jolla tabletRaising money from strangers is all the rage these days. It happens online.

Kickstarter is the most well known “crowd-funder” and Indiegogo (pronounced Indi-go-go) isn’t far behind. Do the strangers get their money back if the product doesn’t succeed? Good question, for which the answer is: sometimes and mostly no. The answer is blowing in the crowd. Here’s our experience.

We were wowed by a new¬†tablet called “Jolla,” with a brand new operating system called “Sailfish.” It raised over $2.5 million on Indiegogo eight months ago. It was one of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns. We were one of the early bird investors who paid $209 for a fancy-schmancy Sailfish¬†tablet to be delivered in June. It’s nearing September and we’re still waiting. The latest update says we’ll get our tablet by mid-September. The factories in China are still working things out, they say. If for some reason, we don’t get the tablet, Indiegogo’s rules say we should contact Jolla, not Indiegogo. In other words, they throw up their digital hands and say “not us; we didn’t do it.”

These so-called “crowd-funding” methods have been a great deal for companies trying to introduce new products. On Indiegogo, for example, companies get to keep whatever they raised after paying a nine percent fee, even if they don’t reach their funding goal. (If they do reach their goal, the fee is only four percent.)

On Kickstarter, which is the older and larger of the two crowd-funding operations, they have pretty much the same policy — if you can call it a policy. Over 91,000 projects have been funded by several million people. Whether or not they ever got a refund, a product or a get well card, remains a mystery in the cloud. As you might expect, both funding services get a lot of complaints. We don’t want to shock anybody, but scams and scammers do exist.

Starting a successful business is just plain hard, even if you raise the money. Using Kickstarter, for example, a game called “Code Hero” received $10,000 each from two donors, with hundreds more donations flowing in for a total of $170,954. Code Hero was a game designed to teach children how to program computers. The money vanished quickly into programmer salaries, and years later, investors are still waiting for refunds, which seem unlikely. Some states may provide relief to investors under a deceptive trade practices law, but that’s aimed at the company, not Kickstarter. If there are no assets to forfeit, investors are out of luck.

Even success stories require patience. Oculus Rift, makers of a virtual reality headset, met their $250,000 goal on their first day and quickly raised another $2.4 million. Yet their first headsets won’t go on sale until Spring of 2016. We hope the customers who ordered products in 2013 have other toys to play with.


  1. Note: The comment below refers to the uncorrected version of this column, in which we mistakenly called the Jolla tablet an Android tablet. We have now corrected this.

    “Hi guys! I came across your column, and just wanted to correct one item — you will, in fact, never receive an Android tablet from Jolla, because Jolla does not produce Android devices. In fact, the one and only selling point of the Jolla tablet is that it does _not_ run Android (or iOS or WP); instead, it runs Sailfish, an entirely new operating system.

    Also, I’m kinda confused how you would have been wowed by the tablet, if you believed that this tablet runs Android; even last year when the project was proposed, there were already other Android tablets with similar or better specs, and they were available for immediate purchase…”

  2. Wow, you’re right. We really messed up this one. We were impressed by the new sailfish operating system, but it’s been so long since we first heard about it, we’d forgotten. We’ll correct that on our site now.