Jie Qi had a question. A prize-winning graduate student at the renowned MIT Media Lab, she wanted to know what would happen if she combined art with electronics through a popular, accessible medium: stickers. She knew that traditional methods of teaching electronics could be intimidating and alienating, working with things like rigid PCB’s and soldering irons is difficult without proper training. As she explained to Wired Magazine, she wanted “to liberate electronics hardware from being mired in annoying details." Freed from the need for specialized skills and knowledge to work with electronics, would people feel at liberty to experiment and play with circuits? The answer, it turned out, was “yes, definitely.”
To get to that answer, she teamed up with Andrew “bunnie” Huang to create easy-to-use electronic components that “mount” using a conductive, reusable adhesive. The components can be easily connected with copper tape, conductive thread or paint, tin foil, or anything else that can carry low-voltage current. Each component is shaped to resemble its electronic function. For example, the LED sticker is triangular to resemble the symbol for a diode.
Mass Marketing Hand Crafting
However, once they had designed and prototyped the stickers, they had another challenge: how to get them into people’s hands? They met that challenge by using Crowd Supply to help them fund and deliver the product.
They started a campaign in late 2014, with a funding goal of $1. They chose that amount because it was a research project, and as such would proceed in some form regardless of funding. However, after a few weeks on Crowd Supply, the campaign had taken in nearly $70k. They had a major success on their hands. They also potentially had a huge problem on their hands: how to fulfill thousands of orders.
That problem was solved by Crowd Supply. Neither bunnie nor Jie had the time, inclination, or experience to complete the orders and keep sales moving. Jie didn’t want to stop her research and bunnie didn’t want to stop manufacturing operations in order to pack and ship boxes of stickers.
As bunnie put it, "If we had done this with Kickstarter or someone, we would have had to take a pile of stickers and hire a third party, or another fulfillment company, to handle all of this sorts of stuff. We have what we need to build the stuff, and [Crowd Supply] filled in the whole rest of the equation... Money came in, then that money got wired to us. we built the stuff, they gave us an address to ship pallets of stuff to. Then a few weeks later, people had it in their hands and were tweeting about it."
Today, Circuit Stickers are being used by educators and artists across the world. From English classrooms to STEM labs, students are intuitively exploring principles of electronics and circuit design while creating some very cool interactive projects (links). There are now more than ten Circuit Sticker kits and add-ons, including holiday cards, classroom kits, and components like sensors and effects.
As Jie points out, Crowd Supply "helped make Circuit Stickers happen by seamlessly helping us to all of our backers-- a crucial step that's often overlooked in crowdfunding physical projects. Not only that, it helped Chibitronics, the company, start out by smoothly converting our campaign page into to an online shop when the campaign completed. We continue to sell products through this shop now two and a half years after our campaign!" In bunnie's words, “orders just kept coming in, and we didn’t have to lift a finger to enable that. There was zero dilution of our focus and zero dilution of our innovation time to enable all of that stuff. The ROI was really, really good.”
From a simple experiment to viable product line, Circuit Stickers have been amazingly successful. We couldn't be prouder to have a played a critical role.
In the end, Jie had the answer to her question. People absolutely can and want to create and play with electronics. "Perhaps," as she told Wired Magazine "at a higher level, people are trying balance out the massive and anonymous information intake of our digital selves by engaging in more personal and creative activity through our physical selves... That is, to go from digital consumers to physical creators."