But questions of a different sort are flying at Pebble Technology Corp., maker of said smartwatch, this week after announcing it was shutting down its business. Formed in 2012 on the heels of a $10 million Kickstarter campaign—one of the most successful ever—Pebble recruited an army of loyal followers that now are feeling disappointed, angry or both.
The first rumbles of concern began in September with delayed shipments of the new Pebble 2 to backers of a new Kickstarter effort. Even those shipments were limited. When backers heard that some of the new watches were going to big box stores like Walmart, the dissatisfaction grew.
“Pebble, the maker of the original e-ink smartwatch, has a lot of passionate and loyal customers, and those customers are pissed,” began an article on Gizmodo. It reported on rumors that FitBit was purchasing some of Pebble’s assets and intellectual property but would not continue the brand.
Backers complained on Pebble’s Kickstarter page. The company largely kept quiet.
Finally, there was today’s announcement from Pebble: “Pebble is no longer able to operate as an independent entity. We have made the tough decision to shut down the company and no longer manufacture Pebble devices.” Kickstarter backers who hadn’t received watches will get refunds—though through Kickstarter itself, meaning several months’ wait.
In short, Pebble’s more recent customer engagement strategy has been discouraging to an enviable customer base.
Will I still be able to voice-text my wife, check the weather and track my fitness with my Pebble? Yes, for awhile, at least. Two consecutive sentences from Pebble’s website don’t instill long-term hope, though: “Fitbit will maintain services so that Pebble devices continue to work as normal. Pebble functionality and service may be reduced in the future.”
While this is certainly no fun for the Pebblers, another big loser in all this may be Kickstarter. It’s another high-profile example (remember Oculus Rift’s buyout by Facebook?) of the risk that goes with investing through crowdfunding. “If Pebble, one of Kickstarter’s biggest success stories, can fail so spectacularly, then why should a consumer put trust in any of the smaller crowdfunding campaigns out there?” asks Gizmodo.
In crowdfunding, the mantra is still caveat emptor.