A company based in Wales showed up on Kickstarter with what looked like a working prototype of a really impressive consumer drone small enough to land on a saucer. Yet the promised drones never shipped. What happened? Kickstarter decided to find out, taking an unusual tactic: the company hired a local investigative reporter to, well, investigate. This week, the report came out.
Here’s the interesting part: Kickstarter commissioned reporter Mark Harris, and the finished story went to them first, but they promised not to edit it before releasing it to the Internet at large. The plan was to let everyone see where this project had gone wrong, maybe to prevent future, smaller-scale failures on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms. The resulting report is long and very detailed, and completely worth reading if you wonder whether you should ever support a crowdfunded gadget project.
The Zano isn’t the largest-ever campaign funded through the Kickstarter platform, but it is the largest project funded through the platform that was based in Europe. It raised a total of £2.3 million, when the creators had originally asked for only £125,000 to put the little copters in production.
Little drones did eventually ship… to pre-order customers before Kickstarter backers, when the backers had put their money down first. Not that it really mattered, because the drones didn’t work very well. Then they were grounded for good when it turned out that the company had spent all of the Kickstarter funds and ran up another million pounds ($1.42 million) in debt. The company, Torquing, entered creditor’s voluntary liquidation, the U.K. equivalent of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy here in the U.S.
Was the whole enterprise a scam? It only takes a few spectacular failures like this to permanently sour the public on the idea of crowdfunding, which is why Kickstarter hired a reporter to do such a detailed report. You should read the whole thing yourself if you’re interested in drones, crowdfunding, or Internet disasters, but the very short answer is that no, the project was not an actual fraud. However, the early videos may have been misleading, and no one ever saw the drones flying as promised in a demonstration… because they never did.
The campaign’s popularity may have been its downfall, with the project’s “stretch goals,” or features promised once the campaign reached certain totals, difficult to implement in real life.