What happens if you successfully fund a product on Kickstarter, realize the product can’t be built, and then find out you have no way of refunding your backers? If you’re Jamie Siminoff, you build your own version of Kickstarter.
“This is crazy that we raised all this money and we can’t even refund it if we can’t build the product,” Siminoff said, referring to POP, a portable charging station with retractable cables for various devices. POP was fully funded on September 1, but ran into trouble for promising to ship with the connectors that would be found on the iPhone 5, which wasn’t announced until September 12: “[I]f the iPhone 5 does have a 19 pin connector as rumored, our plan is to ship with 2 iPhone 5 connectors and 2 standard 30 PIN connectors. This way you will be able to charge the old and new devices. We should know by mid-September what Apple is doing which will give us more than enough time to modify the product for the iPhone 5,” read the product page.
However, Apple originally refused to approve the use of its new Lightning connector in products that also used other connectors, including Apple’s own 30-pin connector found in older models of iPhones and iPads. In an update declaring “POP could no longer fulfill its true promise,” Siminoff announced that “refunding the money is the only acceptable thing to do.”
Call it good timing, capitalizing on an opportunity, or both, but the same update contained the announcement of Siminoff’s own crowd-funding site, Christie Street (named after the street on which Thomas Edison’s lab was located), saying it was “designed to handle needs that can arise from products – such as refunds – in order to prevent compromised products from being delivered.” Kickstarter had no way to handle refunds, so the project’s backers would be set up with Christie Street accounts and refunded directly. It never came to that, as Apple later reversed its decision, citing the resolution of “technical issues that prevented accessories from integrating 30-pin and Lightning connectors.” POP was back on.
I caught up with Siminoff at CES and asked him to explain the story of POP and how it led to the launch of Christie Street. In the below video, he talks about how products are chosen and audited for inclusion on the site, how refunds and buyer protection are handled, and why he thinks Christie Street works well as a products-only site:
It’ll be interesting to see how much traction the site is able to gain. As of now, there are only three projects – one of which is Siminoff’s own DoorBot video doorbell, and none of which have hit their funding goals yet. DoorBot has hit about 70% of its goal but needs about $75,000 in the next six days, the Deka Bluetooth headsets (seen at the end of the above video) have hit about 6% of their goal and need about $117,000 in the next 39 days, and TYLT’s Energi Backpack has hit about 4% of its goal and needs about $47,000 in the next 24 days. The strategy of having fewer hand-picked, robustly audited products can work, but the site is going to need at least a few winners out of the gate in order to attract a large enough crowd to keep the crowdfunding flowing.