachusetts-based campaigns on Kickstarter, probably the best-known crowdfunding site.

Others who have sought money include an Ayer video game maker, a Boston­ singer-songwriter, and a couple of Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates; all have raised more than $100,000 in Kickstarter campaigns.

The state’s biggest Kickstarter success is Amanda Palmer, who was formerly part of the cabaret rock duo The Dresden Dolls. She raised almost $1.2 million on Kickstarter to fund a new album, art book, and tour — the most successful Kickstarter campaign by any musician. And there are many who have turned to the site to fund projects.

The site’s biggest fund-raiser so far is Pebble Technology, a Palo Alto, Calif., company that designed a watch to display information from smartphones. It raised more than $10 million.

Massachusetts Kickstarter projects do not reach that level, but still raise impressive amounts of funding.

Ministry of Supply, a Boston clothing company, raised $429,277 from 2,798 backers. The company, founded in 2010 by MIT students, set a record on Kickstarter for the most money raised in the fashion category. It used the platform to pay for a line of dress shirts made from high-tech fabric. Since most Kickstarter entrepreneurs offer donors something in return, Ministry of Supply promised some shirts to high-level backers.

But there is a danger with Kickstarter: The results are often unpredictable, and when a campaign hits, its success can be overwhelming. “As soon as the excitement wore off, it was a bit nerve-racking knowing how many orders we had to fill,” said Kit Hickey, Ministry of Supply cofounder.

The company is weeks behind schedule. The shirts were supposed to be shipped in August, but Hickey said they are still being made in a Los Angeles factory and are not likely to be available until October.

There have been complaints, Hickey said. “We give out updates to our backers, and are being as transparent as possible,” she said.

dina rudick/globe staff

Kit Hickey, of Ministry of Supply, used Kickstarter to pay for a line of dress shirts.

DINA RUDICK/GLOBE STAFF

“One of the problems with Kickstarter is that you are locked into delivering a product to the people who backed you,” said Ethan Mollick, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who released a research paper in July on the dynamics of crowd-funding on Kickstarter. Most successfully funded Kickstarter campaigns deliver their goods late, Mollick said, because creators are often overburdened by unexpectedly high demand.

Experienced contributors know there are likely to be delays, said Steve Lionel, a Nashua software engineer who has contributed to 25 Kickstarter campaigns, including the one for Ministry of Supply.

“What I have found enjoyable is the progress of the development,” he said. “You feel like you are a bit of an insider.”

Kickstarter creators are legally bound to keep up their end of the bargain when receiving contributions on the site, according to the company. But Kickstarter, which is based in New York, does not investigate whether its creators can actually deliver. That sort of vetting is often left to the Kickstarter community.

“Backers ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it,” Kickstarter said on its blog last week.

The company declined to comment for this story.

Plenty of Kickstarter campaigns have failed. According to the company’s statistics, more than half of the 70,000 projects launched on the site did not meet fund-raising goals, which meant they did not receive any money. Contributions are not delivered unless the established funding goal is met.

Kickstarter has hosted transactions totaling $293 million to about 30,000 successful projects, according to its website. The company takes a 5 percent cut of what entrepreneurs raise; Amazon.com’s online payments arm processes the contributions and takes another 5 percent.

Although Kickstarter makes a point of saying it is meant for funding projects, not for starting businesses, it is helping some start-ups get off the ground.

Two big winners from Massachusetts are Crate Entertainment, a small company that raised $537,515 to make a fantasy role-playing game called Grim Dawn, and Supermechanical, a start-up launched by two MIT graduates who received $556,542 to make wireless sensors that connect to the Web, which they call Twine.

Supermechanical recently relocated to Austin, Texas, and is hiring. It will not ship its devices until later this month, several months behind schedule. (The company once used space in the Boston Globe building.)

Still, the company will be coming to market with almost 4,000 Kickstarter prospective buyers: those who helped get the company going.

“This is a really, really easy low-cost way to get market affirmation,” said John Kestner, cofounder of Supermechanical. “You aren’t just getting customers. You are getting a community.”

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the date the Boston company Ministry of Supply expected to deliver shirts to donors on the website Kickstarter. The original delivery date was August.

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week