Why Kickstarter projects are always delayed

Most Hackaday readers may remember the Spark Core, an Arduino-compatible, Wi-Fi enabled, cloud-powered development platform. Its Kickstarter campaign funding goal was 10k, but it ended up getting more than half a million. The founder and CEO of Spark [Zach Supalla] recently published an article explaining why Kickstarter projects are always delayed as the Spark core project currently is 7 weeks behind schedule.

[Zach] starts off by mentioning that most founders are optimistic, making them want to embark in this kind of adventure in the first place. In most presentation videos the prototypes shown are usually rougher than they appear, allowing the presenters to skip over the unfinished bits. Moreover, the transition from prototype to “manufacturable product ” also adds unexpected delays. For example, if a product has a plastic casing it is very easy to 3D print the prototype but much harder to setup a plastic injection system. Last, sourcing the components may get tricky as in the case of Spark core the quantities were quite important. Oddly enough, it was very hard for them to get the sparkcore CC3000 Wifi module.

Comments

  1. Dann says:

    Reminds me of the iControlPad 2. 10 months delayed and still no ETA.

    • gahcoh0Seihoo6vi says:

      Well, if you knew the guy that’s responsible for this you would’ve expected that. He goes by the name CraigX and he was one of the original OpenPandora people, which now mostly got taken over by EvilDragon, but yeah… you probably heard about that project and its delays.

  2. Caleb says:

    Very good read. It fascinates me how unprepared people are when they start a kickstarter. I sometimes like to troll threw kickstarters design or hardware category to see how green and naive some of these project creators are. The majority of them make an interesting prototype, show some google sketchup designs of what it could potentially look like then get a quarter of a million dollars for a product they promise to ship one month after there end date.

    • Aprone says:

      “troll threw”… I see what you did there. :D Well done sir.

    • reggie says:

      kickstarter is like dragons den without the dragons, there’s no moody scotsman laughing at them saying ‘I’m oot’ with a bunch of people that are happy to sign away their cash to someone with zero experience, what could possibly go wrong?

      I think that’s ultimately why kickstarters are doomed to be delayed, it’s not money they actually need, it’s mentors to push the thought from being an idea that someone has made one of to a full blown product.

  3. AC says:

    most engineers, even really good ones, don’t have experience with the FULL product life from design to production to support. There are a LOT of details.

  4. Joseph says:

    A very interesting article that applies to all project development, not just Kickstarters. Something I think we all need to remember about these projects is these are not retail products but typically under-development prototypes with which you are getting in on the ground floor.

    My personal rules for Kickstarters are:

    1. Never pledge money I would be uncomfortable losing.
    2. Accept up front that I can’t predict when the project will deliver (if at all) (see rule 1).
    3. Avoid projects that are ridiculously over-funded since this causes its own set of problems for the founders.

    • vpoko says:

      Yeah, it does seem like overfunding creates projects. There’s probably an option on Kickstarter that caps contributions, but it should probably be mandatory (maybe with a bit of allowance, like 110% of the goal). Once the product has been developed and shipped, open it up for another round of funding if needed.

    • Paul says:

      I’m kinda the same way.
      My biggest addition to your rules is that I only jump in on projects I understand well, or media I genuinely enjoy and can trust the creators of (FreddieW w/VGHS, Penny Arcade, Cyanide and Happiness, etc.)

    • Wretch says:

      “1. Never pledge money I would be uncomfortable losing.”

      That’s probably the best mindset to have in this case. It works quite well for lending money to friends, too. (c:

    • Markus says:

      Crowd funding should be in the spirit of “patron of the arts” and not “pre-order”. There might be exceptions, but then it’s not crow-funding (if a big company that obviously have the capacity to pay themselves puts up a kickstarter for something people asks about but they don’t believe in making a production run of, “prove to us you really want it in at least this number”, but then it really is pre-order).

      It’s high-risk venture capital without any due diligence (a video-presentation, maybe a name you know and 5 mins of deciding). The whole point is a lot of people risking a small sum each to fund things “big funders” don’t want to risk.

