December 31, 2016 Comments Off on Crowd-funded

It’s 2016, and though Amazon’s been around for more than 20 years, I still get questions on whether it’s safe to shop online, none more so than when I tell people I have crowdfunded some of the products they see me using daily.  Is crowd-funding safe? Let’s take a look at my success rate…

Projects I’ve backed on Kickstarter:

  1. Pebble – $125USD for a black Pebble watch – my first foray into crowdsourcing, and one of the best lessons I got. Initially, Pebble had guessed that they’d sell about 1,000 watches and were prepared to assemble them at their US location. When they sold 100x as many as expected, they had to come up with a whole new manufacturing plan, which pushed the completion date back from the original Sept 2012 fulfillment to Feb/March 2013. While it was initially frustrating to not receive a product I’d paid for, the Pebble team  kept their backers informed about all of the steps they were taking, and I never felt like there was a chance I wouldn’t get my watch. When it did finally come, it was worth the wait, to the point where I’ve backed both of their subsequent projects.
  2. Chameleon – $10USD for an Android tablet launcher and 10 wallpapers – another good lesson: don’t buy into the hype. While this project looked like it would be a cool replacement launcher for an Android tablet, the product they delivered was klunky and had been surpassed by other offerings by the time I got it. I didn’t get ripped off, but I’ve certainly become more wary of software projects.
  3. The Pen Project – $35USD for one pen – still one of my favourite projects, this little pen was perfect to carry around and had a great feel in the hand while writing. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, it fell out of my pocket and I lost it Frown
  4. I DRAW COMICS – $35USD sketchbook and pen – I bought into this project for my son, who expressed interest in learning how to draw better. I think the product was great – it had all sorts of tips, hints and exercises for getting better at drawing.
  5. Auris – $34USD for a black Auris Bluetooth for iPod devices – a pretty great little piece of hardware for people who’d bought into and subsequently left the iPod hardware scene.  This was a little Bluetooth device that plugged into a dock’s 30-pin connector and enabled Bluetooth devices to send to it. The dock would happily play whatever was coming through. I still use this at school when I don’t want to leave my phone plugged in to play music in my classroom.
  6. iMpulse Game Controller – $40USD for one controller – Another lesson in not believing the hype. This was supposed to be a pocket-able game controller that you could use to connect to your phone to be able to play games without getting your thumbs all over the screen. In reality, it never worked the way it was advertised, and I never found a game that it worked properly with, including emulators (where it was supposed to shine).
  7. Inspiration Dice – $45USD for a mega set of dice – I use these almost every month at our NaNoWriMo meetings to generate writing prompts for our group. They’re fantastic!
  8. Dice Rings – $42USD for 3 rings – possibly my purchase that gets the most attention from other people. They’re actually very cool, even if I’ve never used them for actual gaming. The movement is very smooth, and Mandi calls them my ADHD rings, because I fiddle with them a lot.
  9. Precision Dice – $42USD for a set of aluminum dice – these are more for display than for actually playing, but they’re great even for just looking at. I have a set of 6 – two black, two blue, and two red – that sit on my desk looking pretty.
  10. Trellie – $40USD for a silver/gold Bluetooth notification pendant – another good idea marred by flawed execution. That was intended to be a charm that hung on a purse and connected via Bluetooth to a phone inside the purse. It would light up as a notification to let you know if you had received a phone call or text message for which you hadn’t heard the notification sound.  Mandi never used it, and it was awkward to set up and didn’t look nearly as premium as advertised.
  11. USB Micro Light Charger Cable – $15USD for one 3′ cable – a really great idea: a button built into the end of the charging cable that lit a light so you could see which way up the plug was. I used mine constantly until Samsung came up with fast charging, for which this cable was not rated.
  12. The Dress Code Watch Collection – $109USD for a TwentyFour|Seven watch – bought this for Mandi because it looks fairly classy, and part of the proceeds were to go toward developing a watch for the visually impaired.
  13. Earthward – $25USD for a print copy of Earthward with a poster of the cover – pretty decent beginning to a story, with rather good art.
  14. Almond+ – $129USD for a black Almond+ router – while I’m fairly happy with the router and use it at home, some of the features promised never materialized.  It can be flashed with OpenWRT, so I guess I could get those features if I wanted to put the work in, but the intention was that it would be part of the graphic management interface. Still, a good dual-band router with guest network options.
  15. Balance Counterweight for the FocusShifter – $53USD for a FocusShifter set with Balance counterweight – This was a good purchase for when I bought it – it is more for filming with a dSLR than shooting stills, giving you focus stops like a cinema camera can.  At the time I purchased it, I was filming Fairhaven, and it worked well in that context, but I haven’t used it much since.
  16. BAUX Pen – $23USD for 2 Baux Pens – an impulse buy that I’ve never fully used. It’s basically an aluminum tube to replace the plastic on a BIC pen. Thought it seemed like a good idea, but they sit unused in a drawer in my office.
  17. Fuel – $18USD for a Fuel micro-charger – a really great idea: a tiny battery you can hang on your key chain to give your phone a little extra juice if you need to make an emergency phone call away from any charger. I have since replaced it with a much larger portable battery that holds a lot more charge, but this was still useful while I had it.
  18. Landfill Harmonic – $50USD for a BluRay documentary and t-shirt – I’m still waiting for fulfillment on this one. This one was always a long shot – severe flooding in the area where they were filming meant the production was delayed. Then, fulfillment was delayed while the film toured the festival circuit, and delayed again while the filmmakers sought a distribution partner. Supposedly, the discs are being printed/shipped now, but I haven’t received mine yet.  That said, the makers of the film have been fairly forthcoming through the whole process about the reasons for the delays. Still, fulfillment was supposed to take place in June 2014.
  19. The Toaster – $15USD for an audio splitter – another impulse buy, this audio splitter is for TRRS connectors, splitting into one TRRS and one TRS, with the left channel (house) going through the TRS connector and the right channel (cue) going through the TRRS. Great idea for people who are using mobile devices to DJ. I have no idea why I bought it…
  20. Dover Road Woodcrafting – $70USD for one Regal fountain pen – This was supposed to be a hand-turned wood fountain pen. It was never delivered. From what I can tell from the comments on the project, the maker had some kind of breakdown after delivering a fraction of the rewards and has since simply disappeared from the internet entirely.
  21. Pucs – $53USD for a set of 6 pucs and a case – these are meant to cool down a drink without diluting it. They’re stainless steel filled with some kind of phase change material. As far as I can tell, they work, but I keep forgetting to use them, so they sit in my freezer all the time.
