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Designers iPod dock gets a charge from Kickstarter

Hopkins breaks the crowdfunding site's $1 million barrier
by: Nick Fochtman 
Casey Hopkins is competing with one of the world’s largest corporations—Apple—after raising nearly $1.5 million on Kickstarter to launch his business making docks for iPhones.

Kickstarter's biggest success story so far comes from Portland.

Casey Hopkins, who owns a small design business called Elevation Lab, set out to build a better mousetrap than Apple, and appears to have succeeded.

Kickstarter helps artists and budding entrepreneurs raise money for their projects over the internet.

In December, the Laurelhurst resident put out the word on Kickstarter that he wanted to raise $75,000 to produce his own dock for Apple's iPhone. Apple's dock - a small countertop device used to charge the smart phones and 'sync' data to other computers - is cumbersome and doesn't work with the case on, Hopkins says. When he concocted his own, many friends and acquaintances asked if he'd make them one, too.

So did thousands of Kickstarter contributors once they saw Hopkins' video. He doubled his funding target in less than 24 hours and raised nearly $1.5 million by the time the funding deadline closed in mid-February.

Both results shattered previous records for the company, which was founded in 2009.

Once the money arrives, which Hopkins expects will be in less than two weeks, he has to gear up a local manufacturing operation in short order.

'We have 15,000 of them to make,' Hopkins says, just from Kickstarter contributors. 'We just ordered 30,000 pounds of aluminum.'

Hopkins previously designed bicycles and the original Klean Kanteen aluminum water bottle, among others. Now his two-person company is in a new league, and must ramp up quickly.

Hopkins expects to do most of the manufacturing, assembly and shipping in Portland, and hopes to ship his first orders in April. If he hadn't used Kickstarter, Hopkins figures he would have had to raise $150,000 in startup capital, no easy task.

'That's the beauty of crowdfunding,' Hopkins says. 'I see opportunities always to design better products and bring it to market. It's such a hurdle to do it traditionally because the upfront costs are so expensive.'

A flurry of publicity generated requests from distributors around the world to carry the iPhone docks once they're ready. 'We're also getting an explosion of people asking us to do product designs for them,' Hopkins says.

He contacted Apple early on about his idea, but the company didn't seem interested, he says. 'Not too many products ever challenge an Apple design, because Apple usually sets the standard,' he adds.

Apparently not in this case.