Technology
Should You Back A Kickstarter If the Team’s Last Project Failed?

FlexPV

A group of HAXLR8R graduates say that their modular electric vehicle development kit, FlexPV, will be able to turn almost anything into a motor vehicle.

The Kickstarter campaign for FlexPV is replete with crisp graphics and slickly produced videos that show users clamping motor, battery, and control modules to a scooter, a bicycle, and even a grocery cart before riding away to an upbeat indie rock soundtrack. What it doesn’t mention is that in 2013, the same team raised more than half a million dollars for a copter that received almost universally negative feedback from backers who say they never received a product, that it was missing parts, or that it just didn’t work.

“The entire project is just a con,” wrote backer Federico Hernandez of the copter, which was called Hex. “I am really disappointed by Kickstarter letting them continue and not helping the funders.”

Another backer wrote that though he’d received his reward of five units, only two of them flew, and quickly stopped working. Others complain that messages to the team have gone unanswered.

That history hasn’t stopped users from backing FlexPV, the team’s newest project. At press time, 42 backers have contributed over $8,000 out of a $20,000 goal, with 42 days left. Comments warning about the team’s history have started to trickle into the comments section.

The FlexPV team’s amnesia about their prior failure raises specters that have long haunted crowdfunding platforms. High-profile failures like Triggertrap and myIDkey have demonstrated that just because an ambitious project meets its funding goal doesn’t mean that the people behind it have the expertise to actually bring it to market.

FlexPV’s Kickstarter campaign makes much of their affiliation with HAXLR8R, a celebrated hardware accelerator they graduated from in 2013. HAXLR8R founder Cyril Ebersweiler defended the FlexPV team, though he confirmed that the product they developed at HAXLR8R, which predated both Hex and FlexPV, still hasn’t gone to market.

“Those guys are really awesome and it doesn’t get more ‘Makery’ than them,” Ebersweiler said. “They’ve worked hard to deliver.”

Ebersweiler said that in his opinion, it’s okay to fail the first time, and that when he backs a crowdfunded project it makes him feel like he’s part of an uncertain adventure. FlexPV has also received balmy coverage from the tech press, none of which has so far mentioned the poorly-received Hex copter.

I asked FlexPV representative Angelo Yu what steps the team is taking to make sure that their new project doesn’t fall into the same traps that the last one did. He said that they’d learned a lot from their previous project, and that this time they were providing themselves with significantly more time to deliver, that they’ve already started working with an industrial design firm, and that they were taking steps to foster a development community that he hopes will bring the project to fruition.

Yu, who lives in China, seems like a committed and optimistic hardware entrepreneur. Still, his attempts to defend Hex make it difficult to believe that we’re reading the same comment section.

I posed a question to Yu: If he wasn’t affiliated with FlexPV, and he read about the team’s struggles to deliver on their last campaign, would he still back the project?

“If I’m really interested in this project, I will try to dig more,” Yu said. “If the team is honest and reliable, I would trust them, because a team plays an important role in a project. If not, then I won’t.”

28 thoughts on “Should You Back A Kickstarter If the Team’s Last Project Failed?

  1. I backed the Hex, and although it was indeed a disappointment I felt that the team behaved ethically and just got in over their head (as often happens with such complex products with inexperienced teams and limited budgets). I’d back them again.

    1. Fair enough!

      I think this is a really interesting question. It’s perfectly possible to screw up the first time and then knock it out of the park the second time. But it does seem to back in backers’ best interests to know that when the fund a project. I wonder if there’s a way a team could address it in future campaigns — maybe even with some self-deprecating humor.

        1. That link isn’t publicly available (it requires having been a Hex backer), where as a more transparent place to disclose having failed to deliver on a previous crowdfunding campaign would be under the risks of their current project (if the team has had trouble being able to deliver before, that’s a clear risk for their current product and customers).

          I feel like most crowdfunded efforts have the best intentions, but it seems increasingly common that the teams are inexperienced or even entirely new and fresh out of school, and as a result big issues emerge — the costing on the crowdfunding campaign often appears to barely cover a prototype BOM let alone development costs, wages, or assembly. Having a slightly more detailed team profile under risks — each member of the core team, their background, years of experience, whether they have successfully delivered a product, and any failed crowdfunding campaigns — would only scratch the surface of due diligence while allowing backers to make a much more informed assessment of risk, and encourage teams to incorporate at least a few experienced members to help increase their chance of both successfully making their crowdfunding campaign, and making use of those experienced members to deliver their product. I feel (anecdotally, it would be interesting to see some numbers) that large projects failing to deliver is becoming more frequent, and that proactively designing the crowdfunding process to encourage experience by highlighting clear risk would help the process be more successful in general.

        2. What Peter Jansen said.

          And in any case, I meant that the straightforward thing to do would be to confront your troubles last time around on your ~current~ campaign.

          1. Yes, that’s what we are about to do now. This time, we are gonna make it right.

    2. Yes I also bought Hex and received my unit that doesn’t fly or at least not as they originally planned. My unit is one of the many that simply goes up and then slams into the wall like so many other people. Sorry, ethical or not…Hex won’t be getting any more money from me!

