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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Previous comments
Justin Braase's picture

Because it costs less than operating a standard business model. Easy answer.

With kickstarter, there's virtually no risk. You're up-selling the concept of the merchandise and passing the cost to produce it + your service of contracting someone to make it to the buyers, kickstarters, investors, whatever you care to call them.

Instead of the standard model of R&D on the product, contracting the production of said item, ordering shipments, placing them on the market at a profitable price and then hoping all the purchases you just made come back to you when the product sells.

In my opinion, Peak Design abuses the crowdfunding platform. I wouldn't be against the business model if at the very least they passed the savings down. The fact that they actually ask for more than the other competitors in their markets feels like a slap in the face to their supporters. Even their backers are paying the up-sell price tag, no one benefits but Peak Design.

I like their gear, but not a fan of how they run their business. Kickstart once or twice, that's great. I hope it "kickstarts" your business. But, 9 times now....unless we're sharing the savings, it feels like you're nickel and diming people.

Przemysław Kałwa's picture

Some of the people commenting here don't understand what investing is. You expect to achieve a profit when you invest. When you are crowdfunding you bear the risk instead of the company. It is you who may lose your money not Peak Designs of the world. In a way you act as a bank here to loan them your money, the difference is that there is no profit in it for you. You get the product and that's that (if - though PD are good at delivering).

of course people understand it. you just explained it in less than 10 sentences.

dred lew's picture

"You expect to achieve a profit when you invest", well, obviously. That doesn't mean that it works out that way, you very much take the risk of losing in almost any investment you make.

As for Peak's deal, you indirectly make a profit by being able to buy at a cheaper price. Similar to stocks. Buy low, sell high. Buy the tripod now at discount, sell it when it goes up to MSRP and you literally made a profit. Given Peak's track record, this "investment" would 99% go in your favor, basically no risk. - So yeah, crowdfunding can very well be investing.

With a bit willingness on the selling part, you could actually get a free tripod out of Kickstarter: 1. buy 11 tripods at discount
2. wait till the MSRP kicks in
3. sell 10 tripods $50 more than discount price. This is still $70 cheaper than MSRP, which will make it easy to compete with everyone else selling at MSRP.
4. you've recouped all the upfront cost but you still have one tripod, hence it's "free".

Martin Melnick's picture

I invested in the original capture clip and received one from their kickstarter. It still lives (1st gen) in my kit and holds my cameras without fault. I'd trust their engineering again.

Tom Fuldner's picture

Jeez Louise, lots of unhappy people here. Complain all you want, but just don't do anything that gets it the way of me getting my PD tripod when it arrives. And okay, I'll let you borrow it. And Andy, catchy headline, I'll give you that.

This tripod will be expensive; however, it's a far cry from the "...Most Expensive Travel Tripod in the World". Compared to the likes of the Gitzo Traveler or travel tripods from RRS, this is reasonable, especially considering it comes with a head. The RRS TQC-14 MK2 TRIPOD is $935 before you even add one of their compact ball heads for $100-188. The Gitzo tripod Traveler, series 1, 4 sections is almost $800 before adding a ball head. It's nice to see a company take on the status quo and try to offer something different. I like their products, but already have a travel tripod...I'll wait to see after it comes out as to whether the expense of buying another travel tripod is worth it.

David Anderson's picture

No way I would buy something as important as a tripod without putting hands to one and seeing how well it's made and how well it will do the job. Putting money into this on Kickstarter is throwing your hand, full of cash, up to be a Guinea pig. What if the build sucks ? What if the design sucks ? Too late.

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.

Still don't see any justification of the "Most expensive travel tripod in the world" comment.

Part of it has to be the analytics they'll get. Use kickstarter and capture a ton of data about the buyers that you can put to use to sell other products. Versus just selling it through B&H or Adorama where they don't get that same information. Plus you know the initial buyers are engaged and will be posting about it as soon as they get it. More free marketing.

This article is the perfect reason why I rarely take this site seriously. The author seems incapable of admitting the glaring mistake in the title itself about the "most expensive travel tripod in the world".

Search engines are your friend.

An interesting article, thanks. All the really expensive tripods and heads (cf brands above) are well worth the cost. Each is a Bargain in fact, because it lasts you years. A RRS or Gitzo outlive our far more expensive cameras and optics. This is why some of us pay up ONCE for a Gitzo Traveller, and insure the thing.

Revolutionary? Pleezeee. I read through the Kickstarter blurb. Where’s the Patents Pending ? Pick up RRS or Acratech product and read the string of patents. As pointed out here, several manufacturers - Years back – began making tripods with relatively light legs AND with each snap-locks etc on each join.

Just one innovation for a travel tripod would be legs with only ONE release button/clip/ to adjust the legs. Sachter-Vinten for example, did this already with their 75 and now 100 systems. There must be very valid reasons why they have not shrunk their legs down into a gadget that balances a smartphone! But OTH Sachtler make products for real videographers and film makers who trust those tripods to 1000++s of $$$ worth of gear in the far flung corners of our planet.

The “reviewers” of this gimmick are as scurrilous as the adverts. Worse in fact – all who exploited this PD – KS nonsense go on to the S0#t-List. Besides a smartphone, precisely WHAT can this tripod support in weight? Where are the Test shots? What combo of lens(es) & camera(s) stay keep “stable”? Anything and Everything – according to the dishonest logo "with any gear, in any environment, from any point of view".

Please insert the missing subject and verb into this sentence:- "What does the future of the camera industry and the crowdfunding model? "