How Zano Raised Millions on Kickstarter and Left Most Backers with Nothing

How Zano Raised Millions on Kickstarter and Left Most Backers with Nothing

Kickstarter asked freelance reporter Mark Harris to investigate just what went down at Zano, he concludes that is was poor management rather than foul play. The Zano team have not simply trousered the money and run.

In spring 2013, the Secretary of State for Wales at the time, David Jones, visited a young company at the Pembrokeshire Science and Technology Park. On a windswept campus at the western tip of the country, Jones heard Torquing Group’s enthusiastic managing director, Ivan Reedman, share a vision of Welsh-made autonomous robots for industry, commerce, and the military.

“Torquing Group’s work is an excellent example of a successful small business with their sights firmly set on growth and expansion,” enthused Jones later. The key to Torquing’s growth, Reedman believed, would be a cutting-edge consumer quadcopter developed from his experience working on a surveillance drone for a local defence contractor.

Eighteen months later, flush with an investment from another company at the technology park, Torquing Group launched a campaign on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter for a palm-sized drone called the Zano. The Zano would dispense with fiddly on-screen controls in favour of mimicking gestures from a Wi-Fi linked smartphone, automatically tracking and following its operator, avoiding obstacles, and even shooting “selfie” photos and videos — for up to 15 minutes at a time.

Reedman’s goal was modest: £125,000 (about $190,000 at the time) to enable him to move his Zano prototype into full production. “Zano is up and flying, holding position, avoiding obstacles, streaming live video back to a smart device, capturing video and photos,” said the Kickstarter campaign page. “Our supply chain is 100% ready to go, from vital components that make Zano fly, to the very boxes that Zano is packaged in.”

Torquing’s promotional video showed some impressive footage of the drone in action. Drinkers at a Welsh pub smiled as a Zano flew up and hovered over them, displaying a countdown on built-in LEDs before snapping a photo that they immediately examined on a smartphone. Zano was then shown filming rock-solid footage of a mountain biker, following a motocross rider’s gestures, and automatically returning to land at his feet. Kickstarter itself selected Zano as a Staff Pick, which gave it prominently placed promotion on the site (the company now calls these Projects We Love).

The internet went wild. Torquing met its initial funding target in just 10 days, then blew right past it. As pledges smashed all Reedman’s “stretch goals”, they unlocked additional features: built-in storage, high-def (1080p) video recording, thermal imaging cameras, wireless charging, the ability to fly upside down, and more. Reedman touted extras like facial recognition and 360-degree panoramas soon — and all for a pledge as small as £139 (about $210). There were drones costing 10 times as much that couldn’t match Zano’s specs. The campaign promised delivery of all reward drones in an equally staggeringly short production window — in June 2015, just six months away.

At the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas a few weeks later, Engadget shortlisted Zano for its official Best of CES Award, one of just 49 nominees among an estimated 20,000 new products at the world’s biggest trade show. “Kickstarter made the prototype happen, and now it’s a very real proposition,” gushed Engadget in early January.

By the time the Kickstarter campaign ended on 8 January 2015, over 12,000 backers from around the world had pledged an astonishing £2.3m (nearly $3.5m), 20 times Reedman’s original goal. It was, and still is, Kickstarter’s most funded European campaign.

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CES don’t seem to have learnt about checking credentials from Lily, this year they gave an award to Lily, another platform that has so far failed to demonstrate its claimed abilities and keeps slipping its delivery date. Its not a crowd funded project and has taken it is said $34 million dollars in pre sales. It does not claim to do quite as much as Zano did but its still asking a lot of current technology.

Gary Mortimer

Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.