Why Is Kickstarter Being Used to Launch the Most Expensive Travel Tripod in the World?

Why Is Kickstarter Being Used to Launch the Most Expensive Travel Tripod in the World?

The camera press went a little crazy this week as a small company announced that something tiny will sell for something massive. As someone who hates tripods and will go to some lengths to avoid using them, trying to get my head around the column inches has been fascinating.

Trying to find a news outlet or vlogger that wasn’t shouting excitedly about this new tripod was almost impossible on Wednesday. Even brand-specific rumor websites were running the story — a far cry from their usual fare of Sony firmware updates and Nikon lens patents — and every outlet tripped over itself to announce that there was going to be a new tripod that’s slightly smaller, slightly lighter, and quite expensive. It’s not for sale yet, but holy crap, it’s new and slightly different from all those other tripods that already exist.

There’s no denying that Peak Design’s new tripod looks fantastic. As companies go, Peak Design’s journey has been something of a triumph, both of design and marketing. The fact that a new product — launched via a Kickstarter no less — can create so much buzz is reflective of the quality and respect that this brand brings and generates. Kickstarter is a platform that generally breeds a lot of skepticism from photographers, having produced some rather dubious failures over the years, such as the Yashica Y35. With the Yashica, investors paid more than a hundred dollars for a woefully cheap piece of plastic that barely worked, a sign that, as though one were needed, investing in Kickstarter projects is always a gamble. I suspect that the list of photography Kickstarter projects that have garnered wide investment and then failed to deliver is not a short one. Backers of Meyer Optik Görlitz will not get a refund, a reminder that crowdfunding is not the same as preordering.

Bags Are Killing It With Kickstarter

For bag companies such as Peak Design and WANDRD, however, Kickstarter has been the perfect means of getting products to market, and these companies are now able to build on a significant amount of trust. Somehow, bags lend themselves to the crowdfunding model, with niche requirements addressed by well-researched, extensively tested solutions, presented through pretty videos featuring gentle voiceovers and the upsettingly enthusiastic, plinky-plunky “hey, we’re a fun, small brand with a nice product” soundtracks that Apple popularized 10 years ago and now drive me completely insane. The editors will not let me write what I want to do to people who use ukuleles in their Kickstarter videos (editor's note: you don't want to know anyway). You are selling a product. You are not making a cat video. For the sake of humanity, please stop.

Peak Design’s products are fantastic. I own a bag, my friends own bags, the straps are great, and I’ve heard so few complaints that you have to wonder when it's going to drop the ball. Are their products too expensive? Well, if people are buying them — and they are — apparently not. The early criticism of the tripod (leaving aside Northrup’s bloodied finger and the limitations of the ball head) is that $600 for a travel tripod is insane, and yet, the Kickstarter will clear ten times its goal by the end of this week. The fact that Peak Design managed to convince every major vlogger and their milkman to shout about something as mundane as a tripod is testament to the company's reputation and a triumph of marketing. It’s more than a couple of days later and I’m still writing about it and you’re still reading about it. Clearly, the marketing team is doing something right.

The Blessed Comments Section

The usual arguments play out in the comments: “It’s too expensive!” Then don’t buy one. “The legs look unstable!” Then buy a heavier tripod. “The legs look like they might bend!” Then buy a bigger tripod. “They’re forcing me to use a hex key!” Then buy literally any other tripod. “You can’t see the bubble when you put the camera on!” It’s a travel tripod, not a magic tripod. “It’ll be too wobbly for really long exposures!” Then maybe a super-lightweight tripod is not for you. In short, this is a travel tripod, not a magical, weightless unicorn that will follow you around and intermittently hold your camera very, very still for you because you've decided that the clouds aren't quite right. Compromises have been made, and, like any product, it will have some limitations. For Peak Design, getting this tripod into the hands of so many noisy influencers is very successful, but the company is aware that this carries a risk, as any flaws will set the tone at a very early stage.

So Why More Crowdfunding?

