Kickstarter has seen its fair share of successful projects in 2012. From the Ouya game console, to the FORM 1 3D printer, to the Pebble smart watch (which I backed myself), millions of dollars have been invested into projects from startups and individuals. To show what a great year 2012 was, out of the 39 projects listed on Kickstarter's "Most Funded" page, all but four were funded in this last year.
The rising popularity of Kickstarter and sheer volume of money being invested is fantastic-- it allows for a small startup or individual to have an idea, and make it reality.
But the problem with Kickstarter lies within these successes: the fundamental misunderstanding of the website's purpose by (a lot of) individuals. After the Pebble watch became the most funded Kickstarter project ever, its presence on mainstream news outlets drew in more of the "general public" looking to order a cool watch. I've been following Kickstarter for a while and have always loved the idea of crowd funding, but until the Pebble, I never backed a project. Because of this, even I fell into the "general public" category at the time-- at least more so than some of the Kickstarter veterans.
I naively believed in September I'd have my Pebble on my wrist (and a FreedomPop iPhone sleeve), but come the beginning of the school year, I had neither.
I wasn't mad with either company, but the FreedomPop sleeve and Pebble watch were in two different situations. FreedomPop was a decently funded company with over $7M in Series A funding, while Pebble was the poster child of the crowd funding community. At this point, Pebble had been regularly updating their backers and I knew I shouldn't expect the watch soon. I always could hope I would receive it before the holidays, but it didn't seem likely.
The FreedomPop, on the other hand, was more of a mystery. All of the information anyone had was that it was "coming" in the next 4-6 weeks. But it seemed like every week, it was still 4-6 weeks away. In December, after writing FreedomPop (who at this point had shipped three different products, none of which were the iPhone sleeve), I found out that the FCC was still evaluating the case and I canceled my pre order. Was it wrong to believe a well funded company could deliver a product on time? Though I do have to admit this delay may not have been their fault, until the case is cleared by the FCC I might as well keep my $99. I do have to give them credit, however-- they refunded my money as promised without much hassle.
Now, I remain waiting for the other product I "pre ordered"-- the Pebble watch. But I'm not mad at Pebble for delaying the project. In fact, I'm quite excited for them. I've watched them grow from a video pitch on a website somewhere. I've seen every step of the manufacturing process. And now, I'm looking at an update on their website stating they have an announcement next Wednesday. I can't wait to see what they have in store, even if it's most likely just a "we're in manufacturing" announcement. Of course, there's the off chance that the Kickstarter-comment-thread-trolls are right and it's an announcement that Pebble was bought by Apple, but I'm counting on the former. Ultimately, the most important thing they have shown is competency-- Pebble has run into problems, but they have also shown they have the skills to fix them. They've gained my trust.
Unfortunately, I can't say that everyone has these same feelings for Pebble. A look at the latest update to the project, posted this morning, reveals the general public's mentality: "you guys didn't deliver the product I ordered, and I want a refund."
The problem is, no one ordered anything. No where on the Kickstarter page is the word "order" (except after they were funded, when they did place a real pre-order link with an estimate of 2013) or "buy." I do see a lot of the word "fund," however. Obviously, people have ignored the definition.
Sadly, Kickstarter even had to blog about this very issue and reiterate that the site was not a store. The problem is, the general public sees a page with a price and a green button, some nice pictures, and a news story on MSNBC portraying some project as an innovative product. Until people do enough research before dropping $150 for a watch on some website they've likely never heard about before, people are going to complain, and I'm always going to feel sorry for those that have to deal with them.
Pebble-- 2012 was a great year and it was cool to see you grow.
To the rest of the startups and individuals with ideas turning to Kickstarter to get the ball rolling-- good luck, and I hope you don't attract the attention of some mainstream news outlet, for your sake.