Some of the most funded 3D printer projects on Kickstarter
It was said in the opening remarks at the International Conference for Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing in Nottingham that the hype of 3D printing from 2013 and 2014 had been “consigned to the past”, and while it is hard to argue that we haven’t moved on from 3D printed Eiffel Towers, shards of that hype are difficult to clear.
The dreams of a 3D printer in every home were fuelled in part by the parallel trend of crowdfunding, at the peak of the hype there was barely a day that went by without a “revolutionary” new 3D printer launching via crowdfunding. If it wasn’t the first, it was the best, if it wasn’t the best, it was the fastest, if it wasn’t the fastest it was the cheapest. Over 100 3D printers have been fully funded on Kickstarter alone, countless more on platforms like Indiegogo, GoFundMe and RocketHub.
Kickstarter is the biggest crowdfunding site and has been a platform from which fantastic companies like Formlabs, Zortrax and Printrbot have launched. Millions of pounds has flown from the wallets of backers into launching 3D printers to the globe but it's not always as rosy as that; as with any hyped technology, unsavoury folk will lie in wait, waiting for an opportunity to rip you off.
The prompt for this blog was a video I watched with my mouth agape, it was an update posted on the Peachy Printer Kickstarter page. For those of you unaware, Peachy Printer raised $651,091 of a $50,000 goal for the “First $100 printer”, it is the fourth most backed 3D printer in history with 4,420 people pledging their hard-earned to a Canadian inventor’s dream to create a resin-based 3D printer for less than a slap-up meal for two.
The video in question was posted on May 11th ominously entitled, “Big Bad News”. It starts with a phone call and some frequency waves like a 911 call on a grizzly Netflix documentary about murder and before we get the ‘truth’ the haunting baroque piano kicks in and the face of the Rylan Grayston – the inventor – fades in from black… dun dun duuuun.
The video goes onto detail how Rylan’s co-founder, David Boe, had, instead of putting the kickstarter money in a secure company account, put it all in a personal account. Long story short; backers aren’t getting their machine but David does have a brand-new house. Further down the update page there’s an even more ridiculous video in which Rylan takes on the role of Bizarro feel-good TV show host as he brings backers to the HQ to surprise them with the news that they essentially backed some construction work for Dave’s swanky new pad rather than a 3D printer.
Why Rylan and co. felt the need to add high-school production value to these videos I will never know; it felt like something from the HBO tech satire Silicon Valley rather than a serious admittance of embezzlement of over $324,000 by a company director. There are more questions than just the strange videos; why the heck the company didn't sort a company account out within the 30 day funding window once it was clear it was going to be a smash hit? being the first that springs to mind.
The kickstarter house
The House that Ransacked Cash Built
Peachy Printer aren’t alone in a failure to ship the product to backers, the list of companies who haven’t shipped yet or have disappeared off radar is much too long. The first notable one was Pirate3D, which remains one of the most successful crowd-funded companies in this industry. I saw the Buccaneer at CES 2014 and all seemed well but some serious mismanagement meant that the company ran out of money and a huge chunk of backers (60% at last update) never got their printers.
These bad experiences are not contained to the 3D printing industry, the crowdfunding world is littered with bad news stories. The second most funded project in Kickstarter history, The Coolest Cooler, has been an all mighty cock up and Vice's Motherboard had some very unkind words to say about it.
These bad apples have left a bitter taste in the mouths of thousands of potential makers but what’s important to grasp with crowdfunding is that you’re backing a vision not buying a product. Sometimes that vision is blurry and you might end up building a fraudster’s home but sometimes if it is as clear as Formlabs CEO, Max Lobovsky’s you’ll be rewarded with a handsome product as well as the knowledge you’ve contributed to the start of something special.