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Crowdfunding Promises and Pitfalls

By December 29, 2016 No Comments
Crowdfunding Mycroft

In this post I want to talk about crowdfunding and address some questions we’ve been hearing from a few backers.  I’ll also introduce our policy allowing a backer to change their status.

Promises of Crowdfunding

Kickstarter and Indiegogo have created a fabulous mechanism for individuals to voice their early support for ideas and products they want to see created. Decades ago people had little power.  They could consume what large companies decided was worthy of mass production, or buy artisan products. There was no in-between and neither of these options gave the consumer a voice at the “idea” stage.

Like so many other areas of our lives, the internet has changed this. Inventors and entrepreneurs can present new ideas to thousands of consumers around the world and have feedback in a few days before building anything. “Bad” ideas can be abandoned quickly and “good” ideas are validated. This eliminates wasted effort and helps them focus on viable concepts.

Pitfalls

The success Kickstarter and Indiegogo have had in making this possible is also their biggest pitfall. They’ve make it look so easy to buy the future! It feels like you are walking into the coolest store in the world full of the neatest ideas ripe for the picking.  But it is easy to forget to you are walking into the store of the future.  And predicting the future has always been fraught with problems.

Kickstarter does post its Trust and Safety policy under a small link when you choose to back a project.  And they do say “estimated delivery”.  Slightly worse is when you pick a Perk on Indiegogo.  There is faint text on the side that reads “you are contributing to a work in progress and not making a direct purchase”, along with a link to a dense page of Terms of Use.  Really, who reads those when excited about getting something new and cool?

Building something new requires doing things that have never been done before. Creators have to make best guesses to provide a delivery schedule, but they truly are guesses. The more challenging the project, the more guessing is required.  So the world of tomorrow might not actually arrive until the day after tomorrow.  Or next month.

Community Responsibilities

Getting back to the crowdfunding world, there are two sets of responsibilities if you choose to take on when you join a community by backing a project.

1) Responsibility of the Project Creators
The project creator has accepted an investment from all of the backers. Their responsibility is to realize the idea and vision that was show in the crowdfunding project. This seems pretty obvious.

2) Responsibility of the Project Backers
It isn’t as obvious, but by deciding to join in a crowdfunding project a backer also is accepting responsibility. At the moment they pledge to the project a backer has committed to the entire group that they are supporting it. The effort the backer has to exert largely ends there, but the responsibility endures.  This is what distinguishes a “backer” from a “buyer”.

The money backers provide at that moment is being counted on by the creators and other backers. Each small piece combines into a larger sum that can then fund the effort to bring about the joint vision of the future. No single backer can pay the $20,000 to manufacture an injection mold or any of the other large pieces or collections of small pieces that are needed to realize a project.  Rather, their commitment allows hundreds of backers to join with a creator to make something substantial.

Time Goes Marching On

All of this is complicated by a world that changes outside of the project. Good ideas are rarely unique, at least not for long. When I first conceived of Christopher two years ago, I had never heard of Joshua Montgomery. But he was having the same thoughts I was. And apparently so were a few people in Seattle at Amazon and San Francisco at Google.

After time has passed and new options appear, it is human nature to re-evaluate. The circumstances of a person’s life might change, so a product that previously felt vitally important might no longer be needed at all. And, of course, delays that arise which push back the original predictions intensify the questioning.

We understand all of this. And we want to provide a mechanism to allow backers who have shifted their priorities to do so in way that doesn’t abandon the responsibilities they took on by joining a campaign. So…

Mycroft Backer Change Policy

To those who have backed the Mycroft project on either Kickstarter or Indiegogo, we are now offering three options:

1) Continue to support the project.
We thank you for your belief in our vision and your patience!

2) Donate your device to another.
For those who no longer need a Mycroft device for themselves, we’d like to offer the option to donate it. This can be to an organization of their choice, such as a school, robotics club or community makerspace. Or we can match them with a group and make the donation in their name.

3) Transferring backing (refund)
For those who no longer want to be involved with the project, we want to provide a mechanism so they can withdraw their support in a fair way. Once devices are available for delivery, we will begin working through the list of these former-backers replacing their backing commitment with new orders. At that point funds will be returned to the former-backer, minus the percentage that went to Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

We believe these options provide an option for everyone that is fair to all. For those who want to continue their support of Mycroft, you don’t have to do anything. For those who wish to either donate their unit or get on the backing transfer list, please email us at crowdfunding@mycroft.ai. Include whether you used Indiegogo or Kickstarter to originally back us, your name and email, and the selected option to either “donate” or “transfer backing”.

Regardless of which option you choose, we appreciate everyone who has chosen to back us at all the stages of this project.  Your support makes a big difference.  We will continue to do our very best to live up to our responsibilities to you.  2017 is here, and I believe it will be a exciting year for all of us as our original vision is realized and grows!

Steve Penrod
Steve has been building cutting edge yet still highly usable technology for over 25 years, previously leading teams at Autodesk and the Rhythm Engineering. He now leads the development team at Mycroft as a partner and the CTO.