      And construction/development/production of anything are almost always delayed, it’s just easier to spot for the end-consumer with crow funding, a bit like big construction projects (everyone can see that new train station house STILL isn’t done). Quadruple your estimates, as Galane says below, be happy if you deliver in 3/4 of that.

      • Joseph says:

        Your comment regarding “patron of the arts” vs “pre-order” is an interesting one. It may be that we think of the technology Kickstarters differently than the others since they tend to focus on products rather than, for example, performances or events.

        • Quin says:

          That’s just what projects you look at. I stay away from the hardware and fund webcomics into print books, musicians, etc. If they never deliver, I know at least the artist got some money from me for their past work. If they do, then i get a cool bonus. For most software, I’d rather wait to see it done and pay more (which is a bit stupid, shouldn’t VCs pay more for both the dev cost and the reward?) because it shows the eventual publisher that indie projects are cool.

          The whole hardware side if KS i just stay away from.

      • Kevin says:

        Excellent point.

  5. Galane says:

    1. Under-promise and over-deliver, but never so much as to make people suspect that’s what you’re doing. Then you look like a frigging genius/hero when the project comes in under time/budget and/or works better than you said it would. (AKA Montgomery “Scotty” Scott’s method of Starfleet engineering.)

    2. Calculate the amount of X that will be required (time, money etc.). Double the amount. Double it again. Then you’re at just about the right amount, barring any emergencies or interruptions. (This is especially relevant for restorations of things like antique homes and vintage cars.)

    La Forge: Yeah, well, I told the Captain I’d have this analysis done in an hour.
    Scotty: How long will it really take?
    La Forge: An hour!
    Scotty: Oh, you didn’t tell him how long it would *really* take, did ya?
    La Forge: Well, of course I did.
    Scotty: Oh, laddie. You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

  6. sneakypoo says:

    I had a pretty decent idea for a kickstarter once. Then I started looking up information on injection moulding. Then I stopped dreaming. That shit is a jungle. (and no, I will not share what the idea was)

    • Paul says:

      Doing it yourself, or outsourcing?
      We do a lot of it where I work; it’s typically not too bad depending on the geometry. For larger stuff you can check out ProtoLabs – even if you don’t go with them, their analysis tools are pretty good (also, get one of their sample cubes – lots of good references on it). Autodesk also offers some injection molding analysis tools that work with CAD models.

      • Paul says:

        Correction, Proto Labs apparently has a more complex sample shape than a cube now – just look for a “FREE Design Aid” on their Proto Mold page.

      • For simple stuf like small enclosures, paying atention to a few rules, like maintaining the thiknes constant, adecuate draft angles in vertical surfaces, and avoiding undercuts will simplify a lot the mold.

        The first and more important step for a cheap, durable and reliable mold is always the design of the part to be molded. In my former job as a mold designer, we usually ran trough many iterations with the client to simplify the part, or even redesign unmoldable parts.

  7. F says:

    The rule of thumb I’ve heard is that the first 90% of the project takes up 90% of the time, and the last 10% takes up the other 90% of the time.

    It’s a lot easier to delay a project when you are using someone else’s money.

    • fluffy says:

      I thought it was 90% of problems are configuration errors and the other 90% are typos.

    • Had a client who had an explicit rule: no-brainers take a day. Really works that way.

    • shocked and annoyed says:

      fairly sure the original poster made no mistakes….no typo no math error. Either Im thinking too deeply about it or you missed his point….watch…
      “we are 90% done, we have been working on this for 9 months and it will only take your money and another month to get it done”
      “we have your money, but the remaining 10% of our project has been delayed by 8 months, as we…..
      had no idea how much work we were looking at
      had no idea how to finish when we asked for funding
      had no idea we would have to make 200X what we planned and our methodology doesnt scale
      etc etc etc

      90% (9 months) +10%(1 month)=90%(9months)+90%(9 months)=
      180% of the time and effort they thought the project would take

  8. vonskippy says:

    Poor planning? Inexperience? Pie-in-the-sky optimism? Outright scamitivity?

    If you don’t have a COMPLETE business model and detailed (DETAILED) plan of action, then why the hell are you begging for money?

    Pretty much any plan that starts out with “Well……once we get the money, the rest will be cake” has never succeeded.

