Archive | kickstarter

Ubuntu Edge: Case Study

Ubuntu (or, some division of Canonical) is trying to raise $32 million to produce a phone. This is a wonderfully audacious goal, and yet makes a number of classic mistakes in fund raising. As we’ve seen, to sell me something you need a plausible story about how your product or service is going to get me laid or make me money.

I want the Edge to succeed, it looks like a cool product. It’s just such a shame that, time and again, crowdfunding pitches are so wrapped up in their product they don’t even tell you what it is. Canonical probably has a great team of people building this thing, they’re 99% of the way there. But the last 1%, arguably the most important, is the sales pitch. With more spit and polish this thing could sell itself.

The campaign begins with these bullet points. When reading these, remember, this is the very first thing a random Joe will read. You have about 10-20 seconds to get me interested:

Exclusive to Indiegogo backers. The Edge will NOT be available to buy at launch.

Okay, exclusivity is something lots of people will care about, this is interesting. Exclusivity will get me laid. Would be nice to know what this Edge thing is though. Note, again, we have no idea what an Edge is yet.

Specs to be finalised as late as possible to ensure the best available components.

This is neutral to bad. I either don’t care about the specs (nobody buys an iPhone knowing the speed of the processor) or this looks like it’s too early and the product isn’t near finalized. Still, I don’t know what an Edge is.

Dual-boots into Ubuntu mobile OS and Android; converts into a full desktop PC.

As an average consumer, I have no idea what Ubuntu is. We can put that aside and pretend we are only targeting Ubuntu users. You know, Ubuntu users, those spendy, trendy and highly monetizable Freedom ideologists. I’ve heard of Android, my friends use it so that sounds good. This desktop PC thing is kind of confusing but potentially interesting. I already have a laptop or iPad though. Ok, starting to get a hint about this Edge thing.

Works with LTE and GSM networks, including Verizon and Sprint.

Consumer doesn’t care. Still playing the “guess what Edge is” game.

Perks include all charges for US and UK, including VAT and delivery.

I’m getting what I pay for, no additional fees. I’d hope most reputable businesses do that anyway. What is Edge?

Standard manufacturer warranty will apply once manufacturer is selected.

As above. Why even mention this?

Zero cost to backers if the campaign is unsuccessful.

I have no idea what this even means. And I still don’t know what Edge is.

So, that’s it. My 10+ seconds to get me hooked is gone and you lost me, Mr. Average Consumer.

Now, their opening paragraph:

What is Ubuntu Edge?

In the car industry, Formula 1 provides a commercial testbed for cutting-edge technologies. The Ubuntu Edge project aims to do the same for the mobile phone industry — to provide a low-volume, high-technology platform, crowdfunded by enthusiasts and mobile computing professionals. A pioneering project that accelerates the adoption of new technologies and drives them down into the mainstream.

Instead of taking that apart right now, let’s rewrite it in to something that would sell to a consumer, noting that we’d push this paragraph to the top and remove the bullet points above.

What is Ubuntu Edge?

Edge is the best phone money can buy, crowdfunded by people like you. Edge is the sleekest, most powerful and best designed Android phone and it’s only available for a limited time here to our early backers. More than Android, Edge also runs the cutting-edge Ubuntu operating system and when plugged in to a monitor turns in to a fully-fledged PC.

Okay, step-by-step:

Edge is the best phone money can buy, crowdfunded by people like you.

We start by answering the title question, what the fuck is this thing? It’s a phone! Note their paragraph has some strange analogy about Formula 1 (who knows what that is, maybe it’s like the Indy 500?) and doesn’t even come out and say it’s a phone. We make a big claim, followed by some basic psychology of influence. Tell me it’s bought by people like me, and I’m much more likely to buy it.

Edge is the sleekest, most powerful and best designed Android phone and it’s only available for a limited time here to our early backers.

Next we make some grand claims about how this thing is the best on every metric possible. Then we spice it up by noting this deal is going away (buy soon!) while hinting again at how exclusive and amazing you are, as an early backer. We anchor the device on Android. Consumers know what Android is, they don’t have a clue about Ubuntu or magical phones-that-turn-in-to-PCs. Hardcore Ubuntu fans can be placated later in the page with tech specs and Ubuntu screenshots.

More than Android, Edge also runs the cutting-edge Ubuntu operating system and when plugged in to a monitor turns in to a fully-fledged PC.

