AirDog: A Hot Kickstarter for a Cool Idea
COW Library : Crowdfunding : Tim Wilson : AirDog: A Hot Kickstarter for a Cool Idea
Crowdfunding expert (and successful coordinator of Kickstarter campaigns for her own films) Diana Ward Roark recently wrote a terrific article for Creative COW on what she's learned about successful crowdfunding efforts.
Her first piece of advice still strikes me as one that most people miss: if you're not committed to completing your project even if it's not funded, then you're not ready to ask other people to fund it for you.
Some of her other advice:
Which brings me to AirDog.
There's no doubt that GoPro enthusiasts – and, really, is there such a thing as a GoPro owner who's not enthusiastic about it? – shooting action footage are a massive constituency. There's also no doubt that GoPro enthusiasts are driving the sharp uptick in camera drones for video production.
The folks at AirDog came up with an idea remarkable for both its simplicity and its immediately obviously usefulness: an auto-follow, gyro-stabilized GoPro drone tracking system based on a wrist-mounted transmitter known as AirLeash, with the ability to set the relative position of the drone (such as a specified height and angle relative to the wearer), for only $1495.
And in keeping with their goal of satisfying sports-oriented GoPro-ers, AirDog can work at high speeds, in extreme climates and environments, and at great heights. Skydiving, watersports, motocross, surfing – good to go, at a range of up to 1000 feet from the AirLeash.
In practice, then, even if the wearer of AirLeash is at, say, 10,000 feet (demo videos show as high as 14,000 feet), the height of AirDog above that isn't so impossible to believe. And with an auto-follow drone whose camera is always pointed in the right direction, both hands and both eyes can stay on the task, without having to also manage the drone.
It really is a very simple idea. The rider is wearing an AirLeash, so wherever he goes, AirDog goes. He's always in the frame, and the camera is gyro-stabilized for smooth footage.
They weren't only thinking about sports, though. They also imagined the possibilities for independent filmmakers, producers of commercials and music videos, and all kinds of other visual artists for whom aerial video was neither practical nor affordable.
Sports make cooler demos, though. Here's the first promo video they made. Note that it includes precisely zero post-production stabilization. This is AirDog footage, just as it was shot.
It's a very cool idea, but the Kickstarter campaign was hot. Its target was $200,000. They reached it in four days.
The funding pledged by the end of their campaign: $1,368,177, over six times the goal, making it one of only 0.027% Kickstarter projects to pass the $1 million mark.
I'll be honest: I was absolutely floored when I saw AirDog. You'll enjoy hearing about the product and its technology, even if you never plan to use it. But I was also floored by the Kickstarter campaign, by far the best I've ever seen. So let's take a look at both: the AirDog auto-follow GoPro drone, and the remarkable campaign that will be helping make it possible.
Stepping aside for a moment from the specifics of the product itself, the Kickstarter page is a masterpiece. In addition to crisp design, it features a careful elaboration of AirDog's features, specifics about its capabilities and the underlying technology, why they chose the technology they did, a team introduction, and a description of where the money will be going.
One of my favorite things on the page: a clear-eyed description of risks and obstacles. This is standard Kickstarter stuff, but the way these guys talked about it for AirDog made me feel that they understand exactly what it's going to take to bring it to market.
Spend a little time there yourself, see what you think.
Mind you, I haven't seen any more of the product itself than you have at this point. I haven't held one or taken it for a spin. Your guess is as good as mine whether they can actually ship the thing. I think the signs are pointing in the right direction, though. In any case, as much as the product and the idea behind it, the campaign is what caught my eye. I dropped a line to Martins Villums of AirDog's makers, Helico Aerospace Industries, to ask about the campaign's specifics.
"We started really early, November 2013," Martins told me. "We studied successful Kickstarter projects, including all the do's and don'ts. Fun fact: we discovered that projects with bad grammar are less likely to succeed."
After that, Martins says, "We created content for our Kickstarter and web page, we created a media contact list, worked on our e-mail templates, press releases and so on."
