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Kickstarter pledge fatigue, scams, and stalled projects

Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms have gone mainstream, attracting scammers, misuse, and many have complained of Kickstarter fatigue.

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Kickstarter and a waning crowdfunding movement

Kickstarter is the largest of the crowndfunding websites wherein inventors, artists, and the like can post videos and description of why they need financial backing, listing what they will give to people for pledging cash, and if enough people chip in and they meet the financial goal they set, they get all of the cash, but if they don’t get enough pledges, no money changes hands.

It’s a wildly popular funding option with Kickstarter projects alone raising $275 million last year, and is popular enough to have the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) which is reviewing what regulations they will impose on crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding seeing their share of scams

Facebook users know that they haven’t won free airline tickets just because they were tagged in a picture, email recipients know the Prince of Nigeria doesn’t really want to give them a bajillion dollars, and Vine users (as well as anyone with an internet connection) knows that pornographic material has made its way into the video service. The truth is that crowdfunding isn’t unique in being vulnerable, as the web makes it easy to scam people – it’s not like a dark alley with a creepy guy offering you Foakleys, Pravdas, or PRolexes from the back of a truck or inside of his coat.

Most projects posted on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and others are legitimate and often innovative, but as with all websites, the dark alley creeps have found their way in, and are quite convincing.

Two cases of bad crowdfunding behavior

According to Consumerist.com, one Kickstarter project is currently suspended, pending an internal investigation, as a man was selling $15 watches for $100, disguising them as “high-end” time pieces, raising $9,000 before the plug was pulled.

Recently, one Kickstarter investor sued over a Kickstarter project, as an entrepreneur who formerly designed projects took the leap into manufacturing and after what backers called endless stall tactics, Neil Singh sued for breach of contract as the simple iPad he “invested” in was never created or delivered, ultimately putting the entrepreneur and his company out of business.

These two stories are not the only cases involving questionable products being sold, or struggles with the manufacturing process leading to delays in delivery (with delivery never happening in some instances). The general attitude of people who have been backing projects from the beginning is that it is an investment which comes with risk, but others see it as a creative way to buy products, so the pledge mentality is certainly changing as crowdfunding goes mainstream.

Kickstarter in particular has been very responsive to questionable projects and products and suspends accounts for investigation rather than ignoring it. PCMech has published a useful guide on how to tell if a Kickstarter campaign is bogus.

Introducing Kickstarter fatigue

If you run in any technology or art circles, you’ve probably been solicited for pledges to various Kickstarter or Indiegogo projects ranging from “Artist X wants to make an album” or “Producer Y wants to shoot an independent film,” or even “Inventor Z wants to make a new thingamajig.” We have most certainly been inundated and rarely make any pledges in an effort to maintain objectivity as we cover Kickstarter projects, but what about the average person, or particularly the well connected person?

Sallie Wood, Creative Principal at redshoestudio tells AGBeat, “One of my talented musician friends used kickstarter to record a wonderful album of lullabies. Another was the narrator for a really cool animated film. I have lots of talented friends who all seem to have a project they want to fund. I can’t possibly give to all of them. Telling friends that you might give if only their project was more compelling is not a good idea if you want to remain friends. Who wants to judge their friends project?”

Wood added, “I have given to projects I believe in and I will probably give again but I am suffering from kickstarter fatigue. Just today I had a request via inde gogo requesting funds to send a friend’s kid to Europe for a school trip. This has gone too far.”

Crowdfunding isn’t a generic collection plate, people.

Not only is fatigue setting in, the actual projects requesting funding have gotten out of hand – one source tells us that they’ve been appalled at the projects found on crowdfunding sites as they search for gadgets or art projects, rather are met with people asking for money to build their own garden, open a second food truck, cut their thirteenth album, and even pay for their child’s summer camp or swimming lessons.

While crowdfunding is an effective alternative to traditional banking, it is unfortunately becoming some random peoples’ way to pass around a collection plate, is causing investor fatigue as they get endless requests for money, and in some cases, it’s being used by creepers’ passing of counterfeit products, or inexperienced entrepreneurs unable to ever deliver a project they intended to.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. jesus fchrst

    February 2, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I don’t care if KS is “flooded” with millions of useless projects (as you say), just go to Kicktraq and sort out the ones you want and don’t want. Somebody wants to send their kid to summer camp? Great, I’m not giving them any money, but hey look at that idiot woman who got “bullied” or whatever… people gave her a big stack of cash. Just because you don’t like a project doesn’t mean a thousand other people won’t.

