However, a simple yet sleek silicone wristband called gokey, which conveniently conceals a runner’s house key when they are on the go, is soon to be shipped – through the help of Kickstarter and the US$10 000 that was ‘crowd funded’ in order to get it into production.

Founded in 2008 and based in New York, Kickstarter is now a well-known online platform where owners can showcase their creative projects, from films and novels to computer games and technology products, in the hope of getting them – as the name suggests – kick-started.

They set a target minimum of funds that need to be raised and the general public then have a certain amount of time, usually 30 to 40 days, to pledge money. In most instances, this means that they are pre-ordering one or many products, depending on how much they wish to pledge. As of April 2012, Kickstarter has had more than $175 million dollars pledged and more than 20 000 successfully funded projects. 

It is an all-or-nothing funding method where projects must be fully-funded before the end of the set time or no money changes hands. If the project reaches its minimum, the owners get the money with 5 per cent of the funds raised taken away by Kickstarter and an additional 3 to 5 per cent taken from the Amazon payments account. In the case of gokey, a target of US$10 000 needed to be raised in 40 days. Before the time expired, 371 backers had pledged $13 171 through amounts ranging from US$5 to US$1000.

“Kickstarter is certainly more accessible than approaching a bank for a loan,” says Cristina Cook, co-creator of the gokey. “It also removes a lot of the uncertainties that come later with bank loans (like interest) in favour of a fee straight off the top of any funds raised. Additionally, it has the benefit of allowing you to retain full ownership and control of your company and concept, which is not always the case with other investment methods.

“Kickstarter also has a pretty well-established customer base, so it allowed us to gain exposure to audiences we would not have reached otherwise,” she adds.

Cook and fellow co-creator Francesca Passoni are two masters students of human-centred design and strategy at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. They had partnered up for the gokey project and their idea was born out of their thinking around functional jewellery. They had been looking at how jewellery could serve a purpose – and fitness, particularly running, kept coming up in their discussions.

“As we discussed running we thought about our own pain points. Why do we run and what are we are trying to achieve by running? What gets in the way? We had several anecdotes from our own experiences and from our friends that were quite compelling, which gave us a great starting point. This overwhelming concern with the possibility of losing your key came up again and again,” comments Cook.

As they discovered, runners keep their key in a variety of places, including the built-in pocket of their running shorts, tied to a shoe lace, tucked in their bra, hidden under the doormat or in a pot plant, or even just held in their hand.

Following the pair’s research, they kicked off the design process by creating sketches and rough prototypes simultaneously. The first prototype was a proof of concept that was shown to their professors as well as other designers and non-designers. The feedback was very positive and this made them decide to continue with the intention of bringing the product to market.

However, although their goal was to create a functional product, they also wanted it to be desirable. With Passoni being a native Italian and Cook referring to herself as a “mezza Italiana” they both love beautiful, functional design. “Our Italian blood means that we value the beauty of design. We believe form and function can work together to make a great object,” says Passoni.

The plan was to use Kickstarter in order to raise funding for gokey’s production, but before they could do that, they needed to refine their prototype. “Fairly early on we reached a fork in the development road. We had to make a crucial design decision on whether or not gokey should have a permanent, incorporated key blank or be a shell that any key could fit into. Both routes have their challenges, but as we knew at that point that our goal was to launch on Kickstarter, we weighed the challenges of manufacturing and fulfilment and decided to follow the flexible sheath path,” says Cook.

Having made that decision, they then iterated on different concepts that either exposed or concealed the key. They chose to conceal it. They had also chosen to use silicone rubber. “The now ubiquitous LiveStrong band that gave way to the plethora of silicone wristbands was certainly an inspiration. These wristbands are an interesting statement that many people chose to wear one day and seldom take off,” comments Cook.

In fact, the first prototype was actually made with just such a modified silicone wristband. “We chose a similar silicone compound for our product because it offers us flexibility, durability, wear and sweat resistance. The flexibility is important for allowing easy insertion of the key to the bracelet, while maintaining a secure friction fit for the closure,” says Passoni.

The closure of gokey is one of its most interesting features. The key itself acts as the locking mechanism with the friction between the metal of the key and the silicone of the bracelet creating a secure connection.

However, most people they described the prototype to were sceptical as to whether this closure was secure enough. This then led them to create a secondary closure button using the ‘o’ of the ‘go’ logo on top of the bracelet. “The button closure has prongs that correspond to holes on the other half of the wristband. The prongs are a friction fit to these holes, doubly securing gokey’s closure,” describes Cook.

“We had many discussions in terms of branding and through a conversation with one of our professors we came to the idea of incorporating the ‘go’ across the clasp, so that when the word is completed and the band closed, the user is good to go,” adds Passoni.

They also tested a wide variety of keys and as a result designed the cavity to fit 90 per cent of US house keys. In other words, a key that is up to 2.25 inches long and with a head size of 1 inch across (5.7 x 2.5 cm).

Following the creation of a number of high-fidelity prototypes, the pair rapid prototyped some moulds and cast the silicone themselves. This helped them test more precisely the tapers and thicknesses that vary throughout the design.

Once satisfied, they then outsourced the production of the alpha prototypes to a factory in China where they were injection moulded. Minor adjustments were then made to tolerances and radii in order to tighten up the design. “The button closure offered additional benefits which were not apparent before getting the alpha prototype created. For instance, the ‘o’ can be used to help pull the wristband closed and it can also be used to hang the gokey up when it is not in use,” says Passoni.

With the prototypes photographed and a video produced demonstrating gokey in use, it was time to set up a project page on Kickstarter. They had 40 days to raise the $10 000 that would help to pay for the tooling of the moulds and casting of the product, as well as incidentals such as packaging and shipping.

If successful, they decided that the initial production run would consist of three sizes and two colours – blue and red. “We wanted to start small to make sure we would have a smooth fulfilment process,” explains Cook. “This also allows us to concentrate on building the relationship with our manufacturers so that future extensions can happen quickly and smoothly.”

On 14 May of this year, 40 days after the project was first put on Kickstarter, it ended and had managed to overshoot its target by $3171. Although many pledgers were from the USA, there were also a number of backers from further afield. “Because Francesca is a native Italian, we suspected we would have fair coverage in Italy but it has been great to see it spread past that. We are thrilled to have gokey all over the world and we hope that enthusiastic backers will help it continue to grow to new customers,” says Cook.

Kickstarter has been very worthwhile for gokey’s creators. “There is currently no other funding platform that has the same kind of spread or exposure that Kickstarter has. It is a really great marketing tool for small start-ups since you can reach so many different kinds of people in one push,” says Cook.

“But I do think that Kickstarter is on the verge of having too many projects on the site. At some point it becomes difficult to find projects that aren’t fortunate enough to get picked up by the blog community,” she adds.

The plan now is to expand gokey beyond just being seen as a running accessory. There are many potential users, including those who go to the gym, who bike, swim or even take their dog for a walk. “We do have plans to market more directly to other user groups and markets and highlight the use cases for them as well,” comments Passoni. “We also foresee a children’s version and many other colour options in the not-too-distant future.”

It’s all systems go at gokey with the first batch of products shipping in July. “We are very excited by the response to gokey and its success and can’t wait to see where this journey takes us,” smiles Cook. 

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