How I Got Burned By Crowdfunding… TWICE!

I remember when the idea of crowdfunding first became popular.  I’d browse the pages of Kickstarter and Indiegogo and marvel at the amazing products people were developing, but was always hesitant about taking the plunge because I was never sure any of the products would actually make it into existence… until these two times.

Cautionary Tale #1 – AVAcore RTX Glove

I first heard of this technology in 2012 when I read this article on Gizmodo.  I knew that athletes used ice and ice baths and cryotherapy to aid in recovery, so the idea that similar results could be achieved in something as portable as a glove was mind blowing.

The rapid thermal exchange device, nicknamed ‘the glove,’ creates a vacuum to draw blood to the surface of the palms. Cold circulating water cools the blood, which returns to the heart and rapidly lowers the body’s core temperature.

They included a story like this in their press release:

But the glove’s effects on athletic performance didn’t become apparent until the researchers began using the glove to cool a member of the lab – the confessed “gym rat” and frequent coauthor Vinh Cao – between sets of pull-ups. The glove seemed to nearly erase his muscle fatigue; after multiple rounds, cooling allowed him to do just as many pull-ups as he did the first time around. So the researchers started cooling him after every other set of pull-ups.

“Then in the next six weeks he went from doing 180 pull-ups total to over 620,” said Heller. “That was a rate of physical performance improvement that was just unprecedented.”

I mean who wouldn’t want to do 600+ pull ups?!

How does this work?

Much of the lab’s recent research can be summed up with Grahn’s statement that “temperature is a primary limiting factor for performance.” But the researchers were at a loss to understand why until recently.

In 2009, it was discovered that muscle pyruvate kinase, or MPK, an enzyme that muscles need in order to generate chemical energy, was highly temperature- sensitive. At normal body temperature, the enzyme is active – but as temperatures rise, some of the enzyme begins to deform into the inactive state. By the time muscle temperatures near 104 degrees Fahrenheit, MPK activity completely shuts down.

There’s a very good biological reason for this shutdown. As a muscle cell increases its activity, it heats up. But if this process continues for too long, the cell will self-destruct. By shutting itself down below a critical temperature threshold, MPK serves as an elegant self-regulation system for the muscle.

“Your muscle cells are saying, “You can’t work that hard anymore, because if you do you’re going to cook and die,’” Grahn said.

When you cool the muscle cell, you return the enzyme to the active state, essentially resetting the muscle’s state of fatigue.

So these scientists found a way to hack the body’s system to increase GAINZZZ?  Sign me up!  Unfortunately at this time, they didn’t have a commercial product available yet, only a prototype, so I forget about it.

Three years later as I’m listening to Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Podcast, I hear about this technology again!  In Episode 81 they interview Chuck Hixson, CEO of AVACore technologies, the company that’s licensing the technology from Stanford.  He announces that a product for consumers called the RTX is being developed and folks who’re interested can go to Indiegogo and buy one for $249 which is 35% the MSRP.

This podcast came out in August of 2015 when the BJJ Cavewife and I were living in Virginia… where it gets very hot… and humid.  You know where else it get’s hot?  In the gym where I trained Brazilian jiu jitsu while wearing a long sleeve rash guard and the customary brazilian jiu jitsu kimono consisting of a thick jacket and long pants.  The idea of using a tool that can quickly and efficiently cool my body so that I can train longer and harder was something I wanted right then and there… along with a scoop of ice cream.

And also… Stanford!  I’ve certainly bought products from far less reputable places than a world renown university, so knowing that scientists from Stanford University were involved in this project really put my mind at ease.

I plunked down the $249 and hoped I wasn’t making a mistake.

The first update I got was in January 19, 2016 and had a very optimistic tone:

They apologized for being bad about updates and explained that this was because they’ve been focusing on engineering and improving the product.  Sure I can understand that.  Of course I want the product to be better.  The estimated ship date was May 2016.

May 2016 comes around and I get an update from Mr. Hixson himself.  Development is taking longer, they’ve run into some snags and are working to improve the product.  Hmmm.  Starting to see some red flags now.  They’ve completely blown through the estimated ship date and their communication has been terrible.

Over the next few months they actually do a better job with updates, showing pictures of various prototypes and designs:

I’m starting to feel better about things… and then this update comes in September 2016

Uh oh.  What the hell?  What do you mean “due to economics?”  Shouldn’t the economics have been worked out already? And perhaps even more worrisome are the words “stay in business.”

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And then November comes and this gets posted:

“We have temporarily run out of budget for this project.”

Here is the current Indiegogo page and this what it currently shows:

Poof… that’s $249 that just went up in smoke.  This project is now in vaporware status as far as I’m concerned.

At BEST with crowdfunding a project I will save a few bucks off the MSRP IF the project comes to fruition.  At worst I lose every dime I invested.  Seems like the smartest thing would’ve been just to sit on the sidelines, see how things go, and pay full price when the device is actually manufactured.

Lesson learned.

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Cautionary Tale #2 – Stuart Cooper Films

Stuart Cooper is a filmographer who also practices BJJ.  His primary source of income at the time was making wedding videos, but his passion was for making BJJ videos.

I saw videos like this:

and this

And I couldn’t get enough.

When I saw he was running and Indiegogo campaign to come up with funding for the goal of:

20 more videos over the next 12 months. I do my best to show the positivity of jiu jitsu through my films. The films that I have planned to come out over the next year feature Kron Gracie, Rickson Gracie, Romulo Barral, Dean Lister, Scott Nelson (founder of OTM) Henry Akins, Jeff Glover, Kurt Osiander, Marcelo Garcia, Andreas Kraniotakes, My good friend and UFC Vet Roger Huerta, Keenan Cornelius, Andre Galvao, Kit Dale, Roy Dean, Xande Ribeiro, and more motivational JiuJitsu Highlight videos to inspire us and pump us up before training when we do not feel like it. I also have a 4 part documentary series on ADCC 2013 in the making, with each episode being one hour long.

I was all in and wanted to support this struggling artist trying to make it in the small niche that’s BJJ.  I was making a few bucks from my website and figured that this would be a great way to give back.

I opted for the option of contributing $100 for a Limited Edition USB stick containing all 20 documentaries when completed.

Over the course of the next few years he actually produced quite a few videos covering many of the BJJ greats like Bernarda Faria, Cyborg Abreu, Robson Moura, Keenan Cornelius, etc. which can be found on his Vimeo page and YouTube page.  He even made a documentary of Marcelo Garcia, my favorite grappler of all time, but ended up charging for it which ruffled the feathers of many of the folks who contributed to his project.

Alas, no USB stick ever showed up.

I actually don’t feel bad about this one at all since the videos are all available OnDemand, and I felt like I did my part to help someone follow their passion, but it still highlights the risk and uncertainty of crowdfunding.

If you’re considering taking part in any crowdfunding projects yourself, just keep in mind that it can literally be like throwing money into a pit.

4 Responses to How I Got Burned By Crowdfunding… TWICE!

  1. Evinx says:

    Innovators are not good at implementation-dreamers vs doers. And academics are not known for being doers.

  2. Ben Gilsdorf says:

    Crowdfunding merely lowers the bar to be involved in Venture capital. It is not a retirement strategy. If you are good 1 in 10 will pay off.

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