Author Archives: Alex Bloor
Based on “We didn’t start the fire” by Billy Joel, here’s what almost an entire weekend’s solid work yields! As always, lyrics and vocals by me.
Hope you like it. Please share if you do! It’s topical at the moment, so there is a slight chance of it going “viral”.
(Update at end 16:32 and 23:08)
I had a message passed to me, to call someone back; a Michael Kennedy from “PSI Group”. The name of the company they said they were from seemed familiar, so I did call them back. In retrospect I think I assumed they were something to do with the (now defunct) PSINet, with whom I had a leased line some sixteen years ago. Turned out it was totally a junk call, and made to one of our TPS listed (telephone preference service) numbers. So far so bad.
Now, I don’t normally do this, but I was busy and the call was junk, so I hung up without wasting any further time. Here is the original call where I called him back [on the basis of an arguably misleading message] :
Having hung up, I got back to the work I was doing… And he called me back… I will let you be the judge of the tone and character of his call :
Rather Irked by this, I decided to attempt to call him back, but he was in a meeting… apparently :
I thought that would be the end of it, but no! This guy clearly knows nothing about the rules surrounding the dialling of numbers on the TPS. Amazing really.
And that is the sad story of the feisty telemarketer. Hope you enjoyed it!
Update 16:34 : Had a call from the guy’s boss, Clive. Very apologetic, agreed it shouldn’t have happened. Refreshingly didn’t really offer excuses, just apologised. A minor snatching of win from the jaws of fail.
Update 23:08 : Whilst browsing discovered http://www.whocallsmefrom.com/02085325747 Seems as though this guy’s behaviour is part of a long-term pattern, which in turn makes me question the sincerity of the above apology. This blogpost was not intended to be a name-and-shame, but rather just a “look what happened”. However, I have now updated it to include the name of the individual and company, and also the number called from as part of the whocallsme URL. Hopefully others can utilise this information to avoid dealing with this unpleasant individual.
Part Five – The best stuff always happens after I leave the party 🙁
Part Four ended with me being given a refund and effectively ending my relationship with the project. Despite no longer having a chance of getting the hardware, I was still interested to see what happened to the project. Would it ever get done? Would Clive be revealed to be as honest as the day is long, or a charlatan, or merely unlucky and inept?
Well, the final promise that had been made before I walked was that the factory would definitely be making the boards “THIS WEEK (Monday or Tuesday September 21 or 22)“.
On the Friday of that week, Clive said that the boards would be made “this week”, which presumably meant the following week. So another promise not kept. He also reiterated that the Android app was 90% done. Another promise was that the survey (used to capture customer details) would be sent out that weekend. It appears it was only sent out on October 3rd. People did appear to react (in the face of still quite a lot of negativity) with pleasure to receive their surveys :
Lots more people responded excitedly that they’d completed their surveys. One member (as it would turn out, *spoiler alert*) identified one anomaly though, that would prove, later, to be a rather big cloud on the horizon :
What would you hope the two URLs in an update like that would be? Well, the video… how about a production line with PCBs on it, and workers soldering things? Yes? Was it that? Fuck no. The video was a news report about bad traffic in China. Seriously. The dropbox link was almost equally vapid and useless; some stock screenshot. Nothing evidential.
Then another case of “CliveTime” (the apparent phenomenon that time does not flow in a linear fashion for Clive Smith). Let me show you what I mean :
On October 16th :
Along the way, some members identified questions that needed to be answered in connection with cables and different makes of camera, and also queried whether we could please see some actual evidence of the boards being real rather than imaginary:
So on October 28th, the boards were ready and just needed shipping. Another entire week later, finally, at last, they had apparently been shipped to the USA :
In the meantime, the iOS app had apparently hit the App store. Nobody could use it because it demanded the unit’s serial number. I couldn’t help but wonder why a maker of a Kickstarter would do this. A large manufacturer with intellectual property concerns, maybe (although I would slag them off for doing it) but not a communityesque project like this. People even commented that it was good to see the app. I downloaded it. Basically it was a web window pointed at a registration page, and nothing more. I couldn’t help but feel this was also a stalling technique at the time.
On November 13th a bitter sweet update. With an almost alarming predictability, the boards had a bit of a problem and GUESS WHAT? That was going to delay things still further. Bearing in mind the finished product was due to be delivered in June, and the date was now mid November, this was a bit of a blow; almost half a year late and with more delays projected.
The “factory used the wrong connectors” again really stretches my credulity, and had I still had posting rights to the comments section I’d have very clearly said so. China knows how to make stuff. They really do. Factories are actually quite straightforward to work with, and are keen to do stuff right. If they do stuff wrong, they correct it. Photos of a prototype board would have allowed this not to happen. One thing that certainly isn’t right is manually re-soldering connectors; either someone ordered the wrong ones, or the factory needed to correct its mistake. Another backer had the same thought :
I believe a few hundred of these were sold to backers. 2200 as a number of connectors didn’t seem to quite divide down. Bluntly, I question the veracity of the claim that 2200 connectors had to be resoldered. But there is more :
- If each connector took five minutes to replace (which is probably a fair estimate, for someone handy with a soldering iron) then that would be 7.64 days of working 24 hours a day, or roughly 15-16 days on 12 hour days. Or still proportionately more on 8 hour days.