Now we use that Android anchor to hint at all the other cool shit this phone can do. The hypothetical Ubuntu OS and PC stuff, which might be usable, to someone, one day in the future. Maybe, we don’t have data to support that yet. We turn around these strange features from the core of the product, to “it’s better than your friends’ Android, plus it does this other stuff“.

The economics of this are kind of painful. For $830 (maybe a little less) I might get a phone next year. Compare that to walking in to any store and buying a phone today which does everything I think I need for maybe a quarter of the price. Thus, three-quarters of the price of the Edge has to represent the value I get from exclusivity, Ubuntu OS, transforms-in-to-PC, pretty design… and all the other features. That’s a tough sell, and the indiegogo landing page doesn’t do it the justice it deserves.

tl; dr; hire some sales guys and copy writers.

Kickstarter update #13: Website

I’m catching up my blog to the kickstarter updates I’ve been posting. Here’s the original.


I’ve spent a little time to make a website;

Now, I can point people who missed the kickstarter, or want more posters, over there, instead of making a big long list of people.

It was built using the awesome tools by woo themes including woo commerce and thesuperstore theme. WordPress is incredibly good these days. With a $4.29 domain name from godaddy (always, always use coupon codes from fatwallet), a few hours and some free tools, building a site like this is now trivial.

The theme was actually free as a bonus download since I already have a woo theme for another site. The hosting too. But, if we factor them in anyway, the sum total to build the site is under $100 plus a few hours playing with settings.

There are a couple of minor design issues I don’t like; the blue login bar is a pain, the product sorting functionality is superfluous… but it’s worked out pretty well so far.

I’d love to hear what you think!

Kickstarter update #12: Posting Prints

I’m catching up my blog to the kickstarter updates I’ve been posting. Here’s the original.

Hi another update on your GPS ART POSTER

As a fair weather mustachian I sometimes tire of PUNCHING MYSELF IN THE FACE. That is, I bicycle instead of drive to places. Sometimes.

The post office is a three mile bike ride away. The only problem is to somehow carry posters between these two places. Enter the trailer which is designed to take kids, but is equally good at carrying groceries or… large boxes of posters as you can see below. The box was a little unstable so I used a bungee cord to hold it in place.

Colorado, where I’ve moved to, is one of those places where even normal people cycle. That, combined with a bike path and a short distance meant very few odd looks. The last time I biked, to a bar, in Washington, a passing driver slowed to tell me to “go to hell” which I think was code for “I’m drunk, please inform the police.”

(It turns our American English style is to “close a quote like this”. But, in England “it’s like this.” Who knew?)

On eBay you can even get cargo trailers for your bike. If I had to look, I bet someone’s even written a book on the topic. But for me, having a kid, the kid trailer works.

I wish I could find some comedy in going to the post office, perhaps some kind of DMV-related dark humor on the merits of worst places to be in the world. But, I had a mostly pleasant time mailing posters.

The weighing scales at the post office are flat which works great for, say, packages. For poster tubes not so much, they keep rolling off. Clearly someone needs to do a kickstarter for curved weighing scales for the USPS. So, we spent a lot of time balancing poster tubes on their flat end, pointing up in to the air like a rocket. Or, more often, like the leaning tower of Pisa.

Posters have started arriving, which is great. And, in one piece and undamaged, which is even better.

I’ve run out of paper and ordered more which will arrive today or tomorrow. This time the rolls are the same width as the prints, so for example I have 200 feet of 36 inch wide paper. This will make printing even quicker since the printer includes an automatic paper cutter.

Lastly, if you’re waiting to hear back from me, apologies for the delay but I will get back to you, often when I’m best placed to take care of your print request (quite a few people have minor change requests, changes of address and so on).

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Kickstarter update #10: How to cut paper

I’m catching up my blog to the kickstarter updates I’ve been posting. Here’s the original.

Ordinary individuals limit themselves when cutting paper to things like scissors.

Real Men use the Rotatrim MONORAIL 48. Mine arrived today.

Yes, a four foot paper cutter. This is useful when you’re using 44″ paper. Rotatrim actually make cutters over 8 feet long for a cool $1,800. These look good in any living room, government laboratory or space station.

The monorail is actually the lesser, budget, paper cutter. No self-respecting professional would even think of using anything but their dual rail systems, for a straighter, more sure cut. But, the monorail is about half the price and I don’t think I will be able to tell the difference, as a mere amateur study of the art of paper cutting.

