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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

Small metros may have cheaper homes, but they might not have the jobs

(BUSINESS NEWS) Study by Indeed finds that small to mid-sized metros offer higher adjusted salaries, but don’t pack your bags just yet because your job may not be there

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When I told my parents how much my partner and I would be paying for rent at our new apartment, they quickly pointed out that I could purchase a home for that kind of money in my hometown.

Indeed recently published a study where they determined which cities have the highest salaries after accounting for the cost of living, an adjusted salary. Every city on the list is a small or mid-sized metro area which is why they dubbed their findings, “the small-city advantage.” No surprise to me, my hometown made the list.

My parents are right, I could literally buy a home for the amount of money I pay in rent every month to live in a large metro area. But the equation that determines where I, and many other workers should live, is more complex than salary minus housing.

Indeed’s study also shows that bigger metros have faster job growth and lower unemployment compared to these small to mid-sized metros. This is why the number one city on their list, Brownsville-Harlingen, TX, also has a higher unemployment rate than the national average. Some of the other cities on the list are Fort Smith, AR-OK, Toledo, OH, Laredo, TX, and Rockford, IL.

These areas are cheaper to live in, in part, because they may not offer the kind of job opportunities, and therefore social mobility, you see in larger metro areas. Sure, I could make my money go further in my hometown, but the chances of me finding a job in my industry there are smaller.

Your field of work does matter when considering whether or not the “small-city advantage” could work for you. If you work in tech or finance, two traditionally high-paying fields, then this advantage doesn’t apply.

“Before adjusting for living costs, typical technology salaries are 27% higher in two-million-plus metros than metros with fewer than 250,000 people. Even after adjusting for those costs, tech salaries are still 5% higher in the largest metros than in the smallest ones,” finds Indeed.

If a huge tech company offering thousands of high-paying jobs moved into a city like Brownsville-Harlingen, TX, over time it would get more expensive to live there. This is why people were freaking out so much when Amazon was trying to decide where to locate HQ2. It’s the hamster wheel that is currently driving income inequality in some of America’s largest major metro areas.

Finding the right place to call home is never going to be a single factor decision. Yes, salary is a huge factor, as is the cost of living, but there are also lifestyle factors to consider. What kind of opportunities would you have in this city? How much will it cost to move there? How will this effect the other members of your household?

It’s nice to play the ‘ditch the corporate world and buy a country house’ fantasy after a long day at work, but the reality is far more complex.

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Business Finance

Catch is a must-have finance management app for freelancers

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Catch is a new app that allows freelancers and people without benefits to determine their best options, with great automatic features.

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Working as a freelancer is something that just meshes well with my personality. I love having the ability to take on a variety of different projects and work in different facets of the communication industry.

Unfortunately, my one semester of high school economics did not fully prepare me for the financial aspect of freelancing. Figuring out what to deduct, how to do 1099 taxes, and properly save in general was something I’ve had to learn as I go.

However, as I always say, in this day and age, there is someone out there who has a solution to your problem.

Such is the case with Catch, which is a tool that is perfect for freelancers as it helps with automated tax withholding, health insurance, and the other head-scratchers in between.

After signing up, you build a plan by using custom recommendations to get the benefits that will help you the most. Catch will tell you about the coverage you need, whether you work for yourself, a boss, or multiple bosses.

All of your benefits will be put into one place and will be ready when you are. You’ll be able to see your savings grow the more you work and use Catch. As time goes on, Catch will offer suggestions to help you prepare for the future.

From there, you can set aside money automatically. After getting paid, Catch confirms your benefits plan and will automatically put money away for taxes, time off, and retirement.

All of this helps to rid yourself of freelance financial blind spots, and Catch’s official Guide allows you to see a personal screenshot of the full benefits landscape. In addition to seeing all of your coverage at a glance, you’re also able to learn what coverage you need and why, sign up for new benefits in minutes, and easily report existing benefits.

Additionally, you’re able to see a people-centric view of your plan on the platform by adding in spouses, dependents, beneficiaries, and trusted contacts. With this information in place, you’re able to choose the plan that works best for you; allowing you to edit as needed, check savings instantly, and view full paycheck and contribution history.

