Thursday, June 05, 2014

What’s in your Kickstart crowdsourced wallet?

I’m something of a fan of Kickstarter and similar crowdfunding platforms.

I haven’t exactly emptied my wallet over there, but I have thrown in on:

  • A plastic ring that I can use in lieu of my public transpo pass (note to self: put some money on the ring and see if it works)
  • Tee-shirts that are made in the USA, and have some magical property about them (can’t remember why now, but my husband really liked them)
  • Tote bags made out of coffee bean bags (this was a St. Francis House operation)
  • Some locally-made movie that, at a friend’s request, I put $150 down on – and never heard peep from the producer/director about (that money was supposed to buy my way in as an extra, although, come to think of it, maybe he didn’t raise enough dough, so maybe I never actually had to pony up).

Anyway, I really should mosey on over there from time to time to see what the Wallet Populi on Kickstarter is up to.

Meanwhile, Business Week has saved me a trip, with an article a few days back on the plethora (pleathera?) of slimline wallets that make there way on to Kickstarter.

There have apparently been more than a dozen, including the TGT (pronounced “tight”), which raised over $300K in 2012, and:

…the EZ Wallet, the Helone, the Thinny, the Slimtec, the Simple Wallet, and its sequel, the Simple Wallet 2.0. Some promise RFID (radio-frequency identification) shielding for consumer protection, one is 3D printed, another has an antitheft scheme that communicates with your smartphone. (Source: Business Week)

Wonder if that “antitheft scheme” wipes out the credit cards, or sets off an exploding, bank heist dye packet?

Anyway, I can understand the appeal of a slim wallet. Most men don’t carry a murse, and who wants to go around with a bulge in their back pocket that screams “pickpocket me”, or an uncomfortable bulge in their front pocket. (Oh, you of dirty minds.)

(What I can’t understand is why women can’t even get away with carrying a wallet that’s the size of the old-fashioned, bulky men’s wallets. Why do we have to carry wallets that are the size of a clutch bag? Is it that we don’t have pockets for our change? We carry more credit cards, and things like our hospital cards and library cards and our membership card in the ACLU? I understand why women carry pocketbooks. We’re the ones that take care of the “stuff”, freeing men up from the burden of having to worry about Kleenex, snacks, Band-Aids, aloe vera hand sanitizer, a notepad, pens, lip balm, and stamps. (Someone actually came up to me on the subway years ago and said, “You look like the type of person who would carry stamps on you. Do you have one I could buy?” Well, although I no longer carry stamps on me, at that time I was, in fact, the type of person who would and did carry stamps. Maybe it was the sensible shoes…))

There are a couple of reasons that small wallets are so big on Kickstarter. According to Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler,

“As we started looking into it, we realized that this was kind of the training-wheels product for a product designer.”

The wallet is also a product that:

…requires comparatively low upfront costs, little material, and fewer moving parts. “There are only so many ways you can screw it up,” Strickler says. And the production process is a solid intro to manufacturing fundamentals such as light supply-chain management, fulfillment, and shipping. “It’s basically a learning tool,” Strickler says. “It’s also a tangible demonstration of how many people are trying to make a manufactured good.”

The slim wallet is, of course, a natural for a world in which cash is no longer a carry item among the demographic who spend. I continue to be amazed to see the “young folk” whip out their debit card for an iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts, or a tube of toothpaste at CVS. No wonder there’s a generation out there incapable of figuring out the right change.

The slim wallet’s success also points to a lack of variety in a limited male accessory market. There are belts, and socks, and wallets, and that’s it. “It seems that people are always willing to give a new wallet a chance,” says Matt Hall, of Obstructures, who last year successfully launched a wallet comprised of two plates of aluminum held together with rubber bands.

And, of course, of that Big Three, a wallet is the simplest to manufacture. Belts need hardware and punching; socks, well, socks are hard. So there you have it.

Back in the day, you could always get your father an ashtray or a carton of Lucky Strikes for Father’s Day. Now, you can get him a trimmed down wallet – with lots of choices out there.

There are also brand extensions on the way. For TGT, there’s “a line of tablet and laptop cases”. (Think Levenger’s, I guess.) Obstructures is branching out with a pocket tool and a modular clipboard. (Think Levenger’s and Brookstones, I guess. Maybe even SkyMall.)

The appeal of small-batch items, especially those with compelling origin stories, speaks to a demand for authenticity at a time when most products are made in soul-sucking Chinese factories.

Kickstarter as “origin story”? Sounds good to me. But I’m guessing all these captains of slim wallet industry can’t wait until demand gets to the point where those wallets get “made in soul-sucking Chinese factories.”

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