If you're not familiar with sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and IndieGoGo, they are fundraising sites where individuals and companies can bring a product or service to market without having to find investors. Essentially, the people backing their fundraising campaign become the investors and are repaid with "rewards" that often include the product/service itself. Most famous of these would be something like the Veronica Mars movie, where fans of the awesome TV show pitched in $5,700,000 to help get a film sequel made.
I've backed around 35 projects from these sites, and most of the time end up regretting it.
But I keep buying into the idea because every once in a while it's worth it.
As I pledged to yet another project this morning, I thought I'd run through ten of my most memorable campaigns from the past six years...
- Flag - Free Photo Prints Forever
Price Paid: $25 — Received?: No — Verdict?: Scam
Usually the word "free" is a massive red flag to be avoided at all costs, but Flag's business model actually seemed legit. They subsidize the cost of their high-quality prints by selling advertising on the backs of any prints ordered. The fundraising campaign was to get the money needed to buy the equipment required to get started. Anybody backing the project get moved up the list of when they could started getting 20 free prints a month. Everybody was raving about the quality, so I thought $25 was a small price to pay for those times I wanted occasional prints of my snapshots. Well, I paid back in October, was initially given a start date of December... then kept seeing the start date moved further and further back. Right now I can't order my first batch of prints until May. It wouldn't shock me if it keeps moving back and back, because the people behind Flag have stopped all communication about the project. Odds are, I'll never see anything for my $25 at this rate.
- Everyday Backpack
Price Paid: $380 — Received?: Yes — Verdict?: Legit
Peak Design is a respected company that has partnered with photographer heavy-hitter Trey Ratcliff in the past. They are deep into photography culture and seem to really know what photographers want out of their gear. Given my horrible experience in getting a decent camera bag, I was intrigued when Peak started a campaign for a backpack that looked too good to be true. I signed up not only for the bag, but for a slew of other products that all looked pretty great and had reviews that were stellar. When the backpack finally arrived, it was a pretty decent product. Not perfect, by any means, but better than what I had been using. I'll post a review sometime in the future... but, in the meanwhile, suffice to say that I wish the zippers were bulkier, the straps were more padded, and the organization was more functional. Otherwise? A decent investment.
- CUJO - The Smart Way to Fight Hacking
Price Paid: $209 — Received?: Yes/Refunded — Verdict?: Returned
Since most everything in my house is connected to the internet, security has become a valid concern. The idea of somebody hacking into a thermostat to gain access to the entire house is an actual possibility. Problem is, great security is cumbersome and expensive. So when a device called "CUJO" came along which promised to solve all this, I jumped at the project. Thanks to IndieGoGo's shitty website, I actually ended up backing the same project three times... so I guess you could say I did more than jump on it... but the people at CUJO were good about getting it all straightened out, so no harm no foul. Except... I could never get the product to work, despite hours on the phone with tech support and multiple attempts at configuring/resetting/configuring my router. Apparently how CUJO works is by using "ARP spoofing" which kept taking my entire network down. Ultimately I returned the product for a refund because it (apparently) wouldn't work for my setup... but not after wasting many, many hours trying to get it to work for me. Oh well.
- Luup Litter Box - The Best Cat Litter Box Ever Made
Price Paid: $98 for 2 — Received?: Yes — Verdict?: Garbage
Before I even got cats, I knew I would be getting cats, and part of having cats is having to deal with the horrors of their litter boxes. Luup promised to make the chore a pleasure with their interesting technique of layering three interlocking trays that have slots in the bottom. When it comes time to clean the litter box, you lift the top tray, sift out the waste, dump it, then place that try on the bottom so as to set up the cycle for next time. It's a great concept. In theory. In practice? Not so much. First of all, the plastic they used bonds to pee like cement. I never, ever, got to just sift out the waste... I was forever scraping it off the sides of the tray (or, out of the slots, which was horrible). Essentially, this fatal flaw defeated the entire purpose of the product. To make matters worse, if you accidentally stack the tray the wrong way? Litter everywhere. Sometimes you get litter everywhere even when you do stack them correctly. Ended up hating the Luup trays so much that I ditched them for "regular" litter boxes again.
- Aftermaster Pro - Hear the Dialogue on Your TV
Price Paid: $150 — Received?: Yes — Verdict?: Jury Still Out
If there's one thing I hate, it's having dialogue in a TV show or movie completely obliterated by background noise, music, special effects, or whatever else the audio mixer assaults it with. Enter Aftermaster Pro, a device which claims to have solved all of this. I was skeptical, obviously, but the company is a huge success in the music market (attracting partners like Justin Timberlake), so I signed up. $150 is a drop in the bucket compared to how much I've spent on my home theater, so why not? I finally got the product after months of waiting, and am still not sure it's worth it. What it seems to be doing is boosting volume in the mid-tones (where dialogue lives) which IS an improvement... but nothing I couldn't have done with a cheap equalizer. The company claims that there's a lot more going on, and I'm inclined to trust them on that, but I'm just not getting the massive improvement in experience that I was expecting. I dunno. Maybe after some more comparisons and testing I'll feel otherwise but, in the meanwhile, I wish I had saved my money.
