How to KickStarter a Revolution

Kickstarter Plant

By Yonatan Gordon

Two weeks ago, the biggest news at the annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show) was quite surprising. The usual brands made headlines as expected—the talk over Microsoft’s exit then subsequent re-entry to the show; how Apple doesn’t attend, but seems well represented nonetheless. What seemed most remarkable, however, was a new company called Pebble Technology and the movement that they represent.

At first glance, the Pebble Watch seems similar to any other new gadget on the market. According to the makers: “It’s a wearable device that connects to your iPhone and Android smartphones using Bluetooth, alerting you with a silent vibration to incoming calls, emails and messages. Cyclists can use Pebble as a bike computer, accessing the GPS on your smartphone to display speed, distance and pace data. Runners get a similar set of data displayed on their wrist.”

Aside from the product itself, what makes Pebble Technology of particular interest is that they became the story of CES not through the usual means, but by running a campaign. Instead of waiting for companies to show interest, or soliciting equity-based investors (e.g. venture capitalists and angel investors), companies now have the opportunity to go directly to the end-user in a method called “crowdfunding.” This is what Pebble Technology did. After being turned down by traditional venues, they decided to run a Kickstarter campaign with a $100,000 funding goal; to date they have raised $10,266,845.

Marc Cuban, someone who made his wealth investing in technology companies, recently said that “Kickstarter should be a requirement for every startup. It’s a way for you create demand and sell the product without giving up any equity.” This mindset is representative of a greater shift that is encouraging the public to instantly weigh in on ideas. As we will explain, more fundamental than sales forecasts and projections, is the ability to further compelling ideas.

Rotting the Seed

One of the most exact parables in Chassidut is the need for a seed to perish before something can grow out of it. A seed is planted in the earth, it rots, and thanks to the rotting, this seed can now produce a hundred times more food than what was planted. This is all related to the Exodus from Egypt. The planting is the exile and the produce growing is the redemption from Egypt. From out of the rotting, the full blessing over the produce grows and emerges. This is the redemptive potential possible in any start-up endeavor.

For a seed to grow into a plant, the question is not whether we have a seed. Instead, we must ask ourselves whether this seed has fully rotten? In Chassidut, this is related to the self-nullification process that strips away layers of ego, and allows the essence of each person to shine. From out of the state of existential nothingness, true somethingness is born.

Truthful Beginnings

Much can be learned by the way something starts. If a plant is to be born, it must first sprout from a rotted seed. So too, for a project to be successful, it must first show the signs of furthering the seed-like concept of its predecessor. The new product is like a new generation with new possibilities; but implicit in this newness is the existential leap in consciousness from the old generation to the new. It’s taught in Chassidut that between two points of somethingness (ש’) there is the intermediate stage of nothingness (אין). As in our seed example, in order to get to the plant, we must first pass through the rotting stage in between.

On the surface, the Pebble Watch looks like any other gadget; but upon deeper analysis, it was successful because it signified a generational shift. People that were inspired by the “portable knowledge” concept of smartphones (see our article “Should Apple Have Been Named Carob Computer?”) now have something even more portable. Instead of holding onto knowledge, people can now wear it.

Seed Searches

The success of the crowdfunding movement signifies a shift in public sentiment. The best way to explain this is by going back to our seed example.

We wrote in our article “Twitter: Hatching Ideas 140 Characters at a Time” that each tweet should come from an inspired place called the “bird’s nest” in Kabbalah. What we are now adding is that inspired ideas need to show themselves capable of becoming full trees. This is a result of both the proper genetic coding of the seed (the idea) itself, and its ability to rot fully into order to produce something a hundred fold.

This explains why the foremost concern regarding crowdfunded projects is whether they materialized as expected or not. This is like searching for healthy seeds that are pre-wired to bear fruit; but instead of the farmer searching for the best seeds, the public is working to select the most fitting projects.

This also helps explain why the Pebble Watch was such a success story. The project “grew” over a hundred times more than expected (matching the parable brought in Chassidut). The funding goal was set at $100,000 but it received over $10,000,000.

Something New

The fact that the Pebble Watch raised over a hundred times more than expected makes it very “seed” like; but this still doesn’t explain why it was ascribed this seed potential to begin with. Why did the public think that this new seed-like invention had the ingredients to fully blossom and bear fruit?

The aspect of “renewal” or “newness” (התחדשות) is connected with the kingdom. Indeed, in the Torah, the first instance of the word “new” (חדש) appears in relation to the new king of Egypt.

When kingdom is drawn all the way down into everyday things, then it feels like something new. Someone who is not willing to pursue a new king, a new generation, is not yet connected with kingdom. Kingdom is always something new. There are people who make do with drawing down and extending the essence, but do not have the demand for something new.

This is why continuing the concept of the smartphone made the headlines even more powerfully than other stores at CES. By inventing an easier way to access the smartphone, Pebble Watch was portraying the extension of the “smartphone” concept beyond the phone. It’s the act of drawing ideas down further that itself creates the greatest novelty. In the future, the knowledge of God will be widespread, and there will be no need for phones and gadgets at all. But for the meantime, this “drawing down” aspect of the Pebble Watch signified a generational shift forward in the portability of knowledge. The fact that it raised over a hundred more times than expected serves as a further testament to this seed-like shift in consciousness.

Freely adapted from the 29 Tevet 5773 weekly shiur from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh.

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