'Zano' probe finds why drone Kickstarter campaign failed

Crowdfunded projects are risky, and sometimes they don't pan out. Though some efforts are underway to give backers a bit more protection, the industry is still relatively new and sometimes projects, despite hitting their funding goals, fail to deliver. One of the biggest examples of this is the tiny Zano drone which, though it raised far more than it sought, ultimately fell far short of its goals and left many backers disappointed.

In mid-December, it was announced Kickstarter had hired a freelance investigative journalist to investigate the matter and report on his findings. The report could serve many purposes, giving backers an idea of what happened and aiding future companies in avoiding the same mistakes. On Monday, Mark Harris, the reporter tapped for the task, released his findings.

The original campaign had sought about $190,000 in funding for a small drone promised to offer all sorts of features. In addition, the campaign had a bunch of stretch goals that would unlock additional features if higher amounts of funding were hit. The campaign proved wildly popular, raising about $3.5 million from 12k+ backers during its run.

For a while, the updates were promising and everything with the campaign seemed fine. Problems started being reported soon enough, though, with various components and issues delaying things. When the Zano drones did finally ship, only a few hundred went out in the first month, and they were sent to those who pre-ordered rather than backers on Kickstarter.

Those who received units claimed they were sub-par, either failing to fly or flying very poorly, with disappointing camera quality and autonomous flight entirely missing. Kickstarter backers were told their units had been delayed again, meanwhile.

It wasn't until mid-November 2015 that Torquing, the company behind Zano, made a devastating announcement — that it was going into the UK's variety of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The money from backers was gone, and the company was substantially in debt. Those who had been waiting for so long were out of luck, and those who had received their drones lost use of them when Torquing's servers went dark.

It's a very long piece, and those who want a glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors should give it a full read. Harris sums up his findings, saying:

I have heard about enthusiasm, dedication and hard work, and endless late nights attempting to develop cutting-edge technologies and solve thorny problems. There were tales of teamwork, camaraderie, and community. But I found evidence of overconfidence, exaggeration, and obfuscation as well. Zano is also a story of arguments, personal threats, legal disputes and criminal investigations. A sum that totals £3.5m does not just disappear silently into thin air, nor should it.