opinion

This Is What A Terrible Kickstarter Pitch Looks Like

by Mike Futter on Feb 27, 2015 at 04:05 AM

Update: Kickstarter responded to our request for additional detail on the Plug and Play Console Case project. The company says that it conforms to its rules.

"Kickstarter is a platform, and we aim to be as open as we can while making sure projects adhere to a few simple rules," a representative told us via email. "Projects to make hardware that will be distributed to backers must show a prototype. This project is not seeking to distribute a finished product to backers. It's seeking to build a prototype, and then distribute a limited number of prototypes to backers. This is within our rules."

The representative says that it is working to keep Kickstarter "open and easy to use." Ultimately, the onus is on those who consider backing a project. "It’s up to backers to decide whether a project has merit.," the representative says.=

Since June, 69,015 projects have been submitted to Kickstarter. Of those, 27,897 (40 percent) were approved by the algorithm. Of those, 6,265 projects (nine percent) requested feedback. 41,118 projects were manually reviewed as a mandatory step, bringing the total number of staff reviews to 47,383 (69 percent). 

Kickstarter's overall success rate is 39 percent, and the representative to declined to break that down further among the three groups (automated approval with no requested feedback, automated review with requested feedback, and mandatory review). He also declined to tell us to which group the Plug and Play Console Case project belongs.

Original Story:

I’ve written a bit about the successes and failures of Kickstarter as a platform and the projects that have been funded through it. Sometimes, it’s hard to dissect a pitch to know if the creators can make it happen. Other times, it’s not so difficult.

I received an email from Ricky Seamon, the project manager of something called “Plug And Play Console Case.” The concept isn’t new, as Gaems has turned its portable entertainment environment products into a big business. And even before Gaems, there were small monitors that attached to specific consoles.

The Plug and Play Console Case doesn’t purport to do anything different than what’s already available, but that’s not what makes it a bad pitch. Put simply, this project violates Kickstarter’s own firm guidance for manufacturing projects. As part of its firm rules, Kickstarter says that you should have a sample in-hand already. “When a project involves manufacturing and distributing something complex, like a gadget, we require projects to show a prototype of what they’re making, and we prohibit photorealistic renderings,” the company says. Seamon's drawing is, at least, not at all realistic.

In his pitch, Seamon (who works for a tree service company) says he cannot actually design this item himself. “I'll have to use some money to hire designers to help make it,” he writes. “I do have a local college that has designer and engineering classes. I believe I can save money this way plus get fresh ideas. Once the specs are made then I can send to a 3D print shop and have most of it printed. I researched a few print shops but they cant really give me a estimate without knowing the measurements and all the parts. I plan on getting several estimate.”

As this stage of the game, the drawing you see above is the extent of the work that Seamon has completed. He has received estimates suggesting that a single prototype (to be completed if the project is funded) will cost between $13,000 and $20,000.

Seamon also makes unsubstantiated claims about his Plug and Play Case. “This would make anyone that has a xbox or playstaion (sic) and wants to keep it in good shape last longer, so it can be used even by people that never move their system.” he writes. “Plus anywhere you have a large amount of gaming systems it would make their life alot (sic) easier to hook them all up, not to mention Mommy can even move it now.(lol just a joke)”

Thankfully, there’s room for input if you want to support this endeavor. For backing at the $300 level, Seamon will accept your help. “I'm sure some of you are gifted in creating things,” the reward description reads. “Text messages will be accepted on the design and function. Has to be text as to not overwhelm the designer and final decision is with me.” You won’t get a working version of the item you are backing unless you chip in at least $1,000. At $1,500, you can be one of five people to get a custom-designed case. For reference, products that do exactly what Seamon is proposing can be purchased at retail right now. You can get one for under $300. 

So how does something like this slip by? We reached out to Kickstarter to find out how this project, which clearly violates the company’s rules, made it through. The company did not respond by the time of publication, but we’ll update should we hear back. In the meantime, we know that one of two things happened.

Seamon’s project might have been eligible for what Kickstarter calls “Launch Now.” This feature is made available if a project is certified by an algorithm that compares it against past Kickstarter campaigns. “Our 'Launch Now' feature uses an algorithm incorporating thousands of data points to check whether a project can launch now,” Kickstarter says. “Data points include keywords, project characteristics, whether the creator has previously launched a project, and other factors. The algorithm analyzes the characteristics of an individual project, and compares them to how we’ve handled similar projects in the past.”

If it wasn’t eligible for “Launch Now,” it would have gone through a manual review. Either way, it’s clear the system failed, a problem for a platform that makes a big deal out of its vetting process. "While most sites wait until after something is posted to apply their rules — commonly through user reporting or algorithmic scan — we apply ours before a project launches and people start pledging money to it. (We have user reporting and algorithm scans too, of course.)," the company says. "We take our review process more seriously than a lot of other sites because we have to."

Kickstarter also takes five percent of the funds raised from successful campaigns (and for would-be project managers, this does not include three to five percent payment processing fees). While it's hard to believe that anyone would anticipate this project would be funded, Kickstarter has competing interests when it comes to denying a project. Its bottom line is in direct competition with the well-being and protection of backers.

While this pitch is clearly one you should avoid, it is valuable as a warning. Kickstarter’s methodology isn’t perfect. A project going live doesn’t mean it has been vetted, and even if it has, the company doesn’t guarantee that project managers can accomplish what they propose. As I’ve stated before, backers need to take responsibility for their own research. They must think critically and ask hard questions. Kickstarter is not going to protect you from bad pitches and in this case, failed to disqualify one that violates its own rules.

The platform certainly has its merits, but as Seamon’s pitch demonstrates, it has its flaws. If you’re so inclined to back a project, do so with as much information as you can obtain.