Crowdfunded HomeKit smoke detector Birdi marred by late and low-quantity deliveries, silen...

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2017
Birdi had a promising start with a successful crowd funding campaign for a HomeKit smoke detector. But, the tale of the company after taking customer's money for a product that appears to have not delivered in any real quantity is clouded in secrecy.


Start from the very beginning

The Birdi campaign started in the middle of December, 2013. By Jan. 28, it had reached 97 percent of its goal, with 11 days left in the campaign. On Feb 9, the campaign completed with $72,199 raised by 486 backers.

The company promised that Birdi wasn't a typical smoke alarm. It would provide details about air quality, alert the user to dangerous fumes, and notify the user on a connected smartphone.

Technical specs included an array of sensors, Wi-Fi connectivity, to be powered by the house's electrical or AA batteries, and the ability for several to operate in concert in the same location.





Early purchasers could get in for $89. A "10-hour final countdown pack" promised a Birdi for $99, with a coupon for $50 towards the purchase of two additional Birdi devices -- when available in Oct. 2014. Beyond the Indiegogo funding, the company also garnered $1.2 million from four rounds of funding from 12 investors.

Post-campaign

On Dec. 30, 2014, manufacturing had started, according to CEO Mark Belinsky. On May 14, 2015, the company declared that it had a ship date -- which was missed. On Oct. 18, Belinsky demonstrated the product at the Launch Festival for that year. Social media complaints of non-receipt started at about this time on Twitter and Facebook.

On April 8, 2016, Belinsky promised "10 years of service, guaranteed" to customers. Finally, on Dec. 8, 2016, the company noted that it was "Manufacturing our Holiday Batch." Social media complaints started escalating at this point.

Another update on Indiegogo noted on March 13, 2017 that "over the last few months" the company had begun shipping -- well over three years since the crowdfunding campaign.

"Smart Detectors are piling up," Birdi wrote on the company's Tumblr blog, and on Instagram. "They're starting to look like wallpaper here at HQ!"



All of these updates were made in more detail than Indiegogo's on the Birdi blog -- which no longer exists at the previous links on the Indiegogo page. The blog has been moved to the company's new site, and the Indiegogo page has the summaries retained.

Confusion over a buyout

On June 6, Belinski pitched Birdi to Carl Fritjofsson of Creandum and Greg Castle of Anorak Ventures, and it was captured on a podcast. That was basically the last official contact from the company as a matter of public record.

At some point, Belinski's status on Twitter changed, suggesting that Birdi had been purchased. AppleInsider has attempted to contact Belinski through several different avenues, and no response has been received.

Chief Technical Officer of Birdi Justin Alvey has responded to our queries, and directed us to communicate with the company through "correct channels." He also said to us that he couldn't speak towards the acquisition.

Sorry I can't And if I could announce things like that it would be loud and clear.

-- Justin Alvey (@justLV)
We attempted to contact everybody listed on the Birdi team on the Indiegogo page, and received no responses of any value.

Crunchbase notes that Luma purchased the company on Aug. 11, 2017. Luma has not responded to our requests for comment.

Failure to communicate

The Birdi website goes up and down. During the last month of examination, the site has been down six times that we spotted -- not a good sign for a product that requires a cloud-based component. The official Birdi Twitter account has been silent since the WWDC, after Apple name-dropped the company.



During the course of our investigation, Belinksi emerged from his quiescence on Twitter, remarking that the Nest Thermostat E is reminiscent of the Birdi. However, Belinski is still is not responding to users complaining that they don't have a Birdi smoke detector, nor does anybody else appear to be doing so.

Complaints continue to pile up on Facebook, and other social media venues. A very small percentage of users claim to have received early shipments, but we couldn't find any reports of the device functioning as advertised for any extended period of time.

In fact, we confirmed with sources inside Apple not authorized to speak with the company that the TestFlight app used for early purchasers has expired, leaving any users possessing the Birdi without a functional device.

Where does Birdi go from here?

Birdi has been saying that shipments have been arriving for months at the base of operations. Like we mentioned, at one point, the company declared that there were so many of the devices on hand, it was like wallpaper. Shipment dates have come and gone, and there doesn't appear to be many actual devices in the hands of consumers.

Plus, the fact that the app is still hosted by Apple's TestFlight is bothersome. It takes very little effort for a developer to update a TestFlight app to extend the usable period -- and even after the purchase of the company, nobody has chosen to do so.

Executives from the company, and venture capitalists that invested in the project in the early days, have chosen to not respond to AppleInsider. That, plus the social media tumult about non-delivery doesn't speak to a positive future, or any resolution for customers who plunked down money years ago at this point.

