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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104 Comments

Previous comments

Nope, I think it's okay to launch a product on Kickstarter. They had disclosed sometime ago that they would continue to launch their products on Kickstarter till their company cease to exists.

I fail to understand a problem in this. Plus, investing is the investors choice and they know what they are getting into.

Leigh Miller's picture

The problem is that a successful company (as they bill themselves} doesn't need to go to their customers to fund R&D/Manufacturing etc.

Dale Keith's picture

In other words, Caveat Emptor!

Robert Tran's picture

From a different angle, KS may be a more effective way to generate / mobilize guerilla advertising compared to traditional press releases.

the best way to describe is " at risk pay to manufacture'. If we have enough orders we will manufacture if not we keep the money.

Gergö Nyirö's picture

They used Kickstarter because they are clever businessmen and they have a trusted brand so they can do whatever they want.
The tripod does look wobbly as fuck though..

I think Peak Design gets so much attention and hype because of Influencers and their followers. I believe the diedard follower wants to kind of be like their Influencer, they want to be like Peter McKinnon for example. Buying into what they promote is one way of doing this and when it comes to accessories as opposed to expensive cameras, they can do so. Okay, $600 is expensive for what this is, but it's not $6000 or even $3000. $600 is reachable and by purchasing an accessory like this, these diehard followers can have a small slice of the life of the Influencer they love. Probably even more so if they get in quickly and be one of the first to own it - they then can show it off to all their like-minded mates.

Ken Hilts's picture

After the terrible experience I had with the Everyday Backpack 30L (straps that have to constantly be retightened, making the backpack unusable as a backpack), there's no way I'd send them money before seeing lots of independent field tests.

Use the plastic lock! it helps.
they shipped it with the bag

Fritz Asuro's picture

As far as I know, the Everyday Backpack straps are designed to slide out easily, this is when you have to access the contents of your bag while wearing it. This easily means that having very heavy loads will affect the straps "stability" to maintain in one place.

BTW, I have the 30L as well and I haven't experienced the straps being that loose even when packed full.

have used my EB 30L for a week straight with no problems. yes, half full with stuff

Let's be clear about the price. It's not $600, at least not today. Kickstarter backers are promised the fiberglass model for $479, or the slightly heavier aluminum model for $289. An important part of the motivation to invest now is the promise of a bargain when compared to the planned retail price. (Note: I am not a backer. I considered the offer, and found it intriguing, but decided I don't need another tripod.)

*carbon fiber

I've been a buyer and believer in Peak Design products, so they've earned my trust through the years. My first Sony A7rii was destroyed when I used a cheaper tripod on a shoot in Central Park. The cleat broke off and my brand new $3200 camera and $2500 lens went flying.
I'll never go cheap again.
A high quality product is WAAAY worth the investment.
Peak Design products have never let me down.

ANDREW WILDER's picture

I know what you're saying, but that's a bit of a false dilemma. There are many many tripods that will work just as well, as a tripod, for pennies on the dollar. And they might be a tiny bit heavier and a tiny bit bulkier, but a whole lot cheaper and just as sturdy or sturdier than the PD tripod.

Yes and no. Say, if LV started making camera bags and sell them for $3k a piece, would the bag protect 10x better than a $300 PD bag just because of the price ?? Likely not, since they are just inflating the price based the branding and they really are just entering the market and are not proven as a camera protection bag brand.

Matthew Saville's picture

It's not about 10x more protection at any given moment in time. It's about simply offering good protection over a longer period of time.

A $600 tripod might be able to offer dependable protection for 2-3x longer than a $300 tripod. If that is the case, then you're either breaking even, or you're coming out ahead. (Not even counting if your $300 tripod does fail and kills your camera, lol)

But, yes, there are plenty of $300 tripods out there that will offer the same level of durability, for about the same length of time that the PD TT might. But they might also be a compromise in height, weight, compactness, and/or the max load the tripod can support.

I've tested a LOT of other ~$3-4 lb "travel" designated tripods. Most of them are uselessly wobbly, short, and not at all well-built. I've lost count of how many broken tripods I've seen from friends who bought the cute little brightly colored travel tripods, and in 6-12 months, a leg ripped right off, or the center column developed a bit of slop, or something else... Only a couple exist that offer a similar or better "travel" option than the Peak Design.

You missed my point. Yes, a more expensive tripod from a reputable brand is likely going to last longer or at the very least, they would have the infrastructure in place for with their warranty, after service and parts availability which would ensure their product longevity to justify the price point. I honestly don't see the same with Peak and it is far from ensuring when I see so much plastic hinges, levers on their tripod plus they don't have the best rep now for backing their products. May be time will tell.

