Wisdom of the Crowd? A Look Back at Crowdfunded IoT Projects

There's no doubt that crowdfunding can be a great tool for IoT startups, but it's no guarantee of success.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

When it launched the campaign, Punch Through Design estimated that it would deliver the LightBlue Bean+ in December 2015. On December 8, the company posted an update to its Kickstarter page, saying it was still awaiting FCC testing results and needed to inspect its pilot production samples, so it pushed delivery back to March 2016. On March 4, the product was still undergoing FCC testing. On March 16: still testing.

As of April 15, in the most recent update, the company again apologized for the delays, which were caused by an issue with the device's RF amplifier and the long FCC testing process. The product is now expected to ship in June.

A Different Approach?
Last week, I spoke with Shipeng Li, the CTO of IngDan, a Chinese firm that supports IoT startups by connecting them with Chinese manufactures, offering design and technology support, helping them connect with investors, assisting them in testing and marketing products… the list goes on. In exchange, IngDan sets up some type of financial arrangement with the startups. Sometimes, it takes a share of the company's profits, while in other cases, IngDan receives a stake in the company.

IngDan opened its first U.S. office, in Silicon Valley, last year and Li told me that it's still ramping up that operation, so it does not have any big success stories to point to. However, the firm did sponsor an IoT startup pitch contest, in collaboration with Hackster.io, and today I spoke with the founder of the third-place winner, a U.K.-based startup called Onomo, that is developing a Bluetooth-connected, handlebar-mounted navigation device for cyclists known as Haize.

As it turns out, Onomo started out with a Kickstarter campaign, and attracted 911 backers who pitched in £63,055 ($90,805). The product's estimated delivery date is this summer. But Onomo's founder, Javier Soto, says that being able to work with IngDan—its third-place prize gives Onomo $2,000 worth of advisory services from IngDan—will enable him and his partners to identify a Chinese manufacturer that can help Onomo scale up production of the Haize device, not just to meet its Kickstarter orders but to grow beyond that. In fact, even before they get to that point, he says, IngDan is helping Onomo tackle some last-minute design challenges, including improving the device's weather resistance.

"This kind of help can be extremely valuable," Soto told me. "We're mainly designers and engineers, and getting into this kind of [product] to market takes a lot of advice from people who have [manufacturing] expertise."

So the upshot here, as far as I can see, is that crowdfunding can be a great tool for ramping up interest in an IoT product, but it's not the only one. If you are pondering a crowdfunding approach, remember that even if the campaign is successful, you may still go through many hiccups, and you may have to deal with unhappy customers right out of the gate. There are other or additional support systems and services, such as those offered by IngDan, that are available to startups. If I were trying to launch an IoT product, I'd use all the resources I could find.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of IoT Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.

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