And as your life evolves, Catch is there to help with the transition. The platform offers recommendations for how benefits and coverage can change with things like: job relocation, getting married, starting a family, or starting a new job.

As Catch says, it’s “peace of mind at the palm of your hand.” This is definitely something for freelancers to consider as part of their financial strategy.

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Business Finance

6 questions to ask when considering a startup accelerator

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Accelerators can help change startups from unknowns to leaders in the industry, but does your startup need one and if so which one?

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When I’m advising startups, I often hear the question: “which accelerator is the best fit for me?” (Besides the obvious YC or Techstars.)

First off, I’ll ask if your company would benefit from an accelerator, or if you need to pursue something for early early stage companies before you achieve more market validation, like an incubator. (Side note: If you’re curious about incubators, here is a comparison of the two.)

If you’re new to these terms, here’s a brief recap on startup accelerators:

Startup accelerators are for companies with established co-founders and market validation – companies can be anywhere from pre-revenue/self-funded, or even have raised at least $1M.

Most programs can last anywhere from 10 weeks to 3-4 months. With many top accelerators like YC and Techstars, you’ll be expected to move to the city where it’s hosted and spend 40+ hours a week minimum in their dedicated coworking space, and several accelerators will often offer housing stipends to make the move easier. These programs typically conclude with a demo day to pitch your product to a variety of community leaders, angel, and institutional investors.

If your product has achieved market validation and is in a place where you’re ready to scale, congrats!

Before you commit to an accelerator, ask yourself and the program these six questions:

1. What kind of mentorship is available?

By and large, one of the most valuable portions of an accelerator is the networking with peers and mentors. Ask what kind of mentors are available to you as a part of a program, and ask their specific involvement and the opportunities to connect. These mentors will be crucial in guiding your company’s growth. Even if they aren’t in the same industry or have solved a similar problem that your company is trying to achieve, their advice and connections could prove to be invaluable.

2. What are the perks?

You’re giving up a lot of equity to be in a program, but it doesn’t come without its perks. Many programs offer not only a cash investment or stipend for housing or other growth costs, but programs like Techstars offer free services such as web hosting costs (an upwards of ~250k), legal and accounting services, and other credits and perks that can be worth 6-7 figures. Make sure you know what you’re getting before you say yes to a program.

3. Do I want an industry-specific or industry-agnostic program?

This one is important and is directly related to #2. If your company sells CPG products, web hosting credits may not be valuable to your business, but a CPG-specific accelerator like SKU or The Brandery with direct connections to Sephora, Target, and Whole Foods may make more sense.

4. How much equity am I willing to give up?

Try not to make this a guessing game and make as many data-driven decisions on this as you can. Create a revenue and valuation model and see how much your company would benefit from the networking, fundraising opportunities, and perks offered, and see what the ROI would potentially be.

5. What are the funding and exit numbers?

This is an objective way to view the success of an accelerator: # of funding raised and exits. Of course, younger accelerators will have smaller numbers, but it’s worth looking to see if a company has raised $ after. Seed-DB is a great resource to view these numbers for hundreds of accelerators globally.

6. What do alumni think?

All accelerators are going to tout the transformative experience that is their program, and program mentors will likely have a similar narrative.

The best resource to learn the real experience of an accelerator: ask its alumni, and they’ll give you the truth. Make sure to survey both recent and more experienced alumni, as they’ll be able to speak to both the short term and long term benefits.

Personal experience: the night before I was set to hear from an accelerator on my application status, two alumni stressed to me that the time and equity investment wasn’t worth it. I consider this providence!

Finally, two items to note:

Choosing an accelerator is all about finding the right fit between you and the organization. Sadly, not all accelerators are created equal, and try to view a potential relationship with an accelerator as an investor relationship, or better yet, dating. There’s a reason the phrase “no money is better than bad money” is prevalent in the startup community.

Make sure to do your due diligence and ask the right questions to make sure a specific program is worth the investment of time, energy, and equity.

And sometimes? That may not mean an accelerator is a right fit right now or at any point, and that’s okay.

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