Birdi is still taking reservations for the device it said would ship in October of 2014.

Crowd funding is perilous. After a few high-profile collapses, the assorted groups modified terms to make it abundantly clear that there was no guarantee of delivery. However, now that three years is coming up since the campaign, purchasers probably don't have any option to get their money back.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    Looks like the bird may have flown the nest /s
    StrangeDaysjbdragoncornchipadm1SpamSandwich
  • Reply 2 of 22
    Sounds like a complete scam. Likely all designed for a buy-out to make the founders money, thus little effort on engineering, fulfillment, or customer relations. Silicon Valley bait n switch.
    edited September 2017 Rayz2016cornchip
  • Reply 3 of 22
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 30,166member
    I’ve supported 5 crowdsource products over the years. Three came out, and two didn’t.  The three that did were pretty simple, and the others were more complex.

    when you look at the numbers of this one, you’ll see that it’s pretty low. Less than 500 people backed this, at a minuscule $72,000. Seriously, what did anyone expect from that? It showed that very few people were interested, and with the money collected, it wasn’t likely to be made.

    we’re talking about designing, debugging, and manufacturing a fairly sophisticated product that includes both hardware and software. How is that going to be done with $72,000? If they had enough money to start, then they didn’t need to crowdsource it. Costs are what keeps everyone from developing products. They needed to do a proper analysis of what all costs needed to be before starting their campaign. Then they should have stated that number on the page, and stated that unless that minimum was reached, they would refund the money.

    that’s something that Kickstarter, and others like it, should require. Then there needs to be some required outside accounting of the money while the product is being designed and made, to assure people that the money isn’t going into vacations, jewelry, sports cars and other items which the money from a number of high profile projects went to, instead of the product itself. That likely will never happen, but it should be required. The sites themselves should charge larger fees, and do it themselves.
    StrangeDaysbcodepscooter63cornchip
  • Reply 4 of 22
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 1,591member
    These crowd funding things are really just Gambling. You're throwing money at something that MIGHT get made and you MIGHT See a real product. On the other hand you may never see anything and never get your money back. It's all a load of B.S.
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 5 of 22
    melgross said:
    I’ve supported 5 crowdsource products over the years. Three came out, and two didn’t.  The three that did were pretty simple, and the others were more complex.

    when you look at the numbers of this one, you’ll see that it’s pretty low. Less than 500 people backed this, at a minuscule $72,000. Seriously, what did anyone expect from that? It showed that very few people were interested, and with the money collected, it wasn’t likely to be made.

    we’re talking about designing, debugging, and manufacturing a fairly sophisticated product that includes both hardware and software. How is that going to be done with $72,000? If they had enough money to start, then they didn’t need to crowdsource it. Costs are what keeps everyone from developing products. They needed to do a proper analysis of what all costs needed to be before starting their campaign. Then they should have stated that number on the page, and stated that unless that minimum was reached, they would refund the money.

    that’s something that Kickstarter, and others like it, should require. Then there needs to be some required outside accounting of the money while the product is being designed and made, to assure people that the money isn’t going into vacations, jewelry, sports cars and other items which the money from a number of high profile projects went to, instead of the product itself. That likely will never happen, but it should be required. The sites themselves should charge larger fees, and do it themselves.
    Everything you’ve said sounds pretty spot on. This is clearly underfunded. But why would the CEO be making the BS tweets and comments if they’re just having unexpected difficulty rather than scamming?
  • Reply 6 of 22

    I suspect they ran into issues with regulatory approvals, Getting a product approval for something which is intended to saving people's lives has some very tough requirements.

    If these guys never worked in the product safety world they had no idea what they stepped into. It not as simple as making a product doing a little testing and then shipping it to customers. If someone dies because this device did not work it has huge liabilities.

    cornchiphmurchison
  • Reply 7 of 22
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 30,166member
    melgross said:
    I’ve supported 5 crowdsource products over the years. Three came out, and two didn’t.  The three that did were pretty simple, and the others were more complex.

    when you look at the numbers of this one, you’ll see that it’s pretty low. Less than 500 people backed this, at a minuscule $72,000. Seriously, what did anyone expect from that? It showed that very few people were interested, and with the money collected, it wasn’t likely to be made.

    we’re talking about designing, debugging, and manufacturing a fairly sophisticated product that includes both hardware and software. How is that going to be done with $72,000? If they had enough money to start, then they didn’t need to crowdsource it. Costs are what keeps everyone from developing products. They needed to do a proper analysis of what all costs needed to be before starting their campaign. Then they should have stated that number on the page, and stated that unless that minimum was reached, they would refund the money.