Matthew Saville's picture

Now I really don't know what you're talking about. the PD reputation is great, one of the best on Kickstarter. And, the leg lock levers are Aluminum. I wanted to be 100% sure, so I just took a metal file to one of the leg locks to "look" under the black anodizing. Yup. Aluminum.

I'm just trying to give my input as someone who has actually held the PD TT and already used it quite a bit, as well as having an unhealthy obsession with travel tripods in general as a wilderness backpacker and travel wedding photographer.

But, this is the internet, so everybody is welcome to their grains of salt with what anybody says.

Thanks and glad to hear the initial review is positive but like I said, only time will tell if it was worth the investment for a new comer tripod brand.

Matthew Saville's picture

It's always a risk to buy a 1st-gen product from any company, indeed. It seems the world has enough "early adopters" now that it's a viable business model to do it this way, but yeah, personally I prefer to wait until 2nd-gen or 3rd-gen products are out...

I have no real issue with the quality of peak design products, but still think the Kickstarter route doesn't make as much sense for an established company.

I may be missing the point of this article (I'm not sure if it is about Peak Design specifically or crowdfunding in general) but when you say, "Shouldn’t a successful brand like Peak Design be seeking a loan or taking on private equity"... I would argue that those are totally different than crowdfunding. Apologies for the finance 101 lecture, but here it goes...

A bank loan requires those pesky interest and periodic payments. If you don't make those payments, the bank will take ownership in whatever you pledged as collateral... inventory, real estate, you first born child, etc. You also have to get approved for a loan, which can be difficult for small businesses with high inventory/retail demands.

In private equity, you have to give up ownership in your company in order to get funding. This can be unappealing for many different reasons, not the least of which is you have a bunch of finance guys telling you how to run your business and where to cut corners to increase the bottom line. As someone who has worked in finance and for a firm owned by private equity, it isn't always a glamorous marriage (the editors will not let me write what I want to do to the soul devouring private equity scum... jk).

Crowdfunding allows you to get the cash you need to design, develop, and produce your product and keep your ownership and vision.

This article seems to suggest that Kickstarter and crowdfunding are primarily marketing ploys (apologies if I'm reading this wrong). And while marketing does play a BIG part of it, there are legit financial reasons to go down the crowdfunding route. Crowdfunding isn't right for every business but I do think that it helps smaller and more unique/niche products get to market without the risk and drawbacks of banks and PE.

As long as the backers clearly understand what they are getting and the risks, I think it is a great thing. No one is forcing the backers to contribute. You can log onto Amazon and order 1000 identical tripods. But some people want to back businesses that they think have a unique or innovative idea. It might be a good investment or it might be a bad one... who knows, that's how investments work.

Andy Day's picture

Hey Regan, no need to apologise for explaining stuff in a friendly and non-patronising way. You're completely right and I did start sketching a paragraph on this that wasn't as well-informed or thorough as your comment, but this article was already quite long so I decided to ditch it. I mentioned that line about remaining free of pressure from investors and shareholders but your explanation is far more thorough.

I think that crowdfunding is good marketing, but I think using the word 'ploy' would be reductive - for all of the reasons that you've outlined. It's definitely a great thing and it's shaking up the model of how a business can become successful.

That ball head is a complete deal killer. Add in the high price, and the leg clasps that will quit working the first time they get a few grits of sand in them ... and the tripod starts to look like a questionable purchase.

As I noted in another post, Peak Design products are hyped through the roof. Put any one of their bags up against a similarly sized and equipped Think Tank bag and you really do start to wonder where all the hype originates (clue: it originates with their marketing firm).
The same sentiment holds true with this pending tripod ... compared to a similarly sized Gitzo or RRS, why would any serious travel photographer bother with a flawed tripod simply because it was 2% smaller?

Michael Jin's picture

Like just about everything Lomography (and tons of other well established companies) releases, the Kickstarter is just a free marketing a pre-order system. The pre-order part is obvious and the marketing part is them being about to say how quickly the Kickstarter goal was met and how much it was surpassed by.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

small not good good not small is just a toy!

Bryce Milton's picture

One big investment partner on their terms vs. 10k on your terms? If you can do it, you'd be crazy not to...

Ethan May's picture

Slightly homoerotic. People like stuff from San Francisco- I'm from there.

Laughing Cow's picture

Frankly I stick with my MeFOTO…
https://www.mefoto.com/en-gb/products/globetrotter-classic

And red is beautiful!!

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