One of Kickstarter’s biggest pieces of vaporware may be closer to reality — despite so far failing to deliver on its promises two years after raising more than $340,000 on the popular crowdfunding platform.
Answering questions this week, one of the new leaders of Zeyez, a Kickstarter-funded company that plans to build a pair of video-recording glasses, tells GeekWire that the company has built a new prototype, made key partnerships and is seeking funding to complete the project and bring the glasses (called Eyez) to market.
Originally called ZionEyez, the company raised $343,415 from 2,106 backers in June and July of 2011 — more than six times its original $55,000 goal — to produce glasses (called Eyez) that could record 720p video for easy sharing to Facebook and YouTube. The Seattle-based team said that they would be delivering the Eyez glasses in Winter 2011.
Since then, the specs have been plagued by delays and silence.
While backing a project on Kickstarter may seem like a way to get a reliable return, the truth is that many Kickstarter-funded projects are delayed past their projected ship date, and some don’t get completed at all.
After the conclusion of Eyez fundraising the Kickstarter, the team initially showed progress. In December of 2011, the team posted a pair of videos recorded with a prototype pair of Eyez, as well as a link to an article on Engadget featuring a demo of the Eyez prototype.
“We are extremely pleased with the progress we have made within the past 6 months in developming Eyez prototypes, establishing partnerships, and creating a road map that will supersede your expectations,” they wrote.
In early 2012, the team rebranded as Zeyez and said that, while there had been delays in getting the final models manufactured, they were still pressing forward.
On March 2, 2012, the group filed for a patent for “Eyeglasses with Integrated Camera for Video Streaming,” which was subsequently published in September of that year.
[Note: a correction has been made to the status of the patent application since this story was published.]
Their last update to the Kickstarter page was in April 2012, and outlined the way ahead for the product. “24-30 weeks from now, our manufacturer should be able to ship us the first mass produced batch of Zeyez eyewear ready for sale,” the Zeyez team wrote. The Kickstarter page hasn’t been updated since then.
The company’s backers have grown increasingly angry since that last update.
The silence from Zeyez may have something to do with how angry their backers are. As the wait for the glasses wore on, more backers grew impatient with the lack of updates and missed ship date.
“No updates in the last year,” Backer Loren Cahlender wrote in a comment thread on the company’s last update in May of this year. “No responsibility to those who invested! Identify these folks and tar and feather them!”
A backer identified solely as Kristina commented in the same thread to say: “So let me get this straight, you can take $343,415 and live a long & happy life without any consequences? How is this possible?”
Some backers have decided to band together on a private forum called ZionKick, which proclaims itself in its tagline to be “A Forum for People who got scammed by ZionEyez.”
Trying to Move Forward
According to one member of the Zeyez team, the silence following the update didn’t signify a lack of progress.
I spoke with Matt Krumholz, the Vice Chairman of Zeyez, about how the company has evolved since that last update. Krumholz joined the team late last year along with another business veteran to help advise the team about how to right the Zeyez ship and get a product moving to market.
The company has faced challenges, he said, because the task that they are undertaking is more complicated than it looks.
“There’s a reason why Google is leading the charge on Google Glass,” he said. “They have a tremendous amount of money, they have tremendous resources.”
According to Krumholz, the advisory team has also been responsible for investing their money in the company to help keep it moving forward.
“We actively invested in the company, which is a good thing for the people that invested in Kickstarter, because now you’ve got people that are involved, that are actually investing their own money,” he said.
That infusion of cash has allowed Zeyez to save what remains of the Kickstarter money. In addition, Krumholz stressed that he has not made any money off the company yet, and has made sure the money paid by people who pre-ordered outside the Kickstarter has been either refunded or frozen.
In addition, the company has undergone a reorganization, and while Krumholz didn’t name names, not all of the founding team remains with the company.
“Regarding the founders, some of them that were capable have stayed on, and some of them that were not have left,” he said.
Zeyez has partnered with New York-based eyewear design firm Illesteva to work on the Zeyez frames, and is working with a microchip manufacturer in Silicon Valley to produce the electronics package inside the glasses.
That work has led to a prototype that Krumholz said will provide a good jumping-off point for the future of the glasses.
“Where we’ve been over the past few months is we’ve been working through the mechanicals and the electricals so that we could have a good reference design, something that I would call on par with the GoPro,” he said.
The prototype is currently able to stream video, and Krumholz says Zeyez is working on other functionality for it as well.
“We’re working on perfecting the photograph and the audio on it. We’re also working on the ability for visual stabilization and eye correction (the ability to keep the camera’s view steady even if the user looks down).”
With regards to the horde of angry backers, Krumholz said that it’s in the company’s interest to deliver a good product to the people who got the project off the ground.
“I want these people to be advocates for the product, not unhappy people that got burned by something,” Krumholz said.
Their next move is to take the prototype on the road with an investor deck and try to drum up support and funding for the specs. According to Krumholz, the company is seeking funding to finalize the prototype and bring the glasses to market.
Whether or not the revitalized Zeyez team will be able to deliver remains to be seen. But Krumholz thinks that backers have reason to be optimistic. He says that the expertise of the people now working on Zeyez has made the success of the project more possible.
“The chances of getting the glasses are a lot greater than they were when (backers) put their money up on Kickstarter,” he said.
Their end goal, Krumholz said, is to produce a great product that people feel good about.
“We want all these people from Kickstarter to love our product, and embrace it, and be super-happy that they were smart enough to get in at the ground floor of it, to get the first, you know? So that’s what we’re going to look towards and I think we owe that to the people out there,” he said.
Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen, but it would seem as though the Zeyez team is pressing forward.