Opinion

Felix Salmon

Kickstarter of the day, Flint-and-Tinder edition

By Felix Salmon
April 26, 2012

If you want an example of Kickstarter-as-QVC which is extremely likely to fail, look no further than Flint and Tinder. The brainchild of one Jake Bronstein, the idea is to create a new company making boxer shorts in the USA. “It’s about more than underwear,” he says in the video. “It’s about redefining what it means to be Made in America.”

rockhard.tiffMy favorite bit of the pitch is when Mr Bronstein shows us a photograph of his rock-hard abs. (Sadly, those abs are spoken for: that’s a wedding ring you’re looking at.) My least favorite part of the pitch, meanwhile, comes in an update:

The last round of prototypes came from the factory on Friday and while they’re good, there’s still lots of work to be done…

It might sound obsessive, but the way I see it is this: So far, 300+ of you ponied-up for underwear that is made in America. What I’d like to send you instead, is the greatest pair of underwear you’ve ever worn… that just happens to be made in America. It’s the only way this thing is going to work.

Finally, I’ve put together a top-notch team to help realize this goal, but there are still several key roles to fill. Feel free to point me towards anyone you think I should be talking to.

This is a significant backtrack from the original post, where Bronstein said he had already got the designs and needed just $30,000 “to get it going”. As a result, at least one donor ponied up $3,600 and has been promised 365 pairs of premium men’s underwear.

It’s possible, of course, that Bronstein will end up with a genuine retail product at the end of all this. Possible, but unlikely. It’s also possible (and equally unlikely) that the people who have given him $45,882 to date are really just wanting to support an American entrepreneur, and don’t particularly care all that much about when or whether they’ll ever actually receive their briefs.

This project encapsulates my issues with Kickstarter. I’m not saying that Bronstein is a fraud, but I am saying that he seems to have little if any manufacturing or retailing experience*, and is going to face an enormous number of unforeseen obstacles before he ever starts selling this product online. What he wants to do is start a company; Kickstarter quite explicitly says that it does not exist to help people start companies, but that seems to be what it has become anyway.

The fact is that starting companies is hard, and that there’s a very high failure rate in such things. Bronstein has almost certainly underestimated his chances of failure; all entrepreneurs do. Meanwhile, Bronstein’s funders have similarly overestimated the chances that they’re actually going to receive underwear if they fund this project. It’s a deal based on delusion, and it has a high probability of ending in tears and frustration all round. I just wish that Kickstarter were much more honest about that.

*Update: Jake Bronstein replies in the comments, saying that he does too have manufacturing and retailing experience, as the founder of Buckyballs. (He also says that I could easily have discovered this fact by looking at his profile on Kickstarter; it’s true I missed that link.) His mention of Buckyballs, however, did remind me of this video, where Bronstein left an extremely aggressive and intimidating nastygram message for Zen Magnets, a smaller competitor.

The Kickstarter project seems to be gathering a lot of momentum, and at the margin the more money it raises the more likely it is to be able to deliver a product. Still, my broader point is less about Bronstein and more about Kickstarter. Sooner or later, a bunch of these product-related Kickstarter projects are going to fail. And at that point a lot of funders are likely to be extremely unhappy.

Comments
19 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Felix,

Well written piece.

You seem to have overlooked one critical detail though, especially in your assertion that I “to have little if any manufacturing or retailing experience, and is going to face an enormous number of unforeseen obstacles before he ever starts selling this product online.”

If you look closely at my profile, you’ll see that I am the creator of a product called Buckyballs. Looking at my LinkedIn would tell you I’m am also a founding partner of Maxfield & Oberton, the company I started to manufacture, market and distribute the product.

Buckyballs are currently a top seller in some 7,000+ US accounts and are distributed in several other countries as well. I would think this would qualify me as being “experienced”, meanwhile you’re overlooking something that was written right there on the page does call into question your diligence on this piece.

How long did you spend poking around my project before deciding to be so critical? Did you attempt to contact me to find out if your assumptions held water?

Oh, for the record, ask me how I know about due diligence in writing? I was a fairly successful magazine editor before getting into marketing, manufacturing and distribution.

Still, thank you for taking the time to consider my project. As they say, any publicity is good publicity.

