Looks like you can add the Rite No-Mess French Press to the long list of crowdfunded hardware projects that have a hard time making it to market. Upset backers that haven’t received their product almost a year after the promised delivery date, have been venting their frustrations here at The Spoon and on Kickstarter:
Backers have been sharing information and screengrabs with us from Rite’s backer-only updates posted to Kickstarter, and here’s what’s happening:
What happened to the money?
Backers got riled up in earnest last week, when on February 4, of this year when Rite’s CEO, Sargam Patel, posted a video on Kickstarter saying that there have been manufacturing challenges (a factory quitting, filter issues) and they need more money (we watched a screencapture of the video). Patel says he sank most of his life savings ($280,000) into the project and has not paid himself. He then goes on to ask backers for $30 a pop to pay the factory as well as the shipping and duties.
In the video, Patel also says that the company raised over $1 million in pledges, which is technically true if you look at the Kickstarter page, where it says “21,771 backers pledged $1,086,974 to help bring this project to life.” But sifting through the multiple Indiegogo campaigns the company ran, it looks like Rite pulled in $220,400. Plus it won $25,000 in “flash funding” from Ingram Micro, bringing the total to $1,332,374. It’s not a huge gulf between what he says they crowdfunded versus the apparent reality, but it’s good to get the full picture.
In the video, Patel says he’s spent the money “responsibly,” and blames pricing the product too low ($25 – $50 depending on the model and when you pledged) and offering free shipping in the U.S. for the company’s woes.
Additionally, the company experienced manufacturing issues, which is pretty common for crowdfunded hardware projects.
In an update on February 7, Patel shared the financials in a backer-only update via Kickstarter, which were sent to The Spoon:
What’s missing from these numbers is the $220,000 raised on Indiegogo. Granted the number Rite would actually have collected was less as Indiegogo charges 5 percent commission, and Stripe charges 3 percent + .30 per transaction, but money earned should be included. Patel may not have included it as this was a message to Kickstarter backers, but the omission is relevant when you’re going back and asking people for more money.
Patel said that 7,000 people have received their presses so far. That means at least 14,771 backers still don’t have theirs (and that number doesn’t include any Indiegogo backers).
One other point, in the video Patel says that asking for the $30 from existing backers was a “non-starter” for the Kickstarter legal team so he is going out directly via email. Kickstarter confirmed via email to The Spoon that it determined asking backers for more money “was not an appropriate use of our platform.”
Why did Rite only allow for two months for delivering its product?
The Rite Kickstarter campaign happened in January 2018, and featured a number of variations on the product: a half-liter version, full liter, different colors, etc.. The estimated delivery date for most of these was March 2018. That’s just two months after the campaign reached it’s initial goal.
The Kickstarter campaign, which launched in January 2018, says that the first off tool samples of the french press happened in September 2017, and in November 2017, product testing had occurred. If this happened as listed, then perhaps the company felt that in all honesty, they could flip the switch, have the products produced, shipped and delivered in that short window.
But that obviously didn’t work out. In his February 7 update, Patel explains what happened:
The first factory built tools in 2017 for both the 1 liter and ½ liter. The factor started production on the ½ liter because they felt it was easier to produce than the 1 liter. The parts they were making had repeated problems that should have been an easy solve. At the same time the factory was not chasing 1 liter production schedule effectively. I feel the factory felt producing products to our quality standard was not going to be profitable for them so they told us they would not be producing product going forward. At this point we asked for our money back for the material deposits and tooling. They responded by saying they had already spent over hundred thousand dollars on development would not return the tools or deposits back. We spoke with an attorney in South China about this. His feedback was that we would spend far more than the cost of the tools and deposits in legal fees and it could take years to find a resolution. In my years of working with China, I have never had a factory do this.
Regardless, Rite obviously did not build in enough of a buffer in the schedule to accommodate unforeseen hiccups. Aside from poor planning, however, this created a certain expectation with the backers, and not only were those expectations dashed, the short window made it that much easier for a year to pass and raise the ire of backers.
What is happening with direct sales?
While Rite fields comments from angry backers on crowdfunding platforms for failing to deliver, the company is taking pre-orders on its website for the product. The site says pre-orders are shipping in Summer of 2019. How can they take money to fulfill that promise when they can’t even fulfill their all of their initial commitments?
In the Feb. 7 update, Patel says:
We will continue to ship Rite Presses to Kickstarter backers as funds become available. Right now our best source of funding toward this effort is the sale of products on our website and Amazon. The stronger the sales are in these channels, the faster we will be able to get all backers’ units. I understand this is not an ideal situation, but it is a path forward. THIS DOES MEAN THAT WE WILL START SELLING RITE PRESS ON OUR SITE IN A FEW MONTHS AT FULL RETAIL, and will use a portion of these sales to help ship backers units.
Rite also made 5,500 of its Essential+, a plastic version of its french press. It sells on on Amazon (but not directly on its site) for $50.
In his Feb. 7 update, Patel explains how the plastic version came to be when the metal versions are MIA:
3) Did you use backers funds to develop the plastic Essential+?
No. I see this question a lot in the comments section. When we decided to partner with Amazon for the plastic press, the first thing I did was raise separate funds for development and inventory of Essential + from outside investors. We used these outside funds to develop, tool and build it. The Essential + however is a backers biggest help. The funds that we can generate from sales of it on Amazon will help us ship backer rewards faster. We will deploy part of the profits from Essential + to ship Kickstarter backer funds.
So, was it naivete or hubris that bogged down Rite? Making crowdfunded hardware is, well, hard. That’s why Kickstarter launched its own hardware studio to help the platform, and backers, make sure product campaigns reach the market.
We reached out to Patel, as well as other people listed on Rite’s team page for clarification via email and Linkedin.
This article has been updated because of a typo in the crowdfunding number. The amount raised on Indiegogo was $220,400.