Community Funding a Crowdfunded Creative Commodity – The Glowforge

October 27, 2015 Written by Joe Menth

He said he wanted to launch 1,000 Kickstarter campaigns.
I believe we’ll help him get there. In our own way.

A little over a week ago I happened upon a video posted by a fellow artist friend, Karin Bolstad from BlueSchool Arts (she’s an awesome artist and client of Fine Balance Imaging, and I was also a founding member of BSA for a year but quit due to time constraints). This video kind of blew my mind. It was for a new iteration of an old technology: laser cutting. It wasn’t that laser cutters really were anything new…it was that up until this point, they were just downright unintuitive.

Glowforge seemed different. So much so, that as soon as I saw the promo video for a privately run crowdfunding campaign, I was hooked.

Not only was I hooked, but I was somehow convinced that I could miraculously come up with $4,000 to purchase one for our businesses.

But I was in California that week for the non-profit organization StoryDome (where I’m the Creative Director and primary presenter) on a road trip to bring transformative immersive storytelling to the masses at the largest sustainability conference in the country, Bioneers.

But I digress.

I fantasized about the idea of finally having a laser cutter.  Rhiannon and I had talked about it early on when we first launched Feather & Fox, imagining all the products we could make ourselves if only we had access to one. The problem was, back then – only a year and a half ago – the lowest cost laser cutter one could buy that had the power to cut through things (and not just engrave into them) started around $10,000 for the base models…
Excited about the creative possibilities at the time, we even ordered some amazing laser cut product to sell in the shop, from a local couple in Woodinville who started their own business doing what we dreamed of.  They’re now are carried by the Chihuly Glass Museum, the Space Needle, and even Powell’s Books in Portland!  Using only a high-end laser cutter and a lot of creativity. They are 6by6Arts, and they are amazing. Over the last year we ordered some great products from them, figuring that it would be the only way we could get such innovation into our store. With the possibility of the Glowforge, however, we can open up that potential to anyone. Though, we’ll still always order product from 6by6Arts because they’re just…awesome.

So back to the Glowforge. It was within reach in my mind, but not in my pocketbook. Fine Balance Imaging just recently invested quite a lot into new technologies to build capacity in our printing studio with our brand new dye sublimation printer – allowing us to print on metal, wood, apparel and more. But it also meant we were not exactly in the market for more gear. We’re still learning what we can do with what we’ve got!

And yet…

And yet I saw something in the Glowforge. And in the statement the founder, Dan Shapiro, made about “launching 1000 Kickstarters”…

This amazing artists community of south Whidbey Island needs access to the kinds of tools that can launch an entire business for a singular creative mind. I know this. I talk to artists every day. I see the ideas spinning out of their heads, as well as all of those thousands of ideas whipping around my own. And yet the sadly failed Maker Space on the south end was the closest it seemed we were going to get to those kinds of tools.

Our printing studio doesn’t necessarily need a laser cutter. We have incredible capabilities with the equipment we’ve got.

The artists in this community, however…they need this thing. I can see it. I can sense it. I know for certain that if given the right tools – specifically, tools that are intuitive and made for creatives, not for engineers and geeks (like most laser cutters are) – then the artists around here could make entire businesses out of just one product idea. If only they had access to the tools, and a little helping hand along the way in terms of design or making the software work…

And so I got to work trying to secure an immediate equipment loan.

The Glowforge crowdfunding campaign wasn’t through Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. It was private. A single company putting out an idea and asking the world to fund them. Asking the greater creative community to, as we love to say, “Make it Happen.” (full credit to Rhiannon on that one…every time)IMG_7292

There was no way I could get $4,000 together in the four remaining days out of the 30-day long crowdfunding campaign. I simply hadn’t found out about it soon enough, I thought. If I had the funds, I was willing to take the risk. But I didn’t, and neither did the studio. We definitely were not planning on spending $4K last week.

Wednesday came and went. I excitedly showed the Glowforge video to a few clients, saying “If only…” and leaving it at that. A few of them “got it”…but no one was offering up four thousand dollars.