  22. BubblePod – £20 for a BubblePod automated 360 shooter – this is a little turntable for your phone, so you can take 360° panoramas without the wobble inherent in trying to do them by hand. It actually works fairly well, and there’s a tripod screw in the bottom, along with a beer-bottle sized circle, so you can use a handy beverage container to hold it up. The only issue for me is remembering to bring it along.  I do find their software clunky, but you can use your phone’s in-built pano mode just as easily.
  23. Pressy – $25USD for a Pressy and keychain holder – another hardware innovation that didn’t quite live up to its promise. This button was supposed to live in your phone’s headphone jack and the software would interpret button presses and pass them on to your phone’s apps (so you could, for instance, take a photo or turn on or off your phone’s flashlight without turning your screen on).  In practice, it was clunky and slow.  Mine spends more time in the keychain holder than in the headphone jack.
  24. Masters of Anatomy – $60CAD for a softcover – a great book of fantastic art.
  25. MagnoPlug – $104CAD for two Magnoplugs – still waiting on fulfillment on this one. A former student of mine proposed this novel solution to a problem that every Canadian’s experienced at least once: driving away with the block heater still plugged in. This magnetic plug simply pulls apart if that ever happens. Unfortunately, the standards bodies that certify electrical devices for home use did not have a way of certifying a plug whose power pads were exposed (even though they turned off when the magnets disengaged). That meant a whole lot of consultations with the IEEE in order to create a new standard, which slowed fulfillment. As it stands now, they’re completing final certification trials and expect to deliver their product once that’s complete, but there’s no timeline at this point.
  26. Luxi – $25USD for a Luxi light meter attachment – a simple light meter that uses your phone’s camera to measure incident light levels for setting flash strength and camera settings. I haven’t used it nearly as much as I should, as I generally just take test shots until I’m happy with the results.
  27. The Foot Hammock – $35USD for a mesh Foot Hammock – seemed like a good idea at the time, but mine’s sitting in its box, without ever having been set up. I might take another stab at setting this up some time.
  28. Pebble Time – $169USD for a Pebble Time – a colour screen with better resolution from the company that got me into Kickstarter? A no-brainer for me. I use this watch every day for controlling music on my phone, seeing and responding to text messages, and, oh yeah, telling the time.
  29. United P2 – $50USD for a United P2 pen – the most comfortable pen I’ve ever held. Just a really well-designed and manufactured pen.
  30. Ctrl+Alt+Del 1.0 – $105USD for a physical box set and numbered bookplate – I’m a huge fan of the original adventures of Ethan and Lucas, and this box set covered everything from the original strip to the universe reset from a couple of years ago. A fantastic purchase for any CAD fan.
  31. LightBox Photography Cards: Macro Edition – $29USD for a deck of Macro Edition and a deck of the original Lightbox cards – I somehow missed the original Lightbox campaign, but I made up for it by getting both decks this time around. Really well-produced challenge cards to push your photography further. Reading the cards is nearly as fun as trying out the challenges yourself.
  32. The Art of Loish – £27 for a copy of the book – as a fan of Loish’s art, this book was an easy buy for me. Every page is just fantastic, and the process images are amazing to see how she got to the final image.
  33. Snatoms – $50USD for a Snatoms kit with 6C, 6O, 12H and 2N – I follow Derek on YouTube: his channel Veritasium is an amazing science demo channel. So when he created a molecular modeling kit that improved on the ball-and-stick models I had grown up with, I decided to buy in. I got the smallest kit, but kind of wish I’d gone in for more. The Snatoms really do work as described, and they are great for modelling simple molecules while retaining rotational motion around the atomic bonds. Great for anyone interested in chemistry.
  34. Masters of Anatomy Book 2 & 3 – $95CAD for a copy of both books (Character Design Masterclass & Anatomy in Action) – having been pretty happy with the original book, I had no qualms about buying their next effort.  Once again, fantastic set of art resources!
  35. Pocketnote – kr126 for a starter kit BIG – this project appears dead in the water. I’m not sure whether the creator was just a victim of poor planning, or whether this one was a scam, but I’m not counting on getting anything from it. The idea was interesting, but apparently the execution went awry and the creator used up all the funds on the non-starter version, and so was unable to produce a working version.
  36. Orbits – $50CAD for a signed physical copy and a thank-you in the liner notes – good friend of mine, Keith Kitchen‘s latest album.  I’ve known Keith since high school, so supporting his latest album was an easy call. As it turned out, this was his best album yet, making the funding a great call.
  37. Lightbox Photography Cards: Mobile Edition – $14USD for a deck of the mobile edition – still waiting for fulfillment. Apparently, they’re on their way.
  38. Pebble Time 2 – $184USD for a Time 2 – So this one was a big disappointment. Not the product, which was a better version of the Time (bigger screen, and included heart rate monitor), but the handling of the campaign. Sometime between announcing the beginning of this campaign, and the probable delivery date, Pebble went bankrupt. Fitbit has bought some of the Pebble IP, but they will not be producing Pebble-branded hardware or supporting the hardware that is presently released. While my money was refunded (and fairly promptly after the announcement of Pebble’s insolvency), it looks like Pebble used demand for the Time 2 generation of watches to pump up its value for prospective buyers, before telling supporters it wasn’t going to be able to fulfil their pledges.
  39. Mover Kit – $55USD for the Mover kit and Make platform – just got this in the mail, so I haven’t had a chance to evaluate it yet, but it’s a coding toy for kids that uses sensors and lights to respond to movement that the kids program into the device using a web interface.
  40. Omega2 – $24USD for the Omega2Plus and a dock – waiting on fulfillment.  Apparently, these are being shipped now, which is pretty close to the projected date. It’s a SoC Linux computer designed for IoT applications. I mostly got it to play around with in addition to my Raspberry Pis.
  41. HubPiWi Blue – $35USD for two HubPiWi Blues – waiting on fulfillment. These are in production, so pretty close to their projected date. It’s an add-on shield that gives a Raspberry Pi Zero more USB ports, along with WiFi and Bluetooth, in order to free up USB ports for other uses. I have a few Zeros, so I’m hoping this makes them more functional.
  42. LokBuild – £11 for one 12″ surface – waiting on fulfillment. These are shipping, so actually ahead of their projected date. This is a build surface for 3D printers, to help the PLA stick the build plate, then come off clean. I’m planning on using this on the school’s MakerBot. If it works well, I might bring in another sheet for our dual-extruder printer, but it has a heated bed, so I’m not sure we’d see any benefit.
  43. Podo – $89USD for a 2-pack – waiting on fulfillment. These are apparently shipping, ahead of their projected date.  I’m hoping to use these to set up photo-booths for the school, as well as for easy time-lapses without the hassle of setting up my GoPro.

