Crowd-Funding Campaigns

Every few days, someone messages me on a new and great crowd funding campaign.

Generally, this comes in the form of sharing a video – a video that makes many grandiose promises if I only donate a few bucks to the cause.  As a few of these campaigns have raised crazy amounts of cash, it seems that they are becoming more popular. Throw a coin at any “Make” fair, and see what I mean.

Now, this may be common sense, but I’d like to share my general way of looking at these crowd-funding campaigns in the hope that I won’t have to deal with people finding me a “Kill-Joy” when the next “big thing” comes along.

Questions I ask when seeing a campaign

What’s in it for me?

If I donate money to your cause, am I preordering a product, or buying a t-shirt that says “I liked it before it was cool”?

Pinonccio – $49 donation gets me a prototype

While kickstarter won’t run them, other crowd funding  sites will host “get a t-shirt” with donation campaigns. If you donate to these, you’ll get a t-shirt, but don’t plan on that t-shirt being anything more than a statement that you can easily be separated from you money.

Why hasn’t this been done before and how is it different?

Let’s say I run across a campaign for creating a garden time-lapse camera system. All I get until the $250 is a thank you and a t-shirt.

At this point, the campaign has satisfied the “something in it for me” angle. There is a real product, and I’m at least somewhat interested. But, is that product out there already?

A quick search on amazon shows me that producers of garden cameras do exist. And, a few of them are substantially cheaper than the $250 this campaign will cost me for one. Does this product provide something new? I may simply not like the company that provides the competing product. Maybe that company hasn’t listened to customer feedback. Perhaps there is a specialized feature I want. Or, maybe I’m just feeling generous.

If the product hasn’t been done – why not? Is there something fundamentally flawed with the idea? It’s possible that this particular product fits a very small niche, and that the only way  of seeing it released is a crowd funded campaign. Or, maybe this product has no real hope for success as the design itself has serious flaws.

Does the group have the expertise to pull the product off?

So, now we have agreed that they have enough of a “hook” for me to bite. At this point, the question becomes, can they make it happen?

Let’s say the campaign is for a desktop Fusion power generator, suitable for fitting into my flying car.

Does the group include a physicist? If not, do they have a good one on standby? If not, would anyone in the group have any way of knowing a good physicist? If not, has the group provided any evidence that they can solve the whole “fusion” part of the problem?

Is there any evidence suggesting that other companies have looked into this problem? Are there solutions out on the market now?

If the group lacks the expertise to build the idea, what are they bringing to the table?

Building a product takes more than having a bad comb over and the ability to shout “your fired”. If the group is going to pay to have the actual development done, have they shown a reasonable budget and plan for doing so?

In the case of a desktop Fusion generator, the evidence would need to be overwhelming before I’d even consider a donation. In fact, I’m not sure anything would convince me it wasn’t a scam. Extremely innovative products tend to have large money backing quickly. Large enough that crowd funding wouldn’t be talked about.

Returning to the Garden Camera, I’d probably look for a meaningful prototype, a good product manager with a gardening background, or simply some good engineers. The technology is known, and I wouldn’t need to worry about development of specialized high technology.

Are they over promising?

If I see a video of something so truly beyond the state of the art to be amazing, the question becomes, how is it real?

If a video advertises some whizz bang Artificial Intelligence, is there research that shows something is possible. For anything computerized, just imagine that instead of the ideal computer shown in the video – it’s your cell phone. How would your cell phone do at the tasks shown? If they are doing similar tasks with significantly better ability – how are they accomplishing it?

Or, are they just lying?

Very talented people are working on lots of the ‘space age’ devices we want to see. Every day. If those devices don’t exist yet, it may be for a reason. Just remember the ‘pet robots’ in the 90s. Yeah, they are cool, but they weren’t R2D2.

Does the group have a valid business plan? Do I care if they vanish?

Let’s say that I really hate the companies producing the garden cameras, and want to donate to this new garden camera company. Does this group demonstrate that my donation will help create a sustainable competitor?

If not, will I care that I’ve purchased a one-off product? In a year, how much will I care if the product breaks?

Perhaps I’m happy that I’ll get my garden camera and can worry about the same problem again later, if need be. That’s a perfectly good answer, but one I should be aware of.

Responding to a Campaign

I’ll generally ignore campaigns that I come across, unless either poked or prodded about it directly.

If so, I’ll walk through these questions until I hit a reason not to donate, and if I hit that reason, I’ll try to let whoever know why I’m not. If the campaign has gone “viral” and I think other people might donate, I might be more proactive about criticism. And, it’s also possible that I’ll share a campaign I’d want to see succeed.

If you share a campaign video, remember – you are sharing a request for money. Requesting money, in my book, removes much of your ability to complain when someone tells you where to go. Manipulative videos may insist that criticism is fighting against a greater good.

We enjoy the right to ask the public for money. In return, the public may criticize that request. Don’t like it? Build the product first using traditional means. And remember, if you are sharing a funding request, then realize the social dynamic of seeking contributions.

Saying Yes can be a Bad Thing

I watched closely as the Diaspora project got going. For those unfamiliar with the campaign, it was one of the first kickstarter campaigns to go viral. Earning $200,000+ in very little time.

Any experienced engineer watching would have smelled trouble. The grand yet completely undefined scope of the project. The lack of real requirements. The lack of any experienced or skilled developers. The poor choices of technology, showing blatant ignorance of the current challenges of competitors trying to do the exact same thing.

