My crowdfunding journey started when I was helping to oversee the production of our report on crowdfunding in the Autumn of 2012 Crowding in: How the UK’s businesses, charities, government and financial system can make the most of crowdfunding authored by my colleagues in the Policy&Research team at Nesta. I decided to put my money where my edits were and actually experience crowdfunding for myself. This was prompted when Peter Baeck sent me a link to a project on Indiegogo called Feed Your Pet from Your Phone with Pintofeed. It is basically a pet feeder that will dispense the right amount of pet food remotely when you send it a message from your smartphone.
Now I should confess that at this point, I didn’t even have a dog. I was in the process of buying a house that was suitable for a dog (with a decent garden and surrounded by good countryside for walks), so it was a statement of intent for me. I also thought the product looked really cool. Whilst I absolutely wasn’t planning to leave my (as yet non-existent) dog for long periods of time home alone, I really liked the idea of being able to feed it if my train home was running late.
So at the end of November 2012 I paid up my $129, liking the fact that as well as getting a product, Pintofeed was also making a donation to help with the care and feeding of 10 shelter animals. I then eagerly waited to see if the project got enough funding to go ahead. It did, and what follows is what happened next.
Indiegogo got in touch to tell me that the campaign had been successful and that the team had raised $50,173 of their $50,000 goal, thanks to mine and others’ contributions. They reassured me that someone from the team would be in touch shortly with an update on the campaign and to fulfil any perks I was owed. They also assured me that if I had any questions about it I could check out Indiegogo’s Contributor Happiness page.
The Pintofeed team also got in touch to say thank you: ‘It was very important for us to demonstrate the market for an intelligent pet feeder like the Pintofeed throughout our campaign. Today, the pet industry lacks ground-breaking products and modern day pet owners are consistently seeking products that revolve around convenience. With pet obesity on the rise, we should all be concerned with the health of our pets. Pintofeed is the embodiment of a pet product that promotes both convenience and ultimately wellness. Pintofeed deserves to be at the forefront of today’s pet industry and thanks to all of our incredible backers we are on our way to making that dream a reality! Thanks again to everyone for all your amazing support. Please continue to follow our progress as we get the Pintofeed to a doorstep near you. Over the next few weeks we’ll be finalizing our production schedule, so please stay tuned for more updates.’
January and February 2013 – regular updates were emailed to me by the team. They summarised how the product development and marketing was going and let us know that our ‘perk’ t-shirts were on their way. They confirmed that they were are still aiming for the June 2013 delivery date, but that they would know more about their schedule in the next month.
April 2013 – Moved into my new dog-friendly house. Decided not to rush into getting a dog until we’d got used to living in a new town, and had dog-proofed the garden… My pet feeder t-shirt arrives.
May 2013 – an update is emailed saying that based on customer feedback and testing, the team had decided to ‘make some necessary and significant changes to the feeder design in order to make Pintofeed more user-friendly, color customizable, reliable, durable, pet-proof, and safe’. Sounded pretty sensible to me. They went into a lot of helpful detail and said that ‘with confidence the feeders will start to be delivered no later than October 2013.’
June 2013 – original planned delivery date. No pet feeder.
July 2013 – another email update arrives entitled ‘It’s all coming together’. In it they say that ‘We've received quite a few complaints about our lack of communications, so we've done something about it! We are pleased to announce that we have hired an official customer communications employee’. They give a product status update, enclose some cool pictures and say that they ‘anticipate shipping Pintofeed during Q4 2013’.
August 2013 – another email update to say that they are ‘ecstatic to announce that Pintofeed has been accepted into the prestigious Bolt program! Bolt is a 6-month intensive program based in Boston, MA designed to help hardware startups grow.’
October 2013 – revised delivery date 1. No pet feeder. Another email update to say that they are continuing to work extremely hard and ask if we want to join the beta test program. They talk about the fact that they are building a business rather than just a product and that it makes it more complicated, but it will be worth it. They also tell us to watch out for a re-brand.
November 2013 – rebrand to PetNet. The email update offers to refund anyone who doesn’t want the product anymore and they explain the prototyping process they have been through. They also announce that ‘When the Petnet SmartFeeder goes on sale, it will retail for $249. This is great news for our Indiegogo backers who paid an average of $129 for their pre-order!’ They say that they will announce an update on delivery at the end of the month.
One year on – December 2013 – revised delivery date 2. No pet feeder.
March 2014 – (I may have missed some updates but at this point we get another) email update thanking us for our patience. They say that having reviewed the prototypes that have come back from the manufacturer in China, the quality isn’t high enough. Given they have many moving mechanical parts, there is a lot of risk in the manufacturing process. They again offer a refund for anyone who doesn’t want the product anymore.
July 2014 – another email update saying it’s almost ready and mine will be delivered in batch 1. I’m definitely an early adopter, which is exciting. They also say they will be shipping batch 1 in September. They check my billing address and say that I’ll be one of the only ones to receive all four colour schemes free with my order - heavenly blue, springtime green, watermelon pink and midnight black. Nice.
August 2014 – Our new puppy Drake (finally) arrives. And yes, he has beaten the pet feeder.
September 2014 – revised delivery date 3. No pet feeder.
October 2014 – another email update. They got the first batch of SmartFeeders, as planned, in September. However, when they reviewed the batch, they found that the finish on the stainless steel bowl was causing food to get stuck on the ramp and jamming the feeder. They say sorry, send a video of the issue and are apparently already working with the manufacturer to fix it. They say they’ll be in touch again in the next couple of weeks.
November 2014 – another email update that explains ‘Working with our manufacturer has been quite a learning experience for our team. One of our biggest lessons is that timelines cannot be accurately predicted -- a fact our Indiegogo customers are painfully aware of.’ They ask again if we’d like to be involved in beta testing. I sign up for that.
Two years on – December 2014 – still no pet feeder. I get an update thanking me for signing up to the beta testing and they say they’ll be in touch again in a couple of weeks.
Now, perhaps a bit surprisingly, I’m actually quite relaxed about the lack of pet feeder. I have every faith that it will eventually arrive and that it will be really cool. I’ve never made a complaint, through Indiegogo, or to the company producing it. But I definitely wouldn’t be so relaxed if I’d bought it in any other way. Waiting over two years for a product I paid cash for up front is not something I’d normally be OK about. I didn’t really realise that this could happen when I paid up. At least I think I realised in principle, but not in practice.
So, would I do it again? Yes, absolutely. It’s been fascinating to experience crowdfunding as a ‘contributor’. But it’s true that crowdfunding comes with a health warning for a reason. So buyer beware, but do it anyway, would be my advice.