The Gemini PDA launched early in 2017 on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to much acclaim and fanfare. It easily passed its original funding goal and ultimately raised more than $2 Million, ensuring around five and a half thousand Gemini units shipped to excited backers. As I write this, the final backer units have been produced, and are beginning the journey to the international distributors in the UK and Hong Kong.
I doubt that anybody would argue that for a version 1 product, crowdfunding was the correct approach for Planet to take. The big crowdfunding platforms offer some security and reassurance, especially over a product funded entirely through the manufacturer’s own website. This doesn’t stop problems occurring and even I lost £1,000 on smart luggage purchased through Kickstarter which, more than two years later, has still not arrived.
But what of the problems associated with a crowdfunded campaign. These all came to light when Gemini manufacturing began.
The Chinese company making the Gemini insisted that things were done a certain way. All the 4G units had to be manufactured before any of the Wi-Fi only units were made. This immediately caused problems, with some Wi-Fi only customers being early backers. This inevitably meant they would receive their own units at the very end, just before commercial sales began.
The keyboard offered additional challenges, with the factory insisting that the most popular (UK, US, and Japan) were all made and finished before any of the smaller quantity variants. Inevitably, international variant keyboards would have been bought by some early backers, who again, would receive their units last.
The gold plating for the 30 limited edition Geminis also presented challenges that meant some of those units would, you guessed it, have been delivered last.
There were problems on the backer side as well however. It’s very common in these days of modern consumerism for people to adopt a “get it now” mentality. As a society we’re used to instant gratification, be that people liking your posts on Facebook, responding immediately to your chat thread on WhatsApp, or free next day deliveries of just about anything from Amazon Prime.
It was perhaps easier for older Gemini backers, the people who had used Psion palmtop computers in their youth, to wait for the Gemini to be manufactured and delivered. This is the generation who grew up with mail order catalogues, and standard 30-day delivery periods. They’d also waited more than 15 years for a new Psion, and with the future looking so bleak until the Gemini campaign launched, what was a few months more?
Younger backers, and those backers for whom the Gemini was their first crowdfunding project and for whom crowdfunding was a new experience, inevitably became impatient far more quickly. Deadlines slipped, issues arose such as the ones presented by the factory, and tempers sometimes began to flare.
The Small Team
It wasn’t helped by the Gemini team initially being just three people, and staying that way for much of the design and manufacturing process. It’s a major job producing a new and innovative piece of technology and we often forget that the biggest innovators, Samsung, Microsoft, and companies such as Huawei, have whole departments just to design new products, and more departments to oversee production.
Planet Computers had none of this, nor the funding with which to quickly expand. This inevitably led to problems with manpower, resources, and communication. It’s often been said that the communication from Planet was choppy and infrequent, a direct consequence of the small size of the team. It would be all too easy for backers to forget this however; you’re used to dealing with a “company”, and these have staff, managers, and departments… don’t they?
Designing in the Open
Probably the most significant issue to hit production of the Gemini though, was an inevitable by-product of going down the crowdfunding route, that of having to design, develop, and manufacture a product entirely in the open. When the major tech companies announce new products, it’s normally because they’re finished, or at least only a couple of months away from launch.
Planet had to start at the very beginning, deal with only being a small team and the inevitable resource issues that brings, and still try to keep backers excited and informed throughout the process. I doubt you would have ever found somebody who had sought crowdfunding who found that process either easy or enjoyable.
Planet are in a good position now with the Gemini. It’s unique, has no competition, a clear use case, and those who would want it are likely to know that straight away. When Gemini v2 comes around, it’s entirely possible that going down the crowdfunding route might not be necessary.
The company has also grown in size, from three people to five. This is still tiny when compared to the competition, but it’s a significant help when it comes to developing a new product, while still also supporting an existing one.
Setting expectations, and regularly communicating with backers is always crucial however. Communication was the number one complaint, and Planet know this. Coupled with the experience of producing new tech from scratch, and being able to reuse some of what they already have, it would be much easier the second time around.
This all depends on the success of the Gemini. The anger and frustration has stayed with backers, impatient for delivery of the device they’ve spent so many hundreds on. My own feeling however is that frustration and anger will very quickly fade once all backers have received their units in a few weeks from when I write this, and these backers will quickly start evangelising about the product both online and offline.
Was it Worth It?
So was it worth developing the Gemini in the way Planet chose to? This individual would say “absolutely, yes”. The $2 Million in funding could never have been achieved without a platform such as Indiegogo, and the reach would have been tiny, threatening the Gemini, and the future of the company.
The Gemini is actually one of the better crowdfunding products in recent years. There are still far too many that fail to complete, or that provide products of low quality. Planet Computers Ltd set the bar high, stuck to their principles and should be commended for this. Only time will tell what the future holds, but it’s much brighter now than anybody could have predicted.