In the end, the group of students working this project put themselves through some very rough times. It’s impossible to say what might have happened if the product just fizzled out. And indeed, the tragedies associated with the project, may have happened anyway. Windfall earnings does weird things to a group and to friends. Still, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the eventual suicide of one of the initial members. I don’t think the success of the funding campaign can be directly blamed, but it definitely didn’t help.

Kickstarter does a lot of work to prefilter applicants and campaigns, and even there, people have found a real “bit” in terms of taxes and fees eating into the cash intended for development of a product.

A lot of campaigns fail, but that doesn’t mean the dream has to die. And many campaigns, on their second try, find and fix the errors with the first.

TL;DR

  1. Try to apply some common sense before sending random people on the internet your money.
  2. Asking someone for money gives them a right to ask why and determine if you deserve it.
  3. Giving someone money isn’t always helpful.

There’s a lot of cool kick starter projects out there. Fin and I have sent money to a few. We’ve gotten some cool stuff in return. Do your search before. And if somethings viral?

My experience with viral campaigns is that they are rotten. The cool ones I’ve found and funded tend to be more niche oriented. Though, sometimes, lots of people get onboard for a reason.

— Fate

2015 New Year, New Goals

It’s that time of year again.

So far, my record for New Year’s Resolutions:

  • 2014 – 40%
  • 2013 – 25%
  • 2012 – 10%
  • 2011 – 30%
  • 2010- 50%
  • 2009 – 30%
  • 2008 – 50%

The past few years, I’ve not been hitting my goals. This past year, toward the end, things have started heating up again. Hopefully the trend continues. This year, Fin and I will likely be focusing a lot more on the family than some of our other endeavors. Still, we’ll be working at moving onward and upward.

1. Pay off at least one more account

Yes, even after succeeding for several years on this, there are more to go. This year, I hope to pay off at least one more account.

2. Publish an App for Android, PC, or Web

I’ve actually managed to do some degree of Android development this year. I’ve got ideas, and have even made a few toy apps on my phone. The next step is to get something released and out there. Hell, maybe I’ll do another Asteroids game. This really is a continuation of last years goal. I simply find myself not having enough time or ideas to put toward it.

Meanwhile, I’m working on some stuff for myself. I’m hoping at least one of my efforts I can publish, if only to pad my resume.

3. New SuburbanReject.com theme

I started playing a bit with this mid-year, when the site went funny looking for a bit, and ended up reverting back to the old theme on the newer wordpress. I’m still looking at some ideas here, but like the Application business, time has been an enemy.

4. Document at least one project for each season (Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall) here

I think the previous years, I’ve tried to plan out my year in to much detail, and ended up doing nothing. So, this year, I’m simply stating that I want to complete a single project every 3 months and document it here. That will hopefully mean doing some fermented beverage, or making soap, or maybe a piano recording. We’ll see. I’m leaving this open ended so I can decide on a project every few months and do it.

New suburbanreject theme and publishing an app both don’t “count”.

5. Complete at least one online course

I enjoyed the Coursera experience earlier. This year, I’d like to work through at least one more online course. Maybe I’ll learn something useful.

6. Post another piano recording

Not going to go for a multiple here, I just want to do one this year. Hopefully more will happen. Ideally, I’ll play in another studio recital and have a strong performance this year.

7. Work my company’s “Wellness Program” plan

Every year, my company does one of those “Wellness Programs”, where you get a physical, set some goals, and potentially try to loose weight and exercise more. While I generally roll my eyes at such things, this year, I’ll play ball and take it a bit more seriously.

I’m also thinking about things I can do to start expanding my activity tracker goals into some real workouts. I’ve been doing a bit of running around the house to hit goals, I think I might start doing some more to focus on strength training. I’m not really considering that part of the company “Wellness Program”, but more along the lines of “bonus points” for this goal.

8. Write more and Produce some referable  content for this and/or my other blog

I’ve written some widely circulated articles in the past. I find myself realizing that I do have some skills and knowledge and ability to explain some difficult tasks well. I’m not sure exactly what articles, tutorials, or opinions I’ll be posting. But, I’d like them to be the sort others will find enough value to read and link to.

9. Actively take time off work

Unfortunately, family obligations might make it difficult to take some planned days off this year, but I’m hoping to plan and take some vacation time – a day off here and there. Simply to avoid the constant grind of working and lack of work/life balance I’ve had so long.

My goal is to take planned vacation day at least every 4 months.

10. Get to know Kansas City better

To be clear, I want to visit / do some of the historical / touristy things around here I haven’t done. I’ve lived here now for 8 years, and still haven’t been to many of the museums or parks around here. I’ve really done a minimum of the “KC required” tour outside of walking the plaza a few times.

And I know there’s a lot more and a lot more history around here.

So, this year, I plan on taking a bit of an effort to do a few of the larger attractions.

There’s also several large communities that I should be more active in – Make, Sustainability, general Nerdom.

Extra: Stay Positive

There’s no doubt that 2014 was a rough year, and 2015 looks to be rough too. Fin and I did a lot this past year. We learned a lot, and had a lot of positive experiences.

This year, I’ll also be looking a bit at the past several years goals, and trying to accomplish/track a few of them as appropriate. We’ll see how that works when the year closes.

Still, it’s been difficult. This year, I’m hoping we can stay positive and take the good and bad together. I’ll be hoping for a great year, but whatever more life throws at us, I’m hoping we can stay positive through it all.