It doesn’t seem right, one way or another. Either Clive is making the whole story up, or the factory fucked up, in which case this is negligence on Clive’s part for not making them fix it, or Clive ordered the wrong thing. One way or another, this is not good.
Finally, though, a semi vague promise that end of next week shipping might start. Or at worst the middle of the following week. So, that’s something to work towards, right? Right? R i g h t ?
Definitely won’t be almost two weeks before the next non-update will it?
Yes it will.
So as at December 8th, still not shipped a single board. Once again, I am curious to know what connectors were wrong? say there were 400 boards, and 2200 connectors to re-work. That is 5.5 connectors *per board*. I don’t think the board has 5-6 connectors of the same type on it, at all. Again, no explanation really.
Then there was another period of quiet from Clive, presumably as a result of the CliveTime phenomenon, and still a little more disquiet in the ranks :
Utter fucking bullshit! Everyone has paid their money, on the strength of at least a promise of some updates. No evidentially based update – NOT ONE – has happened. There have been no photos of prototypes, no factory shots, no boards, no video of what a manual connector replacement job looks like and how long it takes, no sourcecode, no NOTHING. Just hot air. Nothing more. I utterly disagree with Bill, and it made me wonder, not for the first time, if he might be part of Team CamsFormer. I still doubt it, on balance. But who knows? Bearing in mind, it was now the 20th of December. Once again, another overrun and no updates.
And yet the pantomime / “internet theater” show (as Bruce Gaber described it above) rolls on :
It CAUGHT ON FIRE?! Is this Punch and Judy?! As it happens I know a little something about laser cutting/engraving. We actually have a machine in the office. This does not ring true, at all. Moreover, once again, it is yet another delay tactic. It’s yet another comedy reason for why they aren’t being shipped today.
One member clearly saw this as I did :
Could it be that all the fantastical stories were merely to push the project over the finish line as far as potential for refunds went? If you drip-feed people stories that might possibly be believable, and you keep doing it so gradually that most of them do not notice the deadline for a refund passes, then you essentially win by default don’t you? Many of the CliveTime instances now sort of make sense from that angle, I think.
My thinking is that the vast majority of members probably had *no longer than* the 25th of December before which to apply for a refund. Many might have had to claim earlier than that. It is interesting that these things finally (apparently) shipped just as Christmas was coming and couriers get busy and overwhelmed with packages. Very interesting.
This seems like a good stopping off point, so here endeth part Five. Please check back soon for Part Six.
Part Four…The purchase of my silence (spoiler alert)
We left the story at part three on September 6th 2015, at which point I’d lost my shit for the first time, pointed out a whole lot of oddities and concerns and pretty much decided I didn’t want to be a part of the project any longer.
On September 8th, Clive posted a whole lot of reassurances; that everything was fine, that all hardware and software was complete except Android (90% complete though), that the design alteration at the last minute was one single wire and absolutely not anything to worry about. These updates were all “text only”; no video or screen shots or whatever. He did promise to post some screen shots “shortly”, though.
Once again these were not done as Updates in the proper section, but as comments, as several members noticed :
I still cannot work out if there is some reason for Clive repeatedly failing to do updates as proper updates; whether it somehow kept things “below the radar” as far as Kickstarter was concerned? If anyone wishes to comment with suggestions I’d be very pleased to hear them.
It is worth, for fairness, pointing out that some commenters were still posting in support of Clive, commenting that they believed in the project and looked forward to its completion. I would say the majority of those commenting were suspicious though :
Finally, it seems that Clive had actually promised other backers by private message that he would use the UPDATES section rather than the comments section and had then, having made that promise, failed to do so. This really does make me suspect there is “technique” going on here; I really cannot work out what it achieves though.
At this point many members started to express doubts in public. Some posted complaints they’d made to Kickstarter and Kickstarter’s replies (which were rather hollow and vacuous – and certainly achieved nothing nor committed to do anything). I trotted out (again) some comments about its similarity to XtremeTether, and also posted some new things I’d spotted that were contrary to claims :
On September 19th, Clive finally said that “THIS WEEK (Monday or Tuesday September 21 or 22) we will start mass producing circuit boards, then ship them out to everyone.”
On the same day, Clive private messaged me back to say the refund had been issued. I didn’t immediately get it but just a few days later (with more pushy chasing, and quoting reference numbers) my money did come back. What I hadn’t immediately realised was that as soon as it got refunded I’d lose my ability to comment as a backer. So my current theory is I’d posted enough dirt to get my silence bought for a refund. I kind of wish I’d realised this, and perhaps even posted a URL for my blog before being banned from posting.
So that is kind of the end of the story for me, or ought to have been. But my curiosity about what the project really was lingered on even afterwards, and I was curious to see if anyone would ever receive anything. I think that’s a good place to end part four. Check out part five now!
This is part three!
In Part 1, we looked at the campaign, its press coverage, what the project promised, and why it interested me.. In part 2 we moved onto the first seeds of doubt… Then a silence descended on the project.
… Twenty two days later …
And fifteen pissed off messages from people chasing updates, plus a few expressing concern over the Android (lack of) progress, and other things. Several saying PMs had not been answered. The next update (not to the Updates section but again to the Comments section) :
This felt like a “bet hedging” update; warning people that the app would be crap. The main issue I felt upon reading this was that 22 days and zero response to anybody was beyond a joke. What else was the guy doing? The $78,000 dollars was impossible not to visualise in ways other than “productively employed on the Camsformer“.
