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A Problem with Kickstarter
by Elena Mikhaylova on 10/23/13 06:36:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Kickstarter has been an unquestionable leader in crowdfunding for several years. For many people, Kickstarter is the only platform they’ve heard of, so Kickstarter IS crowdfunding. This is why I think the issue with this particular portal is not just its own business. The backers supporting thousands of campaigns on Kickstarter believe that the platform offers at least a basic level of protection by vetting the projects. It has nothing to do with the reality.

As most of the readers know, Kickstarter is available for projects posted by the residents of the US, UK and Canada. I was born overseas and have many friends around the globe, so I would love for people in Europe, Asia and Africa to be able to use this popular tool to raise money for their projects. Unfortunately, Kickstarter does not officially allow that.

Actually, anybody can post a project on Kickstarter by employing one of two methods: creating a company in the US/UK/Canada or by finding a person who would “lend” his SSN and other identity information for a significant monetary reward. The current situation has created a whole industry of “experts” helping potential creators break the rules and we, the backers, are paying for their services because they increase a project’s overhead costs.

Officially, it is prohibited by Kickstarter rules, but you can find many requests on Facebook from people looking (and eventually finding) “an American friend for hire.” Another option is even worse. It is relatively inexpensive to start an LLC with a bank account and a tax ID.  Then this company registers an Amazon payments account and applies to start a campaign on Kickstarter. After finishing a campaign, the company transfers the money to the bank account in its own country. The problem is that, in this case, the backers have absolutely no way to prosecute the creator in case of fraud. They simply wouldn’t find a company to go after or it would be too expensive to file the papers for international lawsuit.

I've been working on an article titled "How Kickstarter influences national crowdfunding in different countries" and was shocked by the data I've discovered. In some countries the amount of money raised through Kickstarter is higher than money raised through major local crowdfunding platforms.

In my opinion, it would make perfect sense for crowdfunding companies that have an approval process to at least request a proof of the basic information provided by campaign creators. I read an interview with a president of one PR agency specializing in crowdfunding who shared a "professional secret”:  they change a location of a project several times during a campaign to bring more backers on board.

Can Kickstarter catch that? Absolutely. So why doesn’t it do it? Because it doesn’t care about the interests of the people who fuel its existence. It took me two days (not even full time) to find projects that raised millions of dollars (combined) with creators who either had fake identities or companies and websites created just for a Kickstarter projectObviously, based on current laws, the backers have no protection. This is the only explanation why we don't have hundreds of lawsuits. But does it mean there is no fraud? Well, sometimes it is not about fraud but about lack of accountability. If creators knew they would be responsible for keeping their promises, we would have much better data on projects delivered on time and with reasonable quality.

I looked through 1,000 Kickstarter campaigns that were active in December 2012-January 2013, and here is what I’ve found out:

•    Almost none delivered the perks on time

•    Approx. 20 percent still haven’t shipped the perks (a delay of 8-10 months)

•    In approx. 10-12 percent of the cases the creators have stopped responding to the backers messages, which probably means the backers have no chance of getting the product or a refund

•    In at least 30 percent of the cases where the backers have received their perks the quality was significantly below the promises

Let’s look into a couple of the cases:

“Magic Wallet” is a Kickstarter project that has raised over $34,000 from almost 600 backers last February (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/259704821/the-magic-wallet-slim-and-unique-design-rfid-prote). It has managed to deliver the product to the backers eventually, but here are some of the comments from the “happy” owners of the Magic Wallet:

  • What a disgrace. Mine arrived today and its as crap as everyone says it is. The lack of quality and pride in this product is shocking. It appears this fraudulent scam artist basically spent 10% of the money we foolishly gave him on these appalling wallets and ran off into the night with the other 90%. If he set up this project fraudulently then kickstarter should step in and take action. If they don't, they're basically inviting other con men to have a go...
  • I'm in too but unfortunately there is nothing that we can do, except put it down to experience! It's terrible I know but we have no recourse as he has fulfilled his contractual part by shipping 'something' & trying to actually 'track' him down is very unrealistic in actual reality. Good luck Guys but it seems there is only one person that comes out as a winner or 'rich' in paradise from this Project & that's Timur 'Rich!' Last seen livin' it large in Moscow - San Francisco!
  • I've contacted Kickstarter regarding "Tim Rich."Tim Rich" is not a real person. The person creating the project is not in San Francisco, Ca. The Rules of Conduct under the Terms of Use for Kickstarter clearly state that someone posting a project is not to post content that is false, misleading or inaccurate. "You shall provide accurate, complete, and updated registration information.” I'm well aware of the risks on Kickstarter. I'm also aware of the risks of doing business with people in certain countries. I would not have backed this project, if I had known it was in Russia. To me, saying you are in the US and implying that you are doing this in the US, when in reality you are in Russia, is fraud.
  • This was my first attempt at Kick Starter after hearing so much about it, I figured what could be safer then a simple wallet. After this, I will not be participating in other projects. I should have investigated further and seen that we have no protections from something like this.
  • i wrote to Kickstarter. According to them, they cannot do anything!! It's time to boycott Kickstarter for supporting these scams

