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TinyLightBulbs for tiny little innovators

Last week I attended World Wide Rome, a very innovative conference celebrating the “makers movement”. A couple of days before we spoke to Mark McLachlan, of TinyLightBulbs. And it was a pleasure for me to be able to reconnect the dots of an always more connected world.

The concept of the conference was a simple one: we are in a world of makers, we have the tools, we have the mindset, so we can just go and do it ourselves. We have gone from User Generated Content to User Generated Goods.

To put it with the words of Chris Anderson, who inspired the audience with a fascinating talk, over the past 20 years the web and the PC liberated us to be makers, revealing a new way to work, collaborate, innovate in alternative to the 20th century industrial model. In the past century the only products that made it to market were those of mass popularity, the “one size fits all” products. What we were missing before were the right infrastructures, the right tools, and also the confidence in our own capabilities. From the web, Chris Anderson continues, we have learnt that we can do it, and that we can move beyond the broadcast and the mass-media model. The web liberated voices and talents and at the same time it liberated distribution. And let’s not forget the web also liberates capital through crowdfunding. Basically, “if you can find 10000 people who want your product you can do it.” It’s the long tail of physical stuff: “all that other stuff, the niche products, the specifics, the things that are just right for you but not for everybody else”.

We mentioned that one of the main obstacle before was the limited number of channels to reach the market. And that’s where TinyLightBulbs comes in: here you will find “tiny little ideas” of innovators that are making the world better all together, but that “didn’t have where to go or that decided not to go to big investors to get their product up the ground”. TinyLightBulbs is one of those channels that is now available to all those little makers and innovators who decided to “do it themselves” and either crowdfunded their product or independently produced it and want to bring it to market.

It was a pleasure to talk with Mark, who kindly told us their story:

DC. What is TinyLightBulbs (TLB) and when did you set it up?

MM.  TLB is a site that exclusively lists products that either came about through independently funded projects or crowdfunded projects, those projects could come from Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Rocket Hub, any of the crowdfunding platforms. We actually, my associate and I, have been having this idea rallying around our brains for a while but we actually just started to set up the site and get the ball rolling on things about two months ago, around mid January.


DC: Ah ok, so it’s very new.

MM: Yes, we are very young but really progressive start up company, we’re experiencing a lot of rapid growth which has been nice.

DC: So how did you come up with the idea of the website?

MM: The idea came about when my associate who had a successful project on Kickstarter, when his project ended he started to notice that there is a decrease and fluctuation in the sales once he was no longer on Kickstarter so he realised that there was definitely a need for an ecommerce site that cares specifically to projects come from that same type of background. And so that’s where the whole idea came from, there needs to be a site that specifically allows independent projects to be sold there, so that’s where TLB came from. The name comes from the idea that, we would like to view each of the projects that we sell on the site as, I guess, tiny light bulbs if you will. The light bulbs being an idea so all the projects that we have on our site are these small ideas that are just very early stages, some of them at the later stages of developing and growing further.

DC: So you mentioned that all the products are independently produced or they are produced thanks to crowdfunding. Is this a criterion to get on the website, every product has to be crowdfunded and/or independently produced?

MM: Yes, actually the majority of our products come from crowdfunding websites, the majority of them come from Kickstarter, some from Indiegogo and Rocket Hub and other sites like that, but we actually do have several products, quite a few actually, that have nothing to do with crowdfunding, they just came from innovators with a great idea that didn’t have to go, or that decided to not go, to big investors to get their product off the ground. So let’s say we‘re open to any type of products that could be classified as independently funded.

DC: The most used platform to crowdfund a product that is now sold on TLB you mentioned is Kickstarter, which is of course the biggest one, then IndieGoGo, and …

MM: And Rocket Hub, we’ve got a couple of products from there, but yes, definitely Kickstarter just because they’re positioning themselves as the foremost crowdfunding platform.

DC: Any European platforms?

MM: Not quite yet. Some of the products that we may have found through various means that were not crowdfunding, that may have not started from crowdfunding but none of them I’m aware of are through European platforms.

DC: How do you find these innovators and how do you drive them to your website?