- jake

Posted by JakeBronstein | Report as abusive
 

If you really are the creator of Buckyballs, why do you need to hit up Kickstarter for 30k? I would assume it’s because you’re not actually making any money from Buckyballs either because you weren’t smart enough to do anything about your creation, or you have no brain for business and were somehow unable to generate any profit from it.

If I am wrong and you *have* made a lot of money, I’d be super intrigued why you needed to use Kickstarter?

Posted by pacers | Report as abusive
 

I’m really surprised that, before writing such an obvious hit-piece, the business blogger for a huge international news service would overlook his subject’s Kickstarter bio. It would have been equally simple to google Bronstein’s name, which turns up tons of stories noting his previous experience and accomplishments. Maybe the author is just acting out some traumatic childhood experience with American-made underwear, but this is still pretty over-the-top. And then there’s this par: “I’m not saying Bronstein is a fraud, but…” which is an all-too-obvious weasely way to insinuate that he IS a fraud. Now I’m not saying Felix is a poor excuse for a journalist, but….

Posted by wrdfm | Report as abusive
 

Ten bucks a pair (more than double the Walmart brands)… so where’s the innovative part? I looked to see, but I didn’t. Made in America? That’s it, srsly?

So doesn’t it come with thermoelectric and vibrational energy harvesting fibers to recharge my cell phone battery? Electroluminescent threads in the waistband to let me download a different customized glow-in-the-dark animated embroidered message for my sweetheart each night? A pleasingly tingly but silent IPv6-fluent tweet alert for the tweeters I’m following? High tech stain-sloughing odor-digesting coatings on the long-life washable genetically modified ultra-high-count threads? Isn’t the crotch imbued with revolutionary time-release pheromonic babe attractant nanomolecules, or the elastic made of flubber, or the lift and separate contour sculpting refined by laborious focus group testing to dramatically enhance my lower front/rear/profiles?

Bah, gotta be just another secretly filmed reality show and this is the lame first episode. Not falling for that tired schtick again…

Posted by melior | Report as abusive
 

Well, I sure am interested to hear a response to Pacers’ query about why a guy as allegedly accomplished and successful as Bronstein needs to scrounge a mere $30k from trolling the internet to get the company rolling.

The refusal of Jake-the-…. and his apologists to provide a responsive answer is eloquent in its silence.

Posted by MrRFox | Report as abusive
 

I’m not really sure that experience in manufacture of “The Magnetic Desktoy You Can’t Put Down” really reads through all that well to the notoriously competitive and specialised garment industry. Unless the idea is that knowing a lot about “extremely small balls which stick together” is good preparation for designing men’s underwear, in which case good luck with that.

Posted by dsquared | Report as abusive
 

what is there to hate about this? the guy is working with an established factory, the designs are clearly thought out and most importantly- isn’t Kickstarter a good way as any to test consumer demand, in fact test demand and make pre-orders before making huge investments on product.

Maybe this is the way around failing in this competitive industry, knowing your making something someone wants, before making the something!

Sorry Felix, I have to agree with the 1000+ people supporting this project.

That’s it from me, thanks

Posted by ccubed2 | Report as abusive
 

“and most importantly- isn’t Kickstarter a good way as any to test consumer demand, in fact test demand and make pre-orders before making huge investments on product”

most importantly, no! Traditionally in the capitalist system, it’s been considered sensible and polite to do your test marketing and product development using your own money, or money raised from investors on the basis of a share in the upside. Carrying it out by promising people a product and then (potentially in this case) not delivering it doesn’t seem like much of an improvement.

Posted by dsquared | Report as abusive
 

Interestingly negative view dsquared, traditionally yes this would have been sensible and polite- However, advancing on the “traditional” practice in this generation might be the way forward and might be the answer to kickstarting the US economy, in a way that “traditional” methods seem to have been failing at recently with all the off-shoring, cost cutting, job losses etc. driven in part I guess by investor demands, fear and lack of confidence people have to put up their own money. Let’s let the people decide, the people who can make their own decision and decide on who to back and who not to on Kickstarter.

Posted by ccubed2 | Report as abusive
 

Hey Cube – If Bronstein (and you) are experiencing the “fear and lack of confidence people have to put up their own money” in their own project, seems pretty foolish for anyone else to become an unsecured creditor of that frightening enterprise, doesn’t it?

Posted by MrRFox | Report as abusive
 

I guess people can decide the risk and amount they are willing to place on each project, it just feels like a nice collaborative effort and community to me, I really like kickstarter, it’s inspiring seeing what people are up to and working on. I understand what your saying though and enjoyed this discussion.