    that’s something that Kickstarter, and others like it, should require. Then there needs to be some required outside accounting of the money while the product is being designed and made, to assure people that the money isn’t going into vacations, jewelry, sports cars and other items which the money from a number of high profile projects went to, instead of the product itself. That likely will never happen, but it should be required. The sites themselves should charge larger fees, and do it themselves.
    Everything you’ve said sounds pretty spot on. This is clearly underfunded. But why would the CEO be making the BS tweets and comments if they’re just having unexpected difficulty rather than scamming?
    Ah, who knows what goes on between the scenes? One problem is that even when a company is failing, management makes encouraging remarks. Remember the brilliant memo that was sent out in Nokia about their burning platform which was going to be replaced by Win Phone which might not succeed? It’s hard to understand what’s in the minds of these folks.
    cornchip
  • Reply 8 of 22
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 30,166member

    maestro64 said:

    I suspect they ran into issues with regulatory approvals, Getting a product approval for something which is intended to saving people's lives has some very tough requirements.

    If these guys never worked in the product safety world they had no idea what they stepped into. It not as simple as making a product doing a little testing and then shipping it to customers. If someone dies because this device did not work it has huge liabilities.

    You can’t even apply for that until your product is in the late prototype/early manufacturing stage. If that were the problem, they could have stated that they were waiting on approval. Not a big deal. People would have understood.
    dachar
  • Reply 9 of 22
    tl;dr. But I don't need more @internetofshit If I wanted to upgrade my smoke detector, it would be solely for the ability to silence it by yelling "STFU, I'm just cooking!"
    cornchip
  • Reply 10 of 22
    Making prototypes, even several dozens, is one thing. Making them ready for mass production and regulation is a completely other story!
    I've seen SO many crowdfunding get bankrupt and invested in several that didn't make it as well. 

    That makes me admire even more what Apple is doing year over year: conceiving, prototyping, passing regulation and tests and mass producing highly advanced tech, that works almost flawlessly... and in such quantities that literally ALL cargo planes in Asia are booked by Apple in September and October...
    That's quite an amazing accomplishment.
    cornchip
  • Reply 11 of 22
    Having the same experience with the Jelly phone on Kickstarter. Bunch of promises and shipping notifications on Kickstarter, but no product in hand. 
    cornchip
  • Reply 12 of 22
    melgross said:
     How is that going to be done with $72,000?
    100% agree. Prototyping & tooling alone would gobble up at least half that. Then getting the app & cloud backend ironed out I'm sure would burn up the rest rather quickly. Like others have mentioned there is a certain amount of liability that would take jumping through numerous regulatory hoops which all cost money, then there's UL/ETL certifications, etc etc etc. product development is a long, expensive process.
  • Reply 13 of 22
    Shame on the founders who just have a total lack of respect for the support people have given them. Communicate honestly is the very least they could do after all these years.
  • Reply 14 of 22
    adm1adm1 Posts: 638member
    afaik, the crowdfunding site (indiegogo/kickstarter etc.) don't release the funds until the product is shipping so I can't see how the backers can't get money back at this point.

    I've been burned a few times on indiegogo, got my money back on one item that never shipped (via charge back on my credit card) and lost it on another that DID ship but didn't work anything like what was promised. Seen several projects since that I'd love to back but it's just too big of a risk imho.
  • Reply 15 of 22
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 1,935administrator
    adm1 said:
    afaik, the crowdfunding site (indiegogo/kickstarter etc.) don't release the funds until the product is shipping so I can't see how the backers can't get money back at this point.

    I've been burned a few times on indiegogo, got my money back on one item that never shipped (via charge back on my credit card) and lost it on another that DID ship but didn't work anything like what was promised. Seen several projects since that I'd love to back but it's just too big of a risk imho.
    The funding is released to the campaign creator as soon as the deadline is reached. That's the point of the system -- to get the money that you need to ship something.
    edited September 2017
  • Reply 16 of 22
    melgross said:

    maestro64 said:

    I suspect they ran into issues with regulatory approvals, Getting a product approval for something which is intended to saving people's lives has some very tough requirements.

    If these guys never worked in the product safety world they had no idea what they stepped into. It not as simple as making a product doing a little testing and then shipping it to customers. If someone dies because this device did not work it has huge liabilities.

    You can’t even apply for that until your product is in the late prototype/early manufacturing stage. If that were the problem, they could have stated that they were waiting on approval. Not a big deal. People would have understood.

    Actually it has to come off the actual manufacturing line, no prototypes allowed. UL/Safety approval is the last certification done, because the approval agency has to do a manufacturing site audit to make sure all the testing is done correctly. I use to have this responsibility report to me in new product development, I know the process well. But I never had to do intrinsic safety which are devices meant to save peoples lives, only did things which were not allow to harm someone, low risk products.
  • Reply 17 of 22
    adm1 said:
    afaik, the crowdfunding site (indiegogo/kickstarter etc.) don't release the funds until the product is shipping so I can't see how the backers can't get money back at this point.