Finally Clive posted mentioning that everyone needed to update their addresses in Kickstarter as this would be the source of the postal addresses for shipping. Half a dozen backers chirped in that he needed to do a survey, and that every other project they’d backed had done it this way. Again, the feeling of “clueless” rather than “scam” came to the fore.
And then there was the update that properly caused me to lose my shit :
Excuses, excuses. Oh dear we’ve now gone into a Chinese holiday that isn’t our fault. Maybe if it hadn’t been so badly delayed this wouldn’t have happened. That part wasn’t the bit that caused me to lose my shit though… This part was :
This part, above, was the part that caused me to lose my shit. After all this bullshit about making the board perfect, testing it etc, otherwise we’d have 400 useless boards, there appears to be a major change proposed. Again, my feeling honestly was, “we’re being set up for a failure; this behaviour is so inept and stupid as to not be credible as ineptitude or stupidity. It has to be deliberately set up to fail.”
The lack of any kind of evidence was my main concern. I am a bit disappointed that it took me such a long time to come to this conclusion. I am a skeptic. But I think I really wanted to believe in it. It’s an odd psychological effect; once you have “money in”, you really want to believe in something. I guess that is how almost all monetary scams work. Jumping forwards in time, to today, March 2016, I’m now nearly convinced it wasn’t exactly a scam, or at least not one that was as efficient as it could have been.
Others agreed with my sentiments :
… And having not lost my shit enough, I went on a losing my shit rampage :
Anyway… I was still going …
Several members echoed my comments, and commiserated with one another, over the next day or two. One pasted his report to Kickstarter, warning them that we all thought this project was a scam.
End of part three! Part four is next!
This is part two!
In Part 1, we looked at the campaign, its press coverage, what the project promised, and why it interested me.. Now we move onto the first seeds of doubt…
HOT PRODUCT OR HOT AIR?
The first comment on the Comments section is dated 3rd December 2014. For quite some time, the comments made were all positive; making suggestions, asking questions. Clive Smith’s responses were fairly quick and upbeat. A few promises in response to people asking about various features such as this, about Android:
And then a weird exchange, and some assurances and some “getting on the defensive”. It is of course perfectly possible for anybody to make an accusation. But when one is made, I really think the adult thing to do is to break it down, and demolish it surgically. Simply accusing an accuser of trying to “ruin the project” is bullshit. It smacks of attempting to defend what is indefensible. This worried me :
Now, note that their profiles from the Kickstarter page are minimal. No surnames, no links to prior business and electronics success stories, and so on. So simply saying “we have our profiles right here on our kickstarter page” and reiterating an unverifiable number of years experience… amounts to nothing. He also says “our team has answered” … Only Clive Smith’s account replied to each of those questions. Nobody else.
Then this, earliest premonition, by another backer, that the project might not be all it was cracked up to be. I should say, well done Justin, whoever you are. Bear in mind, whilst this argument was going on, the option to back (or not back) the project was still open. I cannot help feeling that some backers who backed the project at the very last minute may not have read this exchange. Had they read it, perhaps they’d have decided to not back the project? I guess that might be the first moral of this story : Always check ALL of the comments on a project before you back it; even the ones that way back.
Well spotted, Justin.
Again, just a return to the incomplete information on the Kickstarter profile
Well, he does tell it like it is. And from the vantage point of the future. Damn it, I think he might have been right. Or at least, sensitive to a problem that was real.
Yes this one is totally different, the box is a different colour.
Now I am still not sure whether or not the Indiegogo one was anything to do with Clive at this point. Justin could be wrong.
But he actually defends (or attempts to defend) the Indiegogo project, and even makes the link. Justin is not wrong. Bearing in mind this is on 28th January, there was still an opportunity at this stage for a person teetering on the brink of backing to decide not to.
Sloppy typing is what makes me think only one person was using the Clive Smith account, as opposed to a “team” as Clive suggests. Quite a few of the posts have sloppy typing mistakes that haven’t been corrected.
And there we are. A previous project, with team members whose names changed, was a simple rebadged router. Definitely casts doubt on the whole thing, and still in time to save many backers. Perhaps it did. Perhaps it would have had 400 or 500 backers had Justin not stuck his neck out? Who can say? Well done Justin anyway.
The project got funded 1st February 2015. On that day, Clive answered a backer’s question. Twenty eight days then passed with absolutely zero activity. On the 28th February a backer asked for updates. The next day Clive posted what was effectively a non update. Remember the estimated delivery is June 2015. So we have 4 months, at most, now. Tick tick tick. There was a minor smattering; less than a dozen; messages over the next few weeks. Certainly no updates. Then on the 25th of March :
Less than half a dozen messages and over a whole month later, Clive speaks again :
Two months left. Given that we were told that this product was basically finished, it does start to get just a little troubling that there are still design changes etc. Let’s just reiterate what was said above; that Camsformer was a “fully working device” … “a few things left to do” … “cosmetic changes“. But yet the PCB is being changed and tweaked. Troubling with just 2 months left to deliver.