    • Joseph says:

      Yeah, I’ve often thought the same thing. Drives my coworkers crazy but designing the prototype and producing the product are two completely different things (engineer vs manager) with two completely different required skill sets.

      I recommend reading bunnie’s article on how to make a bill of materials (http://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?p=2776). This level of detail is only the beginning.

    • Kevin says:

      Touble is, even if you do have a “complete” business plan, you’ll be forced to adapt it to changing external circumstances. A business plan can become more of a liability than an asset if you cling to it too stubbornly.

  9. Quin says:

    I find it amusing because of the projects I’ve pledged to and the ones i want to make myself.

    One comic book was done by a newbie who, far as i knew, had never published before. But she had priced her suppliers, had those numbers on the kickstarter, and knew what resolution her pages needed to be. Project might have been a few days late, but drawing the custom sketches does take time.
    Other project was an established musician who knew her studio and collaborators. No hitch at all. (well, some shipping problems on my end, but moving the week stuff arrives was a bad plan)

    As for my own ideas, while I’m building them I’m looking at the ability to does them en masse. If I make the first prototype on a ‘duino or other dev board, the second one, before I think about making it public, goes on a raw chip. If I can’t do that easily, how can i plan to build it for real? If i can’t get a quote from a fab house on a bulk of the boards, or have a ton of the components (from uC to caps and chokes) at my door in a week, how could I promise others that I could build it for them?

    Maybe that’s why i don’t pledge to many hardware or software projects. The devs don’t show that they’ve thought that far ahead, and that doesn’t even account for Murphy and gremlins.

  10. Take all estimates and multiply by pi.

    Best rule of thumb I have hears to date. Forgot to do it on this phase of my current project… sigh

    • Quin says:

      I always heard it as double number, and move up one unit of measure. 5 minutes becomes 10 hours, and so on. Only had that fail me once, but illness and learning to be a competent DBA added many hours. I didn’t figure the time it would take to design a table layout because I’d always used someone elses database in the past.

  11. quentinharley says:

    This is why I am going to shy away from crowdsourcing a little bit longer. Playing around with guilt free money is much easier. When money comes with direct expectations and impossible deadlines, it sucks all the fun out of your project.

  12. Kevin says:

    It’s the old 90/90 rule. (I technically delivered my own Kickstarter on time, but I wasn’t personally happy with it. The real ultimate product is coming out a year late…)

  13. ejonesss says:

    if you only need 1 cc3000 then try ebay

    http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_odkw=CC3000&_ipg=200&_sadis=200&_ftrv=1&_adv=1&_sop=12&LH_SALE_CURRENCY=0&_osacat=0&_dmd=1&_ftrt=901&_trksid=p2045573.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.XCC3000+wifi&_nkw=CC3000+wifi&_sacat=0&_from=R40

    since prototypes are usually to show function you could maybe get away with using a network router for the wifi just to show the function.

    another reason for delay may be fraud.

    the delay may be caused by a background check to make sure the project is legit.

    also what’s to keep someone from using a kickstarter to get the funding to crash a plane into another building. so it could be anti terror investigations too.

    • Wut? says:

      @ejonesss …. I don’t think you understand? The idea is the Kickstarter projects are often late in delivering the promised Project or reaching their eventual goal due to complications that were not expected or well handled by their creators… The idea is not that Kickstarter itself as an organization is delaying the projects.

  14. flegmatoid zoid says:

    “project management” and “product life-cycle management” – everyone should dedicate few weeks for reading few books before starting anything bigger. Most of lessons-learned which were mentioned in the article are those classic mistakes one could have avoided easily.

  15. LNM says:

    “Take the time you think it will take to manufacture your product, and double it.”

    The rule I know is to double it and increase the units by one. (E.g. 1 hour -> 2 days, 1 week -> 2 months, etc.)

  16. doctek says:

    Not all Kickstarters go this way. Check out the Teensy 3.0 story:

  17. doobs says:

    So, basically these projects are lacking an experienced project manager..
    People always assume there wont be any unforseen issues when doing estimates, then as the article says – theyll under estimate the work & forget to imclude smaller tasks in their planning… I usually take 1.5 times each task estimate plus extra contingency for un estimated work..

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