Start-Ups Must Be Realistic to Preserve Support
I've seen many wearable technology start-ups using crowd-funding Web sites to finance their concepts over the past two years. Some have been spectacularly successful and others have failed, but a common theme is that crowd-funded projects often run into unexpected problems that mean the devices are delivered far later than promised. Many wearables start-ups underestimate the amount of testing and refining that's required before the product is ready. Nearly every crowd-funded device I've backed has been delayed, and in this blog I want to highlight four notable wearables projects that have struggled (and some that are still struggling) to meet their deadlines.
Projects That Have Raised Funds and Have Products to Buy
Pebble smartwatch on Kickstarter
Funding period: 11 April 2012 — 19 May 2012
Total raised: $10,266,845
Pebble is arguably one of the best known smartwatches following an extremely successful campaign that made it Kickstarter's most funded project to date. It was originally to be shipped in September 2012, but delays meant that it was finally released in January 2013.
Misfit Shine fitness tracker on Indiegogo
Funding period: 12 November 2012 — 16 January 2013
Total raised: $846,675
Shine is an all-metal fitness tracker that monitors activity and sleep. It was originally due to ship in June 2013, but timing slipped by a month and the device was released in July and without the Android support that was promised. This infuriated many of the backers with Android smartphones, and the support didn't materialise until December 2013.
Projects That Have Raised Funds But Have Yet to Ship or Release a Product
Neptune Pine smartwatch on Kickstarter
Funding period: 19 November 2013 — 22 December 2013
Total raised: $801,224
A 19-year-old Canadian entrepreneur successfully funded his stand-alone smartwatch concept at the end of last year, with the $100,000 goal met within the first 24 hours. This is a device we've backed ourselves, and the latest update says we'll be receiving our unit in May. It was originally set to ship in January, but this date has been postponed numerous times owing to reasons including manufacturing challenges, testing and certification issues.
Kreyos Meteor smartwatch on Indiegogo
Funding period: 23 June 2013 — 12 August 2013
Total raised: $1,502,828
Kreyos is another of the many smartwatches available through crowd-funding sites. The device has support for Windows Phone as well as for iOS and Android, unlike most smartwatches and fitness trackers on the market. It is due to ship in April, but originally promised a November 2013 shipping date that was delayed to February and then to April. Many backers have been voicing their frustration on the project's page.
More Realistic Targets Are Needed
I'm sure these companies (and the many others) have valid reasons for needing more time — crowd funding attracts products that are experimental and technologically complex, and delays are rationalised as benefiting the consumers in the long term.
Start-ups are keen to reassure backers that the unforeseen delays are needed to deliver a competent product, and I've seen companies go as far as to reply to the concerns of individual backers in attempts to retain their loyalty and support. However, there is a real risk that consumers will become disenchanted about backing projects if product delivery expectations are not brought into check. Kickstarter and Indiegogo need to take some responsibility by providing clear guidelines on setting realistic expectations.
Companies wishing to use crowd-funding services must avoid the temptation to make ambitious promises to gain more backers — such an approach might provide some short-term gains but risks harm to credibility in the longer term. Realistic goals will avoid disappointment and mass drop-outs. Companies can generate hype about their products, but online communities can be very fickle; if what was promised isn't delivered on time or as advertised, consumers will very quickly look to the next best thing. The long-term consequences could be very damaging for the crowd-funding and maker movements.