Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is

By: Francis Farrell

If there is one lesson that the average person should have learned from 2016, it is that you should never give something that you see on the internet your trust and belief, unless that trust and belief are unarguably deserved – whether through irrefutable evidence, independent verification, or hard-earned reputation. However, while in the political sphere the world seems to be slowly waking up to their misguided trust and has a good chance of rolling back the hasty decisions made (except you UK), there is one area where that realisation hasn’t quite kicked in yet, the ever-controversial world of crowdfunding.

A few years ago, technology circles were sent into frenzy with the release of a video purporting to show a working prototype of “Lily”, a machine-learning drone that could be thrown up in the air, over a bridge, into a creek; and would proceed to rise and follow you around, filming you as you carved up powder snow or canoed down raging rapids. That kind of technology in a compact, accessible consumer package was unprecedented, and within several months thousands had spent up to USD 900 to fund its development, expecting in return to receive one of the first Lilies to roll off the production line when the drone would eventually become a worldwide hit. Just a few months ago, Lily announced “the end of our adventure”, scuttling the project and humbly promising to somehow refund the 34 million USD that they had received. Later investigations revealed that there was no working prototype, that the viral video that started it all was fake.

If you think the internet wasting millions on a failed drone is bad, it gets worse, with ever more ridiculous levels of deception, gullibility and malice displayed in the world of crowdfunding every day. Triton, a proposed underwater breathing device that defied basic laws of physics by several orders of magnitude, with only four people registered in their development team and without even a faked video, raised over 900,000 USD, and continues to return that money, long having shifted it offshore. Indiegogo took no responsibility for the scam.

In business circles the term “unicorn” describes an extremely successful startup, but I prefer to revert to a more original connotation – a lovely, but ultimately mythical entity, in which too much emotion (or money) should not be invested. Lily was a unicorn. Triton was whatever a unicorn’s next evolutionary form is. Coming into 2017, one would do well to remember: if it looks too good to be true, it probably has a huge horn between its cunning little eyes, and should under no circumstances be trusted.

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