Anelok: "competitor" in trouble

Werner Almesberger werner at almesberger.net
Sat May 24 05:31:39 EDT 2014


TL;DR: lack of communication can easily make a bad situation worse.

Perhaps the device in the market that's most similar to Anelok is
Arkami's myIDkey:

http://myidkey.com/

They kickstarted about a year ago (but I only found out about them a
while after beginning work on Anelok), reaching USD 470 k of a
USD 150 k goal:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/myidkey/myidkey-passwords-at-the-tip-of-your-finger

Their story reads quite nicely: obtained an additional USD 1.8 M of
funding in August 2013, collected an award at CES in 2013, and got a
rave review in PCMag just yesterday.

http://myidkey.com/arkami-creator-of-myidkey-closes-series-a-funding-round/
http://myidkey.com/hello-world/
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2458385,00.asp


Unfortunately, the comments section on Kickstarter is everything but
the place of joy and happiness you'd expect to find:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/myidkey/myidkey-passwords-at-the-tip-of-your-finger/comments

What happened ?


First about the characteristics: like Anelok, it's a small portable
password safe with a little OLED and wireless connectivity. Both are
intended for a general audience, i.e., not only corporate clients.

But there are a lot of differences: myIDkey is bigger, uses a
biometric fingerprint scanner for authentication, has WiFi, and a
rechargeable battery. It's completely Closed Source and even their
status updates on Kickstarter are only visible to backers.


By looking at the comments, one can still get an idea of what issues
they encountered. First of all, they were late: promised to deliver
in September 2013, six months after succeeding in Kickstarter, but
only started shipping in May 2014, eight months later. Worse yet, it
seems they communicated the delays very poorly, if at all.

Then the design changed quite a bit from their original: they
removed the large USB A plug, made the case much rounder, and
dropped Bluetooth support. There seem to have been many unexpected
delays due to electronics and case issues, some of which were
clearly mis-communicated (e.g., if you're still sorting out problems
in circuit or case design two weeks before your revised shipping
date, then you either have a bunch of replicators from Star Trek in
your basement or you won't ship on time.)

Delays are common in this sort of project and absurdly unrealistic
schedules are not unheard of. OpenPandora is a lovely example of a
project that went through an amazing number of difficulties, delays
that would make Duke Nukem envious, yet delivered in the end.


I'm sure OpenPandora's customers weren't the happiest bunch either
through all this, but the sheer level of anger among myIDkey's
backers is still a bit surprising. I think there are mainly three
reasons:

- marketed to a broad public, they drew in customers with more
  traditional expectations, losing the "we're all pioneers" spirit
  you often find in other communities surrounding highly innovative
  products. (E.g., OQO, Openmoko, Qi-Hardware.)

- in their campaign, they sounded as if it was just a matter of
  sending the orders to the fab, reinforcing the high expectations,
  especially on the aggressive schedule:

  ``The "Designs" are complete, patents filed, component suppliers
    selected, the manufacturing process is defined, the CM chosen so
    all we need is your support [...]''

- poor communication. While, not being a backer, I can't see their
  official updates, but the comments suggest that the were
  superficial or evasive, and often also misleading, making some
  backers suspect they were being lied to.


One consequence of this was that some backers asked for a refund.
Apparently, Arkami weren't quite ready to handle refunds, so it took
them some time to respond, though it seems that in the end refunds
were paid to all who requested one.

Arkami's finances seemed to have become troubled a few weeks ago,
when they must have announced something in the sense that they would
start shipping, but could ship to backers only slowly because they
had to cross-finance from the revenue sales to new customers would
generate. OpenPandora says "nothing new under the sun."

The shipping also seems to have been a bit on the chaotic side, with
backers endlessly confused about what was going on and having
unclear expectations on what effect their pledge level ("platinum",
"gold", "early early bird", etc.) had on their shipping priority.


Speaking of pledges, they ran also into a minor snag that's
encouraged by the structure of Kickstarter and similar: the benefits
(often some extra items) offered to attract larger pledges. The risk
there is that it's something that will draw extra resources to make.

In their case, it's a sleeve. A sleeve would have made a lot of
sense for the original design with the USB plug sticking out but
their revised design doesn't really need this. So the sleeve idea
was silently buried and backers are miffed about not getting what
they were promised.

I'm not sure whether the crowd they attracted would generally have
been so petulant or if it's just a response to delays and poor
communication.


When the thing finally arrived, there came more disappointments. It
seems that they have quality issues, with one (*) defective display
(sounds like a problem inside the OLED module) and buttons being
unreliable (debouncing delay too short ?). Then there are things
that may be support issues, like problems setting up WiFi and some
difficulties with the fingerprint scanner. The icing on the cake
seems to be that the battery may run down within as little as two
hours - while in standby.

(*) The tiniest sample size, but what's striking is that almost
    everyone who indicated they had received their myIDkey later on
    reported issues. Not a single "works great, I'm happy" type of
    comment.

As far as I can tell, the only backer/customer/user forum they have
is that Kickstarter comments page. Perhaps not the best place for
having irate backers rave about the failings of your product.

Lack of proper channels also denies them the ability to rapidly
dissolve bad news like the short battery life. I mean, whatever the
cause may be, it shouldn't take their engineering (if they have any)
more than a few hours to come up with at least some assessment.


Arkami now seem to be disintegrating:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/myidkey/myidkey-passwords-at-the-tip-of-your-finger/comments?cursor=6831426#comment-6831425


While I don't know what caused all their troubles, I think there are
a few lessons about communication to learn from this:

- it always takes longer,
- make sure the eagerly waiting crowd is properly entertained,
- an open process provides lots of suitably entertaining items,
- admit mistakes.

It also highlights the flaw in the Kickstarter-type project
structure of encouraging projects to get distracted by doing more
things than they originally set out to do and by making them
diversify and complicate their deliverables.

- Werner



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