    • truthandall

      March 23, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      Yeah and it just goes to show you how stupid americans are. No wonder bankers feel no shame about killing the economy, why would they if the kind of people they destroyed are the sort of idiots to give a feminist bigot money for being called out for her crap.

  2. Carlos Hoyos

    March 10, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    That woman who got “bullied” was a scammer that purposefully went to the worst places in the net and created controversy to fish for gullible idiots that would put money to see her “youtube videos”.

    • Humz tariq

      March 14, 2013 at 6:00 am

      what? are you kidding me? Neither the video nor the donation page was set up by her.

  3. Pingback: Clearly Canadian, Clearly a Rip-Off? - The American Genius

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Business Finance

Will cash still be king after COVID-19?

(EDITORIAL) Physical cash has been a preferred mode of payment for many, but will COVID-19 push us to a cashless future at an even faster rate?

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No more Cash

Say goodbye to the almighty dollar, at least the paper version. Cashless is where it’s at, and COVID-19 is at least partially to thank–or blame, depending on your perspective.

Let’s face it, we were already headed that direction. Apps like Venmo, PayPal, and Apple Pay making cashless transactions painless enough that even stubborn luddites were beginning to migrate to these convenient payment methods. Then COVID-19 hit the world and suddenly, handling cash is a potential danger.

In 2020, the era of COVID-19, the thought of all the possible contaminants, traveling around on an old dollar bill makes most of us cringe. Keep your nasty sock money, boob money, and even your pocket money to yourself, sir or madam, because I’ll have none of it! Nobody knows or wants to know where your money has been. We like the idea of taking your money, sure, but not the idea of actually touching it…ewww, David. Just ewww.

There is no hard evidence that cash can transmit COVID-19 from one person to the other, but perception is a powerful agent for changing our behavior. It seems plausible, considering the alarming rate this awful disease is moving through the world. Nobody has proven it can’t move with money.

There was a time when cash was King. Everyone took cash; everyone preferred it. Of course, credit cards have been around forever, but they’ve always been just as problematic as they are convenient. Like GrubHub and similar third party food delivery apps, banks end up charging both the business and the consumer with credit cards. It’s a trap. Cash cut out the (greedy) middle man.

Plus, paying with a credit card could be a pain. Try paying a taxi driver with a credit card prior to, oh, about 2014 when Uber hit the scene big time. Most drivers refused to take cash, because credit cards take a percentage off the top. Enter rideshare companies like Uber. Then in walks Square. Next PayPal, Venmo, and Apple Pay enter the scene. Suddenly, cabbies would like you to know they now take alternate forms of payment, and with a smile.

It’s good in a way, but it may end up hurting small businesses even more in the long run. The harsh reality of this current moment is that you shouldn’t be handling cash. No less an authority than the CDC recommends contactless forms of payment whenever possible. However, those cabbies weren’t wrong.

The banking industry has been pushing for a reduced reliance on cash since the 1950s, when they came up with the idea of credit cards. It was a stroke of evil genius to come up with more ways to expedite our lifelong journey into crushing debt.

The financial titans are very, very good at what they do, at the expense of all the rest of us. The New York Times reported on the trend, noting:

“In Britain alone, retailers paid 1.3 billion pounds (about $1.7 billion) in third-party fees in 2018, up £70 million from the year before, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Payment and processing companies such as PayPal (whose stock is up about 55 percent this year) and Adyen, based in the Netherlands (up 72 percent), also stand to gain.”

All kinds of related banking-related industries stand to benefit as well. Maybe we’ll go back to spending physical cash one day, but I don’t think there’s any hurry. Fewer old grandpas are hiding their cash in their proverbial mattresses, and the younger, most tech-savvy generation seems perfectly content to use their smart phones for everything.

We get it. Convenience plus cleanliness is a sweet combo. I only wish it weren’t such a racket.

If this trend towards a cashless future continues, there may be a possibility that travelers in the future may not experience what it’s like to fumble with foreign currency, to smile and shrug and hand over a handful of bills because they have no idea how many baht, pesos, or rand those snacks are. They may not experience the realization that other countries’ bills come in different shapes and sizes, and they may not come home with the most affordable souvenirs (coins and bills).