      1. Hi Brian. Our second project was currently cancelled and we plan to fix the first project first. We want to have a happy ending for those who are not satisfied with the copter. Solution is underway. Please keep an eye out for our updates for Hex on Kickstarter.

        1. Thanks for the heads up and at least you are looking into the issues that says alot compared to many KS efforts that came and went!

          Look forward to hearing some news about Flex and possible options to get my unit flying straight and as previously planned! I’m off for the summer and let me know if you need some testers. Sorli

          1. Thanks Brian. Action speaks louder than voice. We are currently having a discussion at the solution. We’ll try to find a better way. There will be a new update on Kickstarter of the project soon. Please have a check for that then.

  2. Here’s another one that turned into a scam: SOAP – the fastest touch router. It got lots of press and they even went to CES. There are lots of awesome shots of “works in progress” and developer boards. Project scope changed many times in hardware, then finally the product turned into software only. Then vaporware. Screwed folks on both KickStarter (http://kck.st/1zig5G7) and IndieGogo (http://bit.ly/1E0hYTw). Beware anything these guys do. There names are on the sites.

    1. Wow SOAP router…what a nightmare and $150 down the toilet. Think we need a website just to discuss KS scam artists and previous known for ripping people off! It is amazing how much supporters provided for that dream router and SOAP delivered Nada! Just thinking about it makes any future KS campaigns unappealing and even Flex looks impressive, but makes me think twice.

      Sorli…

        1. Wow…I forgot about Indiegogo and between that campaign and KS…SOAP brought home over $400K and provided NOTHING!!!! $400K sounds like a Class-action Lawsuit to me!

          Kickstarter and Indiegogo better figure a way to fix these types of issues or they won’t be getting anyone’s support!

  3. I backed Hex and got it and it works, still does. The team was pretty up-front about the production delays (like 99.99% of all KS projects) in the kickstarted backer communications…

    1. Maybe there’s an extremely silent majority of users who got excellent, working, complete Hex kits. But I’m not seeing that reflected in the comment section for the project.

      1. Or maybe only the people who are dissatisfied complained and that is what we are seeing on KS? When was the last time you backed a product, were satisfied, and then went in an wrote a positive review? I know my last time was like 1977…

      2. Yes, maybe some people did not stand out to show that. There are some people who shared their flying experience on YouTube.

    2. Thanks, Stephen. Thanks for your support for our first project. Apologize for the long delays.

  4. Hi Guys

    This is Flex team. We canceled our second project two days ago.

    Thanks for your discussion here. Thanks for those comments, any kind of, we really appreciate them. Thanks Jon for his objective article about this team our our two projects. Thanks Anderson for his comment and support.

    FlexPV is our second project on Kickstarter. We launched it on April 28. In the past several days since we launched the project, we’ve received several comments from our users of the first project, Flexbot. The comments are quite direct and sharp, which means we did not make our customers happy for our first campaign.

    Flexbot was a big success with $560,000 funded. We made great efforts to meet our deadlines but somehow it did not end very well. So we’ve been thinking, how far could we go without the support of our old users? The team had a serious discussion and we had the same conclusion: cancellation.

    That’s where this decision came from. We won’t be here without out first batch of supported users. We should shoulder the responsibilities to meet the demands and requirements of the old Flexbot friends before launching a new project. That the right thing for us to do and that’s what we need to do right now. For a team with responsibility and loyalty, we think that we are making the right choice, which is also what you guys want and need us to do perhaps. When customers say we are ready, then we will be truly ready.

    FlexPV’s return to Kickstarter is absolute. The team sincerely hopes that your support and trust are always there. We will be more than glad and excited to inform you about our returning when we are ready. Please keep an eye on our updates. We sincerely hope today, we can have your understanding. This time, we are gonna make it right.

    Sincerely,
    Flex Team

  5. Besides, we try hard to deliver as always. For those who did not receive the camera module or the copter, we will catch up with a solution. At least we tried, most people received. Although it’s not good as described. we, as a team, do not consider the first project a failure. A new version of Flexbot is under development.

  6. Just as in relationships, people tend to have more time and motivation to talk about their complaints, than when things are great (possibly, because they’re busy!) But when mistakes are made and those who trusted you are let down, it’s better to make THEM feel like you aren’t just moving on…so to speak.

  7. Bike Friction Drives are nothing new! I designed a Bike with inbuilt friction drive motor,(after initial idea of mounting a cheap electric skateboard to the back of a bike)
    https://grabcad.com/library/ebike-concept-1

    a few weeks later the RUBEE appeared http://www.rubbee.co.uk/ helped with a little promotion from R Branson(see rubee blog page3), I was a little miffed i’d missed the boat. but apparently not…I just hope my next design isnt plagarized…but it seems to be something that happens more & more these days thanks to the internet.

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Jon Christian is the co-editor of the Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection between makers and business. He's also written for the Boston Globe, WIRED and The Atlantic.

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