- PUGZ - World's Smallest Wireless Earbuds Charged Through Phone
Price Paid: $119 — Received?: Eventually — Verdict?: Scam
I've purchased three or four pair of wireless Bluetooth ear buds since they first started making them. Most of the time I end up disappointed. The sound is bad. The connectivity is flakey. The sound fades in and out. They're just not worth it, and ultimately I end up going back to wired earbuds. But then came PUGZ. Not only did they advertise being the smallest you can get with amazing audio quality... they were also able to recharge from your iPhone! Sweet! Sign me up! And then... ended up being my most regretted Kickstarter purchase ever. First of all, they never got Apple certification to charge from the iPhone as promised. They SHOULD have canceled the campaign and refunded right then and there, because now I'll be charging from a USB cable just like all the other Bluetooth earbuds I bought. But they didn't. Oh well... I'll still be getting amazing sound quality, right? Nope. The audio is so fucking terrible that they are basically unusable. Weak-ass bass. The highs are tinny and have static in them. Battery life is also shitty. I hate my PUGZ, and can't believe I wasted $119 on them when I could have got a pair of Apple AirPods for $40 more by the time I finally got the damn things. If any project taught me a lesson, it's this one. I will never, ever back an unestablished company for this kind of money again. Utter garbage.
- I Wonder What It's Like to Be Dyslexic - Book
Price Paid: $35 — Received?: Yes — Verdict?: Fantastic
As somebody who is mildly dyslexic, I often struggle trying to explain what it's like to be me and read something. Most of the time, it's not a big deal, as my brain has adapted so well to the situation that rarely even notice it. But sometimes... usually when it's a weird typeface or I'm tired... just reading a simple passage can be a huge ordeal. So when I stumbled across the idea of a book which illustrates how it is for a person with dyslexia, I was all over it. And, for $35, it ended up being one of my favorite Kickstarter projects. The book is beautiful. And while I'm not sure it tells the entire story of reading while dyslexic (a printed book can't show movement of the letters, which is a big part of it), the book does get the general point across. If you want to learn more about the project, here's a link to Reedeeng, the site behind the book.
- The Veronica Mars Movie Project
Price Paid: $50 — Received?: Yes — Verdict?: Fantastic
As a huge, huge, massively huge fan of one of the best television shows to ever grace my television, Veronica Mars, it was a complete no-brainer to back the project for a movie sequel. And it was worth every penny. While the movie suffered from the fact that it had to be accessible to people who hadn't seen the television show, and wasted time on back-story and cameo appearance distractions. But, ultimately, it was a really good story with a terrific central mystery and packed with stuff any Veronica Mars fan would love. As a backer at the $50 level I got a digital copy of the film, which was the perfect award. If Rob Thomas were to start a sequel movie campaign, I'd be one of the first people to sign up.
- Help Fund The Local Strangers' 1st Full-Length Album
Price Paid: $155 — Received?: Yes — Verdict?: Legit
Years ago I had just finishing up a day of work in Seattle and was hanging out with work-friends. They all wanted to go out since it was a Friday night, but I was too tired and not feeling it. I just wanted to go back to my hotel and crash. I changed my mind after a friend Googled the band that was playing at a nearby club called "The Local Strangers." Turns out it consisted of Aubrey Zoli... whom I hadn't heard of... and Matt Hart, who was from Chicago. "Matt Hart" sounded familiar, and I suddenly realized that it was most likely the Matt Hart from "Cobalt and the Hired Guns," a Chicago band that I had become a fan of in my many trips working in the city. Turns out it was that Matt Hart, so off I went. And had a great time. And became a fan of the band. So when I found out they had a Kickstarter to raise money for their first album, I went for the full-on package of $155, which meant I would get any music and merch they put out plus free entry to their shows, so long as the band was a band. And while I don't know that I'll ever get $155 in merch and music out of the deal... that wasn't the point. I got to help a local band I liked, which means more than the money I spent. You can take a listen to their stuff and learn more about the band on their website right here.
- Project GODUS
Price Paid: $46 — Received?: Yes — Verdict?: Scam
Peter Molyneux is responsible for one of my favorite games of all time... Populous. So when he decided to revisit the "God Game" genre with a new title that took advantage of everything modern computers have to offer, I didn't even think about signing on. That turned out to be a mistake. The game was glitchy and I lost progress often. The gameplay was repetitive and boring. Many of the features that Molyneux promised were never delivered. The game was ultimately abandoned.
And... that's a wrap. Looks to be a mix of hits and misses I can live with. If nothing else, it's been a learning experience that has me being a lot more cautious now than I used to be.