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Kickstarter is a perfect example of how the Internet has enabled inventors and entrepreneurs to reach potential consumers directly. However, like any tool, Kickstarter should be part of a business plan, not the entire plan.

When Kickstarter launched in Canada in September 2013, the Nix Color Sensor was one of the first projects to be backed on the crowdfunding platform, raising $70,000 worldwide.

The Nix Color Sensor is a real-life eyedropper tool that will scan any surface and send accurate colour information to a smartphone app. The sensor itself is smaller, more economical and user-friendly than fan decks, paint chips or existing colour sensors (which typically retail for thousands of dollars).

Our success on Kickstarter two years ago has helped us build a sustainable company that creates custom colour management solutions for clients in many industries, including food and agriculture, textiles, interior paints and graphic design.

This was not by accident; in the early stages of our business, we used Kickstarter as a market validation tool, user focus group and marketing vehicle, which set us up for sustainable growth.

After developing a minimum viable product, the question that should be at the top of any entrepreneur's mind is, "Will people buy this?" This is a question that only the market can answer; asking people you know if they would buy something is very different from asking strangers to actually make a purchase. Kickstarter is the perfect way to answer this question without having to spend capital to develop an inventory. After raising our $70,000 from backers across the globe, we knew there was a market ready and willing to spend actual money on a handheld colour sensor.

With an initial customer base comes the opportunity to receive feedback on the device; after fulfilling our Kickstarter orders, we personally emailed every backer to get their detailed thoughts on all aspects of the Nix Color Sensor.

We then developed a second version of the product called the Nix Pro, with completely redesigned hardware and software based on the feedback we received. We also connected with professionals in many colour-reliant industries who shared unexpected ideas, use cases, and knowledge on everything from special effects to meat science.

Aside from being a validation tool and a source of early customers, Kickstarter was an excellent way to begin conversations with media about our business. We were featured in global media, covered in tech blogs and reviewed by colour experts, all of which helped our earliest industrial customers find us and built our reputation in the colour industry.

All these things – market validation, product knowledge and media traction – are incredibly important when raising capital from angel investors or venture capitalists. Our second round of funding, led by the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, just closed at $840,000.

Potato salads worth $50,000 notwithstanding, Kickstarter is not a silver bullet or a recipe for easy success. However, when used to validate your product and gain early traction, you can grow your business quickly, provided you are user-focused and proactive.

Zachary Strong is the director of business development for Nix Sensor Ltd., a Hamilton, Ont.-based startup that makes handheld colour sensing technology and custom colour management solutions.

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