Another case from the “Food” category (it’s not a rocket science, is it?): A “Garlic Sauce” that was funded almost 450% of the initial goal on January 25th with the perks supposed to be delivered in February/March 2013 (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/301887521/garlic-heat-a-garlic-forward-hot-sauce-looking-to). These are the recent comments from the backers:

  • I also haven't received anything. I'm only out a small amount but it sounds like this product is crap anyway, no huge loss. I only support KS creators with a proven track record now, unfortunately because of people like Jason other creators and projects suffer.
  • it is 10-months since you started your Kickstarter and I still have NOT received the Garlic+Heat that I paid you for. I am not ready to give up on you just yet, so pleeeease fulfill my order ASAP.
  • Seriously? Here we are again midway through another month where nothing has appeared on my doorstop. Why don't you stop lying to us and just say you cut and run with all of our money. I find it very shady that youve got another crowdfunding venture going on currently on a similiar site when i sure as hell haven't seen what you say you've mailed multiple times. NOT IMPRESSED.
  • Are we getting scammed? He won't respond to any of my messages. Not sure what to do at this point. It's been five months.
  • All I can do is laugh, I live in Oakland and still received nothing. Second Kickstarter I've been burned on, sucks for the worthy products out there and creators that actually fulfill their obligations. I'm done with this website.
  • I was still holding out hope, but my expectations of seeing this item are low. I am disappointed that after nearly 7 months, my item has not arrived at all. There must be some kind of reprimand by Kickstarter. This can not be left alone.
  • Kickstarter needs to implement some kind of public acknowledgement for situations like this. While I know it is a risk in this type of funding environment, a little public shaming might encourage cowards like this to follow through, and keep burned backers interested in continuing to use Kickstarter. Maybe a bright red "Thief" stamp posted on his avatar would be a good start :)

Here is an example of a campaign currently raising money on Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/576456616/imotion-3d-motion-controller-with-haptic-feedback?ref=search. Contrary to what it said, it is located not in Los Angeles but in Singapore. The company's website says it is a part of another company, Intellect Motion. Unfortunately, the link provided gets you nowhere with a "web address is not found." I contacted them directly to find out that they have a company registered in Delaware. There is no explanation why they have their location posted in California. I have failed to receive any response to my question about where in the US the backers can contact them in case of any problems.

And look at the funding story of the project (from Kicktraq.com):

We see a typical dynamics in pledges for the first 10 days. The project got over 50% of the funding goal from 478 backers with an avg. pledge being $110 and the most popular perk worth $49. Then it lost momentum,  gaining an average 2-3 backers a day and on some days actually loosing money instead of raising it. But there is an interesting phenomen: While the largest perk costs only $3,500, on day 15th the project got almost $17,000 from just two backers, on day 20th another $10,000 from three backers, followed by two days of losses and then another $10,000 from three backers (and loss again on the next day).

I am not going to insist on any conclusions, but it looks like a typical attempt to trick the system by using different Amazon accounts to pledge on their own project (which is strictly prohibited by Kickstarter rules, by the way). What’s wrong with that, you may ask?

There are three possibilities:

  • The funding goal was initially inflated
  • The creator will not be able to deliver the product because of lack of the funds (by pledging with his own money the creator actually is losing almost 10% on Kickstarter and Amazon payments fees)
  • The product delivered will be of a significantly inferior quality because the creator would have to use cheap materials

There is a growing need for public due diligence for crowdfunding projects. It is expected in the case of equity crowdfunding, but it is also necessary to provide reliable information for backers in rewards crowdfunding to help them choose the best projects. CrowdsUnite.com is trying to create an analog of Yelp for crowdfunding platforms. We need to have a similar forum for project creators. 

