When Kickstarter Goes Wrong: Were 419 Backers Almost Taken for a $27,637 Ride?

About a month ago, there was a $2,000 Kickstarter project called the Tech Sync Power System, a system for controlling

About a month ago, there was a $2,000 Kickstarter project called the Tech Sync Power System, a system for controlling home lights from mobile devices over a wifi connection. The project creator, registered as Steven Washington from Chesapeake, VA, said he was working on a team of six people and promised to ship mobile apps and hardware to backers who contributed as little as $20.

The project was popular, racking up $27,637, ten times the amount asked. But almost immediately, there was skepticism. “Tech Sync Power System, Too Good To Be True? Most Likely a Scam,” wrote one blogger and Kickstarter user who claimed to have put together a more rudimentary version of the system, but for $50 per unit. Backers asked for images, video, anything that would verify a working prototype. Mr. Washington declined, citing the patent process: “Due to the pending copyright, and patent process, we don’t have screen shots of our software, or more photos of our prototypes available yet, also we are working to finish off the UI in our software. Once that has completed, we will be sure to post more photos, videos and screen shots.”

Betabeat found no pending patent applications in Mr. Washington’s name.

Then, things started to get weird. Mr. Washington told backers in an update that he’d had a family member die and the project would be passed into the hands of “Rachel Yu,” who posted an update on August 16 claiming Mr. Washington would be doing a conference call with select backers. The same day, the project was canceled and Mr. Washington’s account was deleted; after which Mr. Washington tweeted “someone thought it would be funny to compromise my KS account and delete the project, we are more than pissed.” The project page was marked canceled–meaning no one’s credit card got charged–and Mr. Washington’s account was marked deleted. The tweet was then deleted. By the next day, Mr. Washington’s Twitter account was also gone.

Kickstarter told backers the project had been canceled, without further explanation. “The Tech-Sync project was canceled,” Kickstarter’s Cooper Troxell wrote to a backer. “Please know we were talking extensively about what to do in this situation, and are working on ways to prevent this from happening again.” Geekscape has a good roundup of the strange tale.

Kickstarter’s director of communications, Justin Kazmark, sent us this statement today:

Recently, a project called The Tech-Sync Power System launched on Kickstarter and quickly exceeded its funding goal. While the project was live, a handful of backers began to question whether the creator could deliver what his project promised. Just five days before its deadline, the creator opted to cancel the project and to delete his account. The creator offered no explanation for this decision.

Establishing trust between backers and creators is paramount on Kickstarter and we’re working continuously to provide the most transparent experience we can. Backers must be able to make informed decisions. An open environment where information can be easily shared is the best way to do this.

One of the bedrock beliefs behind Kickstarter is a trust in the crowd. We still believe this is true.

Kickstarter vets project proposals for adherence to its guidelines. But the startup doesn’t make aesthetic calls or attempt to verify all of a project creator’s claims. Right now, Kickstarter has eight staffers reviewing thousands of proposals a month, Mr. Kazmark said, and 60 percent of those make the grade.

A number of things can go wrong; just as with startups receiving investment, sometimes things prove to be harder than anticipated–as with this project to create an independent games label, which dragged on for a year after the funding closed without updates from the backers. Eventually they got back in communication and told their backers they’d vastly underestimated how hard it would be to start a company.

It’s possible that something similar happened to Mr. Washington. But the project has no website, only a registered domain–and the project’s creators seem to have disappeared, leading some backers to call foul.

But as user Tom Parker wrote in the project’s comments, caveat backer. “There are no guarantees here,” he writes. “You are backing somebody’s dream and hopefully they make good on it. It’s not Best Buy.

“That said, after backing more than 20 projects the track record here is pretty good. I’ve seen two projects canceled, a couple didn’t get funded, and 80 to 90% of the successful projects have fulfilled their rewards. The remaining ones seem to be in progress. There are one or two I think might flake out. That’s the nature of this transaction. Despite how some people characterize their rewards, you are NOT buying something here. You’re backing somebody’s idea. They promise to give you something. As in the real world, sometimes the pay-off isn’t there.”

  When Kickstarter Goes Wrong: Were 419 Backers Almost Taken for a $27,637 Ride?