CES 2014: How crowdfunding sites can revolutionise your startup

Amid the bedlam of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it’s traditionally the biggest brands with the biggest budgets who outmuscle the competition and steal most of the trade show limelight.

But you’d be foolish to overlook the array of exciting startups entering the conference for the first time, sharing their stories and vision for penetrating the mainstream. After all, today’s startup is tomorrow’s corporate powerhouse.

With this in mind, we caught up with the creators of MiiPC – the low-cost Android computer that plugs straight into your TV and provides a host of parental control features, making it a multi-purpose ‘family hub.’

MiiPC caused a considerable buzz at 2013’s major tech events and this year looks set to bring more growth for its producer ZeroDesktop, which was founded in 2011. Chief product officer Richard Sah was enthused by the reception MiiPC has been getting here at CES, and said much of the project’s success is owed to its crowd-funded roots.

“We weren’t sure if it was just us who thought MiiPC would be a good idea,” Sah told us. “So we wanted to use Kickstarter to validate the product - and we got funded within 24 hours, so that was very encouraging.

“But what’s more important is creating the community of users that can give you that feedback and suggest features and changes.” Sah repeatedly highlighted the value of startups building a user community and said Kickstarter had exposed MiiPC to new people right across the world who were keen to bring fresh ideas to the table.

“With Kickstarter our interest was quite spread across the world with backers from 50 countries.” This included a number of emerging markets from Asia and the Middle East who “didn’t have the legacy of PC use” and were excited by the convenience offered by the low-cost, portable MiiPC.

These users typically “have tablets and smartphones but want to be productive at the same time,” Sah said. “So these have been pretty interesting emerging markets for us that we were not aware of before Kickstarter.”

The pressure-cooker environment of online crowdfunding certainly brings extra challenges, however, not least when backers have pledged their own cash in the hope of getting their hands on the finished article.

“I think with Kickstarter people are very anxious to get their products and unfortunately we’ve had some delays – not because of a problem with us but with our supplier. So I think schedule commitment is definitely something that startups should consider carefully,” Sah said.

Yet for MiiPC, Sah insisted the positives of the crowd-funded start vastly outweighed the negatives. “Kickstarter helped us create our reputation and improve our brand awareness, and the momentum we have from Kickstarter will help us.”

“I think just have a really open mind. Users give you really good feedback and you should just let it evolve.”