Some makers are inspired by public figures, or a perceived gap in the marketplace. Others, like Duncan McCloud Frazier and Steve McGuigan, were inspired by sleep.
The two co-founded Bitbanger Labs in 2011, a small Brooklyn-based business that created a niche technology product that can enhance your ability to perceive dreams. The company began drawing public attention in 2012, when they exeeded their Kickstarter campaign goal and raised $570,000 to make their Remee mask.
The sleeping mask flashes six red LEDs into a sleeper's eyes. The lights are then programmed to flash during an REM cycle, which is when you're most likely to be dreaming. The stimulation isn't strong enough to wake a sleeper up completely, but it's theoretically sufficient to alert someone to the fact that they're dreaming.
Presently, the mask retails for $95, which includes shipping costs. For reference, a similar product on the market, made of foam and fabric, can go for around $20.
"That's just Remee's shell," McGuigan explains. The mask also includes a 'razor-thin' circuit to deliver light patterns.
Naturally, the two founders have long-identified themselves as "experts of dream control." (You may have heard of this concept as "lucid dreaming.")
"During a lucid dream, a person experiences the same kind of dream world -- with all of its richness and detail -- but somehow becomes aware that it's not reality," explains Susana Martinez-Conde, a neuroscientist and professor at the State University of New York. In theory, some people may then be able to consciously manipulate their dreams.
The notion of lucid dreaming has existed for thousands of years, but it wasn't popularized until late twentieth century. "In a sense, all of us experience hallucinations when what we perceive is vastly different from reality. This happens every night...when we go to sleep," adds Martinez-Conde.
"Before Remee, it was sort of this thing that wasn't all that well-known, outside of a small community of lucid dreamers on the internet," McGuigan explained about the marketing process. To get the product name out there, he decided to educate the public about the concept.
On a personal note, he says he used "lucid dreams" as a way to conquer his fear of public speaking. "You don't have to go far to find someone who has used lucid dreaming to conquer recurring nightmares, access their creative side, or even as alternate means of meditation and self-therapy," he adds.
The obvious question, of course, is whether or not the mask actually works.
Martinez-Conde says it could, in theory, but she sees some limitations. "For people who have a facility to having lucid dreams, having this additional tool is probably going to make them develop the skill a little better. For somebody who has never had a lucid dream, I don't know."
Regardless, Bitbanger has achieved some success over the past four years. Frazier and McGuigan claim to have increased sales by about $3 million since 2012. Just this summer, they moved from a scrappy, 400-square foot basement into a bonafide, 2,000 square-foot office in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In 2013, Bitbanger launched a second product, the pixelstick. The device is use for light painting, a photographic technique which amplifies image exposure.
Though the company has experienced its own set of supply chain issues, in true maker fashion, they say they've grown from each problem. For instance, 10 weeks before the first ship date of the pixelstick, a microchip went "mysteriously out of stock on planet earth," and the team had to swiftly re-design their code, and switch to a different chip.
To this day, Bitbanger remains a company of two, and that's exactly what it attributes its success to.
"We've tried to maintain our focus on staying as lean as possible," McGuigan says. "A lot of Kickstarters try to go too quickly. The product will come to market and it disappoints, and you're not able to re-convene."
The two have also saved up a considerable amount of their early funding, as "padding" for if (and when) something else goes wrong.