Crowd Funding – The Risks

I was browsing Youtube today, and came across a video from Big Think on the subject of “Crowd Funding”. If your unfamiliar with the term, it is basically services that bring large groups of people together whom all wish to donate small to mid ranged amounts of cash to in support of individuals or groups of innovators that have ideas for inventions or innovations, but no startup capital.

Some popular crowd funding  websites are indiegogo and kickstarter.

The benefits of crowd funding are obvious. It opens up the market to inventors that may not have otherwise had access to the startup capital necessary to forward their dreams. Sometimes they may not have been able to get the capital from traditional investors due to conflict of interest limitations, a bad economy for lending or otherwise “risking” money, and other reasons. As such, this platform can be a tool for good.

The problem comes in, when miscalculation, misinformation or malice, skews reality.

Here, I will mention one of my reality tv “guilty pleasures”, the show “Dragons Den” on CBC television. I think that CNBC has “Shark Tank”, of which I think follows more or less the same formula as the former, but I am unsure  (I have never watched it).

On “Dragons Den”, there are 5 “investors” that watch demonstrations of various inventions and products from up and coming entrepreneur’s . The goal of the shows guests, is to try and get funding from one (or more) of the dragons to further promote (or tweek) their products.

One thing that you will ALWAYS see, is the inventors dreams are up in the clouds. Which is a good thing (from their standpoint, its easy to only see the positives).
The dragons however, have a better eye on the reality of the situation. They have to (it is their own money that they are dealing with, so they don’t want to be giving it out willy nilly). This makes them consider not just the short term, but also the longer term run of a given investment.

Sometimes they invest. But more often then not, they stay hands off.

Sometimes the reason for their reluctance is obvious (the invention is terrible!). But sometimes, it is due to calculations that one may not take into consideration otherwise.
For example, I remember one episode in which a group of young guys came in, showcasing wooden sunglasses that they wanted to mass market. They did a good presentation, and for the most part, the product was of good quality and nice (the dragons were impressed).
However, with the exception of one (who dropped out early due to a conflict of interest), none put fourth any money. Though they were impressed on the surface, they all realized that it was a niche product at best. Its main strength was its “cool” factor. The problem with that being, things that are “cool” today, do not stay that way  further down the road.

Crocks_Shoes

It may be a good investment in the short term. But 2/3/4/5 years down the road, not so much.

It is that aspect of the show that I like the best. The people showing off the inventions, have their heads in the clouds. Which is awesome. We the viewers also may have our heads in the clouds, with what we see. But the Dragons serve as a voice of reality. The people on the program (nor us the audience) may not necessarily want to hear what the Dragons have to say (insert Kevin O’Leary joke here), but none the less, it has to be said.

One problem that is increasingly noticeable with crowd funding, is the lack of these voices of reason. And if its not the lack of voices of  reason, then it is the choice to crowd out (or otherwise bury) these legitimate criticisms.

I don’t think that there is a campaign that illustrates this problem more then the one surrounding  “Solar Freakin Roadways”. Though it started a few years back, it did not blow up in popularity until a few months ago (or I did not learn about it until a few months ago, anyway).
If it were to be taking place on Dragon’s Den, then the Youtube video would be their presentation. Since it was fucking horrible, im thinking that right off the bat, bad marks. But after the presentation is over, the memo pads will come out, and the dragons will ask for some numbers.

SEO…-What-are-your-Sales

Yep.What are your sales?

If my interpretation of the situation is correct, then the answer to the question would likely be a big fat ZERO.

But since some inventions do not become profitable until they make their way into the marketplace (in this case, not until after installation), the dragons would likely ask for 3 sets of numbers.

1.) Initial Costs

2.) Maintenance Costs

3.) Profitability

As far as I know, the people behind the “Solar Freakin Roadways” campaign, have not (REALLY) made these costs available. Or if they have, people are not able to find them (always a good sign). If this were the case on the show, I am almost certain that  the dragons would IMMEDIATELY ream then out for wasting their time.

At this point, many people in the Youtube community (and elsewhere) have taken up the task of attempting to fill in the blanks left by the missing information. Not only are these individuals and groups crunching the 3 numbers above in depth (for example, the costs of raw materials and labor), but also other costs and scenarios (for example, how do sensitive electronics react to extreme real world conditions that do not affect ordinary blacktop).

