Meet the New Henry Fords: How Industrial Revolution 2.0 Works

Last Updated Oct 15, 2010 11:08 AM EDT


In the midst of an ongoing recession, American entrepreneurs continue to find innovative ways to create new businesses for themselves. Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost are designers living in New York. Being fashionable city gents they use iPhones, and one day they set out to create the Glif, a tripod mount and stand for their favorite gadget.

The pair drafted the design for the Glif on their computer and then, with the press of a button, built the first prototype on their 3-D printers. It's only in the last few years that 3-D printers have become affordable enough for individuals to own them. Gerhardt and Provost then worked on the design over several months, improving the Glif and producing new iterations on their printer.

When the pair felt they had it right, they created a project for the Glif on Kickstarter, a community fund raising site. Kickstarter allows individuals to set a time frame and dollar goal - In this case 30 days and $10,000. The project went live on Oct 4 and was noticed by the popular Apple blog Daring Fireball. To date it has raised $102,096 from 4009 backers.

"It feels like we're pretty much embodying the expression 'flying by the seat of our pants'." Provost told me. The duo has intended to assemble and ship everything themselves, but will now have to find help to handle the demand. "The heat is definitely on to meet everyones' expectations. The pressure comes from needing to make this thing quickly, but correctly. It's humbling to even be in this position, but it's a good "problem" to have."

Etsy was the precursor to this industrial Revolution 2.0. It was a community for homemade crafts that grew into a marketplace large enough to support independent entrepreneurs. Kickstarter took that idea one step further by finding investors to back these kinds of homespun commercial projects. Sites like Quirky have crowd-sourced the entire process of innovation.

On Quirky users vote to choose one project per week. They collaborate on the design and price, then market the item. If enough people pre-order the product for the site to turn a profit, then Quirky takes over the process of sourcing the manufacturing. The person who submitted the idea gets a cut, as does Quirky. Everyone user who contributed an idea along the way also gets a slice of the revenue.

"When I first saw my product being used I felt this feeling, you can't match that," says Quirky CEO Ben Kaufman. "We don't want people to quit their day job, but to give everyone that chance to explore the inventor or entrepreneur in them." Several of of the products produced on Quirky have gone on to make tens of thousands of dollars for their creators.

It's not just little guys building small businesses who are getting in on this trend. As I wrote recently, Verizon (VZ) has partnered with Bug Labs, a small independent maker of modular, because they believe the distributed power of the Industrial Revolution 2.0 will drive their future business.

Verizon's hope is that independent entrepreneurs will use Bug Labs developer toolkit to create interesting new gadgets that will work with Verizon's phone modems and rely on their network. New devices will drive consumer consumption of more data, Verizon's major revenue stream in the coming years.

"Online app stores have hundreds of thousands of different software programs to choose from. But right now when you go into a Verizon store there a a couple dozen devices to choose from," says Peter Semmelhack, Bug Labs founder. "By partnering with us, Verizon is hoping to inspire developers to create an ecosystem for hardware that rivals what exists for software apps."

To all the aspiring inventors out there, the message is clear. The big networks are hungry for amazing products that will power the next generation of consumer electronics demand and are opening themselves up to a distributed network outside the boundaries of traditional R&D. And as sites like Quirky and Kickstarter show, anyone with a great product, or even just an idea, can get into the game.


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  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.