We shall see what the future holds. Odds are, it may not be cash money, at least in the U.S. I hope the cashless movement makes room for everyone to participate without being penalized. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, people. We need to find more ways to ease the path for people, not callously profit off of them.

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Business Finance

How NASA helps small businesses reach for the stars

(BUSINESS FINANCE) NASA has been providing $51 million in grants to small businesses and innovators.

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NASA grants

With the political and social climate that we are all trying to survive this summer, there only seems to be a few things that bring us a light of hope. For some it’s the little gestures that keeps the smiles on our faces; little helping hands that keep us going from day to day. But thanks to some forethought in our government system, there are some rather large helping hands coming down from the top as well. The organization that sends people to the moon is also making some dreams come true here on Earth.

NASA has just announced their latest batch of small business grants. Grants that amount to a total of approximately $51 million. This money is being sent out at the most crucial early-stage of small business funding. Over 300 businesses are receiving up to $125,000 to develop and bring new technologies to the world.

This grant system has been in place nearly as long as NASA itself. The Small Business Innovation Research/Technology transfer program is designed to bring in entrepreneurs and inventors’ ideas, and combine them with NASA’s assets to bring their dreams to fruition, bringing something from the lab to the marketplace.

It is set up into a three-phase system. According to The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR), the first phase, Idea Generation, provides grantees with up to $125,000 for a 6 – 12 month period to “establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R/R&D efforts and to determine the quality of performance of the small business awardee organization prior to providing further Federal support in Phase II”. If they succeed, they may be eligible to move onto Phase II, where they will be awarded a new grant of $750,000 for 2 years to continue the R&D efforts and start on a Prototype Development. Phase III is called the Infusion/Commercialization stage and it is the culmination of years of work and grant access for these businesses. This also includes a few extra requirements like matching funding for things like marketing.

Over the years, the selection has covered numerous disciplines with an extraordinary range of industries. Some of the highlights this year are high-power solar arrays, a smart air traffic control system for urban use, a water purification system for use on the moon, and improved lithium-ion batteries. These are just a few of the many innovative projects. The list covers a huge assortment, but a few people have noted the number of neuromorphic computing efforts as well.

This list is updated periodically throughout the year as each deadline is met from previous grant holders. It’s a constantly updating assortment of tomorrow’s toys, and a great way to look toward the future.

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Business Finance

Senate unanimously votes to extend PPP coverage

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The U.S Senate extends PPP spending until August 8th in an effort to support small businesses who have been hit hard by the pandemic.

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PPP application

Small businesses trying to survive the pandemic have been given a 5-week extension, until August 8th, for money remaining in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to be spent. The Senate voted Tuesday evening, less than 4 hours before it was set to end, to extend the federal loan program that was slated to end with more than $130 billion in unspent loan money.

The approval of the extension required unanimous agreement from all 100 senators, which many lacked confidence would happen. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said, “I came here thinking that we would not be able to get agreement.” But with outbreaks on the rise and states slowing effort to reopen their economies, the consensus is that another measure will be required as the $2.2 trillion stimulus law expires at the end of July. PPP has become a bipartisan action as lawmakers from both parties are inundated with requests for assistance. The program has apportioned $520 billion in loans to over 4.8 million American small businesses across the nation, managed by the Small Business Administration.

The SBA faced criticism for distributing billions of PPP funds to publicly traded chains, in addition to the small businesses it was intended. $38 billion were ultimately returned to the government after attention was brought to the high profile recipients.

The short-term agreement came together with advocacy from across the aisle from senators including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), chairman of the Small Business Committee said before Tuesday’s vote for the extension, “Obviously, we’ll have to be more targeted at truly small businesses and, in addition to that, I’m also developing a program to provide financing for businesses in underserved communities or opportunity zones and other ZIP codes that would fall in that category.”

The Treasury Department and SBA credit PPP with saving millions of jobs. Though rules have been loosened by Congress, the SBA, and Treasury to allow more companies to receive funds and make loan forgiveness easier, borrowing from the program has slowed to a trickle.

The legislation is now headed to the House, which had already left for an expected 2-week recess before the bill was passed by the Senate. The bill would also require President Trump’s signature.

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