It's interesting to assess customers’ willingness to return to Kickstarter to support companies that have already established themselves as major players in the camera industry. Shouldn’t a successful brand like Peak Design be seeking a loan or taking on private equity to bring a product to market rather than relying on the speculative pledges of their large fan base? In crowdfunding, those stumping up the cash are investors, not customers, and those willing to risk their money are doing so based on those execrable ukuleles, gear acquisition syndrome, and a large amount of goodwill.

There’s also something seductive about this new commercial model, of feeling bound up in a brand, and buying membership into a special collective that has access to something unique. As a means of connecting with buyers, crowdfunding establishes strong bonds with dedicated followers — followers who appreciate a small company's desire to remain independent of shareholders and large investors who are typically more interested in the bottom line than whether a product is awesome or not.  A combination of brand loyalty and products that integrate with one another means that it’s far from unusual to see photographers strutting around proudly rocking every Peak Design product on the market.

Now Go and Make Ten Thousand Tripods

Peak Design travel tripod

Slightly smaller and slightly lighter than a lot of other tripods.

The patience of Peak Design’s fans for ever more Kickstarter projects does not seem to be wearing thin, and given that this model continues to work for Peak Design, you can expect to the company — and others — to stick with it for the foreseeable future. At time of writing, there were almost 10,000 investors, which suggests that Peak Design needs to take its millions of dollars, go away, and make 10,000 tripods. That is an insane number of tripods, and it only takes a small glitch in production to set that process back by 6 months or more and leave 10,000 people — most of whom are probably missing the best part of $500 — wondering where their tripod is. That lifetime warranty doesn't count for much if the product is sitting in a warehouse in China and wondering if it will ever see daylight again. This is not knocking Peak Design: it is an established company with a decent track record (although let’s not forget the camera straps), and whatever you think of the products, investors have demonstrated a lot of faith in its ability to deliver on its promises. However, this is a model that still carries significant risks, both for investors and for companies.

What does the future of the camera industry and the crowdfunding model? And there’s something else that intrigues me: does Peak Design make the majority of its money from the Kickstarter sales or from post-release sales? By the end of this year, it will probably have generated more than $20 million in crowdfunding alone since the company’s launch in San Francisco in 2010. If you have any thoughts on this — or anything else — please leave a comment below.

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Tony Northrup's picture

I, too, was baffled by the amount of attention it got. More than twice as many people watched our video than they did for the Sony a6400.

As to why so many outlets decided to cover it, Peak Design's PR firm has been good at building and maintaining relationships with influencers. Trey Ratliff famously launched their first bag. At press events, probably half the press are using PD gear, including myself (but not Chelsea).

A few weeks prior to launch they asked how much a sponsored video would be before we'd even seen the tripod. We wouldn't accept a sponsorship for a product we hadn't tested and didn't love, so I offered to do an honest unpaid review. The tripod is OK but we wouldn't endorse it.

Hope that provides some insight.

I was surprised at who PD decided to pay for reviews. A bunch of surface level YT stars instead of landscape or travel photographers.

Does Manny Ortiz or Jason Vong really do this travel tripod more justice than Thomas Heaton, Brandon Van Son, Nick Page?

Also thanks for letting us know that the majority of YT reviews were in fact paid. Not enough content creators provide this information, law or not.

I think Matt Granger's story is rather telling. Apparently, PD got in contact with him & were going to send him a tripod but he criticises some of their marketing video, calling it amateurish, so after that they ceased all contact.

As he sarcastically said in his latest toglife video "Maybe I don't travel enough to qualify for travel tripod". (hint, he travels heaps)

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Any link or source to that from Matt Granger ?

On his YouTube channel. It was last weeks Toglife episode, about 3/4 of the way into the video.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Thanx! Is it the one in Mexico ? I could not find it.. :-(

Tim Gallo's picture

yeah, the tripod looked like kinda-of-alright, but nothing special... maybe great for amateurs? there are better alternative, more professional, almost same compact size... and for that price I have a feeling gitzo is not so far away that probably in long term will serve you better than this design gimmick.

