Browsing projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo is, in a way, similar to checking out garage sales. You know that most of the stuff there is going to be junk and/or overpriced and/or irrelevant to your needs. But that’s not why we look – it’s the shining gems and special finds that make it exciting and fun.
I can tell you from experience that it’s easier to tell a story and sell a dream on something intangible than it is to spin gold from fishing line. I can upsell it all I want, but anyone with half a brain is going to look at dusty coil of line, turn it to read the label, and know it certainly won’t land them a tournament-winning bass.
Caveat emptor – “let the buyer beware” – is never more true than with crowdfunded campaigns. And sure, it’s the job of marketing to draw one in with words and feelings, adding just enough of inadequacy to your life to raise doubt, while it graciously holds your wallet in return. The impulse to buy seems so easy right then, doesn’t it?
That illusion shatters once the honeymoon phase is over, when reality gives you a swift kick in the brain and pulls open your pocket so you can take a look. But by that time it’s already too late to get your money back. And that feeling totally burns. So here are three examples of currently-funding projects to avoid (or get your money back before the funding closes) for all the right reasons.
Skip the Bruno Smartcan
Let’s begin with the darling that has been positively covered by many many a media outlet (so ridiculous), the Bruno Smartcan. I’ll be upfront and admit that, at first blush, this seems like a really cool idea, even though it’s simply a marriage between a salon vacuum and touchless garbage can. Bruno is a garbage can with a built-in vacuum at the bottom, has an auto-open lid, and sends push notifications when it’s low on bags (only if you buy their special ones).
Bruno’s premise is that you can ditch dustpans, bending, and dirty floors by sweeping everything into the vacuum outlet. It’s a great idea that collapses under simple scrutiny (I never received an email reply after I replied to the team’s pitch email to me).
If everything that was dropped on my kitchen floor were dry and non-crumbly, Bruno would be a dream. But that’s not how life works, especially with kids, so don’t toss that dustpan out just yet. A bowl of cereal with milk? A plate of mashed potatoes? A potted plant? Do you really want to sweep all that across the floor to leave a trail of milk, mush, or dirt in its wake to reach Bruno?
Unlike what’s indicated in the video, messes don’t just plop conveniently right next to garbage cans. You’ll have to mop those spills up – you might as well mop the entire floor after doing a portion of it. So how much time and energy have you saved now?
If it’s a wet mess, just crouch (don’t bend, use your leg muscles and crouch) and spot-clean. Simple. If it’s a dry mess, you can grab a long-reaching, portable canister vacuum instead of the broom. In fact, you can purchase a touchless garbage can and that canister vacuum, right now, for less than the Kickstarter cost of Bruno. And it’ll arrive at your doorstep in a week. Sure, it would mean owning two items over one, but how are you going to vacuum the rest of the house with a Bruno Smartcan? And do you really need another Bluetooth reminder for something as non-critical as garbage bags?
USB ChargeDoubler is a crappycat
You know. Crappy + copycat = crappycat. Right in the title of the USB ChargeDoubler on Indiegogo is the phrase, “double your charging speed!” Scroll through the page and you’ll be assaulted with tons of bolded words, “200%” peppered about, and an assurance of uniqueness. I won’t mince words; I feel that the USB ChargeDoubler is attempting to ride the coattails of the inCharge cable, which pulled a cool $400k on Indiegogo just 5 months ago. It seems pretty blatant to me.
Now, I have nothing against cheap knockoffs, which can be found for just about everything (e.g. Shenzhen, Guandong). But don’t try to fool the consumer with misleading information. (I never received a reply from their “tech guys”, since my questions were above what PR could handle.) The USB ChargeDoubler is a basic 5V/1A micro USB (or Lightning) cable that can’t transfer data, but it features magnetic attachments to loop around stuff for convenience.
Its whole claim to 200% speed comes from comparing itself to USB cables with an effective charge rate of 500mA – the ones we likely threw out years ago after upgrading to newer and better mobile devices. Besides, most of today’s basic cables peak close to 5V/1A (usually about 850mA effective). But they’re going to sell you on the false idea that your cable is insufficient, while offering you a basic cable that’s no better than what you already own, except that it’s portable and easily lost.