Posted by ccubed2 | Report as abusive
 

I am the co-founder of Buckyballs and a business partner of Jake’s. You, Felix, are a reporter who lacks an ability to research. So let me try to help you out with your story here:

1. Jake founded and managed a manufacturing startup that went from $0 to $25MM in annual sales in under 3 years.
2. In that three year period, Jake was part of a management team of two, who turned a bunch of magnets into the most popular product in the gift industry (yup, kinda a competitive one too.)
3. The business is very profitable and, yes, Jake could likely fund Flint and Tinder with his earnings. Knowing Jake though, he’s smart enough to use tools like Kickstarter for proof of concept and marketing.

So, if your broader point isn’t about Bronstein, but about Kickstarter, you chose the wrong poster child. Alternatively, if anyone is interested in making a broad point about poor reporting, you’re a perfect start.

Posted by cjzucker | Report as abusive
 

Felix:

Remember the time you said Jake seemed to to have little if any manufacturing or retailing experience? And then added an asterisk later because you seem to have little, if any, reporting skills.

Good times.

Then remember when you added the Zen Magnets voicemail link because you were so embarrassed and didn’t know how else to respond to your own un-researched reporting yet still wanted to make some sort of point?

Better times.

Posted by cjzucker | Report as abusive
 

Hey Felix:

You come off as a bit irritated…you may want to consider trying Buckyballs, they are great for relieving stress at work.

D Squared: I hope that is your bra size, because you clearly aren’t getting by based on your brains

Pacers – You sound like a straight shooter with upper management potential written all over you. From your post it’s obviously you know nothing about business

Posted by BruceT | Report as abusive
 

Hi,

Well we have been trying to call both Kickstarters and Jake all day from the UK, we wanted to just ask, Q we as a UK company would also like to have urbanactive underwear made in the USA to export into London and the rest of the UK.

We got the run about, no reply and a bigger run around from his own ex-partners who ever these are.

If you want to do something about jobs in the US do reply be nice and try to work it out.

wwww.urbanactivedesigns.com a open and nice small company trying to just make conact, is it so hard?

Posted by urbanactive | Report as abusive
 

Why has Jake omitted from his kickstarter bio that he was a realty show contestant as well as a professional internet hoaxer years ago or that Howard Stern wanted to feud with him? That would certainly be of interest to “funders” in his “company”. This guy made a name for himself pulling pranks all over the internet years ago. This will be his ultimate hoax when he takes the money and says HAHAHA to everyone that invested. Look at his designs, he’s brought back your grandpa’s underwear. Try changing the tax laws and health ins. requirement for employees before u manufacture in the USA, Jake. The only experience he has with underwear is as a fetishist. Check out these links for proof: http://jakebronstein.com/5/2005/01/story -more-than-my-moneys-worth.html
http://jakebronstein.com/5/2005/05/colle ction-making-something-special.html
http://jakebronstein.com/5/2005/06/colle ction-mini-me-times-three.html
http://gawker.com/110900/remainders-the- brondick-you-never-wanted
http://jakebronstein.com/5/2005/06/colle ction-clean-by-any-means.html
http://carscoop.blogspot.com/2009/05/for d-fiesta-travesty-continues-car.html
http://wot.motortrend.com/no-fiesta-toda y-hot-magenta-ford-fiesta-stolen-in-us-f ord-tracking-car-4463.html
http://www.jakebronstein.com/2005_03_20_ archive.html
http://jakebronstein.com/5/2005/04/colle ction-mr-sparklepants.html

Posted by CarlF | Report as abusive
 

For some projects, Kickstarter is about generating a market and a buzz, rather than simply generating funds. I think Flint and Tinder is such a project.

Also, there is the aspect of being able to generate a lot of money without coughing up portions of ownership of your company or paying back business loans.

Stop being cynical and give the guy a chance. If you don’t like it, don’t pitch in.

Posted by flatipac | Report as abusive
 

I stumbled upon this article while reading some other Reuters pieces and it piqued my interest. I wanted to learn more about the debate so I spent some time and did the research necessary (unlike the author who admitted he did not do his homework in his first article) in order for me to form an opinion and then make a comment.

