Zano drone Kickstarter debacle: Journo hired to investigate

11 Dec 2015

The Zano Drone beside an iPhone 5

From stunning glory to incredible failure in a few months, Zano, Europe’s most successful Kickstarter campaign, is about to be investigated by a journalist hired by the crowdfunding site.

Where to start? Maybe the beginning. Zano is a drone. Torquing Group put it up on Kickstarter in January and secured £2.3m in funding, with almost 13,000 enthusiastic backers getting on board.

The drone is tiny, manoeuvrable via an app on your phone and has obstacle-avoidance software installed. This means that, in theory, you can have a little camera person following you around while you’re out with mates or walking the dog.

Too much, too soon

This is why so many people backed it. This is also why it has been a disaster for the company, which shut down the entire project a few weeks ago, failing to fulfil its campaign promises.

With that, understandably, Kickstarter isn’t happy. The crowdfunding site has hired freelance journalist Mark Harris to look into the whole mess and report back.

“The company wants to help the backers of this failed project get the information they are entitled to under their agreement with the project creator,” said Harris, who has looked at crowdfunding in the past.

“They would like to uncover the story of Zano, from its inception to the present, and decided that the best way to do that was to hire a journalist.”

Stage by stage

Harris will look into every stage of the project, from original funding, through to summer headaches, autumn nightmares and now winter woes.

He will see if the creators could have acted differently, or if Kickstarter itself dropped the ball at any stage.

“Although Kickstarter is paying me (up front) to research and write this story, and will be able to see it before it is sent to the backers or published, the company has no right to make any suggestions or changes to my copy,” said Harris, who has no other connection to either Torquing Group or Kickstarter.

It looks like this will be quite the job for him.

No mean feat

During the summer, Arstechnica and BBC each got a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacturing facility in Wales where the drones are being made but, each time, there was no fully operational product available.

Shipping was supposed to have started but, due to many reasons, delays had begun. Ivan Reedman, who led the engineering for the drone, left last month as more and more customers lost faith and, with a petition underway and little light at the end of the tunnel for backers, the plug was pulled.

It is, above all else, a shame that this product wasn’t delivered as, looking at the plans, it would have been fantastic.

Still, though, with crowdfunding – and the nuances that go with it – still not entirely understood by people putting their money into projects, the result of Harris’ investigation will offer some value, at least.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic