An unusual commission

I’ve accepted a commission to write a story about the collapse of the Zano drone project on Kickstarter, its largest project ever to have been funded in Europe.

In itself, that’s hardly news. I’ve written a number of investigative features in the past, and have covered crowdfunding numerous times, too. Usually, I work for technology editors at newspapers like The Guardian and The Economist, magazines like Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum and MIT Technology Review, or online publications like Backchannel and Quartz.

This time, however, I’ve been commissioned by Kickstarter itself. The company wants to help the backers of this failed project get the information they are entitled to under their agreement with the project creator. They would like to uncover the story of Zano, from its inception to the present, and decided that the best way to do that was to hire a journalist. The primary audience for the story is the 12,000+ backers of the project, although I will also make the story publicly available once I’ve completed it, most likely in the middle of January.

Kickstarter has asked me to lay out the progress of the project, from start to finish; to discover what happened to the over £2m in funds pledged; and to answer the questions of whether Zano’s creators could have done anything differently, or made mistakes that future Kickstarter projects might avoid.

I will also be looking into Kickstarter’s role in the project, and whether it could have served Zano’s creators or backers better throughout. Crucially, although Kickstarter is paying me (up front) to research and write this story, and will be able to see it before it is sent to the backers or published, the company has no right to make any suggestions or changes to my copy. I have no other connection to the company, nor to anyone on the Zano team, and have no particular axe to grind.

I did not back Zano but I have pledged to projects on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms in the past. Most got funded, and some — but not all — subsequently delivered the products or services they were developing. I believe that crowdfunding has generally been a driver for innovation, particularly in the area of technology, but that it suffers its fair share of hype, over-ambition, inflated expectations, technical snafus, unpredictable markets, poor management, and plain bad luck.

In the weeks ahead, I will be seeking interviews with many of the people involved in this project. If any Zano backers, creators or employees would like to get in touch as I research the story, they can reach me at zano@meharris.com.

I make no guarantee of a personal reply but I will read everything that I receive. If your comments are not for publication, please note that when you contact me.

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