A couple of backers started commenting that they had started to get a little worried, and also ask for more frequent updates. Clive said he could do updates every two weeks, but that they might be not very exciting as they were just working on it as normal. But this felt half hearted. This is a technological manufacturing project. Photos, diagrams, circuit layouts, any of these things would have made an audience happy. None were forthcoming.
MID MAY COMMENT (comment, not update) :
So this is the first time Clive admitted that the project might slip on timescale; albeit only by a month. “June” became “June/July”. Bearing in mind that this is mid-May, there seems optimistic already. Silk screen print being missing from a PCB does not feel like something someone really experienced at electronic production would have happen to them. But perhaps this is being unduly harsh.
Still having heard nothing further by the last day of May, two backers commented pressing for news. A project organiser who was really on the ball would have replied immediately. But two further days passed before Clive replied. And I’d say this reply was the first one where I started to think “WTF” :
Now I only know a little of electronic product design, having been directly aware of the hardware development cycle on a network appliance product. What I think I can say for certain is, discovery that the circuit simply wouldn’t work would not occur at the “we’ve made the PCB” stage. It would occur at the design/prototype stage. This one comment undermined any residual faith I had had that the project’s creators had any idea what they were doing.
I felt that either this demonstrated almost majestic ineptitude, or (actually, more likely) this might be a flag for dishonesty: an excuse; to blind the backers with science. To provide a techie “explanation” for the now obvious over-run. And perhaps even catalyse sympathy amongst the ranks?
Two more weeks passed, with backers posting messages asking for updates.
Mid June brought a longer update :
Well, given that this is not a product that is intended to capture audio, but merely to trigger something upon detection, I am puzzled by wording which mentions “quality”. Presumably it did not work, and they had to modify it so it worked? Or the whole thing was just a lie.
So we are definitely going to miss deadlines. Why not print off the bulk of the shipping labels whilst we are waiting for China to deliver? Why is so much being made of the labour of fulfilment? Excuses excuses?
Again, this feels slipshod. Many Kickstarter campaigns actually do send people to the countries where their bits are manufactured or where their materials come from. Kickstarter projects that make leather bags send their people to the tanneries and zip manufacturers. It doesn’t smack of a well-arranged project that this idea of “sending someone to China” is only crossing someone’s mind now.
This is a non-statement really.
This constant dishonest and evasive “improved quality” type crap is starting to get tiring now. It simply was never the case that they planned to delay to “improve the quality”. The product still did not exist. That is the reason for the delay in shipping. Simple as that. Lesson to Kickstarter project owners – never bullshit your backers like this.
Sadly it seems some bought into the misrepresentation :
A day or so later, I also asked for Clive to comment on the similarity to the Xtremetether project. Now in hindsight I’m puzzled as to why I asked this; I think Justin had already got a tacit admission of similarity, so either I’d misunderstood this, or was trying to get a clearer admission. Not 100% sure on this.
Next update, July 6th. So actually a bit quicker in terms of the time gaps between other updates :
Ok, so this sounds plausible – do a short run. Make sure all’s well. Then do the bulk run. And a further assurance of the progress on the apps. Not terrible.
Promise of a video of the completed board. Not sure why a video as against a photo? Spoiler alert: This never materialised. Keep a note now of the comment “We don’t want to have 400 boards with errors…. manually fix all of them.” No spoiler this time. Wait and see.
Some backers started commenting that private messages to Clive hadn’t been replied at this point. Still others commented that Xtremetether was an obvious scam. Clive reacted defensively, as might be expected. Then what was described as a technical update on 20th July 2015 :
More shit about the audio detector. Once again, why wasn’t this realised BEFORE a single PCB had been produced? Anyone who was properly experienced at design of products like this would know, surely? Am I expecting too much? And the technical description feels like straight out “blind them with science” garbage.
At least instead of saying it was altered to “improve the quality” the phrase has adjusted to “work properly”. At least that’s a step. And finally a reassurance that iOS app is finished and Android is real soon now.
This feels like another “blind them with science” bit of bullshit. Or at least, something that anyone who knew what they were doing would not run into as a problem. Note the promise that because the Android version is now 80% done, it will be complete by the time the hardware comes to pass. Spoiler alert… No, I can’t bring myself to.
Some members used this update to remind Clive that using the Updates section would be better than using the Comments section. This appears to have fallen on deaf ears. I speculated to friends at the time that maybe this was some kind of ploy to evade detection by Kickstarter. We concluded that this would be counter intuitive, but it is an odd behaviour pattern and cannot have been accidental. I am confident that it was a deliberate choice.
Other backers raked the Xtremetether project back up. And I think maybe this is the point where the rot really started to set in. Bear in mind, that by July 31st, the project was at least a month overdue :
Oh, so we’re still testing it. Again at the time I remember thinking “are we being softened up for a failure now? Keeps mentioning useless boards; SO FAR tests show the board is working”… It’s an odd way to phrase things. Not binary enough.
And more unverifiable “completed”s. No offer of screenshots of the app. No offer of any of the sourcecode of the embedded program. Another word about this PCB testing. PCB testing is a one-hit process. For a PCB of this size, there are several tests that could be done, but they could be done in quite a small number of hours. This process does not take days. A failure on a PCB of this type will not generally “show itself” after a few days of testing. So again, questionable wording. Also a Mac app?! Where did that come from. And finish with a lie; “I will definitely use the updates section next time”. He didn’t.
