Lumawake: The Perfect iPhone Dock Pursues Crowdfunding Without Kickstarter

 @redletterdave
on December 03 2012 3:35 PM

How much does your sleep mean to you? Do you care if you wake up in the morning feeling rested versus agitated? Don't you wish you had a better alarm clock?

The founders of Lumawake feel your pain and care deeply about all of these questions, and they hope you do too. They've created what may be the perfect iPhone dock -- one that simulates a sunrise to wake you up slowly and gradually, changes colors and even tracks your sleeping patterns to wake you at the optimal time, among other amazing features (it still charges any model iPhone too) -- but before it can be shipped, the Lumawake team needs your help to make the dock of their dreams a reality.

Normally, this would be the part where we'd link you to a Kickstarter page. But you won't find Lumawake on Kickstarter. They have the rejection letters to prove it.

In the wake of Kickstarter's policy shake-up for submitted projects in September, Lumawake, like many other ideas seeking crowdfunding recently, was forced to launch on its own platform without the help, tools or massive audience of Kickstarter.

After an admittedly brief stint of depression, the Lumawake staff worked around the clock for two solid weeks just to ensure Kickstarter's rejection only had a minimal effect on their shipping schedule. With very limited means, relying mainly on the mercy of Amazon Payments and a bare-bones open-source template called Selfstarter.us -- created by the generous founders of Lockitron after they too were rejected by Kickstarter -- Lumawake's staff successfully managed to create and launch a Kickstarter-esque page to sell their story and product. 

Since the company's launch on Thanksgiving week, their hard work is paying off. With 495 backers and $73,355 raised so far, Lumawake has given itself 16 more days to fund the product. The company set an original goal for $150,000 to make it happen, but Scott Roehrick, Lumawake's 26-year-old chief outreach officer, pointed out that even if Lumawake doesn't achieve its goal, the door doesn't close after that deadline like it would on Kickstarter.

"The beauty of the Selfstarter thing is you make the rules," Roehrick explained. "We could always extend it another month. If we wanted to extend it, we could. There's options in venture capitalists and angel investors to cover the gap, but I don't think we've decided 100 percent about what we'll absolutely do [if we don't meet the $150,000 goal]."

Extending deadlines is just one of many benefits to crowdfunding a product without the help of Kickstarter -- still, Lumawake wishes working with Kickstarter had worked out. 

Too bad it wasn't their choice to make. 

A Wall Called Kickstarter

Let's face it: Nobody took crowdfunding seriously until Kickstarter came along. Since 2009, the platform has launched a multitude of successful projects that may or may not have received sufficient funding without Kickstarter's unique toolset and audience. With each major success, from the Pebble E-Paper Watch ($10.2 million raised) to the Android-based Ouya game console (almost $8.6 million) or Double Fine Adventure ($3.3 million), Kickstarter continually built its name and reputation with each new product it featured.

Even though only 43 percent of all submitted projects to Kickstarter raise the funds they need, people continue to invest their energies into pitching a product or service that can succeed on the Web's hottest crowdfunding platform. Lumawake's founders, Greg Laugle and Drew Shepard, belonged in this category -- their only mistake was not having the Lumawake ready to launch before Kickstarter made a major change in its policy.

On Sept. 20, Kickstarter's founders -- Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler -- announced a number of changes to "reinforce that Kickstarter isn't a store," which ruled out any projects using product simulations or renderings in their video pitches to demonstrate what their future product would look like or do.

"Products can only be shown performing actions that they're able to perform in their current state of development," the Kickstarter founders wrote on their blog.

The move made sense -- many had already begun taking advantage of Kickstarter, raising funds for a project but never delivering or simply using fraudulent material to make false promises. Unfortunately, this policy change still affected those honest engineers that could not easily afford to build fully capable versions of their product or service to show off for the Kickstarter faithful; after all, a common reason for approaching a platform like Kickstarter is to raise the money needed to build out ideas in the first place.

Lumawake was actually ready to launch just before Kickstarter changed its guidelines.

"We thought we met all their guidelines," Roehrick said. "[Approval] was a formality; it never occurred to us that we would get turned down. When they did turn us down, it was a real kick in the balls."

Instead of cursing Kickstarter for its curt and undetailed reply, Lumawake took notice and made all the adjustments they could. They went back to the drawing board. They set up a prototype. Yet, when it was all said and done, nothing they did was enough for Kickstarter to change its mind.

