Small batch manufacturing question


I’ve mainly lived in the online world where everything is easy, apart from a couple of printing projects I did where I had to buy a big printer and ship hundreds of prints.

I’ve been investigating for a while a small project - a bicycle light - which I prototyped with simple electronics and 3d printing.

I have two basic questions:

  1. It seems like there’s a gap - a canyon - in between 3d printing and manufacturing. You can 3d print for <$400 these days but then there’s this giant leap from there to plastic molding where you need $15k per mold and you probably need 2+ molds. (In my case its doubly annoying as small batch transparent things are very hard (e.g. the clear part of a bike light) and you have to find a way to get a transparent mold done). Is this basically right?
  2. It’s possible to find kickstarters - including bike lights - that are for like $10k and succeed and ship, yet they clearly used molds. I don’t understand the economics. How is their minimum not more like $50k? You need cash for molds, shipping, design etc etc. Are these guys just taking a hit, or doing publicity, or do they have some secret way of making molds cheaper or something?

As an aside I’ve started to see 3d printed parts in consumer-ish goods. My SO bought something a while ago (cant remember what) that you could see was part FDM printed.