Jumping the Skarp

The 'Skarp Lazer Razor' has so far raised over $3.5 million on Kickstarter and still has twelve days to go. Its creators, the 'Skarpers', make claims about the development of a laser-based 'razor' that gives an irritation-free shave better and faster than a traditional razor; it's also, they claim, more environment friendly. To achieve the claimed properties of the product its creators must have overcome significant challenges in optics, miniaturisation, eye and skin safety, power, usability, etc.

The extraordinary claims made by the creators of Skarp are not backed by the extraordinary evidence they, and backers, deserve. What's presented to us as proof is a rendered animation, 3D printed handles, and a 'demo' that only raises more questions and doubt about the current state of the product

From all that I've seen so far the Skarpers have created a proof-of-concept that's equivalent -- in context of the challenges -- to wiring something on a breadboard. Oh, and they've obviously worked very hard on those lovely 3D printed handles!

To the criticism of technical feasibility, the Skarpers have argued that backers should rely on their and their advisors' reputation and background -- after all they are "men of science". For the lack of technical transparency, the Skarpers claim that they would lose their "advantage" if they reveal any further details.

In a critical view, neither of these arguments matter. Experts can be wrong or misled into endorsement and founders are often blind to obvious problems, and prone to wishful thinking. If there's concerns about intellectual property, they should have waited until they are covered, or found a way to demo without revealing too much. I also think that if one is sitting on such a proven, patent protected, revolution in technology, Kickstarter is an odd place to pander for cash in the first instance.

The arguments the Skarpers use here are, however, very effective as they both hide the project's real state and sound convincing to an non-critical audience.

The odd 18,000 backers are clearly non-critical. You don't need to be a laser engineer to know that there's an extreme, at best, wishful thinking here -- a delivery of such a complex product in six months (March 2016) is delusional. It cannot happen and it will not happen. This is particularly bothersome when the Skarpers say that

Due to the size of the micro components involved, there will be un-known levels of fine tuning required for automated production in high volume. However we have taken this into consideration for our projected delivery of March 2016.

Similarly when ramping up delivery of key components, quality control could become a challenge & is of high priority to us.

Morgan Gustavsson & his team have decades of experience with bringing new technologies, cosmetic & medical products to market successfully.

So they are either competent but intentionally misleading or they're incompetent. Either way it's a sure sign to walk away. I wasn't swayed by looking at the Skarpers' LinkedIn profiles either.

Reality demonstrated clearly that the majority of backers don't care about any of it. They want this fantasy product even if they never get it. Some are quite OK with that -- read the comments. So if the lottery is a tax on those poor at math, then Kickstarter is a tax on people who can't be bothered by the details. What's the harm?

The harm is for the rest of us! When this project fails to deliver -- at all or the Skarpers send out a brittle wire on a fancy handle that lasts three seconds -- it's us, the hardware developers that care about our craft, that ultimately pay the price. We'll be collectively and proverbially shat upon by the same "tech" media that blindly gave wind to that project. We'll be perceived as 'those engineers' who over-promise and under-deliver. This infuriates me.

We need to accept that Kickstarter has evolved into a lucrative scamming platform: a mechanism designed for little accountability and enforcement filled with a gullible audience with disposable income. Kickstarter is now damaging the reputation of 'hardware' far more than any of the good that it might have done in the past. I think that we've reached peak-Kickstarter,  the point where the 'classic' crowdfunding funding model has 'jumped the Skarp', in a similar way that Fonzie jumped the shark for TV.

(Amusingly, I still hold some hope that this is a brilliantly executed social experiment, though I would find it hard to believe that it passed an ethical review board.)

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