It’s one of those etiquette problems common during the holidays, with so much appetizing and feasting that inevitably you get some embarrassing bit of food prominently stuck in your teeth.
So of course the world of crowdfunding has finally produced an innovative solution to this vexation: a cleaning kit that includes an “ultra-light credit card-sized mirror, using a technology known as reflection,” and a line of “extraordinary excavation tools” that seem more like toy versions of dental picks — miniature pick axe, jackhammer, battle axe, and sword.
The “inventor” of the cleaning kit, Erik Noyes, strikes a suitably serious tone in the obligatory video accompanying the pitch on Kickstarter.
“It’s a travesty,” Noyes intones. “We can travel to the moon, but we can’t keep food out of our teeth?”
His straightfaced demeanor can carry the joke only so far; one clue is the name he gives to his “product” that includes an unprintable profanity.
A professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, Noyes is using the Kickstarter project partly to poke fun at himself, and other startup wannabes who are trying to disrupt industries from their living rooms. His videos are a comic and well-observed study of the overwrought language (“to ensure an unparalleled user experience . . . ”) and pitch-as-if-the-world-depended-on-it culture of crowdfunding (“Are these tools absolutely necessary? Not really. Do you need them? Absolutely.”).
In that way, they are like other spoofs on Kickstarter, such as one campaign to make a potato salad that raised more than $55,000 (“Every ingredient had to have a reason to be here. And we had to ask ourselves: What’s important here?”). Or the noPhone, a plastic something designed to look and feel like an iPhone: “A technology-free alternative to constant hand-to-phone contact that allows you to stay connected with the real world.”
The Kickstarter campaign is also something of an extension of Noyes’s academic work.
Currently on sabbatical, Noyes is using his time off to conduct immersion research. He embedded himself at Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, a shared workspace for inventors and startups, to better understand the process of designing unique specialty products and the crowdfunding campaigns that aim to bring them to market.
“I wanted to experiment with digital fabrication and video production,” Noyes said. “I will be teaching our first course on experiential crowdfunding in spring 2015. While I eat, sleep, and breathe pitching at Babson, video creation was a new challenge. There is an art in how these videos work. Our students want to know and so do I.”
Noyes did start out with a more ambitious idea for a product but, once among designers and entrepreneurs at the Asylum, he realized that it was easy to over-promise in a pitch.
“I saw how many projects end up with unexpected costs, and in some cases huge losses, due to unforeseen technical problems,” he said. Since his time was limited, he decided to instead try out a fun idea that had been on his mind for a decade.
“I am a periodic victim of this problem of stuff getting stuck in your teeth,” Noyes said. “My research says 80 percent of us are. When you bring it up with friends, everyone has a horror story. Then I realized, while at the Asylum, I could actually design and manufacture a mirror and attack tools myself.”
Two weeks into his cheeky campaign Noyes has surpassed his $3,500 goal; 286 people — not all family and friends — have pledged $5 or more for the teeth-cleaning kits. Noyes said the backers come from some 22 countries, including a dentist from Germany, who told him that “he is a gladiator at heart.”