Red Bull Drops $20 K. on iPhone Air Guitar Pick in Failed Attempt to Make Largest Single Donation Ever

Rock out with your phone out.

UPDATE: We thought Red Bull was claiming its donation was the largest ever; actually the project creators came up with that tagline. Co-founder Ronald Mannak: “We exchanged emails with Fred Benenson at Kickstarter to give him a heads up that Red Bull was about to what we assumed to be the biggest Kickstarter donation ever. Since Fred didn’t correct us, I (not Red Bull) decided it was safe to claim the biggest single donation ever. Kickstarter hasn’t reached out to us since we announced the Red Bull donation.” Kickstarter told Betabeat it has received larger lump sums before but didn’t cite specifics. Red Bull wanted to make the largest Kickstarter donation ever, but Mr. Benenson declined, saying the company isn’t “currently seeking partnerships,” according to the email exchange Mr. Mannak forwarded to Betabeat.


And yes, this is about an Apple accessory. Red Bull is putting $20,000 toward the Kickstarter campaign for the Air Guitar Move, a motion-sensitive guitar pick that turns your iPhone or iPod Touch into a guitar. The pick comes with a “rhythm action game” and an app that allows for free play, allowing air musicians to instrumentlessly rock out while, weirdly, actually playing music. It’s like Guitar Hero meets Wii Tennis: Hold the iPhone in one hand like a guitar neck and the pick in the other (like a pick), strum the air and headbang accordingly. Congratulations! You’re a nerd.

Just kidding. If it were nerdy, why would it be sponsored by Red Bull, the energy drink that gives you wings, and when combined with vodka achieves the closest non-lethal approximation of 4loko?

Red Bull told the team behind the project that it wanted its $20,000 to be the largest single donation to Kickstarter of all time. Not so, says Kickstarter. “While the average pledge is $71 and the most common pledge is $25, several times a week individual backers will pledge $10,000. While the $20,000 recently pledged to the Air Guitar project was the largest pledge to that project, it was not the largest amount by any single backer since our launch,” Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler relayed via email.

Kickstarter has a donation limit of $10,000, but that’s set by Amazon’s payment processing service, Kickstarter said. “Backers can exceed the single pledge limit by creating more than one account,” Mr. Strickler wrote. “Kickstarter is a platform, and so long as projects honor our rules we do not interfere. Kickstarter doesn’t approve or disapprove these pledges or any others. It’s up to each project how to proceed.”

The Air Guitar Move was created by game developers Ronald Mannak and Colin Karpfinger, who had a launch party for their Kickstarter campaign and have gotten the product into the hands of celebrities including Brandon Boyd of Incubus and Robert Scoble. They just won a $25,000 grand prize at a hackathon this weekend.

In the past, Mr. Karpfinger created a robotic paintball sentry gun that uses live video from an on-board camera to shoot players automatically, as well as Thumbies, an iPhone game controller. Mr. Mannak moved from Holland to San Francisco a year ago, couchsurfing the entire time. Before that he created the V-Beat AirDrums and AirGuitar music toys as well as bChamp Beatbox, a popular iPhone music app that, according to his bio, was endorsed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Red Bull likes gamers and hackers–the company is sponsoring a Halo marathon in Soho as well as a hackathon in July–but the entrepreneurs have Twitter to thank for their good fortune:

We received an unexpected email from Red Bull last week. Red Bull noticed an intriguing tweet about our iPhone Air Guitar (thanks to @jasonzada and @MayorRock for the tweet!), loved our Kickstarter page and reached out to us to ask if we would object if Red Bull made the largest donation ever on Kickstarter. We did not have any objections whatsoever. We are happy to announce that Red Bull is becoming our largest backer, donating $20,000 on Kickstarter, and in return is receiving 512 Air Guitar Moves for the regular price. Red Bull is planning some exciting events with Air Guitar Move in the near future, so keep an eye on the Red Bull site, Facebook page and Twitter account.

The project has raised $29,689 of its $25,000 goal from 148 backers, including Red Bull, with 13 days to go.

The fact that an Apple-associated product set a Kickstarter record has us completely unsurprised. Kickstarter’s most successful project, which raised almost a million dollars, was a set of iPod Nano watches. But this time, Apple’s fan boys had nothing to do with it. It seems likely that Red Bull’s donation could herald the rise of a new breed of Kickstarter superuser: the multi-million dollar corporation. Given Kickstarter’s power to create a loyal community of superfans before a product even exists, we won’t be surprised if more corporations start throwing down on campaigns.

But it takes some of the charm of self-funding away when a corporate donor can max out out a project with a single check. That’s not democratic crowd-funding! It’s corporate sponsorship!

Mr. Strickler’s level-headed reaction to our fears:

“Every week, thousands of backers pledge to the thousands of currently funding projects across Kickstarter; occasionally organizations back projects to support creativity, too. Of the nearly $70M pledged to projects, an infinitesimal fraction of that has come from organizations. They enjoy no preferential treatment from Kickstarter,” Mr. Strickler said, adding that Kickstarter does not allow advertising.

We admit we’re a little worried that corporate interest could be bad for Kickstarter, which was supposed to be the antidote to the monoculture produced when most movies, fashion and music are produced by a small number of risk-averse powerhouses. Massive corporate donations could make smaller donors feel disenfranchised–and if tons of projects start getting co-opted by corporations it could turn the heretofore indie phenomenon into a machine for opportunistic brand-building. Air Guitar Move adapted the logo on its website to include Red Bull’s red bulls; the caption says, “Red Bull Gives Air Guitar Move Wings With Largest Donation on Kickstarter Yet.”

At the same time, a little corporate canoodling is hard to avoid when you reach a certain level of success. If Kickstarter encourages money to flow from corporations into small creative projects, it seems like a good thing. (The world did just get itself a sweet air guitar pick, after all.) Party on, Kickstarter. Red Bull Drops $20 K. on iPhone Air Guitar Pick in Failed Attempt to Make Largest Single Donation Ever