Made in Houston

Stop Hating on This Awesome Copper Sphere, Internet

A simple idea from a Houston-area entrepreneur has become a runaway Kickstarter success.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen May 6, 2016

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Love it or hate it, this $70 copper desk accessory is a Kickstarter hit.

Not for the first time, I'm going to go out on a limb and disagree with the Internet. This week I was directed to a Kickstarter started by Spring entrepreneur Rudy Marsh. His idea? A perfect one-pound sphere of copper, dubbed the Trance Sphere and designed to be a stunning desk accessory. Twitter's reaction? How dare you.

"When I was younger my dad had melted down a bunch of copper wire into a ball. My mom recently passed away, and it reminded me of my childhood—that's how I came up with the idea. It's basically a giant ball bearing," says Marsh.

Hecklers soon noted that Marsh was selling a pound of copper for $79 (the starting backer price) when the commodities price for the same amount was a little over $2. That didn't stop the Kickstarter community from falling in love: Marsh had his original $5,000 fully funded in under an hour—56 minutes to be exact. He's now got 1,425 backers who have pledged $170,090 (as of the time of this article) with 13 days left to go in the cycle. 

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The entire ball is worth greater than the sum of its parts.

Plus, it should be noted that never has a design object been priced based purely on the cost of the materials. No one walks into Design Within Reach and demands to purchase a Barcelona chair based on the price of the leather and steel. Or, as Marsh puts it, "You don't value a Rolex by the cost of the metal." Marsh says the biggest driver of the price is the labor-intensive process of carving a perfectly smooth, ball-bearing-quality sphere from a copper bar using a radial bar lathe.

This is Marsh's third Kickstarter success story—in 2014 he came up with a design-forward hourglass he named the Esington Glass, which he used and marketed as a productivity tool. Tiny steel nanospheres take 25 minutes to fall through the hourglass, the perfect amount of time (according to Marsh) to encourage in-depth focus before taking a break when time is up. That project won 2,292 backers pledging $196,560 to make it happen. His follow-up, a newfangled notebook, was funded in under a day but left some underwhelmed. Both products experienced delayed deliveries—that's what happens when you anticipate making several dozen of something and end up with several thousand orders—but Marsh sees the entire thing as an opportunity to learn about different facets of business and manufacturing.

"I wouldn't call myself a natural entrepreneur. I'm using [Kickstarter] as a learning process. It's good for that, and it has a really enthusiastic crowd that gives immediate feedback. It's been extremely educational just being able to ask 1,000 people 'Is this a good idea or not?'" says Marsh.

He says he has a list of about 100 ideas he wants to put on Kickstarter, but for now he's taking them one at a time while keeping his day job. "It's just really what I think people might like and what I think I'll learn the most from," Marsh says. "People have told me to focus on one thing, but I'm too scatterbrained."

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