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