Kickstarter of the day, Flint-and-Tinder edition

By Felix Salmon
April 26, 2012
Kickstarter-as-QVC which is extremely likely to fail, look no further than Flint and Tinder.

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If you want an example of Kickstarter-as-QVC which is extremely likely to fail, look no further than Flint and Tinder. The brainchild of one Jake Bronstein, the idea is to create a new company making boxer shorts in the USA. “It’s about more than underwear,” he says in the video. “It’s about redefining what it means to be Made in America.”

rockhard.tiffMy favorite bit of the pitch is when Mr Bronstein shows us a photograph of his rock-hard abs. (Sadly, those abs are spoken for: that’s a wedding ring you’re looking at.) My least favorite part of the pitch, meanwhile, comes in an update:

The last round of prototypes came from the factory on Friday and while they’re good, there’s still lots of work to be done…

It might sound obsessive, but the way I see it is this: So far, 300+ of you ponied-up for underwear that is made in America. What I’d like to send you instead, is the greatest pair of underwear you’ve ever worn… that just happens to be made in America. It’s the only way this thing is going to work.

Finally, I’ve put together a top-notch team to help realize this goal, but there are still several key roles to fill. Feel free to point me towards anyone you think I should be talking to.

This is a significant backtrack from the original post, where Bronstein said he had already got the designs and needed just $30,000 “to get it going”. As a result, at least one donor ponied up $3,600 and has been promised 365 pairs of premium men’s underwear.

It’s possible, of course, that Bronstein will end up with a genuine retail product at the end of all this. Possible, but unlikely. It’s also possible (and equally unlikely) that the people who have given him $45,882 to date are really just wanting to support an American entrepreneur, and don’t particularly care all that much about when or whether they’ll ever actually receive their briefs.

This project encapsulates my issues with Kickstarter. I’m not saying that Bronstein is a fraud, but I am saying that he seems to have little if any manufacturing or retailing experience*, and is going to face an enormous number of unforeseen obstacles before he ever starts selling this product online. What he wants to do is start a company; Kickstarter quite explicitly says that it does not exist to help people start companies, but that seems to be what it has become anyway.

The fact is that starting companies is hard, and that there’s a very high failure rate in such things. Bronstein has almost certainly underestimated his chances of failure; all entrepreneurs do. Meanwhile, Bronstein’s funders have similarly overestimated the chances that they’re actually going to receive underwear if they fund this project. It’s a deal based on delusion, and it has a high probability of ending in tears and frustration all round. I just wish that Kickstarter were much more honest about that.

*Update: Jake Bronstein replies in the comments, saying that he does too have manufacturing and retailing experience, as the founder of Buckyballs. (He also says that I could easily have discovered this fact by looking at his profile on Kickstarter; it’s true I missed that link.) His mention of Buckyballs, however, did remind me of this video, where Bronstein left an extremely aggressive and intimidating nastygram message for Zen Magnets, a smaller competitor.

The Kickstarter project seems to be gathering a lot of momentum, and at the margin the more money it raises the more likely it is to be able to deliver a product. Still, my broader point is less about Bronstein and more about Kickstarter. Sooner or later, a bunch of these product-related Kickstarter projects are going to fail. And at that point a lot of funders are likely to be extremely unhappy.

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