84 Percent Of Kickstarter’s Top Projects Are Shipping Late

AslanMedia, via Flickr

I’m all for viable funding mechanisms for projects, artistic and otherwise, that couldn’t get greenlit through conventional means. But as a CNN Money analysis of the top fifty most-funded projects on Kickstarter has discovered, enthusiasm for an idea doesn’t remotely translate to the ability to deliver on promises:

CNNMoney contacted the creators of the 50 highest-funded Kickstarter campaigns with estimated delivery dates of November 2012 or earlier to determine their shipping status. We found that only eight of those 50 projects hit their deadline. Sixteen of the 50 projects haven’t yet shipped. Among the 26 projects that shipped but went out late, the median delay was two months, although some outliers took much longer. The most delayed project in our data set, a home espresso machine being developed by ZPM Espresso, is nine months overdue and doesn’t expect to ship until mid-2013.

“To say we’ve learned a lot about engineering, design, manufacturing, marketing and customer service is … well … an understatement so extreme as to be laughable,” ZPM Espresso’s founders wrote in a recent update to their Kickstarter backers.

I’d hate to see donors start to turn away from the project of investments after getting burned, and I wonder if it’s time to start considering some restrictions that could lower the failure rate. In addition to setting a floor for the amount of money projects have to raise to go forward, maybe Kickstarter could offer an option to set a ceiling on the number of donations or donors a project will allow. That would both create a sense of urgency to get investors in the door, and set certain limits on the number of products that a producer, like the people behind the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, who intended to produce them by hand and had to figure out alternate, larger-scale production when they were deluged by orders that have lead to significant delays, can be required to deliver.

It’s probably also important to consider the question of refunds. If producers are about to blow deadlines, either a voluntary notification system that gives donors the option of withdrawing their investment, or a more structured appeals system that requires producers to justify the delays or be forced to refund donations to investors who want them. I’m sure these are not processes Kickstarter is interested in getting involved with, given the manpower they’d required, the fact that enforcement would probably scare some users off the site, and the dilution of the simplicity of the site in connecting inventors to investors. But preserving user confidence on the donor side may require that Kickstarter do some work to make sure the people pitching projects on it are actually capable of delivering.