My observations are thus:

1. The author in his original piece did try and make a go at analysing a potential pitfall or two with the Kickstarter model and nearly succeeded, such questioning should be encouraged as this model is still very new and hazards to it are definitely out there.

2. In view of 1., the author then decided to veer drastically off track and for unknown reasons make it a direct hit piece on Mr. Brosnstein.

3. The author appears to be a wannabee Perry Mason with a dose of Judge Judy with his accusation of “Flouting this restriction, …”. Sounds more like a personal opinion of Flint and Timber with the author acting as judge and jury with nothing in the way of supporting evidence or any commentary from Kickstarter.

4. The author goes on to further state “In a comment he left on my original post, Bronstein accused me of not being diligent in researching his background on the internet — which is kinda funny, given that he seems to be trying as hard as possible for people to do just that, both by taking down his own websites and by asking sites like Reuters to remove content about him.”

Wow, talk about a master stroke of spin and not having the BuckyBALLS to admit one was wrong (yes, he did admit his oversight but was wishy-washy at best and the usual way that a journalist trys to get around their oh so obvious mistake – blame the victim as they say).

5. The author states “His mention of Buckyballs, however, did remind me of this video, where Bronstein left an extremely aggressive and intimidating nastygram message for Zen Magnets, a smaller competitor.”

Watch the video, I did, and it really is quite good for two reasons:

1) Mr. Bronstein does comes off as complete “something that fits into every pair of Flint and Timbers” and probably if he has any “unmagnetized kahonas” left in them he would come out and admit this here since he obviously likes to be part of this live discussion, and,

2). The response by the guy from Zen Magnets to Mr. Bronstein is not only hilarious but he really does make a good argument for his product – kudos to him for facing down someone who obviously likes to use the legal system as a form of business terrorism/legalised extortion which is all too prevalent in American business now.

6. However, the authors point of “… did remind me of this video” makes no sense in the context of why he should remember anything about Mr. Bornstein unless he spent some additional time in trying to dig up some dirt or other nefarious scraps of information that could be thrown at Mr. Bronstein with the single minded intent of trying disparage his reputation – yellow journalism at its best/worst. Too bad the author did not do his research on Mr. Bronstein’s previous retailing/manufacturing background which on the surface appears to be fairly successful (hey, my kids have Buckyballs… and I have to admit they are kind of addictive).

7. I do agree with some of the other commenters here that trying to scruff up a measly $30k for a manufacturing venture in the US makes little sense from a guy who started a $20+ million dollar business a few short years before. Surely it was throwing off some cash, and if not, why not? Perhaps Mr. Bronstein can chime in and explain as this really does leave an unpleasant taste in one’s mouth.

8. At the end of the day Mr. Bronstein’s venture is, all things considered, a positive step forward for American based industries and its potential to create jobs and I applaud him for his efforts and tenacity.

9. The editors at Reuters have done a disservice to its readers by allowing the author to take such a personal approach and bias to Mr. Bronstein in view of that there is zero evidence in support of anything illegal or misappropriated by Mr. Bronstein – having an unknown personal grudge against Mr. Bronstein articulated in this way serves no one and is nothing short of a petulant rant under the guise of professional journalism.

I have probably rambled on a little further than I should have but it is interesting to see what should have been a more in depth investigative piece on Kickstarter and its potential long-term problems segue into a personal battle aired in real time. However, at the end of the day I see this in a very simple light … Mr. Bronstein wishes to create and build while the author has chosen to use his podium to take him down.

Sorry, Mr. Salmon, you are way off-base here and I have to side with Mr. Bronstein.

Posted by exocet | Report as abusive
 

I happened to find this posting when I was looking online for some commentary on the Flint and Tinder product I just bought (and happen to think is fantastic). What I love most about this post is not how “better than thou” it was towards the kickstarter campaign memeber, but how WRONG it was! This Kickstarter campaign, which was deemed an “example of Kickstarter-as-QVC which is extremely likely to fail,” turned out to be one of the most successful campaigns Kickstarter has seen to date. Not just successful, but a RECORD BREAKER. As techcrunch noted on October 21st, this Kickstarter Record Breaker received 850K in seed funding. Way to know the trends.

I applaud Felix’s desire to take a position, but …. seems he needs a better pulse on what the public really wants if he is going to be so adamant. Guess this was a post that was more extremely likely to fail than the product it was criticizing.

Posted by reuterscomments | Report as abusive
 

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