A number of months back, some of you may recall a surge of Internet buzz surrounding the LH Labs Geek Out—a small, but powerful and very high-quality USB-powered, dongle-type headphone amp/DAC. Part of what drew attention was not just the performance and technology on offer in the Geek Out, but rather the fact that it was one of the first products of its kind ever to have its development guided and funded entirely by a crowdsourcing process. For those not familiar with crowdsourcing, a bit of background is definitely in order.
Crowdsourcing enables companies such as LH Labs to offer previews of prospective products and to solicit investments/pre-orders from customers whose investments will be used to subsidize development costs for the products on offer. But a secondary, though no less important, factor is that those same investor/buyers are not only asked for pre-orders to help fund product development, but also asked for their specific input on the design of the proposed product. The implications of crowdsourcing are huge.
First, crowdsourcing means that firms like LH Labs can afford to hire development team members and then to create and launch new products without seeking investment from venture capitalists. Second, it means that LH Labs’ investors are customers who have a strong vested interest in seeing their new products turn out well. Third, it means that—in theory at least—the finalised product will be highly responsive to customer’s explicitly stated desires for specific product features, functions, and benefits. So, LH Labs gets to build a product portfolio (and production economies of scale) using third-party investment funds, while investor/buyers get cool products shaped in response to their stated desires. It all sounds pretty much like a win/win scenario doesn’t it? And, in many respects it is.