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.