End of part two. Check out part three, in which I finally lose my shit.
Kickstarter has had some wonderful successes and some terrible failures. Perhaps the most famous example of the latter is that of “Zano“, the drone that raised millions and only delivered a handful of units, which didn’t work well.
On the 7th December 2014, I backed a project called “CamsFormer“. The concept, in pieces, was not wholly original; a box that you connect to your dSLR which (it was claimed) would allow, amonst other things, remote control via wifi, and also some “automatic triggering” options – such as upon a change in light level, or upon a loud noise. Sounded great.
Let’s have a quick look at what the project was offering. Obviously the page is still live, and if it does get removed, you can probably find it cached somewhere. I thought I’d grab some of the highlights just to examine with hindsight how realistic they were or were not.
Comparisons against other “already existing” products were made :
With hindsight I would possibly say this built the feeling that this was basically a finished product that just needed a bit of help to go into mass production. Couple that with a list of personnel, and some fluff about their prior experience and a very brief list of reasons for the need of funding …
… and some mention of other products the team had supposedly been involved in before, and I guess it was convincing enough to get me and lots of other people hooked. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, I now notice a conspicuous lack of any surnames. Note that the two mysterious others ; “Hugh” and “Nigel” never came out of the woodwork. Based on the way the project went, I feel fairly comfortable that they probably never existed.
There is one other bit of fluff you see in almost every Kickstarter. It has become so ubiquitous that I almost wonder why anybody includes it any more. Basically a massive image of logos of other places where the project has been mentioned or linked from. But the image always seems to include google and Facebook; which is setting a pretty low bar for entry! It isn’t as though an editor at Google thought, “that’s a good idea, we’ll definitely list that”. Same for Facebook.
So what was promised exactly?
Quite a list. Sounds really good. Some sounds feasible. I did wonder, even at the time, whether the “Experimental follow mode” was a bit enthusiastic, but then it did caveat with “Experimental” which actually gave me confidence that they were being realistic. Before I finish this part of the post, I’ll just look at what they judged the risks to be :
“fully working device” … “a few things left to do” … “cosmetic changes” … some comments about (again) how they’d worked in this field before. And finally a claim that the device in the videos is working, and again a return to “many times in the past”. So it all looked good.
Everybody’s talking about Camsformer
I initially read about it in a link from Facebook. The link was to an article in a reputable online photography publication.
This definitely added gravitas and “weight”; this being my first Kickstarter ever, I was a little cautious. The article was on the excellent “DPReview” website. I read through the report, visited the Kickstarter project, had a think for a couple of days (missing out on the cheapest “buy in” price) and then backed it.
In my own case, I wanted to to use the device to experiment with detailed time-lapse photography. Triggering a shot on a variable interval, to create a “speeding up and slowing down” effect in the finished video, and also some movement of the camera itself.
$226.00 lighter, I then began the waiting to see what would happen next. I got my email thanking me for becoming a backer. The estimated delivery date was June 2015. Not too long to wait, I thought.
On 9th December 2014, the first update, informing the backers that CamsFormer had hit its initial funding goal. This, as far as I was concerned, meant that the project was definitely going ahead. Exciting times.
On the 19th, ten days later, a second update. No real substance, just a waffle update imploring backers to “tell your friends and other camera owners you know about our cool project, so that they can participate in the fun too!”
Update three came a further ten days later. The update seemed slightly crazed, and talked about how “we already blew past our funding goal (THANK YOU!)” and then continued with the equally emphatic “we still have 34 DAYS left to go!! What should we do now??” At the time, I don’t think I felt this was any sign of inexperience. But in hindsight, it does read as a rather puerile update. There then followed a list of suggested “stretch goals”. The first of which was sensible : “1. Right now CamsFormer is being run off internal batteries, maybe we could add a USB internal battery charger.” (more on this power issue later) but the list then carried on into “3. Put a wireless web server inside CamsFormer: Allows CamsFormer to be access from any device with a web browser, so that multiple wireless devices can use it at the same time“; this was a little worrying, since I’d assumed that was how it would work anyway.
There were some items which I feel in hindsight look like padding – i.e. “7. New improved user interface for the app” … and “12. Add more internal sensors“, “13. Add a USB port to charge an external cell phone with” (what?!) and finally, “14. Suggest something totally new“… Nevertheless, the tone of the update was upbeat and bouncy. At the time, I probably thought nothing of it.
Update four, 24th January 2015 was basically a longer, beg for backers to tell their friends, but also added to confidence with the mention of “BackerClub.co”, a website that had apparently featured the CamsFormer project.
Update five, and what would be the final update ever, entirely a puff piece about how amazing this product was (despite its inconvenient non-existence at that point) and pointing out that there were only a few days left until the project got funded.
A little word about updates at this point :
Every Kickstarter project has two areas for communication. One is “Updates” and the other is “Comments”. Updates is a one-way street; project organisers are really supposed to use this to keep backers in the loop about progress made. Comments is a two way forum-like affair, intended for backers and project organisers to ask and answer questions and discuss the project openly. I said above that update five was the final update ever. Having now looked at other Kickstarter projects, it is clear that once the funding part of a project is complete, it is normal for project organisers to use Updates to keep backers abreast of progress. I’d say one of the first things that rang alarm bells about CamsFormer was the lack of proper updates (i.e. in the Updates section).
