Why I don’t back 3D Printer projects on crowdfunding sites

The ill-fated Peachy 3D Printer campaign image

I try to stay positive on this site (there is one exception that still gets a ton of traffic, years later) as there is enough negative shit out in the world as it is. I don’t do reviews for products that suck for this reason (and to not give them anymore coverage). But with the recent implosion of the Peachy 3D Printer project on a crowdfunding site (I am/was a backer), I thought it was time for a cautionary post.

The TLDR of the Peachy story is that their business manager embezzled about half of the money (~$360k) they raised on Kickstarter to build a house. The others learned of this over a year ago and tried to make things right without telling the backers that this had happened and they dropped an overly dramatic video last night explaining the ordeal in a way fit for reality television. It remains to be seen if criminal charges will happen but why they haven’t already is a head scratcher. I suspect there is much more to their story and that it’s possibly a family relation.

To be clear, I don’t dislike crowdfunding platforms. I use them all the time to support projects I want to succeed and that I want access to myself. I’ve also helped a number of projects with their campaigns in various ways (promotion, video content, feedback, consulting, etc.). So this post isn’t about Kickstarter, Indigogo, etc. I’ve also had success with 3D printing related campaigns in the past (like the PancakeBot) but that was the last one I backed. But I had seen it in person (a prototype) and I had met it’s designer. I felt good about backing it. Like the Peachy, it was a low risk investment/speculation (~$150). The best thing I’ve ever bought via these platforms has been my 3D scanner (arguably better than my 3D printer purchases). That project continues to help me earn a living with 3D printing/scanning. Not bad for a $350 investment.

As a 3D printing expert, I get asked daily (sometimes hourly) “What 3D printer should I buy?” or “What do you think about this 3d printer on [crowdfunding platform]”? I regularly get tagged on every social media platform when something new pops up “Have you seen this? What do you think?”

I’ve long tried to steer people away from crowdfunded printer projects because the people that are asking are usually newcomers to 3D printing and are enticed by the (usually) lower cost rather than the reality of the project. 3D printers have been in a pricing race to the bottom for years and crowdfunding is an easy way to make up for low cost by producing them in volumes. You also get the money upfront so you know what the market will bear and what you need to produce before setting up expensive tooling and supply chains.

Backing a crowdfunded project can be fun but it is a completely different animal than going to a store or shopping online and buying something. People need to understand that Kickstarter isn’t a store. It’s definitely not Amazon. It’s more like the stock market where you’re speculating (with your money) on whether or not the creators of the campaign can deliver on a promise. That may include a ‘perk’ of a printer, a t-shirt, a credit in a movie or whatever pledge level you check off. Indigogo also supports ‘flexible funding’ which means if the campaign doesn’t reach it’s goal, they still get your money and promise to deliver your reward. Kickstarter campaigns fail when they don’t reach their goal and your credit card isn’t charged until the end of the campaign. Don’t reach the goal? No charge to your card.

This is kind of scary. People that set up these campaigns set their goals to (hopefully) actually deliver the reward taking into account all the stuff that making a product (or service) entails. In the case of 3D printers, that likely means supply chains for large volumes of electronics, mechanical and other parts. Few people understand what this entails (I don’t) so keep that in mind when researching a project – does anyone involved have experience with this stuff? Have they ever been to China to talk with manufacturers (assuming they aren’t one themselves). This isn’t done with a couple of Skype calls.

These platforms do very little (in anything) in the way of background checking the viability of the project AND THE PEOPLE BEHIND IT. There are plenty of scammers in the world and they use these platforms regularly. There is no checking to see if the claims of a project are true, feasible or even possible. Don’t believe the fancy campaign videos – they usually show rendered models or one off prototypes. This doesn’t even take into account the scalability issues that commonly plague campaigns where a bunch of friends design something, put it on a crowdfunding site and then get millions of orders without ever dealt with manufacturing outside of their kitchen table.

Many times, these projects fail (I’m going to focus on 3D printing for this post but the landscape is littered with other failures). The Buccaneer printer was a fairly recent one. They failed on many levels to deliver the product people were expecting, which didn’t live up to the expectations they were sold on and were very late in dealing with refunds.

I had to buy the green one

I had to buy the green one

One project I thought would fail is the M3D printer. It seemed too good to be true – a cute little fully assembled 3D printer that was under $400 back when few printers cost less than $1000 AS A KIT. I passed on backing it but then a fellow member of 3D604.org got his ‘reward’ (albeit a little later than expected) and I realized it was a legit printer. Thing was, they were still shipping to their backers when I was able to order one from them directly, at pretty much the same price as the Kickstarter cost (I think the backers got more included like filament which I paid for separately).

It seems to make sense that if you’ve burned through your backer money faster than expected, with unforeseen cost overruns, shoddy vendors, mistakes, astronomical shipping costs, etc. that you’d open up the ‘preorder’ lines to raise some quick cash to finish off the backer rewards and charge enough of a premium for the new preorders that you can ship those machines. It’s like cashing a cheque you wrote to yourself that you know won’t clear until after payday…

The moral of this story is only back projects you fully understand the implications of (as in you may never see your ‘reward’ – remember you’re speculating), do your research on the people or companies involved and don’t bet the farm on something that seems to good to be true because it always is. ALWAYS!

Will I ever see my Peachy Printer? Who knows. I hope so as it looked like a promising technology. I’d hate for that to get lost due to some shitty people mismanaging the money behind the project. Hopefully it will at least be open-sourced as a result. Am I mad about it? A little…but I’m not going to rampage over $100 I speculated with more than 2 years ago.

Update/Correction: Fixed a few grammar/spelling issues and realized that I also backed the OLO resin printer…let’s hope they aren’t a cursed type of printer. But again, it was $118, not a fortune. That doesn’t mean I want to just burn $100 bills either…

One Comment

  1. kkozlen says:

    Great article and very balanced. I’ve become too skeptical of Kickstarter/Indiegogo projects. I feel like I should wait until it’s successfully launched before I buy/decide. I learned my lesson by passing on the Pebble watch in favor of Kreyos Smartwatch (a quick search will show you the disaster that became). I’m also still waiting on the “iExpander” I funded on Kickstarter on 2012.

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