    I've been burned a few times on indiegogo, got my money back on one item that never shipped (via charge back on my credit card) and lost it on another that DID ship but didn't work anything like what was promised. Seen several projects since that I'd love to back but it's just too big of a risk imho.


    So you wanted to be a VC and have no risk.

    Anyone who put their money into these projects have to realize most will fail. When VC put their money into a project, they know most will fail, never get off the ground. I think some people thought these websites with people ideas were well vetted products ready to ship, they just need money to turn on the factory. Most if these are someone wet dream that they threw together parts and made them look nice with a 3D printer to impress people to get their money. Most of these people never design and shipped a product and they are going to do it now with someone else money. The Founder of Kickstarter said the website generated over $1B in funding (which website takes 5%) but they never said how much of the $1B raise actually product real products. They cited a few noteworthy examples, but website success rate is far less then VC with 1 and 10 or 1 in 20 investments turning a profit.

    VC will tell you they invest in the person not the idea, Kickstarter you are investing in the idea you hardly know who the people are.

  • Reply 18 of 22
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 30,166member
    maestro64 said:
    melgross said:

    maestro64 said:

    I suspect they ran into issues with regulatory approvals, Getting a product approval for something which is intended to saving people's lives has some very tough requirements.

    If these guys never worked in the product safety world they had no idea what they stepped into. It not as simple as making a product doing a little testing and then shipping it to customers. If someone dies because this device did not work it has huge liabilities.

    You can’t even apply for that until your product is in the late prototype/early manufacturing stage. If that were the problem, they could have stated that they were waiting on approval. Not a big deal. People would have understood.

    Actually it has to come off the actual manufacturing line, no prototypes allowed. UL/Safety approval is the last certification done, because the approval agency has to do a manufacturing site audit to make sure all the testing is done correctly. I use to have this responsibility report to me in new product development, I know the process well. But I never had to do intrinsic safety which are devices meant to save peoples lives, only did things which were not allow to harm someone, low risk products.
    You can also use a late Pro type if you can assure them that the specs won’t change. Apple has done this in the past, and possibly is still doing it. By late protype, I mean what one would call the “golden master” of the hardware/software.
  • Reply 19 of 22
    I love there's been no response from Mark. I wonder how he's going to respond to a class-action lawsuit and Federal investigation for fraud. 
    Before you say- "there's risks associated with crowdfunding and they make it known you could lose your entire investment..." this is different. As has been shown, they went out of their way to promote a product that wasn't in existence in the form they claimed. That's fraud. When you ship your backers a beta device, lead them to believe the production product is coming very soon and then you no longer communicate with your backers, that's fraud. 
    If Mark put himself and his company in a position where they were no longer allowed to communicate with their backers, that's more than just poor business decisions. If he has just chosen not too, that speaks volumes about his character and him as a person. 
    Howuch do you think I can get for a Birdi beta unit on eBay? Anybody want to buy one from me?
  • Reply 20 of 22
    melgross said:
    I’ve supported 5 crowdsource products over the years. Three came out, and two didn’t.  The three that did were pretty simple, and the others were more complex.

    when you look at the numbers of this one, you’ll see that it’s pretty low. Less than 500 people backed this, at a minuscule $72,000. Seriously, what did anyone expect from that? It showed that very few people were interested, and with the money collected, it wasn’t likely to be made.

    we’re talking about designing, debugging, and manufacturing a fairly sophisticated product that includes both hardware and software. How is that going to be done with $72,000? If they had enough money to start, then they didn’t need to crowdsource it. Costs are what keeps everyone from developing products. They needed to do a proper analysis of what all costs needed to be before starting their campaign. Then they should have stated that number on the page, and stated that unless that minimum was reached, they would refund the money.

    that’s something that Kickstarter, and others like it, should require. Then there needs to be some required outside accounting of the money while the product is being designed and made, to assure people that the money isn’t going into vacations, jewelry, sports cars and other items which the money from a number of high profile projects went to, instead of the product itself. That likely will never happen, but it should be required. The sites themselves should charge larger fees, and do it themselves.
    There's something to be said about companies and products which must face the realities of difficult to come by funding, whether that is venture capitalists, angel investors, banks or friends and relatives. Having ones ideas and plans face tough scrutiny is part of the process of making something better. With Kickstarter, or similar sites, that weeding out process is sometimes avoided to the detriment of the thing being kickstarted.
    stenro
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