MM: Over the past couple of months we’ve just been getting in touch with some of the products that really stood out to us as being what we feel as a great fit for our site. So we’ve been emailing a lot of these small business owners and innovators. We presented our product to them and see whether or not they would be interested in forming this partnership with us. More recently, over the past week or so, we’ve had a couple of the sellers that have come to our site actually agreed to post links on their project pages, such as on Kickstarter, so when people now go to their page on Kickstarter or Indiegogo or wherever they are there will be a little link there directing them to our site letting them know that their product can be purchased there and that certainly brought a significant amount of traffic to our site over the past week or so.

DC: Have you got any partnership with the crowdfunding platforms themselves?

MM: No, we haven’t actually created any partnership with the platforms themselves. Just because we feel the partnership should really be between us and the sellers themselves. We feel that the platforms that are in place are excellent and they do what they do very well but then once the product has been produced, as I said before, there really hasn’t been until now a platform that allows them to distribute their product passed that point.

DC: How is the platform working so far? It’s very new but are you are already selling a lot of products or are you finding it difficult to sell the products that are now on the platform?

MM: Some of our products are selling very well, or sell several of them a day, other don’t sell in such as large quantity as that, but what we noticed one of the big contributing factors, as I was mentioning before, is whether or not the sellers themselves are directing traffic towards the site and letting their base of potential customers know of our site. As you just said we are a very new start-up so we’re still in the early stages and over the past couple of weeks we just started to organise our campaigns, we’re still beginning to see the results of those. But yeah, so far so good, we’re very pleased with the sales that we’re getting and we’re hoping there will only be an increase from here.

DC: Great, and what are the major challenges that you’re facing?

MM: Probably the biggest challenge right now is something that I’m sure any startup would be facing is just the factor of visibility in itself. We can have the best website out there for these indie projects, but if nobody knows about that, we’re not going to be able to go anywhere. So right now we’re just trying to get over that obstacle, just getting our brand out there and getting our name recognised on the internet. Initially we thought that our biggest challenge would actually be getting the products on the site and getting forming partnership with these innovators but really that’s been one of the easy things because people, so far we’ve just got such a positive response from these innovators that have signed on with us, so our biggest challenge is probably just visibility and establishing ourselves more as the go-to-place for all these indie products.

DC: How important is social media to the success of your website? Are you using them at all to enhance your visibility and reach more people?

MM: Yeah, definitely, we of course are on YouTube, Facebook, twitter, we actually have just started a review programme on YouTube, so we will give sellers the option to send us review products and then we will upload review videos on YouTube. So, I mean we are doing that on YouTube, we of course tweet out about a new product on twitter and all that stuff. Just because the whole crowdfunding community is, I think, very socially driven, it’s a very unique type of community, definitely social media is a very crucial part for our development as well because it goes hand in hand with that whole idea of the community driven approach.

DC: Is there any vetting process or do you accept any products on the platform?

MM: I would say that probably the closest thing to a vetting process is we just want to make sure that any of the products that we sell on our site are finished products, we don’t usually accept like an arty and craft type of thing, I mean something that is not quite finished, but as long as you can be considered “one of the little guys” or underdogs, anyone who can be classified as independently funded we’re hoping to sell their products.

DC: Are there any fees?

MM: There are no fees to list with us, so let’s say you had a product and you wanted to sell with us and the product did not make any sales for the length of time that it was on our site we would not charge you anything. The only time we get paid is when the actual seller get paid, so when the product sells we take 13% of that sale, and the 87% goes to the seller. That’s another great thing, a lot of sellers that have signed on with us have been very pleased we don’t charge them anything just to be with us on our site, we will only take that 13% when they will start making money.

DC: A question about crowdfunding, I think it’s very important for you and for your concept that crowfunding is developing. Where do you see crowdfunding going, especially in the light of the changes in the US legislation?

MM: I haven’t been able to look into what are the latest updates with the US legislation but if I understand it correctly I believe that the bills that they are wanting to pass are going to be beneficial to crowdfunders. I believe that they are going to make it easier for the little guy to get the project off the ground and so I think that that on top of the fact that these platforms such as Kickstarter, are becoming more of a household name, I definitely think that crowfunding is something that is going to be around for a long time because it is a win-win for the innovator, they get their project funded, for the backers, they get a feel like they have some sort of ownership and they’ve invested in the product and so there is a fulfilment there, and I definitely see it being around for a long time and developing even more.

DC: Thanks a lot Mark, and good luck.

*** A podcast of this interview is available on ***

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