This is your fantasy; the reality is different

Epilogue: Kickstarter is still hands-off and terrible

After writing a story about Coolest Cooler, my email inbox and Twitter DM queue were running hot.

Coolest was less than happy with the story, not least because I reached out to them ahead of time and what I wrote didn’t suit their idea of what I may say. I initially wanted to tell their side; if there were reasons — good reasons — the Cooler was being delayed, let’s shed some light on it, I said.

Instead, I was met with a dismissive response, which is fine. Over the course of researching for the story, it seemed there were many more unruly backers than previously imagined. What Coolest was calling a ‘vocal minority’ seemed more like a small group voicing a larger discontent, at least to me.

In the wake of Coolest came not only an avalanche of its backers supporting my article, but a wave (tsunami, really) of backers from other projects with similar tales. Some I chided for backing a project in the first place (some of these moonshots are just too silly, you know?), while others had good points to make.

How I felt about their circumstance wasn’t the issue — backers from all over the crowdfunding landscape are annoyed, pissed off or otherwise bemused by being let down. I think there’s a lot of wiggle room (saying you’ll ship in October always means next March for the objective, realistic backer), but it seems Kickstarter campaigns are still aiming too high.

And I’d like to think some get crowdfunding wrong from the jump. There seems to be a lot of projects with people working hard to make it happen, but those crews don’t seem to know what they were getting themselves into. It’s not linear; you don’t get to say “give me money for this cool thing!” then show up to a factory downtown and say “give me 500 of this thing I designed!”

But that seems to be how they view it, as though they’re some sort of conduit. Speaking to crowdfunding project managers, it’s always “man, we had no idea how tough this would be.”

It’s managing time, customers you haven’t delivered to, and money. At a more dynamic level, it’s managing hardware partners, which is another pain in the ass they’re definitely not ready for.

In the case of Coolest — and they’re not the only ones to have made this claim, mind you — a hardware partner closed up shop and stopped delivering products. In the best-case scenario, that means delays.

But it probably means money was paid to the partner; money that can’t (easily) be recouped. It could mean final designs are tied up elsewhere, and can’t be accessed.

I don’t really back Kickstarter projects, which is mainly because I get annoyed when an Amazon package delivery is pushed back a few days because if inclimate weather. I’m not patient. Probably because of that, I’m sensitive to backers who dump hundreds or thousands of dollars into a concept, only to see it hit Amazon before they get theirs.

I won’t say I have a fix for Kickstarter, but I do think it needs to get a little more buttoned-up. Why not qualify hardware partners based on past success? If you know of a Chinese factory that has already delivered Bluetooth sensors for five projects on your platform, why not brand it as some sort of ‘safe’ partner? From there, you can grade projects based on how many qualified partners they’re using.

A project with an 87% rotten tomatoes — err — Kickstarter score would probably get more backers than a 59% project that seems a bit cooler (pun intended). At least I’d know whoever is asking for my cash has their ducks in a row.

Those who want crowdsourced funding can do better, but they’re flying blind into the storm, at least when it comes to hardware. Kickstarter can — and should — do better in helping them find avenues for success.

We, the now-branded vocal minority, should demand more of everyone involved.

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