Projects I’ve backed on Indiegogo:

  1. 21 Draw – $65USD for a softcover copy – a huge collection of reference drawings, by well-known artists. Fantastic!
  2. BrushKnob – $39USD for a standard Brushknob – this does one thing (well, two), but does it really well.  Mostly for use in Photoshop to change brush sizes (and eraser size), you can actually set it to do just about any task you could use a shuttle wheel – it’s a keyboard wedge, so you can intercept its key presses to any macro you can design.  It’s really nice-looking, too!
  3. Muse 5 – $99USD for a pair of Muse 5 earphones – I’m always on the lookout for a really good pair of wireless headphones, and the promise of having no wires at all is what drew me to the Muse5 earbuds. I just got them yesterday, but so far, they’ve been excellent. They “lock” into your ear so you can move around without having to worry about them falling out.  The range is about the same as every other wireless headphones I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot), but after a couple of minutes, you forget that you’re wearing them. They’re that light.  The only downside is that they seal so well that you can’t hear anything going on around you (which could be a plus in some situations).

A back-of-the-napkin calculation says I’ve spent about $2500 USD over the years. Of that, I can write off about $85 as gone forever, or about 3.4% of my total spending.  Another $260 might rightly be considered wasted as, even though I received the product, they were not well thought-through, or I simply got suckered by a slick sales pitch (like buying anything marked “As seen on TV”). That represents about 10% of what I’ve spent, and so is a much more significant threat to my bank account than people running off with my money.

So, is crowd-funding safe?  I’d say it’s as safe as you make it. Do your homework on the project creators, and never put in more money than you’re willing to walk away from. Kickstarter has some accountability rules for project creators, but you still might lose that money. However, I’ve had worse deals on Ebay and even Amazon Marketplace, so it really is just a matter of paying attention to where the money’s going. I’ve gotten some unique items and funded some art projects that would not have happened without crowdfunding, so there is the potential for some amazing things to come from it.

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