I should be fair and say that the project’s founder, Clive Smith, was initially quite responsive to people’s questions and thoughts in “Comments” section, and indeed did use this section to post supposed updates on the process of production and manufacture.
On 1st February, I got my official email from Kickstarter informing me that the project had “funded”. This was of course no surprise. But now we are in the postmortem phase, it is interesting to realise how many other people are wrapped up in this : 376 people besides myself, providing Clive Smith a total of over $78,000!
Now the waiting game began. Based on what the project’s page claimed had already been done, it didn’t seem utterly impossible for a delivery by 4 months later, in June 2015; after all, according to the blurb, there wasn’t much left to do.
End of part one. You can read part two, “hot product or hot air” now.
A few foundations for the benefit of anybody who isn’t intimately acquainted with this aspect of the telecoms industry…
- TalkTalk has a “retail” division, and also a “wholesale division” called “TalkTalk Business”. I will refer to them as TTR and TTB.
- TTR sells to home users; broadband, phone services etc.
- TTB sells to other ISPs, mostly in the form of “DSL tails” (the actual connection from the exchange to the customer) and separately charges for bandwidth usage across those tails, usually on a basis called “95th percentile charging”. This is a type of averaging which gives a number of megabits of usage, which are then charged at several tens of pounds per megabit per month.
Today, TTR has announced that they want other ISPs to implement a “ban” on capped connections; in other words, they are belittling and attempting to shame their competitors who do not offer “unlimited” tariffs.
Obviously someone in their marketing department has forgotten that a large chunk of their business is SELLING WHOLESALE on a very much *not* unlimited basis to their ISP customers.
Ready, Aim (at foot), Fire.
ISPreview picked this up this morning. I initially expressed my dismay by tweeting :
And then possibly still a little more sarcastically :
I called our account manager at TTB and said that since TalkTalk were now making it their business to try to shame their own customers into offering unlimited, I expected there would be a massive price drop (presumably to zero?) on our 95th percentile bandwidth. He was sympathetic to my viewpoint and reaffirmed that Retail and Business were very separate businesses.
I also noted some quite amazing failures of comprehension in the article itself, including the suggestion that broadband was now a utility like water and electricity, and therefore should be sold without a cap. Speaking personally, I do actually have to pay more if I use more electricity, and if you have a water meter, then this will be true of water as well. Another sarcastic tweet :
Ultimately what I think what they are cack-handedly trying to do is to paint other ISPs who don’t offer “unlimited” as the dishonest ones. I reject this idea utterly; indeed the exact opposite might be successfully argued.
Some ISPs offering home users (for example) 10GB of usage, may well do so expecting to receive masses of extra “unplanned” income in over-usage charges, and that may well be legitimately considered to be underhanded or dishonest.
But for an ISP such as us (full disclosure: I work for AAISP), offering a typical home user on our “Home::1” package 100GB a month of usage, we based that usage on our own customer average (later confirmed by Ofcom). The vast majority of our Home::1 customers do not need to buy topups, or pre-buy at a higher than basic rate. This is testament to the fact that although not “unlimited”, our package offers customers more than enough for their needs, in a vast majority of cases.
Finally, because we actually have enough backhaul bandwidth, when customers want to max out their connections, they can do so without hitting congestion. Our connections, any time of the day or night, do not slow down. Really. Honestly. If we offered a generally “unlimited” service, I am very confident this would not be the case.
Indeed, one of the early comments on the ISPreview post seems to confirm my line of thinking on this :
Put simply, if you buy anything on a “metered” basis, you cannot really, honestly, sell it on an “unmetered” basis. Sooner or later, you will end up with a diminished service at the sales end if all your customers try and eat as much as they can. This is as true for broadband as it is for food at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Obviously I’ve moved onto the whys and wherefores of limited -vs- so-called “unlimited” services, which takes me away from the purpose of me blogging this, which was mainly to express dismay that a single company could be so unpolitik and so unaware of its own business in a holistic way, that it could make such a stupid, ill-thought-out press statement in public.
Congratulations TalkTalk, the marketing department of your retail section just did a massive shit on many of the customers your wholesale account managers work so hard to cultivate. The only way this could now be made right would be for TTB to reduce its 95th percentile bandwidth charges steeply, preferably to zero.
Updated Sun 20th July (see red update at end)
We needed some new bedroom furniture. We had an oak bed custom made by a carpenter, and we are pleased with that, but needed some other pieces to match. So we looked on Oak Furniture Land’s website, and found a range called “Windsor” which looked perfect.
Bad experience #1
We travelled a thirty six mile round trip to visit the Tunbridge Wells branch of OakFurnitureLand. On arrival we asked if we could see the Windsor range. “Oh that’s a new range, it’s not in our showroom yet”, “it might be by next weekend”. Fantastic. Thanks. Undeterred we looked around anyway, and didn’t see anything that really appealed. So we went home. What a waste of time and fuel.
On the following Friday we rang them to ensure they had the range in the showroom! They did! So we made another trip on the following Sunday. Another 36 mile round trip, again, at our expense.
Bad experience #2
We visited the store, we looked at the Windsor range. It was a totally different colour to that shown on the website. The website shows it as a mid to dark brown. The actuality is dark grey to almost green. The guy in the shop said “well you can never really tell by the website”.
