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Three things you should know before funding a Kickstarter project

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 1:00PM Monday August 26, 2013
under Newsworthy

Long ago, I recognized the World Wide Web for what it was: a great equalizer, a way for little-guy businesses to compete with industry giants. Of course, that was assuming they already had a product to sell. Back then, you still had to go through traditional channels--starting with raising capital--to take an idea from concept to production.

Kickstarter is the great equalizer of the modern era, allowing anyone with a cool idea (and a great pitch to go with it) to raise money from interested parties around the world. It's a concept more widely known as "crowdfunding," and it's really slick.

For example, perhaps you've heard of the Pebble, one of the very first smartwatches to hit the market. It began life on Kickstarter and generated so much buzz, major players like Apple and Samsung are expected to introduce their own smartwatches in the coming months.

And then there was the "Veronica Mars" movie that creator Rob Thomas took to Kickstarter earlier this year. His goal: raise $2 million to get the project off the ground. His result: nearly $6 million in contributions from fans eager to see the popular TV character reborn on the big screen.

So, yeah, Kickstarter is kind of awesome. Same goes for similar crowdfunding sites like FundRazr, Indiegogo, and RocketHub.

However, there are a few things you should know before making a contribution to any project you find on one of these sites -- things I learned the hard way.

1. Be prepared to wait
Last October I was in the market for a new case for my iPhone 4S. I spotted an IndieGogo project for something called the ReadyCase, which sounded really cool: a sort of Swiss Army Knife iPhone holster, one with a built-in multitool, USB flash drive, kickstand, headphone cord clip, add-on lens ring, and so forth.

There was nothing else on the market like it, and although the price seemed steep at $60, I decided to fund it. The only downside I could see was that the product wasn't scheduled to ship until February. Ah, well, I'd lived with a naked iPhone this long, I could wait a few months longer.

February finally rolled around: no case. The developer cited various production delays and said it would be ready in March. Came March: no case. Came April: no case. It eventually arrived--in August.

This is not an isolated thing. Another project I funded, a tiny game controller for smartphones and tablets, was also scheduled to arrive last February, and it, too, was delayed until...wait for it...August. Bottom line: When you fund a project, take the "planned ship date" with a big grain of salt. Even the aforementioned Pebble, with its $10 million (!) in crowdsourced funds, arrived about eight months behind schedule.

2. No refunds
When you fund a project on Indiegogo, Kickstarter, or the like, you're not purchasing something in the traditional sense. Rather, you're making a donation (much like you would to, say, NPR), and at certain pledge levels, you receive a "reward," usually in the form of the product itself. The item is, for all intents and purposes, your tote bag.

When my ReadyCase finally arrived, I discovered a handful of problems with it, to the extent that I wanted to return it. However, I was informed that because my donation was exactly that, there were no refunds.

Bottom line: When you fund a project, you're rolling the dice. The finished product may not live up to your expectations, and you probably won't be able to get your money back if it doesn't. Always, always check the fine print.

3. Some projects are just marketing efforts
Although Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and its ilk were designed to help budding projects get off the ground, some established companies are using them for sales and marketing.

For example, I get a lot of pitches from PR people. About a month after I reviewed a new product from a non-startup, I received an e-mail informing me that "Widget X is now on Kickstarter!" In other words, the company was hoping to generate extra buzz by positioning its product as new, exciting, and still on the drawing board, when it fact it had already been shipping for a month.

There's nothing technically wrong with that, I suppose, even if it does kind of violate the whole crowdfunding ethos. And feels kind of slimy. Bottom line: If you spot something of interest on Kickstarter or a similar site, do a little Googling to make sure it's not a product that already exists.

Have you ever a funded a Kickstarter project? If so, were you happy with the outcome? Share your stories in the comments!

Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and, and also writes for PC World and Wired.