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.