How Kickstarter Creators Are Coping with the Coronavirus — Kickstarter



Peak Design's Travel Tripods at the factory
Peak Design’s Travel Tripods at the factory

Kickstarter brings together creators and backers from all seven continents (yes, even Antarctica). So when there’s a global disruption on the scale of the coronavirus outbreak, we can see the ripple effects pretty quickly.

To better understand how this outbreak is affecting creators and their projects, we’ve been keeping an eye on project updates that mention the virus, and we’ve pulled together a few takeaways. This situation is evolving, and we’ll continue to update this post with any significant new information.

First, a bit of perspective from Peak Design, who wrote on February 13 that a travel and shipping ban in China was temporarily preventing around 900 of its Travel Tripods from reaching backers in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The company wrote:

“But what is far more important are the hundreds of millions of people affected by this crisis. Over a thousand people have died. Many more are suffering from illness. And many, many more continue to have their lives and livelihoods upended—by losing loved ones, being separated from their families, being unable to return home to their jobs, being unable to open their stores and factories for business, or simply from the dread and uncertainty brought forth by the outbreak of disease.”

Like our friends at Peak Design, our hearts go out to those in communities directly affected by the coronavirus. To creators in these areas, we understand that your safety and the safety of your families needs to be your priority right now. 

Kickstarter projects often provide a behind-the-scenes look at how creative work gets made. For many projects, this involves updates from factories in China—and many of those factories were forced to shut down.

The spread of the virus came at a time when factories throughout China were already taking a break for the Chinese New Year holiday. Travel restrictions and public health precautions within China caused many factories to remain closed for weeks longer than expected. This means many Kickstarter creators who depend on Chinese factories for manufacturing products or sourcing materials are experiencing delays in production and uncertainty about when they will be able to fulfill rewards—although there are signs that the worst may be over.

It’s important to remember that Kickstarter serves independent creators who usually don’t have the resources of a large corporation. Apple has said it is facing production delays because of the virus. When a company of that size is struggling, it should come as no surprise that smaller creators who don’t have that kind of leverage, experience, or staffing will also face significant challenges.

The Morus team assembles a prototype
The Morus team assembles a prototype

 In a February 24 update to backers who supported their countertop clothes dryer, members of the Morus team, based in China, explained how travel restrictions were affecting them:

“The coronavirus outbreak has postponed our post-holiday return to work. Corporates like us as well as our manufacturer partners need to apply for approval to resume work. We’ve [gotten] approved after some efforts. Most of our team members just returned to the office today. A few of our colleagues from Hubei Province will work remotely from home. Meanwhile, we will sanitize the [workplace] and monitor the health status of the team daily… We are doing our best here to make up the time loss due to the epidemic. We will keep coordinating with our manufacturer and hopefully we [will be able] to update you in our next post about how long it will delay the shipping. Stay healthy, my friends.”

Even creators who make their products in other countries can be affected if they use parts or materials from China. Eric Fox, of the legendary synthesizer company Buchla, wrote in an update on February 13 that its manufacturer in San Francisco was waiting on electrical components from Asia.

Buchla's synthesizers are made in the Bay Area but use parts sourced from China
Buchla’s synthesizers are made in the Bay Area but use parts sourced from China

Many updates share the good news that factories are starting to reopen—but getting back to full capacity will take time. In a February 19 update, the makers of Woojer Edge, a kind of wearable subwoofer, told backers:

“Employees are starting to gradually return back to work from their hometown, but are obliged to [undergo] a 14-day self-isolation before getting back to the production line. The factory estimates they will operate at approximately 30% capacity by the end of the month. The factory also faces a huge amount of backorders and will do their best to work through the backlog.”

While a lot of reporting on the coronavirus’s economic impact has focused on the tech sector, creators work with factories in China to realize all kinds of projects. We’ve seen virus-related updates from creators making home products, tabletop games, enamel pins, comic books, clothing, stuffed animals, and even tarot cards.

