Ryon Lane wanted to run to yoga class. There was just one problem with that plan: his mat. A three-mile jog with a rolled-up piece of rubber resting on his shoulder wasn't particularly appealing. So the Washington lawyer hopped online to shop for a mat he could fold up and stash in a backpack.
Lane couldn't find one, which is why people searching for a similar product today are stumbling across his Kickstarter campaign for the YogoMat. The lightweight design — with attached straps that allow for easy cleaning and drying in the shower — was something the 36-year-old developed for his own practice. When fellow students started asking about where they could buy one, Lane realized he had a business plan.
By May 20, when he'd persuaded 648 people to pledge more than $34,000 toward the project, Lane also had a business.
Crowdfunding, a concept that's recently been popularized by sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, allows people to take their ideas directly to the public for the cash to make them happen. In many cases, campaigns return the money to donors if they can't get the idea off the ground. But if they do, folks who give money usually get something in return — often a discounted version of whatever the project creates.
In the case of several Washington-based crowdfunding projects, funders are finding their real reward is a better fitness routine.
Another recent successful Kickstarter campaign got its start when Debra Zusin, also a Washington lawyer, signed up for Capital Bikeshare. There was a rack right outside her apartment and another outside her office. Riding one of the red cruisers seemed convenient until she arrived at work not feeling professional at all.
"I had four bags with me and a helmet hanging off my arm," says Zusin, 31, who joined forces with her friend Mariana Chambers, 31, to create a line of luxury bike bags that look professional but have compartments to hold helmets, shoes and anything else necessary for a ride.
After topping their target on Kickstarter last summer, Zusin and Chambers were able to distribute the bags to backers. And now, their company GiveLoveCycle is busily stocking its merchandise in shops in New York and Australia as well as here in Washington (at the Daily Rider and BicycleSPACE).
Maybe some of the same stores will soon be carrying the Milestone Pod, which raised $23,000 through Indiegogo earlier this year. Co-founder Jason Kaplan, who lives in Clarksville, Md., teamed up with two pals in Israel to come up with a tiny tracker that runners attach to their shoelaces to keep tabs on their mileage.
"It was a pretty straightforward problem we could address: How do I know when to change shoes? This product tells you that," says Kaplan, who says it's hard for him to remember how long he's been wearing one pair or another for training. The pod can also be plugged into a computer and programmed with emergency information, such as blood type and allergies.
Seems like a good deal for $15, which is what backers ponied up for one of the first devices. Anyone counting on getting the pod in May, when delivery was originally scheduled, however, will have to wait a few more months. There's a battery-life issue that needs to be resolved.
If your fitness plans have similarly stalled, there's a crowdfunding project for that, too. C.J. Cross, a 31-year-old personal trainer in Arlington, Virginia, has started developing the FitBase, a searchable compendium of the Washington area's exercise facilities. People looking for classes or trainers can quickly find what's near them and compare services, or they can connect with a fitness expert online or over the phone to walk them through the options.
"Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to get to the gym and walk through that door," says Cross, who's hoping to get backers for his vision through his Indiegogo campaign for FitDC, which ends Friday.
Despite selling a few folks on the chance to make Cross do burpees for $2 each and on $25 workouts with the FitBase team, the project is still nowhere near the $50,000 goal. That doesn't mean it won't still get off the ground, Cross says. He still plans to go forward with the company, which he hopes to launch in other cities after establishing a presence in Washington. The FitBase is hosting a workout party in Washington on June 13 and will be venturing into online deals within the next two months.
Other projects couldn't have gone forward without crowdfunding. Lane, for instance, says that as a single dad faced with law school loans, he would have found it daunting to pour his own money into the YogoMat project. And for Zusin and Chambers, the influx of cash covered production of the bags, which was the most expensive aspect of starting their business.
But the financial support wasn't nearly as critical to Kaplan, who says he and his partners were looking more for feedback and a push to go forward.
"When you say something on Indiegogo, it forces your hand. I liked creating that urgency for ourselves," Kaplan says.
Just like in a race, picking up the pace is easier when there's a crowd cheering you on.
Hallett edits the Fit section of The Washington Post's Express.