What Developers on Kickstarter Can Learn from Flappy Bird

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Flappy Bird

Image: Ursonate via Flickr

Flappy Bird, alas, is no more. The super-successful app has been pulled by its creator for a very good reason: he didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with the popularity of the game and all that entails. While some have wondered if he pulled it for copyright infringement reasons, I’m taking Dong Nguyen at his word. He doesn’t have the time in his day nor the desire to deal with the constant emails and messages that come with developing a piece of popular software.

A lot of people could learn a thing or two from Nguyen.

Months ago, I started sending out what I call a canary-in-a-coal mine email when it comes to Kickstarter. People are asking me for money, and if they are, they better take the time to be accessible. If they don’t have the time or energy to deal with the outreach necessary to raise funding for a project, they probably shouldn’t undertake the project at that time. And frankly, with the fact that there is little recourse if the project isn’t delivered after raising the money, it behooves investors to do some research into what sort of developers they’re funding beyond the basics of the project: are they reliable, accessible, and most importantly, will they have the emotional bandwidth to see the project through to its end?

As Kickstarter itself states:

We look into projects reported by our community for guidelines violations and suspicious activity, and we take action when necessary. These efforts are focused on fraud and acceptable uses of Kickstarter, not a creator’s ability to complete a project and fulfill. On Kickstarter, people ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it.

So, my canary-in-a-coal mine message: I ask a good question that isn’t answered anywhere in the literature they’ve produced to describe their project. Sometimes it takes me a long time to come up with such a question; longer than it should ever take the person to answer it. And then I wait. Do I get a timely response? Do they answer my question adequately? Do they seem in over their head, or have they thought through what it means to be an entrepreneur?

There was a popular computer project right before Christmas that a lot of my friends were funding, but when I emailed the developer, I received crickets. I tried a second email, just in case the first one got lost in the shuffle and tweeted him. He favorited my tweet, but didn’t reply to it. While he was crowing about how great his project would be via Twitter and Facebook, he didn’t take the time to respond to my email. I decided not to fund the project. If the developer got his idea off the ground, it would be available for purchase down the road. And if he didn’t, I wouldn’t lose my money.

Kickstarter is about taking a risk, but there is risk and then there is ignoring warning signs. And to me, not being able to respond to emails is a warning sign that someone is in over their head. There’s a big difference between an inventor who can see a project through to its ends and a guy who happens to have a really cool idea.

The same idea goes for expensive apps or electronic toys that are already on the market. I’m happy to purchase an outlier product from a computer website or spend $10 on an app when I know that my questions will be answered if we run into a wall. But too many times, I’ve sent that canary-in-a-coal-mine email and received no response. In that case, we skip the app or software or toy. There are too many great items out there to spend money on those that can’t take the time to address customer service.

The leveled playing field of the Internet has turned everyone into a developer or inventor, and on one hand, that is a great thing. There are products and games that would never be made otherwise if they needed to get through the red tape of a big company. But on the other hand, there are a lot of developers who may have a great idea but no business sense. And that business sense is important if both the inventor and the customer are both going to be satisfied.

So I have a great respect for Dong Nguyen if he realized he was in over his head and got out of the game. Though I hope he gets the proper support team in place and returns to the app store in the future.

How do you decide whether or not to fund a project on Kickstarter or purchase a new tech toy or app?

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