\ Two Years, Still Waiting For My Crowdfunded 3D Printed Earbuds...
Feature: Page (1) of 1 - 05/04/16

Two Years, Still Waiting For My Crowdfunded 3D Printed Earbuds...

By Moshe Baum

A couple of years back I came across a very promising project: OwnPhones: Wireless, Custom-Fit, 3D Printed Earbuds.

I was so excited as this was speaking exactly to two major problems I always had with every earbud I ever used. First, they easily fall off the ear and require frequent readjustments. And second, all "wireless" earbuds to date in the market still had a wire in between the two buds that makes a hassle to carry around.

This project promised to do so many great things. OwnPhones said they will 3D-print each earbud to custom fit individually to each customer. It would be completely and truly "wire-free." There would be two separate small buds that sit perfectly inside your ear and it was promised to be delivered in "about six months."

I bought into everything and gave them my $200 and waited patiently for them to arrive.

Several months went past and I received a many notification about their progress being interrupted by delays due to, R&D issues, manufacturing issues, etc. The delays piled up and I eventually became so frustrated (along with many other backers) that I asked for money back. Since there were so many backers who requested it, the refunding was approved. Other backers were not as fortunate, because they eventually just disappeared with the rest of the money.
Since OwnPhones, there have been many, many other projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo promising EXACTLY the same idea with minor variations:
None of these products ever shipped. And the combined 40,000-plus backers will be waiting for their "pre-orders" for some unknown future.
The Root of A Bigger Issue
These earbud campaigns are just the peak of the iceberg. This is a very common story in the crowdfunding world and it's seems to be more rare to have a campaign succeed from end to end.

Even one of the biggest crowdfunding success stories that raised over $13M turned out to be one of their greatest ongoing disasters, completely screwing over the original backers. Just recently, there was $820,000 to back a project for an underwater breathing device that is scientifically impossible.

And, all too often, there are straight-up frauds like this one that was banned eventually from Kickstarter, so they just went on to continue the fraud in Indiegogo. And the list of frauds goes on and on.

Fixing A Broken Model
Kickstarters and Indiegogos fail all the time. And if you Google something like, "why crowdfunding fails," you'll get hundreds of stories with tips on how to avoid it. But, all the links are tailored to the individuals and companies running the campaigns -- very few support the average backer.

We all know the risks associated with backing a crowdfunding campaign, but backers are given a misrepresented view of success. I personally feel all warm and fuzzy inside to hear that 36 percent of projects launched get funded. Compared to the startup world, that success rate is extremely high; you see statistics like 92 percent of startups fail within three years. It is important to note that even the perspective shifts when talking about statistics regarding failures compared to successes.

But where is the data on the projects that reach their goal and backers actually receive their products? And how many of those who receive it are satisfied?

Professor Mollick from the University of Pennsylvania did an independent analysis detailed in a Kickstarter Fulfillment Report that indicated that project backers should expect a failure rate of around one-in-ten projects and receive a refund 13 percent of the time. However, the definition of failure and success is grey. Even Mollick states in the report, "it is important to note that rewards are but one potential outcome of a project as there are many ways by which a project could 'succeed' but still fail to deliver rewards."

The data behind the "successes" are limited and we only hear anecdotal stories. The lens is focused on the entrepreneurs and not the backers, when it is flipped in the real world of business where the customer is often king. The current crowdfunding models are inefficient, not transparent and not as effective as it should be. Or simply put - not fair.

I'm a fan of the crowdfunding world and will continue to be a backer, because I believe in it. But, the model needs to shift. We need to find a way to take a more proactive approach to provoke innovation and we need to find a way to hold these campaigns more accountable.

New models are popping up every day, and hopefully the talented engineers and entrepreneurs of the world apply their talents to the models that have a greater chance of actually coming into existence instead of the status quo.

Fixing the Formula
With all of the projects that have been funded and never fully realized, we saw an opportunity to create a new type of crowdfunding platform that might solve this issue once and for all. There was obviously a market need for products like OwnPhones (since so many projects popped up afterwards) but no one was able to actually deliver on their promises.

We wondered if traditional crowdfunding models were going about things backwards. Would these talented engineers try harder if they had to first prove they can deliver before being given the money? We thought so.

With that thought in mind - we started to develop FwdForce as a "next generation crowdfunding platform." Instead of starting with a solution (or product), we start with a problem and gauge the market demand for said problem. If there is enough demand (by virtue of achieving a set funding goal), the project then becomes open to competition. If someone thinks they can deliver a solution to the problem (in product form), they are welcome to try and submit their concepts.  With so many different solutions to the same problem, we realized having a crowd "vote" for the best product solution was most efficient for meeting a challenge's needs.

The next barrier to success is with traditional crowdfunding is prototyping. So, instead of forcing the contenders to spend money up-front - we decided to cover the prototyping expenses as a percentage of the challenge fund, for the shortlisted contenders.

Then, it is time to test the prototype. With Kickstarter (and others), backers can only trust the promises of the campaign creators. That doesn't leave much room for authenticity in reporting results when they are not measured against any objective criteria. We decided a 3rd-party professional testing service must be an essential part of the picture to qualify a project as "successful".

Finally, the last barrier where most Kicksterter "successful" campaigns fail - is in the manufacturing stage. Many companies fail to transition from prototypes to mass production, which is why on FwdForce the winner doesn't get the full amount immediately. We first give them a portion to cover their first batch of products. Once that's done, they need to provide proof of 3rd-party testing (their choice) to assure successful transition to mass production before they get the full amount of the prize.

We believe that by positing a challenge/solution versus a one-solution-only option crowdfunding platform, we are able to proactively attract innovators to solve proven market needs while lowering the barriers of entry. At the same time, the risk of fraud is greatly reduced for those who choose to "back" a solution.

It's my hope that many new products can successfully launch on FwdForce through this new crowdfunding technique.
Moshe Baum is co-founder and CEO of FwdForce. A mechanical engineer by trade, Baum has more than 15 years of experience at PTC and different roles in Defense Industry, garnered multiple patents, and earned his degree from the Technicon Israel Institute of Technology.

Related Keywords:crowdfunding, crowdfunding failures, crowdfunding success, crowdfunding fraud

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