Crowdfunding spotlights innovations ripe for parent support

Crowdfunding is giving parents the chance to put their money where the ideas are, to produce the toys and entertainment they want for their kids. Products such as "Lammily" – the 'average Barbie' – and the popular GoldieBlox building sets are examples of crowdfunding at work.

Courtesy of GoldieBlox
In "Goldie Blox and the Dunk Tank," Goldie, her dog Nacho, and her friends encounter situations they must solve by building simple machines. The GoldieBlox kits are aimed at young girls, teaching early engineering concepts. The GoldieBlox brand first got its start through a campaign.

In less than a week since launching his crowdfunding campaign, Nickolay Lamm has raised 407 percent of his original $95,000 goal to create “Lammily,” an “average Barbie” built to look like teens today. 

His campaign shows the shift of marketing power back into the hands of parents, who can fund the toys and products they want to see for their kids.

It seems to me that consumers have given toy makers a time out, with a warning that if they don’t put on their listening ears when it comes to the kinds of toys we want for our kids, we will take them to school on how to do it to higher parental standards.

Parents and others showed support for a realistically proportioned Barbie alternative on store shelves by funding Lammily with the staggering sum reached in just over two days.

This morning, Mr. Lamm told me he’d learned a powerful lesson from his crowdfunding experience that he hopes parents will share with their kids.

“If you have a great idea, you don't need anyone but yourself and a good video to be successful,” Lamm said. “Crowdfunding is revolutionary.”

Devin Thorpe, founder of the Your Mark on the World Center and Forbes contributor, agrees with Lamm.

“While I’m not ready to declare it a trend yet, many crowdfunding sites are developing that kind of political message when it comes to funding projects,” Mr. Thorpe says in a phone interview from his home in Utah.

“Every site has a little bit of a culture, a personality, when it comes to the kinds of projects that succeed,” Thorpe says.

One such site he mentioned as being totally family-friendly is, which allows family and friends to come together to give a gift to someone they know.

“I used it when my dad turned 80 so everyone could get together and give something instead of an ugly tie he didn’t want anyway,” says Thorpe.

The two exceptions to the “personality” rule, according to Thorpe, are Indigogo and Fund Anything.

Conversely, Thorpe admits Kickstarter does seem to have a family-friendly lean to it these days, as evidenced by many of the toys successfully funded there.

One example of this is GoldieBlox, which was funded through Kickstarter in 2012. The small company, which creates building kits targeted at introducing girls to engineering and science pursuits, has grown to receive international attention, thanks to a Super Bowl ad slot awarded to the small business by accounting software company Intuit.

Here’s a list of some of the other toys that I found have met and often exceeded their funding goals on Kickstarter and will make their way to stores thanks to those who want smarter toy options for kids:

  • MO-TO heirloom wood toy cars, inspired by mid-century American design and car culture. 
  • Nickster educational toys and app, which teaches children counting, shapes, and colors. 
  • Twenty One Toys Empathy & Creative Dialogue toy, a 3-D puzzle game that challenges players to place themselves in each other’s shoes. This toy is designed to help kids understand different perspectives and imagine new possibilities. 

The one I know I want to buy for my son Quin, 10, is ATOMS Express Toys, which allow kids to make their existing toys “do things” by animating them but requiring zero programming knowledge. 

Beyond toys, perhaps television will be the next crowdfunding frontier for parents tired of vapid reality shows.

“RANK” is a smart new scripted television drama series based on the chess scene in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, chess has become popular as both an after school recreational pursuit for students and a ranked battle for winning scholarships. 

The show's creator has just begun a Kickstarter campaign

While this is definitely not for pre-teen viewers, it does carry some powerful life lessons for older kids and particularly young adults.

“Yes, this [is] about the community and what families can learn [about] the humanity and dignity of all types of people,” said the series’ creator Tonya Michelle in an e-mail this morning from Los Angeles, where the show would be based. “It is about decision making, forgiveness, and critical thinking.”

RANK’s pilot episode introduces us to the notion of the “poison pawn,” both on the chess board and in real life.

In chess, a "poison pawn" is one that your opponent leaves as bait in order to lure you into a trap. Over the years I have used the example of the “poison pawn” to teach my kids and many others the life lesson that "If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.” A “poison pawn” is one of the most valuable lessons I know from my own experience teaching kids through chess about making good choices and being wary of the joys of instant gratification.

To date, the “RANK” Kickstarter campaign has raised only $940 of its $100,000 goal, but there are 28 days left in the campaign.

In many ways, these campaigns in the long run could shift in the way toys and entertainment are produced, as more consumers put their money where their mouths are in the form of funding projects and not buying products.

In the short term, they are inspiration for the young inventors in our lives who can see these examples and know they have the power to make their ideas come to life, with a little help from family and friends.

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