Last year, the amazing Zano project crashed both literally and metaphorically. Once the largest ever European project to have been funded on Kickstarter, Zano was an ambitious plan to produce thousands of remote control drones with auto-follow and return-to-base capability. But the idea failed spectacularly in November 2015 when the Welsh company Torquing Group went bust.
This was obviously a personal and financial disaster for those running the company; and a serious disappointment for everyone who had paid £139 or more to Kickstarter in the hope of receiving one of the first batch of drones.
However, it was also a public relations nightmare for Kickstarter. It is certainly not unknown for crowd-funded projects to fail and not deliver the backer ‘rewards’ as promised, but the high profile nature the Zano project, and its complete demise, threatens to destroy the trust that millions of people have placed in the platform. Worse, it could undermine the whole idea of crowd-funding as a way to finance products and creative content.
Rather than retreat into itself and hope that the negative publicity would blow over; rather than commission an internal review; rather than hire some consultants to suggest changes… Kickstarter chose a very public form of introspection. Technology journalist Mark Harris was commissioned to write a piece of investigative journalism about the débâcle.
Harris’ long-form piece is embedded below. Its an interesting insight into the problems inherent in developing any piece of physical technology. And it offers some hard lessons for Kickstarter.
I think this is the best approach to such a crisis. By giving Harris an arms-length commission, they win back some of the trust that they have lost through Zano. And since the analysius concludes with some recommendations for how Kickstarter should change its processes, it will probably lead to an improved business as a result.
Harris, for his part, does a good job with a trick and (in his words) ‘unusual‘ commission. Since the commission comes from Kickstarter itself, there is a danger that his conclusions may not be taken seriously–He’s writing what they want him to write, right?
I disagree. Harris comprehensively ‘shows his working’, laying out the journalistic steps he has taken. He has also been transparent about the source and terms of the commission (he even clarified a few points in response to my own questions). The interviews he conducts are candid. This approach earns a different kind of trust, which means his conclusions are credible when they arrive at the end of the article.