We take for granted the amount of work that needs to go into making a solid hardware device and how low the margin of error needs to be when devices are sold by the tens of millions. Samsung sells millions of phones and a handful combust. The danger has huge implications even though it’s much more likely that you’ll get struck by lightning.
As former consumer electronic hardware makers (with the Ubi), we spent an inordinate amount of time testing the Ubi first in house and then with beta backers, and then in tranches of shipments. The number of variations we could possibly test for was just a small fraction of real world situations that would be encountered by the thousands of people who received Ubis.
After the first waves of Ubis hit Kickstarter backers, we were inundated with questions and situations that were difficult to have anticipated. There were about 20 different permutations of WiFi setup problems (which is why I harp on this issue so much!), there were hardware issues — especially after the Ubi had been shipped from Toronto to Australia in the winter, and then there were a slew of “human factor” issues. Of the latter, there would be inquiries from people who bought the Ubi who’d ask “what’s WiFi?” I’d spend six to eight hours per day for the first two months after we began to ship the Ubi solely on customer support.
Being a member of the crowdfunding community, we also supported many hardware products — most of which shipped but after a lot of delay. The experience with them is universal bugginess. I have a closet filled with devices that were tried once and stopped after a short time.
The takeaways from our experience:
For hardware makers who have crowdfunded their products…
- Keep your initial design simple — limit the parts (fewer sensors)
- When you discover the hole you’ve dug yourself into, be open and cut features before shipping. Yes, people will be upset but it’ll be better than delaying further
- Limit features and polish the ones that your early testers consider killer apps
- Don’t expect your crowdfunding campaign to cover your costs. It’s probably going to cost you 3–4 times what you’ve raised to actually deliver
- Keep shipping to local backers first (same city) and avoid certifications if not necessary
- Reuse as many off the shelf components as you can.
- Your price needs to be higher. Make up for the elasticity by having a larger early backer tier with a reduced price.
For consumers backing crowdfunding campaigns…
- Don’t back a project expecting it in time to give as a birthday present for someone
- Don’t expect that it will work. When you get it (eventually), enjoy it for the beauty of an act of creation. Maybe you’ll sell it on eBay in 20 years as a relic of a unicorn company.
- Don’t flame or troll. If the makers weren’t naive, they wouldn’t run a crowdfunding campaign in the first place. Their naivety is what led them to boldly put out an idea. That’s a double edged sword — they’ll miss a lot of problems that they hadn’t anticipated. Just encourage them or help direct them to do good work.
- Do offer intros / support if you think it’ll help the maker. They may not realize how helpful your advice is, but sometimes it’s just what they need.