Friday, 16 October 2015

Backing Kids Technology Crowdfunded Projects: What You Need to Know

I've backed a lot of kids technology Kickstarter projects and observed a lot more. Crowdfunding is fabulous, but there's a lot you need to understand before you dive in to make sure it's a pleasurable experience and not a frustrating and disappointing one.

Some of the projects I've backed have been fantastic successes, others moderate successes and there's one that barely delivered and was a very painful process to watch. And of course there have been projects that I've backed that didn't get enough backers and get started.

In this article I'll share what I've learned about backing children's tech projects on Crowdfunding platforms. Then you'll know what to look for so you can get a positive experience. Backing crowdfunded projects can be a really rewarding experience if you get it right.


What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding allows creators and inventors to get funding from backers to turn their ideas into reality. A creator runs a campaign which explains their product or service and offers a set of rewards that backers can choose from. 

If the project meets its funding target then money is taken from the backers and the creator uses that money to complete their project and deliver rewards. 

It's important to understand that you are not directly buying a product or service when you back a crowdfunded project. 

Will it Get Funded?


On Kickstarter, funding is all-or-nothing. The project may not get funded in which case no money will be taken from you. Many products have a minimum level of funding that they require, they may need to cover the cost of one time tooling or development work or order items in large quantities to achieve an acceptable unit price. 

Delivery is Not Guaranteed

Once a crowdfunded project has been funded your money is taken and passed to the creator. There is typically no guarantee that the project will deliver. The creator might hit unforeseen obstacles. 

On Kickstarter, Creators are expected to complete their project (check the rules for any platform you consider using.) If they cannot do this then they need to come up with a resolution. A refund might be offered in some cases. In other cases the money will have been spent. Crowdfunding platforms typically don't take responsibility for resolving disputes. The contract is between backer and creator. In extreme cases, legal action may be your only recourse. Or you may simply decide to treat your experience as an investment that didn't pay off, particularly if the project was innovative and the creators tried their best to make it happen.  

The Pirate 3D Buccaneer project is currently struggling to deliver  to all of its backers. I should emphasize that complete failures are rare. I haven't backed a project that has completely failed to deliver (although one came close.) 

The project might be severely delayed. It might morph into something different. Sometimes it will morph into something better because of feedback from the backers. Sometimes the changes might not be ideal for you. 

Finding Out about Projects

So how can you find out about new kids technology crowdfunding projects that you might be interested in? You can regularly check the popular crowdfunding sites but it can be hard to find things. 

We post a monthly round up of kids tech crowdfunding projects as well as regular articles on projects that are worth a closer look. See: Crowdfunding at Tech Age Kids

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to get notified. 

Things to Look at Before Backing

Crowdfunded projects are all different. Some have completed products before the campaign goes live others are actually wanting you to fund the creation of a prototype. 

How Far Along are They?

Some crowdfunding campaigns are simply new products from established companies who already have a track record of delivery. The are simply using crowdfunding as marketing and to validate interest in a product before moving forward. 

Some campaigns are follow-on projects that build on the success of an earlier campaign. For example Roominate 2.0 and Makey Makey Go. With a project like this there's still some risk but you know the inventors have been through the process before with similar products. 

Others are products that have already been distributed in limited quantities and the campaign is to take the product to the next level, such as the FizzBit

Others enter their campaign with prototypes and things that still need to be done such as Bloxels and Flotilla for Raspberry Pi (both of which we've backed and are following at the moment.)

Different projects have different levels of risk associated with them. Any project can hit issues they hadn't forseen. Sometimes a high level of funding brings problems of its own. It's important to understand what you are backing, what experience the creators have and what issues still remain to be solved. 

Do They Have a Prototype?

One thing you should look out for is whether a project has a working prototype. For technology projects and gadgets creators on Kickstarter are required to have a prototype unless their project is clearly to create the prototype. Projects that don't fulfil this requirement are likely to be cancelled by Kickstarter. 


Safety and Standards

Safety is obviously really important with children's products. In some cases the creator will fully understand the issues and will have a plan to achieve the appropriate certifications in all the geographies they are offering the reward to. 

In other cases they may discover what they need to do as the project progresses and this could cause delays. 

Check what plans the project has and ask questions if you need to. 

Post-Delivery Support

What if something goes wrong with your product after you have received it? Will the creators be easily contactable? Where in the world are they?

Early Bird Rewards

Some projects have Early Bird rewards that offer better deals to the first backers. This is because people are more likely to back a project that already has plenty of backers - safety in numbers. 

If you like a project research it and make your decision quickly if you want to get the best deal. 

Power!

Many kids tech projects require power. Will you be able to use the product in your country? 

Check that mains chargers will be compatible. Note that some kinds of battery cannot be shipped internationally. 

Compatibility

Apps and app toys often require specific versions of operating systems. Make sure that the creator is planning to support a device that you have. And be aware of the risk of support being delayed or cut as the project progresses. 

International Shipping, Tax and Customs

Another area to look into is where the product will be shipped from. If its not your country then you may have to pay tax and customs charges. It can be difficult to determine what these will be in advance. Do some research so you don't get a nasty surprise later. 

International shipping can make backing projects that are based in other countries prohibitively expensive. 

I've decided not to back some projects that I really like because I can see that they are likely to succeed and it will be cheaper to just wait until I can buy it through retailer in my country. Others I've still backed with this knowledge because I want to support it and hopefully get it sooner. 

I always appreciate a digital reward option as in the case of Hello Ruby and codeBOTs

Communication

Once a project has been funded it enters the development phase. A good project will communicate with backers regularly with email and sometimes video updates. 

A great current example is Flotilla for Raspberry Pi. They're late (see below.) But they are keeping backers excited and engaged with great updates including videos where we get to see the progress.

They Lie About Dates

OK, they don't really mean to lie. But most complex Kickstarter projects I've backed have been delayed. A lot of them have been significantly delayed. 

This is something you really need to think about when backing kids tech projects. Do not select a reward with the intention of it being a birthday present or Christmas gift for your child. You will be disappointed!
Do not select a reward with the intention of it being a birthday present or Christmas gift for your child. 

Creators often think it would be great to target Christmas with a couple of months to spare. A couple of months isn't enough. Sometimes six months or a year isn't enough. 

Sometimes this means that your child will have moved out of the target age range by the time you receive your reward. Just be aware of this. 

Think About What You Want from the Experience


If you just wanted a normal kids gadget you'd buy an already released product from a mainstream brand.

You're looking for something different. That might be access to technology you couldn't get otherwise, affordability, the feel-good factor of being involved in the product creation process, the behind the scenes updates that backers often get or that early adopter feeling of getting stuff before anyone else.

How will you feel if the creator messes up and makes the product available to purchase to non-backers before backers have received their deliveries. How will you feel if non-backers end up able to buy the product more cheaply but your funding was used for the development? What if the product takes a change in direction and turns about to be somewhat different to what you were expecting. These situations have all happened to me. It's fine to be a bit annoyed, but if they are going to ruin your week then crowdfunding might not be for you.

Don't treat backing a crowdfunded project as a normal purchase. Enjoy sharing the journey with the creators and other backers.





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