They didn't actually launch the campaign just yet, because they didn't have anything to show. I think this is huge. They didn't ask people to pay for an idea. They asked people to help them bring to production something that already existed, and already worked remarkably well.
By early spring 2014, they had a couple of working prototypes that they'd printed with a 3D printer, as well as an early, very bulky, AirLeash prototype, so they headed to southwest Europe to capture aerial videos of action sports. You've seen some of the results already. Here's what they wrote at the time:
We met two insanely talented FMX athletes, Antonio Navas and Marc Pinol Guardia. We spent two days shooting wild moto-freestyle and motocross action using AirDog.
"We decided to go with Kickstarter only when we had a functional prototype and could do real follow-me video footage," Martins told me. "Then, one month before the campaign, we published our webpage (with limited information to begin) along with first teaser promo video, and a countdown to our campaign launch date: June 16."
Another part of their campaign that really struck me was their effort to tell their story. They contacted dozens of tech news, and even general news, outlets around the world: print, web, and television. The list included the BBC, Reuters, Bloomberg, CNBC, c|net, and Engadget, among others. They also reached out to sports-oriented reporters at Rollernews, Skiing, Dirt, Canada Motoguide and the like.
As part of their outreach to independent filmmakers, they reached out to still more outlets, including IndieWire and Creative COW.
"When we reached our goal after four days, we knew that this was the real deal, that people really want this technology – an auto-follow drone for their GoPros. It inspired us to work even harder." It also inspired them to quickly identify stretch goals. The first was simply to have AirDog available in multiple colors. Their next goal was to develop a backdoor charger for the camera, so that your GoPro is being charged by AirDog's own battery in flight. Nice!
Their third goal stretch goal was even nicer: building in automatic obstacle avoidance. With funding pledged, they plan to ship AirDog later this year.
The AirDog team
Along the way, they kept adding videos as updates to backers and potential backers. Some of those videos were to identify stretch goals and to show the progress being made toward them. Others were just to show new, cool things. My favorite is a piece with AirDog following a paraglider. Not as dynamic as motocross or surfing of course, and not quick-cut the way that action sports typically would be, but it's very elegant, and most important, illustrates a function that would otherwise be extremely difficult to replicate: one flying object at high altitudes following another.
Of course, the AirDog's altitude above the paraglider isn't very high at all, and there's the key. The hilly terrain, crossing over water, long distance covered, altitude – because of AirLeash, the control for the drone was always quite close, the camera was always pointing in the right direction, and the gyro-stabilized footage was always smooth.
(By the way, I found this at AirDog's YouTube channel, which has some other pretty cool stuff.)
NOT SO SECRETS TO SUCCESS
To review, here are the steps that AirDog followed. They're applicable to filmmaking Kickstarters too.
Carefully study similar campaigns that worked and ones that didn't. Map out steps to take, and steps to avoid.
You know the rest of what it takes to build a good campaign. Good writing. Good design. Good grammar. You have to get the basics right. More than right. You have to get them razor sharp.
A good idea factors in there somewhere, too. The thing is, the world is littered with great ideas. There's nothing cheaper, or, honestly, less fragile. Get too many great ideas, and none of them get done. Execute one poorly, and it may never live long enough to get a second chance.
Again noting that I only know what I've seen across the reviews I've read, the interviews I've watched, and the footage I've seen online, these guys appear to have gotten AirDog right – not just as an idea, but as a prototype that people around the world have been using already. The videos the team has shot themselves, and ones by the journalists who've been able to operate AirDog, are strong indicators that these guys are on the right track.
AND, they're showing the progress they're making, offering evidence that they're going to spend their funding wisely and effectively, and that they can deliver what they're promising.
"I think the main reason for such success with our Kickstarter campaign was that this product is really useful," says Martins."It is well thought out and designed, and we have created new demand for personal drones. We hope that AirDog will inspire people in their adventures as much as GoPro did."
I think it would also be pretty cool if AirDog also inspired you to create a Kickstarter campaign that's this hot.
Do you have a Kickstarter or Indiegogo project related to film and video production that we should know about? Have a success story to share? Drop a line to .