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Friday 19 July 2019
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A Kickstarter in the behind

Mark Lyndersay
Mark Lyndersay

BitDepth#1204

There have been some really great items available on Kickstarter and its competitor, IndieGoGo, and I’ve put money behind several of them.

Understand, though, that you aren’t, strictly speaking, buying something when you back a project on these crowdfunding sites.

A backer is taking a venture capital risk; albeit one that’s softened by the hurdles that a project must cross before collecting any money. The crowdfunding website holds the cash in escrow until the campaign’s success and the project’s managers demonstrate capacity to produce.

Despite that, there are failures and people lose money on projects that go wrong because crowdfunding is big business.

Kickstarter’s own published statistics note that it has received, at this writing, more than US$4 billion from more than 16 million backers, five million of whom are repeat backers.

In 2015, Kickstarter produced a study by Prof Ethan Mollick of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (http://ow.ly/ZCx130p3ahd) that examined project failures.

Among Mollick’s findings: nine per cent of Kickstarter projects failed to deliver rewards and seven per cent of backers failed to receive their chosen reward.

I’m a seven percenter.

I’ve backed 11 projects on Kickstarter, an eclectic mix of electronic gear, comics, books and manly accessories, ranging in price from US$484 to $9.

I’ve only completely failed to receive one, which puts me in line with Mollick’s prediction that repeat backers will experience one complete project failure out of every ten projects they fund.

That project was Andromium’s Superbook, which seemed, in 2016, to be an awesome idea. I wrote about it enthusiastically in January 2017 (http://ow.ly/ogGZ30p3aPW). The device was essentially an 11-inch Macbook Air that used a phone as its CPU. I envisioned it as the perfect device for writing on location, particularly in reporting environments.

That didn’t happen.

Andromium asked for US$50,000 to produce the Superbook. They had raised $2.9 million when the Kickstarter campaign was over on August 20, 2016.

Then the 16,732 backers waited. And waited. And waited.

The first notice of a production issue came more than a year later, on November 29, 2017. There were cheerful backer updates on a monthly basis until then, but a USB hub problem had created issues with the hardware.

The last official update from Andromium was posted on October 19, 2018, and noted that 65 per cent of North American product was shipping from their fulfilment facility.

Unfortunately, the world was changing around Andromium. Smartphone screens were getting larger, crisper and more colour-accurate.

A new generation of nearly full-sized foldable Bluetooth keyboards were appearing that were excellent for full-speed typing, at a third of the Superbook’s $99 price point.

Production issues and delays kept piling up.

Andromium created a Slack channel to keep a conversation going and occasionally posted a note on the lively comments section of its Kickstarter project, where a huge majority of the 13,070 comments are ferally negative.

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever go top-of-the-line with another Kickstarter project again, though I spent less than many who also got nothing, and I’d had a history of successful crowdfunding project delivery before the Superbook.

Someday, a Superbook might show up at my shipper. I wouldn’t know what to do with it now. Other technologies have replaced it, and the device is in that strange limbo between great idea and outdated implementation that can destroy products that take too long to get off the drawing board in a globalised world of rapid prototyping and high-speed production.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there.

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