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Crowdfunding | Alive

Total Raised


Last Raised

$400K | 8 yrs ago

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Smarty Ring connects to and controls your smartphone and gives you real-time alerts and updates on your finger.

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Lessons we can all learn from a crowdfunding cock-up

Oct 14, 2014

Follow @SirSteven 20 minutes late is fashionably late; 1 hour is plain rude. Being a year behind schedule, however, is disastrously tardy. But that kind of cock-up is increasingly common as entrepreneurs take to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo with gadgets, but end up letting down their backers very badly. Their videos are slick, the promises are grand, but the capability to deliver is sheer slapstick. A case in point is the Smarty Ring. In December 2013, we wrote about the crowdfunding campaign for this teensy trinket that promises to zap your smartphone notifications onto a ring with a tiny, curved LED display . At that time, despite the Indian startup not having a working prototype (its demo video and promo images used computer-generated visuals), it was promising delivery to early buyers by April this year. That time has long since come and gone. Now, the Smarty Ring team is still scrambling to put together a working prototype, let alone actually begin manufacturing or shipping. And that’s despite a grand total of nearly US$300,000 raised, way past the initial goal of US$40,000. The latest update from Smarty Ring, on its Indiegogo campaign’s ‘updates’ section , is that it’s currently at the “final stage of completing [a] working prototype” – which will be ready by December. That’s December 2014, a full year after the campaign was launched. When the Indiegogo fundraising began in December 2013, the team stated that it had already spent eight months on “technical research” so that they had “finalised the feasible prototype model” that supposedly corresponds with the visuals given to consumers on the crowdfunding site. Either that initial prototype was totally unworkable, or that was deliberately misleading. We contacted the Smarty Ring team earlier this month, but have not had a response. Here’s how little progress there has been in nearly a year – and note how much bulkier the ring could be compared to the first CGI images: The startup team has repeatedly promised, however, that it will deliver the goods, and has provided 26 status updates on Indiegogo. But those are outweighed by over 1,140 comments that exhibit growing frustration and anger with the tardiness of this product – a gadget for which people paid US$175 for the model with all the features. “Refund, please. Do what is right by your backers,” says one comment from a buyer; “This takes the piss!” exclaims another. Another points out: “Kickstarter has just updated its rules to prevent this kind of dramatic experiences [sic] for the backers. Indiegogo should do the same.” A recent update from the Smarty Ring crew points out that their updates show they’re still working on the project and have not absconded with the money. “[Y]ou people gave us good opportunity by believing the project description, without any working product, we respect that and doing things [sic] to complete this at any cost.” So what can we all learn from this mess-up? Lessons for consumers As much as we love buying shiny new things, we need to remember that hardware is hard, and inexperienced entrepreneurs and startups are likely to over-promise and make massive mistakes. The biggest red flag is a lack of a working prototype. If the team seeking your cash cannot yet show you an actual working product, even one at a fairly early stage, then put your money back in your pocket and walk away from the snake oil salesman. Even where there is a prototype, be aware that the design, ergonomics, or feature-set could evolve a great deal in the handful of months before it ships, which could leave the gadget you bought missing something you really wanted. Or the inexperienced gadget-maker could pile on new features, swayed by the crowdfunding feedback, and render the gadget bloated or compromised. Also consider how fast tech changes. While you understand that your new toy could take a few months to ship, you might have forgotten that a major brand – a company you can trust and which can actually ship its products in a timely manner – could come out with a new gizmo just like the one you paid for on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. It’ll probably be better quality, and it might even be cheaper. For example, the Smarty Ring was priced at US$175 during its early campaign if you wanted all the features, down from a projected US$275 retail price. But much better gadgets have been revealed and launched in the time that buyers have been waiting for the dubious smart ring. The Moto360 smartwatch does a lot more than the Smarty Ring and it costs just $249. Even if you waited from its announcement in March until its release in September, it’s still much less of a wait than for the Smarty Ring. Who knows when the Smarty Ring will reach stores, but it will find few buyers for such a bulky and awkward gadget that costs close to US$300. Smart gadgets are getting cheaper, and soon we’ll have smart notification wearables and fitness trackers that cost just a few bucks, in much the same way that you can now pull an MP3 player out of a Christmas cracker. See: Here’s Baidu Eye, the Google Glass rival from China’s top search engine Lessons for the media The media should know better – especially tech bloggers. But many sites, including Tech in Asia, still ran a story on the Smarty Ring, effectively helping promote what was still prototype-less vaporware. While we did raise a red flag about the lack of a working prototype and the pie-in-the-sky CGI video and images, we could have done more to raise the alarm – or avoided the story altogether. It comes down to a responsibility to readers. In fact, that’s a new policy at Tech in Asia – we’re not going to cover products seeking your cash (we don’t care about investors’ cash) unless there’s a working prototype available, giving us a sense that the thing is real and fairly close to production. Back-of-an-envelope sketches are not enough. Lessons for startups The lesson is easy: first make a working prototype and ensure it’s feasible for production. While we like to see startups think big, you have a responsibility to regular people, forking out their hard-earned cash, to make sure that what you promised is deliverable in the next few months. If you’re not ready, don’t start the campaign yet. Admittedly, that’s all easier said than done. While it’s now easier than ever to produce a prototype, especially in places like Shenzhen, the process of manufacturing in bulk is fraught with the same dangers as it has been for decades. That’s especially the case for individuals with little experience of hardware – which seems to account for many of the teams who are now rushing to make smart gadgets and wearables. Another harsh lesson, especially for aspiring entrepreneurs, comes from the Kreyos smartwatch. You might want to read the account of Kreyos founder Steve Tan on how his hardware project led to him allegedly being ripped off by an unscrupulous manufacturing partner who waltzed off with hundreds of thousands of dollars, leading the already shambolic project to be even more behind schedule. In Tan’s own account, the American entrepreneur says that he has “limited tech and manufacturing experience.” If that also describes you, then the laborious manufacturing process is perhaps a minefield you should avoid. The Smarty Ring and the Kreyos watch show why you need to be very close to production before you can take money from the general public. That is a very difficult tight-rope to walk, as you’ll likely not have spare cash to put down a deposit on materials way ahead of production, but it’s the only responsible route if you want to avoid a disaster that lets down hundreds or thousands of your first customers. Did you enjoy this article? Get more exclusive content with Tech in Asia Insights ! Editing by Josh Horwitz

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