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Kickstarter launches tools for creators, because hardware is hard

Kickstarter and its crowdfunding brethren have played a pivotal role in the hardware revolution of the past decade. But even now that developers have a wide range of democratizing tools at their disposal, hardware is, as ever, hard. Today the service launched Hardware Studio, a new suite of tools aimed at helping developers navigate the choppy waters of hardware development.

The studio launches with two key partners, component distributor Avnet and Dragon Innovation, which serves as a conduit for startups looking to start the manufacturing process. It’s a PR play, in part — after all, every time a high-profile project fails to deliver, there’s an immediate deluge of hot takes about the myriad problems of crowdfunding.

Interestingly, however, according to a joint research project conducted by Kickstarter and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School a few years back, hardware projects apparently have a lower incidence of failure — at around 7 percent, versus the overall space’s 9 percent. That said, those mess-ups tend to be higher profile.

“Certainly every time a hardware project fails to deliver, it’s a headline,” Kickstarter CEO/co-founder Yancey Strickler told TechCrunch.

But even without that added fuel of negative publicity, helping bring projects to life has been an essential strand of Kickstarter’s DNA since the early days, and, as such, the service has long worked alongside creators. Though this new move marks a more formal step in that direction.

“We’ve done quite a bit informally and behind the scenes over the years,” says Strickler. “We first connected with Dragon Innovation and Scott Miller, their CEO, back in 2012, when the first Pebble launched. They supported Pebble and helped Eric [Migicovsky] get off the ground.”

As such, Dragon is a bit of a no-brainer as a partner. Interested parties apply for Hardware Studio support ahead of their campaign and the company gets final say over who it opts to partner with. From there, Dragon and Avnet serve an advisory role, helping creators address some of the key questions around launch, including manufacturing partners and pricing.

If things go well, the companies work with campaigns in a more formal (and monetized) capacity. As such, the project is about more than just avoiding failure, it’s about lowering the barrier of entry for prospective hardware developers and removing some of the fear of jumping in with both feet.

“That’s certainly part of that, but we have a mix of veteran hardware creators and people who are doing this for the first time,” says Strickler. “The dream is that everyone can be on a fairly level playing field, in terms of access to knowledge. We’re definitely trying to stop failure from happening, but if we’re able to build a critical mass of tools here, we can help them get over that hurdle and people will give it a shot and try to make it happen.”

That sort of ongoing partnership can help empower creators throughout the process, to help prep for the best- and worst-case scenarios.

“Say it’s a Pebble scenario — with the initial [watch], they were looking to make 1,000. By the end, they had to make 100,000. I’m sure that’s quite a phone call,” he laughs. “That is the amazing power of Kickstarter that often ends up being quite challenging. It’s the dream challenge, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”

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