We looked at the website on multiple devices; an iPad, a MacBook Pro, and an iMac. Apple Macs generally have fairly good colour rendition (a lot of professional photographers use them). Although none of my equipment is pantone calibrated, it’s not bad; I do photography myself. I do realise it is a bit subjective, but I am going to say the colour was not the same. The guy in the shop commented that “we were all surprised by the colour when it came in”, so that suggests that they also had different expectations.
A more general point about the OFL website: It is shit. It’s really really busy. Evidently the photography is also suspect. It’s difficult to navigate. It looks like something from a bygone age.
Anyway… So – The Windsor Range was out.
Bad experience #3
We eventually settled for something called the Quercus range. Although we’d seen this before, we’d ruled it out, perhaps slightly hastily. We selected two bedside cabinets, a chest of drawers and a bookcase. I asked the guy to price it, and he said he could throw in a free oak framed mirror. We don’t really need this, but as it’s “free” how can you argue?
His total price was something like £1168. I attempted to negotiate; I would generally aim to pay something closer to £1000 in this situation. No. Flat no. No discount – oh, unless I was in the army (!) But no room to haggle at all.
As any half decent negotiator should do in this situation, I walked away.
We went home, somewhat pissed off that we still had no furniture, but resolved that perhaps we’d see if OFL are on QuidCo, and maybe a second measure and check sizes wouldn’t be a bad idea anyway.
It turned out that OFL are on QuidCo, at 6% cashback. So – hooray, there is a 6% discount right there. Straight away. But that is not all …
Bad experience #4
We checked measurements, decided that, yes, what we had seen was what we wanted, and although the salesman and the store wouldn’t see our purchase in their figures, the company would still get our order. So we placed the order via the website.
Shock horror, it comes out cheaper if you order online anyway! So far from the store refusing to negotiate, the website was cheaper anyway.
Arse, meet elbow.
This is basically dishonest on OFL’s part. How receptive would they have been had I *not* walked away, placed my order in person, then got home and discovered I could have had it substantially cheaper from their own website online? My bet is, not very.
So the same items we’d been quoted around £1168 for in person, came out at £1009 and a few pence online. And that does not take into account the QuidCo cashback, which will amount to a little more than £50 off the effective price.
Absolutely disgraceful experience #5
A small number of hours after I placed my order online, and surrendered more than a grand of my money to OFL, I received a telephone call from a freephone number. It being a Sunday, I answered it, unsure who it might be.
I was impressed and amazed that it was OakFurnitureLand – how amazing that they’re so on-the-ball as to even deal with new orders after 5 pm on a Sunday! Particularly as their website gives their customer service hours as not even open on Sunday!
But my amazement at a brilliantly run business soon melted like the snow in Siberia where their oak trees are grown (you didn’t think it was English Oak did you?!). Here is the best précis of the opening of the call that I can offer from memory :
Him: Hello Mr Bloor, this is Oak Furniture Land here, we’re just handling the order you placed with us online.
Me: Wow! Ok!
Him: Is this your first order with us?
Me: Yes, it is.
Him: OK well what I’m going to be able to do for you is give you a free tin of the wax polish – which you should do as soon as your furniture arrives, and free express delivery which is normally £39 and you can have your furniture as soon as this coming Wednesday!
(at this point my girlfriend and I were incredulous – what an amazing company!)
Me: Wow! Ok great!
Him: And we will cover the furniture for five years for accidental damage if you crash the hoover into it, or scratch it, or spill anything on it and stain it, we can send someone out within two days to do a repair on it, and if it can’t be repaired drop in an identical brand new replacement. No excess, no charge.
(penny starts to drop that this call might be about to change direction)
Him: For just £101 you can have all of that, and really, as I’ve thrown in the wax and the express delivery, it’s only about £46 that you’re having to pay for five years cover!
Me: No thanks. (you’ll have to take my word for it, I was totally polite, at this stage)
Him: But why not? It’s for five years! That’s only one pound a month!
Me: No, I don’t think I need that.
Him: (starts to protest and do a pushy sales speech again)
Now I will admit, that at that point, I started to swear and raise my voice. I had politely declined twice. The guy would not go away. I do not like to do this, but I felt I’d given ample opportunities for this unwarranted, and unwanted, *SALES CALL* on a Sunday to be stopped, and he had not listened.
He tried to tell me there was no need to swear, and I pointed out that since he had ignored my two polite rejections, there really wasn’t a clearer way of indicating my lack of interest in his “furniture insurance”. He then said he had to run through the order details, including, strangely, how I might cancel the order (which I confirmed I didn’t want to do). Once done, we ended the call. He sounded upset. I sounded angry.
Message to Oak Furniture Land
There was a perfect opportunity for you to upsell to me when I was in store. But you squandered it for all the reasons above. Just because I have formed a contract with you to supply me furniture in exchange for me supplying you money does not mean that I am now fair game for agressive telesales on a Sunday evening. That is not OK. My view of you as a company is worsened for this bullshit “rinsing” tactic. Concentrate on selling oak furniture.
Update: I tweeted my annoyance to them about this unpleasant business technique and got told in no uncertain terms that rinsing their customers for insurance is “an integral part of their business”. Goodo! I shall not expect it to stop anytime soon then!
