The seed for Kickstarter was planted in 2001, when co-founder Perry Chen was living in New Orleans and wanted to bring a pair of DJs to town for Jazz Fest but couldn't get the money together.
"I thought: What if people could go to a site and pledge to buy tickets for a show?'" says Chen. "The fact that potential audience had no say stuck uncomfortably in my brain." Eight years later, Kickstarter launched.
Now, another eight years later nearly to the day since its launch, Kickstarter has hit (and surpassed) $3 billion in pledges made to creative projects by more than 12.7 million people on the platform. Every five seconds, somebody backs a Kickstarter project.
Thanks to Kickstarter's hallmark all-or-nothing clause for campaign creators — you hit your goal or return the money — of the $3 billion, $2.62 billion has gone to creators and $43 million is currently pledged to live campaigns, leaving about $380 million refunded to backers. Historically, 87 percent of dollars pledged end up being delivered to successful campaign owners.
Crowdfunding is growing: Indiegogo, which also launched in 2008, has so far raised $1.1 billion on its platform. GoFundMe, launched in 2010 and focusing primarily on raising money for personal and social causes, has raised $3 billion from 25 million backers. (One flop: The much-hyped legalization of equity crowdfunding for non-accredited investors — exchanging a piece of your company for cash as opposed to rewarding a campaign backer with an item like a tote bag — didn't take off the way industry insiders had hoped.)
So as New York City-based Kickstarter blows past the $3 billion threshold, here's a look back at some of the site's big successes and a couple of its disappointments.
1. Pebble Time smartwatch by Pebble Technology
Raised: $20,338,986 from 78,471 backers
Pebble's smartwatches, with extra-long battery life, voice commands, water resistance and a thinner watch face, raised $40 million from multiple Kickstarter campaigns.
But the company had an even better ending: At the end of 2016, personal athletic tracker Fitbit bought Pebble for $23 million.
2. Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5 cooperative board game by Kingdom Death
Raised: $12,393,139 from 19,264 backers
The cooperative, immersive (and NSFW) tabletop game has players struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The campaign raised $1 million in the first 19 minutes it was live.
For passionate gamers, "There's nothing quite like Kickstarter out there — a place where you can speak directly to creators, be a part of a very enthusiastic community and show your support by pledging money to see a game made," says Luke Crane, the head of Games at Kickstarter, tells CNBC.
3. The World's Best TRAVEL JACKET with 15 Features by BAUBAX LLC
Raised: $9,192,055 from 44,949 backers
The jacket comes with 15 features, including a built-in neck pillow, koozie drink and iPad pockets, and more. Hiral Sanghavi came up with the idea for the jacket when his wife got annoyed with him for buying and losing airplane travel pillows each time he flew.
4. Exploding Kittens game by Elan Lee
Raised: $8,782,571 from 219,382 backers
In this lower-stakes version of Russian Roulette, players draw cards until someone draws a card of an exploding kitten and loses.
5. The Everyday Backpack, Tote and Sling by Peak Design
Raised: $6,565,782 from 26,359 backers
Peak Design initially set out to raise $500,000 on Kickstarter, but the innovative design — the bags carry any number of cameras, laptops and other technical equipment — attracted more than 13 times that fundraising goal. This was Peak Design's sixth Kickstarter campaign.
And the disappointments:
1. COOLEST COOLER: 21st Century Cooler that's Actually Cooler by Ryan Grepper
Raised: $13,285,226 from 62,642 backers
The "Coolest Cooler" was popular with backers because it has waterproof speakers, a blender for making mixed ice drinks, a USB charger to power-up your cellphone and tires made for trekking on the beach, among other features.
But the project ultimately became a cautionary tale. The campaign ended on August 29, 2014, and, as of this week, unhappy backers are still complaining they have not received their coolers.
"At this point, Ryan should have sold his house, his cars and take out a few loans in order to fulfill all the orders," one backer says. So far, about 40,000 backers have received their coolers and about 22,000 are still waiting.
2. Fidget Cube: A Vinyl Desk Toy by Matthew and Mark McLachlan
Raised: $6,465,690 from 154,926 backers
The Fidget Cube is a small desk toy designed for those who can't sit still and its story really connected with audiences: It was covered by at least 30 media outlets. Early backers could get it for $14.
However, the project hit a snag when deliveries were delayed. That's when another company swooped in and started selling essentially the same product, The Stress Cube.
In its first week, the company sold more than 100 Stress Cubes a day, and at peak, it sold about 800 a day.
McLachlan tells CNBC that his company, Antsy Labs, now has a patent pending, and he's actually not too worried about The Stress Cube situation: "It comes down to making the better product."