As one who has had real experience with a similarly-constructed USB cable (and I won’t name any names), I expect the USB ChargeDoubler to crack open along the glued seams of the USB tip. It’s what happened to me after three weeks of owning a USB cable I invested in from Indiegogo some time ago; I even received a replacement from the crowdfund manufacturer, and that broke within two weeks too.
If you really want a short and convenient USB cable to carry around, I recommend this bendy micro USB cable off of Amazon. This one can transfer data and charge up to 2.4A (good for tablets). It’s $8 and has a 4.5 star rating, backed by 626 Amazon reviews. But, more importantly, I keep this cable as part of my EDC (it’s survived close to a year of punishment). If it’s good for me, you can be assured it’s good for you.
The SmartPlate is, ultimately, clueless
I’m a huge supporter of healthy life choices and habits. And it’s not an easy thing for the average person with a full-time job, who might also have kids. And who also really really likes beer. But time is more valuable than money, and easy & cheap solutions to address hunger abound. It’s a complex juggle to maintain, which is why new solutions are oh-so tempting.
I can tell you right now that the SmartPlate is going to pack you full with delusions (see what I did there?) of grandeur. If you’ve never stayed consistent with a food tracker before, this isn’t going to provide a different experience for you. If you have stayed consistent with a food tracker before, this might be as good, except you’re going to be the dork of the day. Every. Day.
It’s one thing to pull out a smartphone to log food in order to track consumption. But how would you feel about pulling out a plate that looks like the grownup version of something found in the baby aisle at Target. Along with user input, this SmartPlate uses built-in cameras and a scale to identify all that you eat. It claims a ton of science is involved, when it really just references the USDA’s database of food. Like you can do with a web browser on your smartphone.
Imagine your typical 8-hour workday. Now imagine taking a lunch break with the special adult baby-plate that you brought for your food (note that you can’t microwave it, but you can dump your food on the microwaveable lid and eat like that). Now imagine going out to dinner with this SmartPlate, asking the server to use your plate, making sure the chef puts all the food on appropriately. Unless you’re eating meals meant for children (chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, etc), the SmartPlate won’t live up to expectations.
Basic burgers can be up to over 500 calories apart – how can you expect the SmartPlate to know the difference between something I order from the Flaming Grill Cafe or the Rubicon Brewing Company? What about a beer? Or dessert, like a creme brule? Can you tell the difference between prepared Bluefin Tuna and Sockeye Salmon? Probably, right? Think the weak cameras on the SmartPlate can do the same? And what about connectivity? Are you going to walk outside with your plate of food, trying to find a stronger signal?
Does the USDA have a file on my homemade lasagna, or any custom, home-cooked meal for that matter? Nope. They have no clue that my recipe uses low fat cheese, and ground turkey instead of beef, but that no one is the wiser when they taste it (if you email me, I’ll gladly send you my personal recipe). Don’t waste your money with the dumb SmartPlate.
Ssign up for Weight Watchers instead. They’ll actually teach you how to change your eating lifestyle, tailored to you as an individual with your specific goals.
Don’t be a chump!
In my opinion, intent doesn’t matter as much as outcome. Sure, each of these products are reaching for the stars with positive energy , but that’s all marketing talk meant to turn a reasonable human being into a complete sucker.
I don’t believe there’s any malicious intent involved. I’m almost certain that each team fully supports the purpose of their project, regardless how ridiculous it may be. But when one thinks to the past, with all the bullshit scams people were blind to and regretted it later on, you can’t help from having a skeptical mind.
Snake oil is no longer limited to just oil. These days, the same sweet promises come in the form of electronics and/or Bluetooth wireless. Not everything has to be new, connected to the internet, or have an accompanying app in order to make it valuable. Remember, all it takes is a little critical thinking in order to keep your hard-earned money in your pocket. But if you really feel the need to spend some money with wild abandon, you can send me five bucks anytime you like.