It will be interesting to see what the furniture is like, once it turns up. I have to say, my expectations are lower now than before I’d dealt with this company, but I am openminded, and we do actually need the items… So here’s hoping they are OK.
Update 13:45 Mon 14th July
So, I’d say on balance, OFL do care. I had a callback from David, indicating that he saw my point of view – particularly around the nature of the unsolicited sales call. We talked briefly about it, and I got the sense that he could see why it might be a bit “cheeky” to ring up customers who’d just spent money to try and get them to spend more. That being said, I don’t doubt they’ll carry on making the calls; but the approach might be done in a different way, and perhaps a “no” will be more readily accepted. He referred to it being used as an example in a weekly meeting.
I explained that I’d had similar calls from AO.com (Appliances Online) before basically selling the same thing for a dishwasher, but when I’d politely declined, that was an end to it. I said I thought it was still a bit cheeky, but I didn’t really object since AO immediately accepted my “no thanks”.
More usefully and relevantly, he was able to book in my delivery for this Friday, which was actually quite impressive; I do not generally expect managers to be directly empowered to arrange things like deliveries. But sure enough, mere seconds after the call completed an SMS arrived on my phone confirming the delivery. So far so good. If the furniture is decent, I think they’ll have redeemed themselves.
Update 21:08 Sun 20th July 2014
The furniture arrived as promised on Friday 18th. Extra messages were received improving the accuracy of the timeslot from 2pm – 5pm. Earlier on in the day I received a call from the delivery driver, and then again a little before 1pm, asking if it would be convenient if the delivery actually arrived at about a quarter of an hour before 2pm. I said this was fine, and sure enough it arrived bang on time.
The two delivery chaps were friendly and helpful. They explained that the reason the stuff was *so* well packed was that it had been held in quarantine for quality control in Swindon! And holy cow it was well packed. On five items of furniture; a chest of drawers, a bookcase, two bedside tables and the packaging material, once removed, was too voluminous to all fit in my 3 series BMW saloon! Two trips to the dump! But, the packaging did its job; not a mark on any of the furniture.
David from OFL called just moments after the delivery had arrived to check all was well. It is clear he “took ownership” of my case.
Friday evening and Saturday morning we unpackaged and arranged the furniture. This took a while because most items were replacing other items – so there was a pile of stuff to migrate. We are very pleased with the quality of the furniture. It is solid and heavy, and, fortunately, matches our custom made bed extremely well indeed. You would think it had all been made as one set.
So this is a story with a happy ending. Well done Oak Furniture Land. Just try to make the “rinsing” a bit less pushy and intrusive yeah?
For somewhere between 1 and 2 years we have had the same BT account manager, Martin. This length of tenure is rare for us. We seem to wear them out or break them far faster usually.
Prior to Martin, we had had two in just six months.
Prior to that, we’d had none for ages (probably over a year).
We did, back in the midsts of time, have one other good account manager, Ian, but our general expectation is, sadly, that they will turn up, sound enthusiastic for the first meeting, vanish, and scarcely or never be seen or heard from again. This has left us floating in space when we had a query, uncertain who to ask.
We (A&A) spend millions a year with BT, and the account manager’s job is quite varied and at times tricky. It isn’t, as some “account manager” type jobs are, just a sales job; after all, we are (mainly) a mass buyer of a fairly small range of products.
Far more of our business with Martin has been what I’d call “troubleshooting”. When you spend millions a year, supplier mistakes running into thousands are quite commonplace. Disputed charges running into thousands are even more commonplace. We had, for a long time, had difficulty communicating and getting action on various accounts problems, and they were mounting up.
Aside from that type of job, we also had the a level of technical enquiries – on new installs and on existing services; situations where simply putting us in touch with the right people and giving us an introduction, or knowing which heads to bang was the magic ingredient. Sometimes these took time, but we always felt that proper progress was being made.
In short Martin got shit done. He visited us once a week, and things got pushed forward. Long standing accounts queries got finally tied up and settled. We found him personable and interested in our, (I freely admit) slightly quirky at times, business. He took onboard our feedback, concerns and thoughts, and I truly believe fought our corner at times inside the behemouth of BT.
Martin was our BT Wholesale manager, but about half way through his tenure, he put in place paperwork to allow us to route our OpenReach enquiries through him too! A glutton for punishment? Perhaps. But our sales guys have found it very useful, and again, his “chasing up” of issues and giving weekly reports was a huge step forward.
Why am I saying all of this now?
We are losing Martin. Due to a BT reorganisation, probably the most effective account manager we’ve ever had is being moved out of account management. I cannot help but question whosever decision it was do make this move. I am sure they will never read this anyway (though if RevK chooses to reblog this, perhaps they will).
Naturally we’ll carry on. A new manager will be assigned to us, and I’m very hopeful about their abilities. We will – of course – welcome them, work with them to get them familiar with our business, and be as positive about this change as we can be. We managed with no account manager at all for probably more than a year, so we’ll manage whatever.
RevK and myself are quick to criticise when BT screw up. In this case I write in praise of one individual, and, yes, slightly to criticise the decision to reorganise something that we all felt was working well. It is a great pity. We look forward to meeting our new account manager though and hope they can fill some quite large shoes.