We're talking about the democratization of the financial industry. But it will be impossible without transparency. It is my belief that crowdfunding platforms should be advocating and enforcing their rules to make this "a fair game" for all participants. Right now I don't see a real partnership between the parties at this table. I can’t agree more with my colleague from Canada Diana Yazidjian: “Let the crowd decide what's to be funded but let Kickstarter start acting as a business. It's time for these platforms to become accountable of their actions (or lack of), start caring for their customers like a normal business would. Their customers are those that publish a project as well as those that give to a project”.  Kickstarter has earned more than $35 Million in the platform’s fee from successful projects. It’s time for the company to start spending some of this money on protecting its clients.


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Comments


Alex Khromenkov
profile image
Elena - it's unfortunate you've chosen to take a shot at our Kickstarter
project and company, yet you haven't disclosed that we actually hired you as
an independent consultant some months back and severed the relationship.
You'll probably remember we were unhappy with your work, however we didn't
go online and blog about it. Editorial integrity would have at least
demanded that you disclose those facts, perhaps blogs have different
accepted practices though.

With regard to contacting our company to ask about our location, you make it
seem like you never had anything to do with the project, while attempting to
cause controversy for us as we near the end of our crowd-funding efforts for
the iMotion controller. You can be assured that we will not allow you to
break your independent contractor's agreement when we employed your services
- again not to our satisfaction.

"6.0 Confidential Information.
6.1 The Contractor shall not, during the time of rendering services to the
Company or thereafter, disclose to anyone other than authorized employees of
the Company (or persons designated by such duly authorized employees of the
Company) or use for the benefit of the Contractor and his or her employees
or for any entity other than the Company, any information of a confidential
nature, including but not limited to, information relating to: any such
materials or intellectual property; any of the Company projects or programs;
the technical, commercial or any other affairs of the Company; or, any
confidential information which the Company has received from a third party."

We believe that what you have done is an attempt to interfere with our
business using confidential information obtained during our working
relationship and that you're now slandering the company by suggesting,
without any proof at all, that we are doing something with our campaign that
is not above board. While I had hoped we would not ever be in a position to
have to defend ourselves from a malicious attack, especially since we paid
for your services in full, despite our dissatisfaction with your services,
it would be wise if you consider your actions and question what the legal
consequences are and will be. We have resources at our disposal to legally
enforce our rights and plan to put them to work to defend ourselves from
this or any future attempt at slandering our company and products.

Sincerely,

Alex Khromenkov, CEO of Intellect Motion (your former client)

Elena Mikhaylova
profile image
Alex,
Are you saying that I was concerned about the backers’ money based on my insider information about your company?
If you believe that NDA allows you to lie, sorry to disappoint you. I terminated the contract (not the other way around) because, based on my communications with your company, I had come to conclusion that you didn’t have a product you claimed to have and because of your complete lack of understanding the role of social media in crowdfunding. You already have proven me right about the second part with your surprisingly inefficient Kickstarter campaign (I am actually going to use your case for my workshops on a topic “what NOT to do”). Now it’s up to you to prove that I was wrong about your product by delivering it in high quality and on time. And I make sure to follow up on that.
I didn’t mention our previous relations specifically because I wanted to use only publically available information. This is why so many people have loved this post. Actually, I was informed by Daryl Montgomery, a leader of a network of 5,000 investors in NYC, that he is going to use this story for his book (the chapter about fraudulent practices). The information used in this post is provided by Kicktraq.com (these guys are doing great job!) and available to everyone interested. When I said about contacting you in regard of the location of your US office and the reason why you have posted LA as your location, I was referring to our communications on Engadget.com. You have chosen to leave these questions non-answered.
And thank you for mentioning the fact that you have resources. I also noticed it because of your expensive advertising campaign on Facebook. This is another reason why I believe that Kickstarter backers can have a better use for their money by helping real indie projects.
Why don’t you post this discussion in your campaign updates and let the backers decide if they want to stick with you? I don’t think you would do that. Because the words “honesty and transparency” are not a part of your dictionary.

Elena Mikhaylova
profile image
I analyzed more than 500 Kickstarter campaigns. The reason I’ve chosen yours has nothing to do with our previous communications. I have never seen so bad backer dynamics in any other projects. If you look at intraday data, it looks even worse. There are two major reasons a project may lose multiple backers day after day. Either they were not real backers but just the creator’s associates who were asked to help and didn’t have intent to spend money on the project. Or the backers have started questioning the creator’s ability to deliver the product.
There is nothing personal in my post. Your project is just a perfect example to show the readers what can be done wrong with a Kickstarter campaign. If I wanted to start a personal vendetta, I would spend a buck and started trolling you in the project’s comments feed. It is much more efficient tool to influence the backers of a specific campaign.


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