Geeky Bob

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Be sure to check out my technical blog at www.microsoftbob.com.

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The Downside of Kickstarter

Let me be honest right up front - I like Kickstarter. I think the whole concept of crowd-funding new inventions to bring them to market is a great idea, and I have personally funded a dozen or more projects - which have usually been related to emerging technologies. Participation on Kickstarter is simple: you pick a project you think looks appealing, and then you choose the level of your pledge to help bring that project to life. Depending on how much you give, you generally get something in return - which is typically the completed product before it is released to market. After a project has been funded, the company or team that is responsible for the project is obliged to keep its backers up-to-date through the Kickstarter website.

However, for those of you who are unfamiliar with crowd-funding a new product, this is not buying a completed product online; there are usually dozens of hurdles that the manufacturer needs to go through before the product is ready to ship. Quite often a project is barely past the design and prototype stages, so you have to realize that the expected ship date is very likely to change. With that in mind, I send in my pledge, and then I usually do my best to ignore how long the project is taking. (Some people are impatient, though, and they usually fill the comments sections of a project page with inane requests for their money back if it is taking too long.)

One of my favorite projects that I backed was created by the great folks at Plugable: the product was a docking station for my Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet that provided simultaneous charging with port replication, thereby allowing me to plug my tablet into my KVM and use my tablet as a desktop computer when I'm home, and as a conventional tablet everywhere else. The Plugable team did a great job with the finished product, their communication was great, and I can honestly say that I use this device almost every day. (In fact, Plugable did such a great job that they turned me into a loyal customer; I now use dozens of Plugable's devices and I have recommend their docking stations and other devices to my friends and coworkers.)

However, Kickstarter has a dirty little downside to their business plan: they assume zero accountability for all projects that are advertised through their website. The entire responsibility for delivering a product to backers rests with each respective company or team that is bringing a product to market, and Kickstarter abdicates any sense of legal obligation whatsoever. As of today, here is what Kickstarter's Terms of Use currently state on this subject:

"Kickstarter doesn’t offer refunds. Responsibility for finishing a project lies entirely with the project creator. Kickstarter doesn’t hold funds on creators’ behalf, cannot guarantee creators’ work, and does not offer refunds."

This means that - in theory - someone could claim to have invented something and accept money from backers, and never have any intention of delivering. In the meantime, Kickstarter has deflected any liability away from themselves, and they will therefore ignore any requests for assistance when a project appears to evaporate.

Which brings me to today: one of the projects that I backed in April of 2017, (called SuperScreen), just announced that they are ending product development, terminating all employees who were working on the project, and providing absolutely nothing to their backers while keeping all of their money; which was a little over 2.5 million dollars. (See Important Announcement- SuperScreen Project is Closed for the official announcement.)

superscreen_campaign_photo

In case you thought that you read that financial figure incorrectly, your eyes did not deceive you; this company collected $2.5 million from 18,000 backers and delivered nothing, yet the entire escapade was perfectly legal. Don't get me wrong, this situation is unethical beyond comprehension, but it isn't against the law. Kickstarter introduces the possibility for scam artists to get away with large-scale confidence schemes, while providing themselves with a convenient "Get Out of Jail Free" solution to avoid becoming embroiled in any legal entanglements. According to their Terms of Use, Kickstarter charges companies a 5% fee, so for this particular project they may have profited around $125,000 for doing little more than hosting the webpage for this failed venture.

Throughout the life of this particular project there were numerous videos posted of the supposed "prototype" in action, (see http://youtu.be/_spHSw9C9AQ, http://bit.ly/2QL3cy7, http://youtu.be/aUZ8JZKMAZk, http://youtu.be/E2X3Qu9ENuY, http://youtu.be/GsiBqUNdAdk, etc.). There was a mockup posted of what the shipped product would look like, (see below), and even a video that was supposed to show the finished product in manufacturing, (although that appears to have actually been just a standard Android tablet - see http://youtu.be/V96I43UMMYg).

superscreen_packaging

Despite their periodic promises and posts, nothing ever materialized. The inventor for this particular project, Brent Morgan, dropped the first hint that something was catastrophically wrong when he arbitrarily changed the expected ship date from December 2017 (which was used during the Kickstarter campaign) to December 2018 (which was announced after he had collected everyone's money).

I used to be a project manager for a high tech company, and I realize that projects slip from time to time. However, it's one thing to have a project slip by a week or two, and it's another thing to completely rewrite your production schedule after you have secured funding.

As most backers now seem to realize, Mr. Morgan's company, (Transcendent Designs LLC), does not appear to have ever intended to ship an actual product. It would be great if an aspiring lawyer collected the names of all 18,000 backers and brought a class action lawsuit against Mr. Morgan and his company, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.

It is ironic that in one of Mr. Morgan's earliest updates to his backers he waxes poetic about what is great about Kickstarter, because in the end - his project illustrates everything that is wrong with Kickstarter:

"In just 30 days, over 18k people have joined together to raise more than $2.5M for a single vision. It is mind boggling, and it proves that this is real. … While there are plenty of things I would like to say, I will start by thanking those who choose to doubt. At some level, you are proving what is so great about Kickstarter."

There is an old adage - "Buyer Beware" - which extols the virtues of heightened awareness when doing business in a free market society. However, if you are considering whether to back projects on Kickstarter, I would like to suggest a more-modern version of that adage: "Backer Beware." But even more specifically - should prospective backers ever be tempted to invest in a project from either Brent Morgan or Transcendent Designs LLC, I highly advise them to heed King Arthur's counsel in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and "Run Away."

Posted: Oct 11 2018, 16:38 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Apple's Self-Driving Car?

Wait... Apple is working on a self-driving car? Have they even SEEN Apple Maps?

An Apple car would drive you right off a bridge, and as your car settled to the bottom of a river Siri would cheerfully say, "You've arrived at your destination."

Posted: Jun 13 2017, 10:22 by bob | Comments (0)
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Drum Circles and Conference Calls Do Not Mix

Earlier today our organization participated in a unique "Team Building" exercise: our organization hosted a Drum Circle, wherein a motivational speaker walked various members of our organization through a set of various polyrhythms with the intended goal of creating music as a "team." The idea seems plausible enough on paper, and I am fairly certain that if I was participating in-person I might have received something of value from the experience.

However, I work remotely, as do several dozen of my coworkers. Instead of hearing music and a motivational speaker, those of us who could not attend in-person heard nothing but noise. Lots and lots of noise. The entire experience was reduced to hours of mind-numbing cacophony for anyone attending the meeting via the conference call, and my only takeaway was that I had lost several hours of my life.

Shortly after the meeting had ended I put together the following animation to show my coworkers what the meeting was like for remote attendees:

Attending a Drum Circle Remotely.

With that in mind, please take my advice: take a look at https://binged.it/2s4KbLd for companies who offer team building exercises such as this, and avoid them as much as possible if you value your remote employees.

Posted: Jul 21 2014, 08:02 by bob | Comments (0)
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