Kickstarter surprised everyone last month when it hired technology journalist Mark Harris to look into how one of the most funded projects in the platform's history, the palm-sized Zano drone, combusted after less than a year. The result of Harris' work, sent first to backers and then published on Medium, is proof Kickstarter got its money's worth. Harris' investigation totals 13,000 words and describes in excruciating detail how the team behind the Zano, Torquing Group, ended up collapsing under the weight of its campaign's success.
Torquing raised more than £2.3 million ($3.6 million) in November 2014 to produce 15,363 finished Zano drones within just six months' time. By October 2015, the company had shipped only 600 units to preorder customers and four to Kickstarter backers. All of the drones were missing critical functions advertised in the original campaign's stretch goals. In December, Torquing voluntarily liquidated the operation with little hope for refunds.
Torquing only produced around 600 Zano drones before imploding
Harris' article highlights Torquing's most damning mistake: deciding to launch into full production before the product was ready to meet its overly ambitious deadline. "I was very strongly opposed to going down the avenue of committing so much to stock so early," former CEO Ivan Reedman told Harris. "I made my opinion known, but ultimately, what happened happened. I understand the reasons why the operations team felt they needed to do that, because that would genuinely keep to the June shipping date." Reedman, who resigned a week before the shutdown, was the only member of Torquing who would speak to Harris on the record. But anonymous employees said the company failed to readjust expectations after the campaign exploded in popularity.
Kickstarter actively encouraged Harris to interview and include its own executives, and CEO Yancey Strickler offered up his condolences to backers who felt they were scammed. "I feel Kickstarter shares in the risks, absolutely," Strickler told Harris. "It’s our reputation on the line every time. The only reason that Zano was able to raise this amount of money is because we have done such a good job administering this platform and working with trusted creators over the last six years. And when something like Zano happens, that burns."
"When something like Zano happens, that burns."
It's a good reminder that, despite Kickstarter's success in helping creators raise more than $2 billion since 2009, it's still a platform eager to take your money in exchange for a promise and nothing more. Make sure to read Harris' full piece here for the complete story on the Zano's demise.