Dom and Chrys Coballe set about creating their iPod nano (s aapl) watchband accessory, called the Deckster, with an entrepreneurial spirit and the aim of creating something unique. They started with a single moment in mind: the satisfaction a user experiences when they hit the Deckster’s trademark slider and their iPod nano pops in or out. According to Dom, they wanted “to capture the user’s imagination for those precious seconds, in the same way people felt when they swiped the unlock screen for the first time.”
A noble goal, but definitely not one without challenges. Dom and Chrys, a husband and wife team operating out of Ottawa, Ontario, originally set about bootstrapping the project themselves, no small undertaking for two people with full-time jobs and a young family to support. Getting a shipping Deckster out to the public was an even more challenging prospect because of the unique approach they took to the product’s design: It would feature parts sourced from high-quality North American vendors based in Montreal and Portland, Ore., all of which represent the most sustainable option available, and it would be manufactured on-shore, rather than shipped to China or another cheaper destination.
While Dom told me that they’d originally planned to go to Kickstarter to pursue the option of crowdsourced funding in order to speed up the process, Kickstarter is currently only open to those with a U.S. bank account and address. Kickstarter plans international expansion, but has no firm timelines in place for those plans. Luckily, Yanko Design publisher Takashi Yamada launched an international crowdsourced funding alternative site targeted at an international audience called CKIE in late 2010. Deckster caught the attention of the CKIE team, and Dom agreed to put the project on the site, where he’s now seeking 50 percent of the initial funding required to go into production.
Like Kickstarter, CKIE requires a funding goal be completely met before it gathers pledges from contributors, and Deckster has a ways to go before it reaches its $30,000 goal. Even still, for a team that was willing to completely bootstrap the project, CKIE’s crowdsourced model is a very welcome addition to the funding formula. Dom says that CKIE is great not only because “keeping full ownership is very attractive for any startup,” but also because the added international exposure it provides “is huge for a tiny company like ours.”
As with Kickstarter, backers receive different rewards, set by project creators, based on the level of support they commit to. Deckster offers rewards for donations as low as $10 (credit on the Deckster.ca website), but contributors begin securing pre-orders for the shipping product at $125. Because of the high-quality materials used in the Deckster’s build, and its North American manufacturing, retail models will start at $165, so the CKIE price does represent a considerable discount. Deckster anticipates their three product styles will ship in early July 2011, according to their CKIE product page.
Support from CKIE helps with Dom’s attempts to get the word out about Deckster, but for such a small operation, promotion is an ongoing effort that’s sometimes tricky to navigate. Dom says that while social media helps, it “has very little impact when used alone,” due to “the cacophony of voices and messages online.” In an effort to combat becoming just another part of the background noise, Dom and his wife have tried to “always have some real content like a design element or pics of samples when reaching out via Twitter or Facebook,” and they’ve also been “documenting and sharing [their] experiences, good and bad” on the Deckster blog. For example, Dom recently shared details of the special session he won with web marketer Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee on Twitter) as part of a Shopify contest, and the team posted about the source of their design inspiration before that. Dom says he finds it hard to navigate the thin line between appropriate promotion and spam, but he’s doing his best to stay on the fair side of that line.
I asked Dom what it would mean to Deckster if Apple decides to change its iPod nano form factor again this fall, when it usually refreshes all its iPod products. The nano has seen many radical design changes in recent years, and rumors have been circulating that it will at least drop the clip and gain a camera. Dom says they’ve “always vetted [their] design so it can be modified if the clip is removed or if the overall profile is diminished,” and that they’ll be ready in case of that eventuality. He also says they “know that the game can change at any time,” but isn’t too concerned about the risk.
In fact, Apple’s risk-taking when it comes to the design of their own products is what Dom says inspired him and his wife to create the Deckster in the first place. He says Apple is influential in the creation of so many startups because “you get inspired by a company that tries to provoke the market and the collective mindscape, even at their size.”
The Deckster is definitely an inspired product, and one that embodies well the principles of the “Slow Goods” movement, which aims for sustainable products made with high-quality materials that last a lifetime. It’s up to consumers now to decide whether there’s a place for slow goods in the fast-paced world of tech and tech accessories.