Thursday came and almost went. The campaign had one day to go, and then the price would effectively double – and the ability to place a pre-order for the revolutionary laser cutter would be over. The only way to get one after that would be to wait until all the pre-orders were filled, which would be another six months. I watched another video about it. This time, a preview from Tested, showing the capability of it and talking over what made it different.

Part of me felt a bit sick. Sick because I did not want to be behind the curve again. It took over six years for our studio to gain access to the technology to make metal prints – well after most large corporate printing companies had taken out two-page magazine spreads advertising the next big thing. It was primarily because the costs were so incredibly high to get into a part of the industry that was highly specialized and required a whole new learning curve…as well as deep pockets. Laser cutting, however, has been around for twenty years. But never in a package that was intuitive…and built for creative people. I vowed to be on the bleeding edge…if only just this once.

A great friend and longtime client came in Thursday as I was getting ready to head home from work. I showed him the video as well. He was impressed. Again, he did not have $4,000 any more than I did.

But he said, “Why don’t you put it out on Facebook…see what happens?”

I half-heartedly laughed at the thought. No one was going to help me buy a machine for my studio.

But then it hit me: this wasn’t for me…this wasn’t for Fine Balance Imaging…this was for the artist’s community. This was to launch 1000 Kickstarters.

I realized that unlike most of what I do, when it comes to the Glowforge, the artists would bring their own materials. I wasn’t out ink and paper. Only time and patience. Granted, I have to invent new ways to manage or stretch time, but my patience is getting better. So the investment was in the machine, my eventual expertise, and then…time.

And so I put it out there to the community. A Facebook post linking to the Glowforge promo video with the idea: let’s buy this thing together. Any investment you make, you get 150% value back. Because when it comes to laser cutting – the value is in the time. $100 x 40 people and we’d get it. $100 and that investment would get the artist 150 minutes of time on the machine to make whatever they wanted – with our help of course – with priority access to it before any other clients.

I put it out there around 5:30 pm and went home. I checked a couple of times throughout the evening.

Nothing. No response.

So I went to bed.

In the morning, I checked again. No response.

I got to the studio and decided one last time I’d just give it a shot. A crazy request. Let’s buy this amazing tool together so we can all use something we would never buy for ourselves!

Still nothing.

And then an hour later, $200 showed up in our PayPal account. An hour later, another three hundred. With less than 7 hours to go before the Glowforge crowdfunding campaign was over, before our chance was up entirely until late next year…the money started rolling in. Our crazy request that we crowdfund the crowdfund…worked.

I had people drive into the studio just to talk to me, to see the video again, and to hand over their investment in a shared asset.

With only an hour to go, we had raised close to $2,000…

But it was only half. So we took a leap of faith and put it on a credit card. And sometime next spring, our community of artists will be the proud owners of an amazingly intuitive tool to create all manner of artistic expression. Maybe it will launch a 1,000 Kickstarters. Maybe our community of artists will be at the forefront of a new model: something Rhiannon has been trying to tell me for over a year…a Design and Make Space…for Creatives. We plan on hosting the Glowforge in our retail space, Feather & Fox, so the average person can come in and not only see what is possible – product made on the machine on the walls and shelves of our store – but have an easy access venue to create something, and then turn around and potentially sell it in an active retail space or online store without any additional effort!

Since last Friday, when we took a leap of faith and bought the Glowforge, the company (theirs, not ours) has gotten a lot of press.

Just today, KING-5 News put out a report.
http://www.king5.com/story/tech/2015/10/27/glowforge-3d-laser-printer-seattle-startup/74712862/
It’s pretty inspiring. They set out with a $100,000 goal. In 5 days they raised $5 million.

Because we got to be part of the largest crowdfunding campaign in history. Nearly $28 Million in 30 days! And we crowdfunded the crowdfunding.

Maybe the model isn’t so new after all…

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(Featured Images Courtesy of Glowforge.com)