"Basically, we weren't able to talk to a real person [at Kickstarter]. We had basically two correspondences with them," Roehrick said. "They denied our project plan and pointed us to their guideline page, which is a million pages long. We figured we could figure this out, I go and click 'Appeal,' and a box pops up that gives me a choice to appeal a certain violation. Problem was, we didn't know what we did wrong, so we wrote a 750-word letter to them and put it on our website, and we linked to that in the 'Appeal' box. That letter explained what we thought we had done wrong to violate the guidelines."

Unfortunately, it was an impossible battle for Lumawake to win. Without a true contact person at Kickstarter, communication was rare, and, as a result, Lumawake was left completely in the dark over the ruling.

"We got another letter back, another canned response, saying you don't meet the guidelines -- we can't launch you. They never responded to another letter. We were never able to talk to a person. At first, I was infuriated. But the more I did research on it, the way to break it down really simply is 4 percent of their projects are hardware and product design, and it only accounts for 21 percent of their total revenue. They did the 80-20 rule, saying 80 percent of our headache comes from 20 percent of our revenue, and we just weren't worth it to them."

Roehrick said the Lumawake team experienced a brief bout of depression. The team worried about how the loss of the Kickstarter community would affect their launch.

"There's that worry -- it's the 'tree falls in the forest' scenario," Roehrick said.

Fortunately, the team's depression was soon replaced by a renewed sense of motivation: They got in touch with Apigy co-founder Cameron Robertson, who had just successfully raised more than $2 million for the Lockitron, a smart door lock that syncs with your iPhone, and got some personal advice. Once Robertson open-sourced the page he used to launch Lockitron (via Selfstarter.us), Lumawake was officially back on track for a Thanksgiving launch.

"We can't thank Lockitron enough," Roehrick said. "But it wasn't an out-of-the-box solution. The pieces are there on Github, but you gotta link it with Amazon Payments, and they're just as tricky to get a hold of as Kickstarter."

When it was all said and done, Lumawake launched its website with the Selfstarter template just one week after their original plan to launch via Kickstarter was marred.

"We've been able to get some good coverage so far," Roehrick said. "We're very confident in our product and our story."

Lumawake: Getting On Without Kickstarter

The Lumawake team undoubtedly lost a lot of sleep in trying to launch this product, but if enough backers pay the $149 reservation fee, they'll get it all back in spades with the help of their own product. Lumawake may look like a simple iPhone dock, but it promises so much more -- good sleep, better mornings and the best, smartest, moodiest iPhone dock you'll ever own.

This dock is smart -- and not just because it's connected to your other smart appliances (more on that later); according to the company's product page, "Lumawake is smart enough to sense your approach and will light the way for you," which means you'll no longer need to feel around your darkened bedroom just to find your phone charger.

Lumawake is also smart when it comes to your personalized sleep experience. With Lumawake, users don't need to wear any sort of physical trackers on their heads or bodies to track their sleep cycles. The iPhone dock can actually detect your movements as you sleep, and based on your personalized data and what it already knows about sleeping behaviors, it can wake you up when you're in your lightest stage of sleep, which is considerably easier to wake up from, and makes you feel refreshed all day.

Combined with a "smart wake" system and simulated sunrise, Lumawake starts waking you up roughly 20 minutes before you need to get up and go, slowly illuminating so the light falls on your eyes to slowly rouse you.

One of Lumawake's most intriguing features is its ability to interact with the other intelligent appliances in your house (via SmartThings or Belkin's WeMo) to trigger events based on your actions. In other words, if you know you like to wake up with a freshly brewed pot of coffee in the morning, you can set your Lumawake to start your coffee maker when you wake up to spend a little more time in bed. With SmartThings, you can also turn on other lights in your house upon waking, or it can raise or lower the temperature depending on any action or context; Lumawake can light up when your phone receives a text or a phone call -- even in different colors, like blue for Facebook -- but it can also glow in any color for great lighting with any occasion, any mood. It's all context-sensitive, and it all works automatically.

The best part of Lumawake is that it's completely customizable. Any features of the dock can be turned on or off at any time, and you can always change the settings and behavior of the dock, as well as its colors and overall brightness. And Lumawake also has an open API, so if you're a developer, the Lumawake is completely at your creative disposal for anything you might dream of.

Compensating for the loss of Kickstarter hasn't been easy for Lumawake, which truly circumvented disaster without a back-up plan in just two weeks' time, but the entire team is extremely grateful for the experience. Roehrick said that timing was certainly a factor in launching but noted how proud he was of his team for not being down and out too long after the second denial from Kickstarter.

"Win, lose or draw, we are forever humbled by this experience and will never forget those that have helped and supported us along the way," the Lumawake team wrote on its company blog three short days after launching. "We can't give enough thanks."

Lumawake is still taking $149 reservations for its device, which is still pegged to ship in early 2013. 

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