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Tech Savvy: Seeing is believing

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week I wanted to share some insight I have, personally, with one of the downsides we see in some of the tech ventures that we can potentially see.

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Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week I wanted to share some insight I have, personally, with one of the downsides we see in some of the tech ventures that we can potentially see.

I have mentioned crowd-funding numerous times in this column, as well as the ability this gives the company that is looking for funding the ability to reach out to the masses directly and fund dreams. In many cases this has produced tremendous results - the Pebble Watch, the Square payment system and, locally, our own Jack Pine Brewery benefited from this amazing process.

Any of these folks I'm sure would tell you that building up to the crowd-funding campaign was a lot of work and once the project was funded, that was when the work really began. Once these projects receive funds they then have a commitment (it's actually part of the crowd-funding agreement) that they must then fulfill the promises they made - you know, because no one likes to get ripped off.

What many consumers don't realize is that there is a ton of work that has to go into getting these projects up and running- even if they get the funding they need. There are very few products that receive crowd-funding money that are immediately able to set up and deliver their product on a mass scale. Square, and the Brydge keyboard may have been exceptions to this but they certainly don't represent the majority of the projects.

Many of the projects rely on the funding to provide them with resources to complete portions of their project, even to get quotes on manufacturing that will then lead to the mass production, and it's a challenge to establish solid deadlines and delivery dates. Many consumer products, in the traditional sense, go through an extensive process to make sure they are able to meet demand the moment they are unveiled; crowd-funded products don't have that luxury, it's more like a "hang-onto-your-seats-we're-in-for-a-rough-ride" ordeal.

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The people who support these products, or Backers as they are known, expect this and anticipate some reasonable amount of time to get the product up and running.

But where do you draw the line between a reasonable, acceptable, delay compared to feeling the campaign has failed the Backers and the company is floundering? What can companies do to retain their Backers' trust and support if they encounter a delay? What happens when the Backers start backing out? For better or worse, I'm experiencing a little of that myself.

You may remember a while back (over a year actually) I mentioned a product called Coin. They are a payment system company, whose product was designed to store your credit cards and act as a one stop shop for multiple cards. You could store a number of cards - Visa, Master Card, etc, in this device and alternate between them and use the card like you would swipe any other credit card.

The demos, videos and product previews are amazing. I saw a preview on another tech blog and immediately went and pre-ordered one. That was February 2014. At that time they were preparing to produce enough of their product to start beta testing in multiple markets and had slated delivery for regular consumers for summer 2014 - not much of a wait.

I don't know how they gauge summer in California (where their company is based), and perhaps the Minnesotan in me had some influence, but by the time the end of June rolled around I was getting pretty antsy. They had been sending out regular email updates with pre-order VIP messages that only we could see giving us updates on what they were working on, and it just fed that craving to see how quickly I would receive my Coin.

Because they were starting beta testing, not in Minnesota (I asked), they did roll out their app, which you could install on your device and then you could enter your pre-order number and it would give you the approximate ship date of your Coin. Sweet. Sign me up.

I downloaded the app, entered my pre-order number and low and, behold, my ship date had changed to summer of 2015.

So, what happened? They ran into some delays and because of the popularity of the product they started assigning approximate ship dates by the date yours was ordered. Because I was a little late to the pre-order party, I got bumped to a secondary tier. OK, I understand, early bird gets the worm.

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Sure, I was disappointed, and I wasn't too put out but the Internet exploded in fury at the delay - so much so that they doubled the amount of beta testers they had originally planned on in order to give more people access sooner. Again, unfortunately, this accounted for so few people, their Twitter account (@coin) started to really take a beating.

This is where things really started to go downhill. About that same time I stopped receiving email updates, no more special VIP treatment, they seemed to go into damage control mode. The last entry on their blog was from December 2014 and they sent out an email (the last mass communication I've received) saying that they were deeply sorry and that if anyone who had pre-ordered wanted a refund they would give it. Ouch.

If you check out their Twitter account now, you will see a lot of "I'm sorry you're experiencing..." or "For a refund please fill out this form..." and "We have started shipping and an update is coming soon." Even back to a month ago, they were saying launch is starting soon and an update is coming. Sorry guys, an "update coming soon" should have some sort of actual timeline. Saying "coming soon" for a month might work for a new football stadium, but for an update on telling your pre-order consumers when they are anticipating a product launch that is already nearly a year behind schedule, the update at least should not take a month to surface.

There are two things I've noticed with this (soon to be) train wreck. One is that the backlash has prompted other companies to speed up development of their own version of this technology and they are swiping (ha!) customers left and right as Coin is dishing out refunds. Other products are already in production that are welcoming the pre-order customers with open arms and the consumers are happy because they don't have to wait.

The other interesting thing I've noticed, and this may be more just my opinion, is I think Coin could have, and still could, salvage much of this debacle by just offering some more transparency on their progress and not giving canned answers. They should have kept sending out email updates, beeen on the proactive side of things to help people understand if they are running into any unforeseen issues. And, ultimately, if they are so far in the weeds that they have no hope of bringing this product to the masses they should throw in the towel and start working on Plan B.

I haven't given up completely; I saw some encouraging posts from people that said they had complained enough they thought it increased their odds of getting an earlier ship date. And I've had good luck getting responses from their customer support, but I think this whole process is nearing an end one way or the other. I sent out one final request to customer support and we'll use their response as the catalyst to see how much longer we wait it out.

What this ordeal highlights is two things: one, there is some inherent risk involved with supporting programs like this. The pitfalls are not common, but there is always the chance that they haven't done all the homework they should have before launching. Two is that you need to have above average patience in understanding that these products are not in mass production at the time of funding, so there is an above average delay in bringing the products to market.

I'll keep you posted, I'm really hoping they can still deliver but I'm not holding my breath.

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