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From Etsy to Kickstarter: the Story of The Question Block Lamp

The Question Block Lamp has just been launched on Kickstarter. This lamp is not really a lamp. It is a tribute to old school Mario games and a really fun item to play with. Tap the bottom of it to turn it on and off.


DaDing! The Question Block Lamp lights up when you tap the bottom of it

The Question Block Lamp has been created by a group of friends now working together at Prototank, a prototyping company based at Techshop San Francisco. They have imagined a very clever launching strategy for their crowdfunding campaign. There are many good tips to take from their story.

Let’s start by the beginning. The Question Block Lamp has been imagined in winter 2011 and launched on Etsy in early 2012. At the time, lamps were made by hand and sold to friends. It quickly got featured in some big media, starting with a feature in The Next Web followed by CNET, USA Today, Gizmodo, MAKE:Magazine and Apartment Therapy. The fun and geeky design of the lamp catches attention. More than 1,000 lamps were sold and it took hours of work to assembly and ship the lamp. Remember what Ben Einstein said in the first MakingSociety podcast episode? “Every maker should experience the pain of assembling by hand 1000 items”. They did it.


1000 Question Block Lamps ready to be assembled

This first phase is one that many makers experienced, not necessarily including the media attention. A prototype is good enough to be sold. Friends and first fans buy it. The product is officially handmade, might not work perfectly or look exactly as the picture but it’s ok. See it as the Beta phase for hardware product. You’re gathering your core community and get feedback on your product. One of the big learning for the team behind the Question Block Lamp was the supply chain management, as they explain it in their video. They needed to rethink their lamp to make it “more robust, reliable and manufacturable at scale”:

The main improvements they had to take care of:

  • electronics: touch sensor directly into the circuit board to make the lamp more sensitive
  • materials: switching from fragile acrylic to solid PVC
  • design and ergonomics: longer power cord, mounting kit, aluminium stand

It’s a good example of how product changes don’t necessarily imply a complete redesign. Simple things can make a difference.

The Question Block Lamp was not launched by surprise. The team has been preparing the launch for at least 3 months. Adam Ellsworth, the co-lead of this project, is a very active member at Techshop San Francisco. He doesn’t hesitate to talk about the lamp and ask for feedback from other Techshop members. He is also co-organizer of the Crowdfunding Meetup San Francisco, which started at the end of April and gathers regularly more than a hundred attendees. It’s a great launch pad for anyone with projects and questions about crowdfunding. And of course a great launch pad for the lamp.

The Question Block Lamp is everywhere. At Maker Faire Bay Area in May this year, the Question Block Lamp was on many booths, with a little note talking about the coming Kickstarter campaign.┬áThe Lamp is also right in the middle of Techshop San Francisco. When you go upstairs, you can’t miss it. There is always someone to play with it when passing by. Those are very clever ideas for bringing attention to the product.

Launch a Beta version, help your community, be present and don’t hesitate to show your product all around. In only one day, the Question Block Lamp already raised $30,000!

Good luck to the team. The campaign is live here:

Update: Adam told me a bit more about the lamp:

MakingSociety: Do you share the documentation of the lamp online?
Adam: Our designs are open, and we even have an Instructables up.
MakingSociety: Were you inspired by existing open source projects?
Adam: I was definitely inspired by others at Techshop who launched their products on Kickstarter. Anton Willis with the Oru Kayak, David Lang with the OpenROV, and Max Gunawan with the Lumio were all inspirations.

Happy crowdfunding,




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