Master and Commander

Last night I took Coin to task for extending their pre-order sale, again, in to the new year rather than allowing it to expire as should have happened sometime today. I briefly explained how this move has further devalued their product by virtually solidifying it at the $50 price point, and then talked about how Coin’s latest escapade showed a startling lack of respect for the individuals who put their hard-earned cash on the line so that this company could fulfill its one job in life by making a great device. Unlike the causes behind the former though, which I could explain with relatively simple examples, the latter — distilling the relationship between maker and consumer — proved much more difficult. I touched on this topic in my past articles on Coin, but have not actively sought to fully flesh out my thoughts on this topic until now.

I feel the best explanation of this relationship between maker and consumer1, comes from looking to the social phenomenon that is Kickstarter. Every time an individual deigns to back a project, that decision gets made secure in a number of expectations. First, that in exchange for a set amount of money a product will come into existence. This is the most basic principle of Kickstarter: until funded — until a given project garners enough money to actually deliver on its promised products or service — no money changes hands. After that set and clearly defined point, however, backers can rest assured in the knowledge that for a generally nominal fee their chosen project will indeed come to fruition.

Second, and arguably just as important, is the social contract the backer and project manager enter in to once money changes hands. With my money in your bank account I now hold you responsible for the success or failure of this project. In addition to an expectation of communication throughout the process, born of my position as shareholder wondering as to my investment’s success, this process also lends itself to a strong sense of standing: I, as the one providing funding, understand that my place is not to dictate how the project attains success. The makers, on the other hand, as the ones building the product, understand that the onus is on them to build their promised device with the money I gave them because I gave it to them. They may well be the commander of this project, but I as the backer — the source of funding — am the master, the ultimate authority determining whether or not the commander may proceed past the idea stage.

Ultimately, this is all a roundabout way to say that in each Kickstarter project there is some base level of trust between backer and project manager: trust that my funds will go towards ultimately making a theoretical device or service, and that one day I will receive a return on my investment; and trust that throughout the process I will receive occasional reports detailing progress, failure, or anything really. Coin eschewed every single one of those expectations and qualities. Their decision to operate outside of Kickstarter’s boundaries should have served as warning enough, but shoddy marketing tactics blindsided me — and many others, it would seem — to the implications of this decision and before I knew it my bank account had gone down $50. Currently I have no guarantee that I will ever see a return on that investment: if the pre-sale keeps extending, what about that vague ship date of summer 2014?

Whereas in a Kickstarter project backers benefit from so many niceties lending themselves to such a superb experience many come back to fund increasingly more projects after their first, Coin embodies every flipside Kickstarter was created to prevent.

As a brief aside, I really dislike this word because especially next to “maker”, it seems particularly superficial and decidedly meaningless.