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Case Study

Light raised $3.5M for Light Phone II, a phone that respects you

There’s a revolution against screen time. More and more people are rebelling against their addictive, distracting smartphones, and they want an alternative that will bring a little more focus, clarity, and calm into their lives.
Enter: Light Phone, an e-ink display phone that’s been stripped down to the essentials. But when you’re building a phone that goes against the mainstream, you need to fund it in a way that bucks conventions as much as your product. Light Phone became a crowdfunding success story, raising over $3.5 million.

Learn more about crowdfunding
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A phone that doesn’t rob your time

The Light Phone was created with the premise that phones are tools, not toys. Founders Kaiwei Tang and Joe Hollier found themselves increasingly frustrated and appalled at how much time their phones were sucking out of their lives. The pair met at a Google experimental program in 2014, where they learned how to make mobile applications. 


The problem was, they were also learning how to make apps that were “sticky” — that encouraged users to keep using them, over and over, for long periods of time. After all, that was the way an app was considered successful. The longer someone used an app, the more revenue an app could make through advertising.


“The more we dove into it, the more we realized that developers were bragging about how much time the average user was spending in their app,” says Tang. “We told ourselves that was the last thing society needed from us. If you have an advertisement business model, you’ll never get away from that.”

Early users that were inspired to take a break

The team wanted to make a device that encouraged a different way of interacting with technology. “We wanted to make something that inspired you to take a break,” says Tang. “You used to sit at a computer, take care of your digital experience, and then get back to your real life. But we don’t have that anymore. Now, you have a mini computer with you at all times.”


Their first product, the original Light Phone, was a device that only made phone calls. It was intended to be a secondary phone — something that a user could take with them on their lunch break so they wouldn’t need to have a smartphone with them at all times. 


“Almost everyone who had one said they loved having extra time. They noticed details, went to museums, remembered things better,” says Tang. “It encouraged us to move forward. It made us realize that people are craving for an escape. Smartphones cause too much envy and too much stress.”

Finding an audience for the Light Phone II

Last year, the Light Phone team decided to run a crowdfunding campaign for a second phone: the Light Phone II. The second iteration of the Light Phone was designed with a few more features than the original — it includes messaging, alarm clock, music player, calculator. The team also has a plan to release additional software tools to make it easier to ditch a smartphone more often. Or, potentially, say “sayonara” to smartphones for good.


“We made a device that we wanted ourselves,” says Tang. “Typical smartphones have a hidden model that tries to tempt you to stay in. Instead, our team wanted to make something that would do one thing well, and that you could then put down.”


But getting people to put down their smartphones can be a challenge. The team knew that crowdfunding was the answer for convincing users, getting feedback, and going around typical funding routes. 

"Crowdfunding is a no-brainer"

“If you already have funding from investors, or don’t need funding, then crowdfunding might not be necessary for you” says Tang. “But for us, for something so against the mainstream, it was really important to get people behind us and show how many people are craving escape and looking for an option.” 


“Crowdfunding is a no-brainer for us and it’s working well for us. Indiegogo has a really solid hardcore community,” continues Tang. “The market trends have helped us as well. More people have realized their personal data is valuable, that social media is manipulating our feelings in politics, and that it eliminates our empathy because we aren’t exposed to other viewpoints.”


“Five years ago people said, ‘What’s the point of Light Phone? Why? I love my smartphone.’ That’s changed.”

Finding success with Indiegogo

That change translated into a huge crowdfunding success on Indiegogo for the Light Phone II. The team raised $3.5M, giving them a push to put Light Phone II into production and prove that there’s a market for a lightweight alternative to smartphones — a “an essentials phone,” as Tang calls it.


And it’s not just every day users that see the value of Light Phone. The device has gained the enthusiastic support of Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, which helped the team get additional exposure. “We have a lot of organic endorsements from influencers and celebrities,” says Tang. “Aaron Paul helped us quite a lot. He has a Light Phone. And when we started our Indiegogo campaign for Light Phone II, he was the first one to tweet about us. It got us a lot of traction.”


Their crowdfunding campaign paved the way for their business to find an audience and expand their options going forward. It helped them prove that people really do crave an “essentials phone.”  “We did crowdfunding to get money to get the first Light Phone II built and to sustain our own operation. But we know that we’ll need additional funding sources to make such a complicated consumer device,” says Tang. “Our Indiegogo campaign was about gaining traction, getting media attention, and courting initial users. Those things lead us to institutional investors. For us, crowdfunding was a channel for us to do outreach as proof of market fit and have traction that we can show our investors to prove that people want a product like this.”

Life after the campaign

The Indiegogo campaign for the Light Phone II may have ended, but the team is still working with backers to foster community and keep their supporters happy. “Our backers didn’t go away just because the campaign ended, so we’re still actively answering questions, doing Q&A surveys, and working with our early adopters,” says Tang. 


They’re also working with backers to get feedback to improve Light Phone II and make it the tool their users need. “We spend a lot of time going back and forth with our hardcore users on what tools are essential and finding out whether they’re happy. They’re become a very essential customer group that’s giving us feedback. They’re the people that help make this happen.” 


From here, they’re working on how to build lightweight versions of new tools by working with partners. “We’re working on collaborating with other companies from different industries, like Spotify and Lyft. And none of that would have been possible without Indiegogo. Indiegogo was the platform that kicked all of this off.”


And their success continues to grow: Fast Company named Light Phone II one of the most innovative designs of 2020


Tang and his team are working on expanding their vision and making the world calmer and more focused with Light Phone. “People resonate with what we’re trying to do. It’s one of the key factors in our campaign success,” he says. “Our next goal? It’s simple: Get more people to try Light Phone.”

Learn the story behind Indiegogo campaigns

Want to hear more about Light Phone’s crowdfunding journey? Watch their Indiegogo Virtual Hangout to learn from their CEO. You can stay up to date on all of our upcoming Virtual Hangouts by checking out our schedule.

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