When crowdfunding goes bad; the story of ZionEyez

Cool ideas are a dime a dozen or maybe even cheaper.

Wikimedia conference 2013 group photograph

And while it's easy to get excited by a cool idea, turning it into a real product is usually a non-trivial task. Where you see this very clearly is on crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo where amongst many successful projects there are one or two that got funded spectacularly then failed, just as spectacularly, to deliver.

A great example of this is a project originally called Zioneyez. The intention was to build an HD video camera into the frame of a pair of glasses and both record and stream the results to the Internet via a smartphone:

Eyez embeds a 720p HD video camera within a pair of eyeglasses designed to record live video data and take pictures. The recorded data can be stored on the 8GB of flash memory within the Eyez glasses, transferred via Wifi/Bluetooth or Micro USB to a computer, or wirelessly transferred to most iPhone or Android devices. After a one-time download of the "Eyez" smartphone and tablet app, users can wirelessly broadcast the video in real time to their preferred social networking website. 

Zioneyez

Zioneyez streaming video glasses called "EyeZ", a failed Kickstarter project.

ZionEyez planned to sell these glasses for $199 and was looking for $55,000 to fund development and initial production. They had a good story including that their CTO, Joe Taylor, was an alumnus of Flip, the now shuttered digital video camera division of Cisco. 

So it was that on July 31,2011, the project was funded to the tune of $343,415 by 2,106 backers. Those 2,106 backers are now pretty unhappy as they have received nothing and the principals of the company have refused to provide any updates for months. 

I originally covered Zioneyez with  some enthusiam for the concept when I was writing for another publication and when I found out from a reader a year later in July, 2012, that the company had failed to honor its commitment to deliver in December, 2011, I was surprised and disappointed. I got back in touch with the then CEO, Carlos Becerra, who I had originally interviewed to find out what had happened.

Becerra admitted to development problems and delays and assured me that they were working hard to meet their obligations. A whole year later I realized the company had gone "dark" again and followed up once more. I got the following in an email from Becerra:

The team has been extraordinarily busy on diligently building the next prototype which includes the hardware, mobile application, and website components.  While we have hit snafus along the way, we are very happy with the progress we are making. I look forward to talking with you again on the record once we finish building and testing the different components of the Hardware Prototype, Beta Mobile Application, and Beta Website.

The company subsequently rebranded itself as "Zeyez" and put up a flashy, content-free Web site (which hasn't changed at all since it first appeared). After a couple more uninformative followup enquiries I got this response on Jan 3, this year:

Matt Krumholz, the Vice Chairman and President of Zeyez, should be your point of contact from this point forward for any official statements from Zeyez. Mr. Krumholz joined the team in 2012 along with another business veteran.  Together, they have taken the reigns of the company, reorganized the company, and put their experience to work. Mr. Krumholz was interviewed by Geekwire this past summer, the article can be found here: bit.ly/1d6wYax. Since the article was published, both the Chairman and Vice Chairman of Zeyez have taken the Zeyez Prototype and Investor Deck to potential investors in order to seek additional funding to finalize the prototype and bring the glasses to market.

Since then I attempted twice to get a reply out of Becerra and Krumholz about what's happening but since Becerra's message above I've had no response whatsoever. 

As for Zeyez' backers, they are quite justifiably angry. The company has completely ignored them and unless the backers start a lawsuit against the company - something that seems highly unlikely - they've simply lost their investment. 

Many backers are also enraged that Kickstarter has no interest in the failure of Zeyez to deliver and won't respond to inquiries on the topic and many say they will never back another Kickstarter project. This point is problematic as Kickstarter makes it clear in its terms and conditions that they will not assume any responsibility for project execution or failure and, indeed, it's hard to see how they could do such a thing.

But the bottom line is that no matter which way you look at it, the principals of Zeyez have behaved unethically. They made promises they not only didn't keep but apparently couldn't and won't admit they can't keep. They were consistently, shall we say, "economical with the truth" and they apparently feel no shame or remorse or need to clear the air.

Given the huge amount of crowdfunding that's been happening over the last few years I'm starting to think that we may need some legislation to deal with situations like the Zeyez failure, something many of the backers of Zeyez see as simply a scam. Perhaps large scale crowdfunding should be escrowed and only drawn down against achieved goals but that would require an auditor to oversee the process. 

How about a requirement that the principals of a project be closely connected via social networking to their backers? With a solid social graph that didn't allow the principals and employees to be shielded by one or two frontmen it would be harder for backed companies to go "dark" as Zeyez did.

Then again, maybe there is no practical way to prevent future projects like Zeyez from happening if we want the kind of creativity that so many Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects have shown and successfully delivered. Perhaps the only rule about backing speculative projects should be what it's always been: Let the investor beware.

Have you been burned by a crowdfunding project? Grumble below then follow me on TwitterApp.net, and Facebook.

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