Crowdfunding has long offered a unique and impressive platform for startups to get off the ground — inventors with a great idea and some entrepreneurial spirit can turn to like-minded individuals who’d love to see their plans come to fruition. Kickstarter is one of the best-known launch pads for crowdfunding campaigns, and we’ve seen it used in the successful beginnings of many 3D printers that have since become household names. WobbleWorks, for instance, crowdfunded both the 3Doodler and 3Doodler 2.0 3D printing pens in multi-million dollar success stories on Kickstarter.
Some Kickstarter campaigns don’t reach their funding goals and are thus stopped in their tracks, with the creators not receiving any money to get the needed materials, equipment, space, or other components that could have potentially brought their ideas to life. That’s hard to see, especially when there’s a brilliant idea that just didn’t catch enough attention — but what can be even more difficult to process are stories that were set up to be successes.
Back in October 2013, an impressive 284 backers pledged $109,563 (well over the original $20k funding goal) to fund the Phoenix 3D printer on Kickstarter. The Phoenix was the brainchild of the Wood family — Jerry and Lori, and their kids, Jake and Josh — who created Wood and Plastic LLC, which operates as EZ3D, out of Fort Collins, Colorado. The family formed EZ3D in January of that year, and spent 2013 fine-tuning their 3D printer before launching it on Kickstarter.
With hundreds of backers and more than five times the initial goal, it would seem EZ3D hit this one out of the park. What a success!
It had the makings of a success story, at any rate.
As of today, March 12th, 2015, the Better Business Bureau has received 22 complaints coming from 14 US states, Canada, and even the Netherlands…because the Phoenix 3D printers just aren’t shipping. With nearly 700 comments on the Kickstarter campaign page reporting similarly, the outcry is only getting stronger as months pass without any units shipped, announcements from the company, or even emails or phone calls answered. (Note that as of the time of writing, the company’s website appears to be having difficulties with privacy certificates; click/load at your own risk.)
EZ3D currently has an F rating and is noted as not being a BBB-accredited business. Of the 22 complaints (all closed), the company was listed as having not responded in 21 instances.
For the one instance in which EZ3D did respond, the BBB noted that “BBB did not find business made good faith effort to resolve complaint.” EZ3D noted that they had already announced that their products were delayed — but the BBB was not satisfied by the answer.
“Our company as a whole has encountered enormous delays across all our products, especially kits,” EZ3D said in their response. “The causes of these delays have been communicated on our web site for all our customers to see and understand… Currently, customers who have already received kits have had numerous issues, varying from incomplete documentation to poor quality components. Until our quality control processes have been refined, we do not want this customer, or any other customers, receiving inferior products or services. As such, we will not be shipping this kit until we are certain the customer will receive high quality components that will work when assembled…”
While the customer in question for this particular complaint accepted this as a response and seems to have settled for a refund, that appears to put that backer in a very small category of those who have actually received a response at all, much less their money back.
Among the complaints the BBB has dealt with are also those who weren’t among the crowdfunding backers, but rather had ordered Phoenix 3D printers from the company’s website in 2014. Between those complaints from Kickstarter and those from full orders, complainants had issues with orders valued from $200 for deposits to $600 (or more) for 3D printers.
One complaint, dated March 2, details what seems to be a common issue with EZ3D: a lack of both product and communication. The registered remarks include (sic):
“I placed a deposit in the amount of $200 toward the purchase of a 3D Printer on July 3rd of 2014. At that time, their website indicated it would be 10-12 weeks to deliver the printer. And that they would contact me when the printer was ready to ship to get the rest of the amount due plus shipping. On September 8th of 2014 I recieved notice that ‘Your Phoenix 3D Printer is almost ready to ship!’ and I was promted to pay the reamaining balance and shipping totaling $219.22. This was paid on September 9th in full. As of this complaint, I have not received any shipment from Ez3d, and since December, all communications with the company have ceased.”
The latest communication from EZ3D via their Kickstarter updates page was registered back in December; it seems no one, including the BBB, has heard from them at all since. The Better Business Bureau reached out to EZ3D on December 15 with no reply, then again on January 12th, both times seeking a full plan, in writing, detailing the company’s proposed approach to resolving both the complaints at hand and the overall issues identified for all customers who had placed orders for the company’s products.
Now in mid-March 2015, no updates are available regarding the Phoenix 3D printer. Per the initial Kickstarter campaign, the company’s original goal had been to deliver the assembled units a full year ago: “We have marked March 2014 as the delivery date for assembled 3D printers. However, most printer pledges should be received before that.”
Time will tell whether any of this ultimately has a happy ending for hopeful customers or the company itself. Until then, those considering backing 3D printers on Kickstarter should keep one thing in mind — caveat emptor: buyer beware!
Did you or someone you know back this Kickstarter campaign? Let us know if you’ve heard any resolution, or whether you’ve had a similar experience with any other crowdfunding attempts, over at the EZ3D forum thread at 3DPB.com.