The Dark Side of Kickstarter and Being a First Adopter

The Dark Side of Kickstarter and Being a First Adopter

I’m enthusiastic about technology, especially home automation and personal tracking.  Since 2012 I’ve pre-ordered five items, whether through Kickstarter or from the website.  I’ve been disappointed in nearly all of the cases.

Coin

I backed Coin in 2012.  Coin touts itself as being able to replace all of your credit and debit cards.  I’ve yet to see the product and the last update was in August of 2014 when the company sent a confusing email about something called “Coin Beta”.  I see their site is still active, they are still taking orders, but I consider my investment in this product a lost cause.  Cost: $50.

Ninja Blocks

Home automation!  The ability to write your own code and put together your own system!  So much promise, so little follow through.  I did get my Ninja Block in 2011, but immediately afterwards the company changed focus to the Sphere.  While they didn’t at first discontinue support for the Ninja Block and they assured everyone it would be compatible with the Sphere, not much was done in the form of drivers, etc once focus was diverted to the Sphere.  Current status – see the Ninja Sphere, below.  Cost: $150 (est – can’t find my records).

Ninja Sphere

Ninja SphereI backed the Kickstarter in 2012 and despite extremely poor backer relations, including sporadic update information and hit and miss activity on the forums, I finally received my Sphere in late 2014.  I don’t know what is in the box or whether I received everything promised because the company focused on a iOS mobile app instead of Android, which was useless to me.  I decided to let the box sit unopened, but Ninja advised on the forums that they were shipping only partial orders, so I’m betting I got half of what I paid for.   Last week received notification that the company had run out of money and was shutting down.  Cost: $249

Trackr Bravo

I ordered the Trackr Bravo in October of 2014 from their website.  The website said delivery would start January 7th.  In early January I checked their site and saw no responses from the company on their forums regarding questions for their products.  This despite the company advertising heavily that they were at CES.  They also had ads on Facebook.  After complaints on Twitter I finally received a canned response to a support ticket laying out delivery expectations for all of their products (not just the Trackr Bravo) and saying the Bravo would be starting February 2015.  I was also informed I should check on Kickstarter to get updates.  Note that I didn’t support it on Kickstarter and I didn’t know it was a Kickstarter.  I’d ordered it from their own website!

Finally in March I received a notice that Bravos were shipping!  Yay!  It is now the last week of May and I still haven’t received my Bravo order.  Cost:  Around $100.

Jawbone UP3

Jawbone Up3I pre-ordered the UP3 in October of 2014 from the Jawbone website as an early Christmas present to myself.  The website and my emails said units would ship December 5th.  On December 7th I sent and email inquiring as to the status and received a rather rude email back informing me that December 5th was just the date the units were expected to come from the factory to Jawbone.  I complained on Twitter and about 4 days later I did receive a very nice phone call from Jawbone, apologizing for the email and offering $50 off the UP3 (everyone received this offer).  It was explained that they were having trouble in manufacturing and the products would be shipped after the new year.

The next update was in April and I finally received my UP3 in early May only to find that the features I was most interested – notably the heart rate tracker – was non-existant.  Basically my new UP3 is pretty much like my old Jawbone UP except I can’t wear the UP3 in the shower.  It is wireless, which is nice, and the company has said that the heart rate feature will come in a firmware update.  We’ll see.  Especially since they’ve gone on to release UP4 instead of focusing on fixing the UP3 problems.  Cost $194.75 less $40 rebate.

My Conclusions

Backing a Kickstarter like I did with Coin and the Ninja Sphere is always going to be risky.  You are backing something that may and may not happen and I accept that risk.  However when a company has a product on their website and is accepting pre-orders the risk is not stated.  It should be.  I assumed that the Bravo and UP3 were ready to go and just needed manufacturing to be complete.  Nothing on their site said anything different so I was forced to assume risk that I may not have.  In fact, as regards UP3 I probably would have gone with a FitBit product had I known the heartrate feature would be non-existent and the product would be delivered 5 months later than promised.

Along with the lack of transparency, the lack of communication is also troubling.  In each of these pre-order cases I had to go to the company to find out what was happening.  Jawbone probably handled it the best they could by calling me, apologizing for the rude email (which I’d tweeted about) and then giving the rebate to everyone.  However after that point the company should have sent out updates at least monthly about the status, especially once the new year had come and gone.

Coin’s communication has been dismal and I’m pretty sure they are going to fail.  They’re defensive on forums and their total lack of communication indicates deep organizational problems.

Will I pre-order in the future?  Probably not from a company’s website because I can’t be sure what the status of the product is.  I will still support Kickstarters for projects that interest me if I find the risk acceptable.

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