When IRobot (IRBT) first sent Scott Miller to Asia a decade ago to help oversee manufacturing of the Roomba, its robotic vacuum cleaner, he saw it as a business trip. He wound up spending the next four years in Hong Kong and mainland China, unraveling the intricacies of the manufacturing process. The recent rise of crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo has proven an effective way to create Roomba-esque product ideas, many coming from individuals or small groups of people, rather than from companies. But building a prototype and raising money online do little to prepare innovators for everything that comes next. Even some of the highest-profile successes in crowdfunding have struggled to follow through. Pebble, a wildly successful smartwatch, was delayed for months, and the company irked customers by distributing the watches through retail stores while some donors were still waiting for the devices they expected in exchange for their having provided financial support. Over the weekend Ouya, a Kickstarter-funded gaming console, apologized to its backers and handed out store credits in response to similar distribution troubles. Such problems are inevitable when people raise money without really knowing what comes next, according to Miller. “The model of crowdfunding is fundamentally flawed for hardware,” he says. […]
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