Sep 2, 2012

The Great Pen Meltdown at Kickstarter

Like thousands of others, a little over a year ago I placed an order from what may have been the cutest and sweetest couple to ever start a Chinese pen manufacturing company together.

Of course it was a lot more than that, yet as the weeks and months went by with no product, I let myself become momentarily irritated at you guys over the seemingly incessant delays to your Pen Type-A; that is until I began to read some of the other posts and realize just how vitriolic and frenzied an assault that adorable couple at CW&T (Che-Wei and his girlfriend Taylor) at Kickstarter had become.

So this note is from one soon to be owner of your Pen Type-A); and my best effort to empathize with your nightmareish situation, and register my own brief apology:

Seeing the kind of challenges you had endured  really gave me pause, and after giving it some thought, I realized that my own frustration was super-amateur, instinctual, and something I felt bad karmically about. So I wanted to share some of my thoughts, at least as partial penance (pun intended).

Of course it's pretty easy to be frustrated with the way things have turned out thus far with the pen, but if one were to pause as I did and allow themselves just a minute or two to imagine what they would do if put in your shoes (and I mean from the very start to present-day), it becomes awfully difficult to stay mad.

Just walking through this whole ordeal chronologically: you guys had a great idea to develop this very interesting pen; you were obviously very passionate about it, and it seemed a simple enough project to execute against (this is probably a good place to remind ourselves that this admittedly new product run called for only 40 or so orders for the new pen, not over 4,000!). So based on what you believed your subscription would be (which you "hoped" would reach $2,500, not nearly $300,000 for *'s sake!), as well as your rightful confidence in the basic resources and staff you had to fulfill what you expected would be a small beta-order, you very reasonably opted to test demand on (a then still-novel) Kickstarter platform.

I was around for your launch; I ordered and then marveled at how quickly interest in the Pen Type-A seemed to pile-on! The time-lapse between putting your toes in the proverbial water and finding yourselves pulled under, buried by a torrent of unrelenting demand wasn't a gradual one, it happened practically overnight!

There was absolutely massive (and I believe unprecedented at the time) oversubscription to your offering. Now I'm not sure if you could have put on the breaks from a technical standpoint (using the Kickstarter system to shut-down or even reverse demand?), but even if you could, how many of us would ourselves slam those money doors shut? I wouldn't.

So you rolled up your sleeves and went all-out to build an excellent pen, and quickly satisfy that enormous demand. Unfortunately you ran head-on almost immediately with your first of many setbacks with Chinese manufacturers – who themselves may speak broken-english but are often quite fluent in the language of over-promising.

From there, in my view, you've done a heroic job of keeping thousands of us updated on Kickstarter (27 times in 12 months), and in not letting however many nervous breakdowns you guys may have had affect your progress. All the while you've managed to admirably continue to chip away at the problem and delivery more and more of the Pen Type-A product (to seemingly delighted customers!).

So, if assigning blame is what drove a customer to this page on Kickstarter, then I suppose they'll be happy to learn you've swallowed your collective pride, held your noses, have taken full and unconditional responsibility for ALL the problems that have haunted your beleaguered pen project (despite the fact that your production problems could have been anticipated by a very select few experts out there with many years of experience in the world of Chinese manufacturing).

However, I bring blame up for another reason; I think all of us participants should bear in mind that Kickstarter is about helping fund "startup projects" from a unique vector and unique stage of gestatory development. As I see it, dollars from Kickstarter are basically pre-seed and pre-angel funding! As such, expectations for a "smooth anything" are themselves errors in participant thinking...ergo, a customer participant blaming only you guys would be a failure on their behalf to take their own share of the blame in recognizing (before ordering) that their very small investment at a typically wildly risky stage of a new operation might not go flawlessly for them.

Alright, enough of all that. Keep at it you guys, you're almost there. I hope next time you won't let fear of unknown variables preclude you from displaying the same volume of courage, or slow that all important early inertia that earned you such incredible early success with the Pen Type-A. As an quasi-investor/customer of yours that'd be my only concern for you. Remember:

Skepticism, good.

Cynicism, bad.

You'll be through this soon enough, and I for one hope for an opportunity to participate in your next project.


Christian Hunter

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