Now, I can actually cut the posters efficiently. Below is a picture of the beast, with some scissors for scale.

In other news, the extra large 4 foot poster tubes also arrived yesterday morning.


Kickstarter update #9: Printing Works!

I’m catching up my blog to the kickstarter updates I’ve been posting. Here’s the original.

The short story

I’m excited to share that the printer now works. Skip to the bottom to see video evidence.

The long, technical, story

Getting a printer to work, in 2013, may appear to be a trivial thing. Unbox it, plug it in… done. Right?

I built the printer and with the help of three guys lifted it on to its stand. The printer itself weighs about 250lbs. It took a couple of hours to build it.

It took a lot longer to actually get it to print something. The firmware on the device presents a web interface like a network router does. The thing is so highly configurable it will talk essentially any network protocol. It’s so agnostic, it doesn’t even turn on DHCP by default. It took me several hours to figure that out.

There’s at least three ways to print from a computer to the printer. Once you figure all this out, turn off various options which cause obscure errors, configure everything the right way… it prints!

Now, to print and ship some posters!


Kickstarter update #7: Challenges

I’m catching up my blog to the kickstarter updates I’ve been posting. Here’s the original.

Six prints are out the door and on their way. Six desktop images are out and emailed. I’d love pictures, to share, when you get them, please!

I would like to be further on than 12 out of 453. It’s better than zero, but there have been some interesting challenges. So, I’ll outline them and what I’m doing about them.

Some of the largest prints are 42 inches at their shortest length. I have 48 inch poster tubes, but it turns out that rolling a 42 inch poster in to a tube 1.5 inches wide damages it. In fact, I can’t even squeeze them in there. That means I need bigger poster tubes. So, I’ve ordered 4 inch tubes to fit the largest of the prints.

Second, printing has been more painful than I would like.

Print shops are typically set up for either large volumes of the same thing, or, incredibly bespoke one-off things. On the one hand, they like 1,000 copies of the same poster. On the other, they like the photo that has to be just right to be framed in the hallway.

Confronted with 453 prints, each very large, and each completely different, the systems for tracking everything break down. It becomes difficult to ship all the PDFs to the printer. It becomes difficult to pick them all up. Essentially, everything that worked well for me with a limited small run, doesn’t work any more.

So, I’m buying a printer.

The economics of buying vs. renting a printer (and the ink, electricity, time…) mean that it’s actually not really much more expensive to just buy a printer. This is especially true since print pricing assumes you’re using lots of ink, where our prints actually use very little compared to a full color photo.

The printer I’m buying is a Canon ipf8400. It weighs 500lbs, prints almost every color on every paper and it takes 44 inch paper (which I already have rolls of). It’s so badass, it has a 250Gb hard drive inside it (I’m still puzzled why that is, but hey). There’s a picture of it below. This thing costs about $3,500 and my worst-case scenario is to just sell it after these prints are done. But, I think I’ll find uses for it. It should arrive early next week.

Lastly, I broke some of the prints in the first run for two reasons.

GPS data has errors in it, which mean you can get some random lines which “jump around”. I filter these out by removing lines which are longer than 1/4 inch on the page, which stops the lines jumping across a city and then back again. But, when you zoom way out, even lines less than 1/4 inch are, still, hundreds of miles long and need to be cut. It is super hard to see these in the PDFs but very easy to see them in the prints. When it takes days to get a print… it takes days to find a bug like that.

The other bug is that I built a simple Mercator projection engine to render the prints. This works well when zoomed in, since you can stretch the vertical axis proportional to the cosine of the latitude. When you zoom out, the stretch varies by latitude itself, across the print, so you end up with broken prints. Long story short – the USA looks “squashed” but a city looks great. So, the USA prints broke. Again, hard to see in the PDFs on screen.

So, some delays.

I have backed kickstarters that failed. The Punk Mathematics Textbook raised $28,701 in 2010 and hasn’t shipped a damn thing, for example. I backed that, and it sucks. I’m highly aware of the responsibility of shipping actual posters to you all. So, apologies for this delay and I’ll keep you updated as much as I can.

To make up for it, here are some pictures of the prints that worked, taken with sexy focal lengths on a hardwood floor. You can’t even pay for that. There’s a picture of the posters that went out, too.

I’ll post another update soon. Feel free to send me questions, just be aware I’m getting a lot of them and might be delayed replying.

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