Crowdfunding has resulted in some terrific new products that might never have seen the light of day. But for every Pebble Watch and Oculus Rift, there's a very weird counterpart.
Indeed, people support not only the ingenious items on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo but also often gravitate toward the unusual ones, many of which defy logic and reason but astonishingly meet or even exceed funding goals.
Sometimes it's a joke that goes viral. Sometimes it's a legitimate product or campaign that may not make a lot of sense to most people. And sometimes there's just no explanation for the appeal. Here's a look the oddest crowdfunding projects that have actually struck a chord with backers.
—By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com
Posted 13 August 2014
Updated 29 April 2015 by CNBC staff
Pass gas more than 13 times per day? That could be a problem, and one entrepreneur says he has the solution. CH4 is a fart-o-meter (yes, you read that right) worn like a pedometer in your back pocket or belt loop. It claims to keep tally when you break wind, and correlates the results with dietary choices—logged in an accompanying mobile app.
The creator, Rodrigo Narciso, said he created the campaign to gauge how much interest there is in the device, originally a master's degree project at New York University. Based on what he's seen, Narciso plans to try again if he doesn't get funded this round.
The campaign, which closes in May, raised $1,258 toward the $180,000 goal as of April 29. It only costs a cool $120 to get your own CH4 and live the gas-free lifestyle.
You could kill pests with a flyswatter or rolled-up magazine, but where's the fun in that? This miniaturized shotgun is meant to take down flies, mosquitoes and other pesky insects. The weapon shoots table salt, killing bugs within three feet, and claims to be an excellent tool for getting rid of creepy crawlies on windows, ceilings and corners. The creators were hoping to raise $15,000. They ended up with more than $577,000. (The "A-Salt/assault" pun alone is worth the price of elimination.)
Insects, in fact, are becoming a crowdfunding cottage industry of sorts, as good at attracting capital as roach motels and flypaper are at attracting ... well, you get the idea. But for those who are interested in more ways to work with bugs than just eliminating them ...
Roaches are pretty disgusting creatures, so you wouldn't expect a lot of support for a crowdfunding project built around transforming the insects into cyborgs. But this product defied the odds. Using the technology created by neuroscientists to help patients of Parkinson's disease, RoboRoach lets users wirelessly control the movement of a cockroach by microstimulation of the antenna nerves.
The DIY cyborg kit contains tiny circuit boards, aka backpacks, that users must surgically insert onto the common cockroach—really!—allowing you to control which direction they scamper. The roaches were not included in the kits, but the project still managed to take in better than $12,000.
It started with a tongue-in-cheek tweet to Detroit's mayor, noting that since Philadelphia had a Rocky statue, Detroit should erect one based on its biggest cinematic hero: RoboCop. When former Mayor Dave Bing replied that it wasn't in the plans, the Internet assembled. First came the Facebook page; then Brandon Walley, director of development at the nonprofit Imagination Station, decided to take the reins and launch the Kickstarter campaign. Enthusiasts put their money where their mouth was, donating more than $67,000 for the statue, which is still being built and has the blessing of MGM (which owns the rights to the character). The only problem? Walley still has yet to find a place for the statue to go (and to think that Detroit would have no vacant space).
Of course, the entire city of Detroit could benefit from a campaign to raise some money for more than just some movie-inspired statue—like, how about for some basic services for its citizens? But it is harder to raise money through crowdfunding without a celebrity angle. And the "bigger" the celebrity angle, the better, as the next outlandish campaign suggests.
Fans of the onetime Commodores front man found themselves dancing on the ceiling when this Kickstarter project hit the Web. The idea: Create a giant inflatable balloon in the shape of Lionel Richie's head, which would debut at the 2013 Bestival music festival on the Isle of Wight in England. The goal was £4,900, but the project struck such a chord with music lovers that it ended up collecting more than £8,000. The giant head was indeed displayed at the festival and still pops up at events around the world today.
One of Lionel Richie's career highlights was co-authoring "We are the World" with Michael Jackson as a fundraiser to help battle famine in Africa. Jackson, in his glory days, was famous for many things, including getting into the "Guinness World Records" book (23 times) and for grabbing his crotch on stage ... on more than 23 occasions. Which brings us to (trust us, it really does bring us to) the next off-beat Kickstarter.
In 2011 artist Michael Barrett wanted to get into the "Guinness World Records" book, and he had a grand idea: to create a sculpture of the world's largest jock strap. Guinness accepted his proposal, and Barrett began sewing. But in order to have his masterpiece digitally scanned and sent over to Guinness, Barrett needed to raise $850 to pay the surveying company. Enter Kickstarter.
Barrett didn't exactly smash through his goals, but 11 backers gave him $854, surpassing his goal by $4, constituting it a strapping success.
Roaches aren't the only rage when it comes to crowdfunding creatures great and small, and when all is said and done—and fundraised—the Kickstarter faithful don't just want to wipe out urban pests. In at least one case, they merely want to take stock of them.
Researchers had already conducted a count of the Eastern gray squirrel population of Atlanta's Inman Park by the time this Kickstarter was launched. But they were looking to commercialize their work, producing posters to tout the results (and fund future studies). Backers chipped in nearly $9,000 to be part of the process.
Just one among many species in the animal kingdom that has inspired some eye-opening (or in the next case, actually eye-closing) product designs.
Power nappers, it seems, are looking for a little privacy; simply laying your head on folded arms as you did in grade school is too 20th century. Then throw in the peculiar posture of the ostrich, among evolution's more famous flightless birds, and a person who doesn't want to fly off anywhere, or even move, might have thought up the Ostrich Pillow, a shell that goes over your head, offering alone time in public.
It can be used when one leaves the ambien at home or simply to relax in the library. (Backers didn't seem to care too much about the odd looks they're sure to get while using it.) Though it initially hoped to raise $70,000, the device (which is now available to everyone) picked up $195,000 on Kickstarter.
If the Ostrich Pillow actually works, you may want to see if you can combine it with this next odd offering and go on an African safari during your snooze.
The ability to control—and remember—your dreams is a pretty powerful lure. So when Bitbanger Labs introduced the Remee, a sleep mask equipped with six LED lights that its creators said would let users do just that, the response was staggering. More than 6,500 people donated nearly $573,000. The product, which is now available commercially, claims to let you "consciously alter the content and control the narrative of your dreams."
The Jamaican bobsled team, which charmed the world in the 1988 Winter Olympics with its unlikely appearance in the Olympic Games—and was even immortalized by Hollywood in "Cool Runnings"—almost didn't make it to Sochi this year, due to financial issues. That led to a grassroots campaign from fans on several crowdfunding sites. Eventually, those coalesced into a single, organized effort, which brought in just shy of $130,000. The team finished last, but backers were just happy to see them there again.
One of the oddest examples of crowdfunding largess is one of the most recent. Zack Brown, co-founder of Columbus Web development start-up Base Two Interactive, achieved nationwide notoriety in July for his crowdfunding efforts to make a potato salad. Initially seeking just $10, he has raised more than $55,000 from close to 7,000 backers.
If Brown's next ambitious campaign is to make the largest potato salad in the world—say, a potato salad to rival a certain jock strap and/or pop singer's head—and he chooses to host the event in conjunction with the unveiling of Detroit's brand-new RoboCop statue, you may think a lucid dream is getting away from you.
But as these projects show, crowdfunding is beginning to do strange things to life on Earth and everyday reality. So if you get the chance, enjoy a bite from the largest potato salad ever, and keep a Bug-A-Salt handy to keep away the pests.