One consistent theme in these updates is creators expressing their understanding and appreciation that factory owners are taking precautions to keep their employees safe.

Twenty One Toys makes games that aim to help players develop empathy and resilience in the face of failure. So it’s no surprise that their February 24 update addressing the coronavirus kept things in perspective:

“We have hit a bit of a hiccup in terms of toy production… The wonderful Taiwanese family business that we work with to make all of our Empathy and Failure Toys is based in China and has let us know that they are keeping the factory partly closed right now to ensure that their team and their families are staying healthy. We’re really happy to hear that they are all okay, and we’re hoping that the factory will reopen soon.”

Making a complex product often involves working with multiple partners and devoting significant time and resources to developing custom manufacturing equipment and processes. For most teams, it’s not realistic to come up with a plan B when unforeseen circumstances delay production. But some creators, particularly those doing smaller product runs, are looking for alternative solutions.

Relio's modular photo lighting
Relio’s modular photo lighting

The northern Italian startup Relio makes modular lighting for photographers. As the coronavirus spread to that region, they anticipated a slowdown in manufacturing and mapped out a way to keep production going:

“We decided to bring all the 3D printing of Relio accessories and shapers in-house. So, if factories or suppliers will be forced to close for some time, Relio production will keep going! We ordered four high-grade 3D printers (made in EU) that are now being assembled by the manufacturer and will be delivered to us in one to two weeks. Then, we will immediately set up an in-house ‘printing farm’ and we will start printing without the need to rely on any external company. Just in case.”

Backers often ask whether there’s any risk of contracting the virus from packages shipped from China. In response, creators have been sharing resources like this NPR report and the CDC’s coronavirus FAQ, which notes that “because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures.”

Australia-based Espresso Displays posted a detailed update on February 21 from mechanical engineer Will Scuderi, who has been working in Shenzhen, the Chinese manufacturing hub:

“As I decided to stay in Shenzhen during this time, I’ve been able to see the precautions here that have been set in place to lower the impact of the spread of the virus. For example, in my apartment building, no one can leave or enter without having their temperature checked (photo of me getting scanned on the way to lunch), and to touch the elevator buttons, you need to use a tissue from a tissue box that has been mounted to the wall!

Will Scuderi of Espresso Displays gets a temperature check
Will Scuderi of Espresso Displays gets a temperature check

“Things like this give me confidence that we will be returning to normal soon. But it is important to remember [that] the safety of our team and of all the hundreds of people involved in making your Espresso Displays comes first.
I decided to stay in Shenzhen [at] this time so that the day that our suppliers reopened their doors, I could be there to finish off the final pre-production unit of the display. This means that we’ll be back on track soon to [get]getting your displays into your hands.
I was also very aware of the risks associated with remaining in China during this time and made the appropriate personal decision that where I was located was safe to stay. Where I am, in the province of Guangdong, there has only been one death from the coronavirus.

“Your displays’ components and accessories come from many different suppliers, and this means they don’t all start back at the same time. For example, the factory that your Espresso Displays’ speakers come from have already reopened and production has commenced, but the factory where the LED panel gets mounted onto the touch panel is still waiting to reopen.
Had things gone as normal, we would have been very close to delivering on our promised timeline of shipping out the first units by the end of February. This delay is unfortunate to all of you waiting for your displays, but I know we have your support through this period and we can’t wait to get back on track and show you that first production unit!”

The replies from Espresso Displays’ backers express a common sentiment:

“Please stay safe. Of all the reasons for items to be delayed, this is most certainly the most understandable!”

“Please do not put your health and well-being at risk. I, for one, will be prepared to accept a delay in shipment. Totally understandable and excusable!”

“Your passion is exemplary! Thank you for putting all this effort [into] this beautiful project and keep yourself and your team safe. We can wait.”

This has been the response to most of these project updates about virus-related delays. As excited as people are to see the projects they’ve backed come to fruition, there’s a shared understanding that supporting creators right now means being patient. And while they wait, backers are getting a unique perspective on the crisis through these firsthand accounts.