Drone technology is a hot topic lately especially since its estimated that this year alone, an estimated 400,000 Americans are giving out drones as gifts. Following push-back by the Federal Aviation Administration on drones (think drones interfering with airplanes), beginning on December 21st, drone operators have to register drones with the FAA. Cue stage left: the failed Zano drone project.
Last Friday, to pacify a PR nightmare, Kickstarter announced that it hired British journalist Mark Harris to investigate why the most successful British campaign to date, Zano drone, completely imploded.
A little over a year ago on November 24, 2014 the Torquing Group Ltd. launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of the Zano drone. Zano was marketed on Kickstarter as an “Autonomous. Intelligent. Swarming. Nano Drone.” In other words, Zano was a mini drone that could control its own movements and fly in a swarm, think birds and insects, with other drones. Sounds like an idea right out of Brave New World or 1984.
Within two months, the British company successfully raised £2,335,120 ($3,533,282) from 12,075 backers. As an excited backer you would think, “Great news!” “The automated drone selfies taken in an early episode of the FOX show Minority Report can actually come true!” Looking at the frequent updates by Torquing Group I could imagine that backers probably felt giddy with anticipation about getting Zano to actually use during the summer.
The first batch of drones to backers were supposed to ship in June 2015. In late May as the Torquing Group approached ship date, they updated backers (Update #25) they hit some “bumps” in the road related to production/ development/ and compliance but that they were still “on track” to ship by the end of June. Then in mid-June the team gave Update #28. Torquing Group’s CEO Ivan Reedman apologized profusely for the silence — that they were “flat out working on Zano, [but] that they were still on track.” After they missed their June set ship date, the Torquing Group released another two update only available to backers in July 2015 indicating they shot some great footage and that they were making progress.
Everything was good until it wasn’t. The cracks were now visible as things started unraveling quickly between Update #28 and Update #51. Many updates related to progress weren’t available to non-backers indicating that things were not looking good.
The team behind Zano filed bankruptcy after failing to deliver on the mini drones. Only four percent of drones shipped. Thousands of backers were irate. Between the nearly 10,000 comments posted online, the Torquing Group CEO resigning in the midst of the crisis, and a petition circulating amongst aggrieved backers calling for full refunds, one can say this was a Kickstarter disaster waiting to happen.
Coincidentally, Kickstarter released an ‘independent’ fulfillment report created by University of Pennsylvania Professor Ethan Mollick two days before it announced that they hired Harris to write an investigative piece on the Zano drone campaign.
If you want a full report on Zano, you will have to wait until Harris releases his ‘independent’ investigative piece sometime in mid-January. There is a conversation to be had about how ‘independent’ the article will be if Kickstarter will read it before it’s released to the 12,000+ backers and the general public.
In the tech and startup world, you hear people talk a lot about failing fast, failing often, and failing forward. At the crux of the mantra is efficiency and output. Recognizing that something isn’t working, whether that is your business model, target audience, idea, or some other component to your business, and figuring out how to successfully pivot without losing steam.
A few questions to think about: should Kickstarter set a cap on how much money a creator can raise during an initial campaign? Should Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms introduce measures where creators have to test a proof of concept before scaling a campaign? What I mean is, should there be key benchmarks and coordination between the Kickstarter team and creators before they launch a campaign? When startup founders approach investors for funding and subsequent rounds, they have to show that they are making significant progress that warrants additional capital. Should there be a similar policy adopted for creators to figure out optimal crowdfunding campaign goals and realistic delivery timelines for rewards?
Kickstarter prides itself on being a “new model for bringing projects to life.” Having helped out several campaigns, I can say the entire process is roller coaster in that it is a full-scale operation. Kickstarter could really benefit from studying the way another crowdfunding platform, Seed&Spark, operates.
Seed&Spark has the added benefit of being a niche crowdfunding platform for independent filmmakers that intrinsically has a smaller audience. Seed&Spark requires campaigns to be approved by the Seed&Spark team with documentation related to budget and goals before it is launched on the platform. This ensures that the campaign is legitimate and that the creators are fully ready for launch.
Maybe Kickstarter can introduce an initial cap on how much a campaign can raise, at a smaller cap level to test a proof of concept. That could help both Kickstarter and creators collect useful data on how to go about scaling a campaign. Alternatively, Kickstarter could withhold distributing some of the funds raised by a campaign until its creators either deliver half of the rewards outlined in their campaign or complete some significant portion of their project. Only time will tell how Kickstarter will proceed in the future but we will keep you posted.
Photo credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET
Annis Sands is passionate about media + tech + innovation + art + education. She is also the co-creator of Ivy Startup Magazine (ivystartupmag.com).