Keeping pace with my previous trajectory, lets pretend were still on the show. Lets pretend that all 5 of the Dragons have the collective know how and knowledge  to “fill in the blanks” left by their presenters. Being it is in their own best interest to know all of this, they are going to know the massive cost of installation of these tiles, even for 1km of roadway. They are going to know the massive cost of just REGULAR maintenance of the tiles. They are going to know the limited generation capabilities of the tiles due to their flat position, let alone the further dwindling of generation capacity due to shadows and cars using the roadway (imagine how much a traffic jam would destroy the generation capacity of the tiles! Let alone, a parking lot).
And of course, there is winter. The season when solar input drops significantly in Northern regions, and also the season when all these panels will be running internal heating coils to avoid the buildup of ice and snow on the road surface.

They will also know the exponential cost boon to taxpayers. They also will know that any roadway engineer worth their salt would be horrified by a GLASS roadway.

I am almost certain that if the “Solar Freakin Roadways” people were to grace the stage of the Dragons and give them the same presentation that they have given to the rest of us, they would not only leave with nothing, but they would also be LAUGHED out of the room. I am not a betting man, but I would throw a wager on that outcome anyday!

What

I used to think that Keven O’Leary was an ass, but really, more often then not, he is just speaking unfiltered. And in some cases, you need such unfiltered truth.

When it comes to chasing your dreams, it is great that it is easier then ever, in todays technically connected world. Social media portals provide an excellent way for these ideas to spread and gain momentum. And crowd funding provides an excellent way for even the every day low to mid range  income citizen, to become part of something bigger.

But in the same way we have to learn to question and research  EVERYTHING  that is presented as “fact” on social media, we also must be more inquisitive of those asking for money to chase their dream. I think the most important aspect of all is, DO YOUR RESEARCH!

Whether it is a meme or something viral on facebook spreading misinformation, or something as complex as the technical specs of “Solar Freakin Roadways”, you are likely to find an answer. Another thing to remember,  is that your search terminologies CAN influence the results. Let me show an example.

Solar 1 Solar 2

Solar 3

As you can see, just adding a word can change the results displayed (if you click on any of the images above, you will be brought to the pages to explore the links yourself). Though the changes due to the slight difference in search query are not all that evident in this case, there are many times when it can be.
Search engines put what is MOST POPULAR first in line, which is why you need to add other key words like “controversy”, “scam” or “snoopes”. I know you are likely thinking “THAT is a very biased search!”, and your right. However, the point is NOT to absorb the bias, but to pick out the truth from within.
Its how I can watch Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, Sun News Network, RT, Al Jazeera, The Young Turks and other news sources. Their slants are irrelevant to me. I just look for the information.

Crowd sourcing is a great thing. Don’t get me wrong.

But if there are no checks and balances in how these platforms are utilized, and if people are not careful in researching who (and what) they are funding, the platform may VERY quickly become poisoned.

Someones idea may pull on the heart strings. Someones idea may be, something that makes one feel better about themselves. Someones idea may claim to be a part of a better tomorrow. But in the end, its all window dressing.

Instead of reacting with your heart, use your head.

Do not let ignorance and laziness be the death of what could be a good thing.

crowdfunding-cartoon

Post Script

The link below came up, interestingly enough, on the first page displayed when I searched the term “Crowd Funding”. This is excellent. Any story that brings attention to this problem (or otherwise places a cautionary barrier) in people minds, is a good story.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2014/07/17/cancelled-kickstarter-game-yogventures-raised-over-500000-in-crowdfunding/

While on the subject, being a visitor of the Youtube community for the last few months, I have come across a number of such “scams” that have been perpetrated amongst some  in the community. One of the most well known was from an account called “Smosh”, who apparently collected cash for a video game that was not to be.

Then there is The Amazing Atheist, who allegedly stole money from something called “Free Speech Vids” and a website called “Not Productive” that apparently, turned to be little more then an expensive Youtube channel.
THIS one bothered me, because I am a fan of TJ, have referenced a few of his videos in the past.

Keep in mind, the references made to his material in past postings, are still relevant to the posts. But its just a bit, of a let down when  you have had a fairly healthy respect for someone, to find out that they may not be as on the straight and narrow as you thought.

After I grew tired of facebook, I began to spend more time on youtube. There is much content to enjoy, and the comments section can be even more fun then facebook (well, when you run into the intelligent ones). But so called “Drama”, you also run into on a regular basis.This creator hates that creator, for whatever reason (unfortunately, usually to increase views to their channel(s) ).

Some like Onision, are notorious for this. Others, like The Amazing Atheist or Mr Repzion, are not as well known for their shady activities (but quite a few users have videos that make a compelling case, with more evidence then just their opinion).

As much as one wants to stay away from these silly Youtube  “drama” situations (talk about a #FirstWorldProblem), they make for a good lesson on the “facade” that some hide behind.

Keep that in mind, before you support your favorite youtuber for some project, VIA Patreon or otherwise.

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