Colin Robertson's picture

As a *travel* tripod, the compact size seems pretty special to me. I don’t know of anything else that’s “almost the same compact size”, specifically in diameter.

i'm sorry you really haven't looked that hard then. my tripod which does cost a bit more then what they're trying to push is approx the same diameter closed down. I also get to choose the head I want to use too w/o adapting it at additional cost. it is a 4 section and longer collapsed. it fits in/on every pack I've chosen to use. I've also had and used it for a few years for quite a bit of travel. it is good and rigid right down to the center post. diameter 3" from apex to apex of the triangle which fit the corners in my bags..

But it is special. They are the only one who did something new with tripod design. The price is egregious, though.

Tim Gallo's picture

lol, really? there are plenty small, maybe does not extend as much, but same lightweight tripods, well at least here in japan. for half of that price. with that slim legs it will be unstable with bigger lens, or scary with wind, yeah good luck putting your backpack without camera underneath :) how many more gear you'll have to have in a bag so it stabilize the tripod?

also this

Andy Day's picture

Thanks Tony. That's interesting to know. Is it possible that some of those giving glowing reviews received payments that were not declared?

It could be but then they would be breaking the law.

I was very excited when I watched videos of this mainly because I can finally use the same baseplate on my camera fro the tripod and for the clips. But then you pointed out several things on your video that doesn't make sense. One being the limit that one has when trying to shoot vertically because of the design of the head. So, I dropped the notion of buying it.

adrien willmott's picture

Have a look at the three-legged thing Leo...

Yep, price point alone made me think twice. Would have made a perfect travel tripod for xt3, but that price..... Bought 6 products from PD (incl 4 of their bags), but I wouldn't go for this one.
The legs didn't give much confidence.

Alec Kinnear's picture

I don't much like your sensationalist YouTube channel Tony and your blind Sony fanboyism but thank you for sharing what really happened behind the scenes. I'm impressed (and frankly surprised) you didn't take the cash.

Kreyg Scott's picture

Very interesting to hear that Tony.

Matthew Granger's picture

Like Tony I was also asked to name a price to make a sponsored video without seeing it, and offered an extremely high % commission for sales I pushed through Kickstarter.

I have not seen anyone who is sharing those custom Kickstarter links disclose that their 'unbiased review' has a big kickback on the back end.

That may also explain the level of hysterical coverage this got.

Leigh Miller's picture

Wondered that as well...

A reasonably successful company...been around awhile using crowdfunding to bring new products to market??

Distasteful...and to see Trey Ratcliffe touting that as well is equally puzzling.

Dan Marchant's picture

Honest question... why is good business sense distasteful?

Is it crowdfunding itself that is distasteful or just the fact that it is an established company? Would it be less distasteful if they were an unproven company (and then far more likely to fail to deliver). If I was going to put money into a crowdfunded project I would much rather it was an established/proven company than a fly by night chancer.

Some consider it distasteful because they have the financial resources to handle the risk themselves, but instead they are having their customers bear the financial and time-carrying (5+ month) risks. With start-ups, it is understood that the entity lacks the resources and has to seek creative funding in order to bring the product into fruition.

Damon Biviano's picture

My thoughts exactly. As a buyer, it's a very dumb business move to buy a product without it being proven, let alone completed. As a business, if you can get people to pay for your concept, kudos.

As a photographer, it's pretty and unimpressive. Fanboys will eat it up though. I'll wait till I can see one or read some reviews. This crowdfunding and influencer marketing really pisses me off though ;)

you are not a buyer on kickstarter, but an investor. hard to grasp that concept?

Leigh Miller's picture

An investor is a person who reaps the benefits of their capital in perpetuity as long as they hold shares in a company. On kickstarter your merely paying a reduced price for giving a company money to develop a product and bring it to market. Once you get your product you are done...if you actually get the product.

Dale Keith's picture

I am new to the concept of Kickstarter. Reminds me of an IPO. Usually not a good investment as many times the original money people cash out their shares at the expense of new investors. I agree with Damon. I would like to see it in person. Until that time I will stick with my Gitzo travel tripod.

Leigh Miller's picture

What they said below...and just to be clear, this isn't good business sense. This is akin to piracy imho. Kickstarter contributors are not investors who will own a piece of the company they are merely giving them money to do this in return for a lower price on the final product (maybe).

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