Monday, November 23, 2015

Why Kickstarter Matters to the Knife Industry

Very quietly in 2015 Kickstarter, the leading crowd funding website, switched its stance and now allows folks to seek funding for knife projects.  It makes sense financially, especially as the knife industry experiences a boom in sales, and it matches the Kickstarter "maker" ethos.  The knife industry came from and will always have a craftsmanship/custom component.  Knives will be good to Kickstarter, no doubt.

But Kickstarter can also transform the knife industry.  Until Kickstarter, and to a lesser degree Massdrop, enthusiasts drove a very small part of the industry.  The vast majority of knives produced, advertised, and sold are mass market blades more focused on hitting a pricing target set by Wal-Mart or another Big Box store than they are concerned with performance or blade steel.  As Thomas W. told us on the podcast, he has never been to a meeting with a Big Box where someone asked about blade steel.  We are a very small part of the market and while we have gotten more goodies than ever recently, no major production company caters to us.  They know they don't have to.  We will buy their wears regardless.  We are knife knuts, that's what we do.

But with Kickstarter things can be different.  The Pebble, one of the early smartwatches, was an early success story on Kickstarter raising a then astonishing $10.3 million in one month.  Sales like that would make even KAI or Gerber think twice about the market.  That kind of money, though admittedly it is unlikely a knife would ever been that popular, could fundamentally shift the market.  What happened to kitchen supplies twenty years ago could happen to knives.  Think about it--instead of some junky mixer sold at an anchor store in the mall, we now have a market where $400 Kitchen Aid mixers are par for the course and there is a William and Sonoma selling handmade chef knives in many malls.  What if the production companies made and sold knives like that?

It will probably never happen as the knife market is nowhere near the size of the kitchen supplies market, but Kickstarter could change who is in the driver's seat.  Instead of some bean counter in some department in Bentonville, Arkansas dictating knife creation at KAI (thank you Captain Jackass for 3Cr....), Kickstarter could have consumers directly incentivizing the creation of a higher class of cutlery.  That is the promise of Kickstarter.

And with last week's Kickstarter release of the HEST/F Urban by DPx Gear, that promise is closer to a reality.  This is a tremendously important knife for the knife industry, perhaps as important, from a financial perspective, as the first Kershaw Speedsafe Onion knife.  If the Urban proves popular, it could be a model for other companies to follow.

Money shows its popular--the Kickstarter for the Urban funded in less than a day.  I contacted Lisa from DPx Gear about why they made the move to Kickstarter and here is what she said:

Kickstarter allows us to get direct feedback from the customer. DPx Gear has excellent support from distributors and a select group of dealers but when we develop new platforms, we want direct input from the end users. Also, Kickstarter has become its own sales channel with people who we might not reach through traditional knife marketing events or venues. In fact, in the beginning of our campaign the majority of backers were through Kickstarter, not directly referred to the site.  

This is a major step forward for the knife industry.  DPx has approached their business in a radically different way than other cutlery companies.  Lisa discussed this on the podcast, and a look at their robust patent portfolio proves it--they are run more like high end tech start up, with their focus on R&D and IP, than they are as an outdoor gear company or an outgrowth of a custom knife business.

Finally, and importantly, its great to see that the majority of backers weren't from the knife community, but from the Kickstarter community.  Kickstarter has revolutionized the pen and stationary business and there is no reason to think that it would do anything less to the knife business.  Good job DPx.  But they aren't the only ones.  Darriel Caston, he of the Spyderco collab, is also releasing a knife through Kickstarter--the Kadima.  Spyderco, Benchmade, KAI are you paying attention?  Maybe its time to explore a direct to consumers model folks.

And for those that complain that DPx is a big company or that this is not a release that is within the spirit of Kickstarter--you're wrong on both accounts (obviously these objections don't apply to the Kadima).  Lisa confirmed that DPx has 6 employees.  That is a ton fewer than many of the Kickstarter mainstays, companies that specialize in Kickstarter only releases.  And second, the day of some guy making some gadget, well they aren't over, but Kickstarter as evolved to something more than just that.  I like the idea that companies, even "big" ones, can test out releases that are departures from their normal "brand" on Kickstarter.  Its fun to see a true EDC knife from DPx.  Its something I have wanted for a while now, as the HEAT is a bit too fat for me (The HEAT has a half inch shorter blade and weighs a bit more than the Urban does). 


  1. I'm glad to see Kickstarter evolving, I only wish I'd known about this particular venture earlier, I would have loved to have gotten in on a Sterile edition. Here's hoping the success of the project means more HEST/F Urbans down the line.

  2. Cool knife, but I wish it had a different steel, particularly since they claim it's "the world's finest US forged blade steel." Would like to know your take on that, Tony.