Thursday, September 15, 2016

Check In: Vrb Headphones

Back in 2014, I received an email from Julie Pham of Vrb Headphones. I don't remember approaching them, but apparently I must have as the email literally starts wtih "Thanks for taking interest in our blogging needs." Huh.


But anyway! On September, I ended up writing a blog post about their Kickstarter campaign which you can read here. I did the promotion because I was very impressed by the Kickstarter and the product and writing a post was something of a remainder for me to get the product myself when it came out in full.

At the time of the email, Pham told me, "We don’t have any headphone samples ready to be sent out for review since they're still in pre-production." Makes sense. At the time, I was mostly interested in the campaign. Plus having a timeline as to when the headphones would come out of pre-production was very helpful for future check ups quite like this.

Unfortunately, this check up is not a good one.

I've been thinking about the headphones on and off for a year or so now. With everything being hectic, I never had a chance to full on go into what's been going on with the campaign. So let's do a refresh.

The Vrb Headphones Kickstarter launched on August 27, 2014 and had a goal of $16'000. On the 29th, they were already 66% funded. That's incredibly with such an ambitious goal of $16k, especially for headphones.

Now where I come in. I was emailed on September 8th in 2014. I ended up posted the blog entry on the 14th. The campaign was still running strong and had a backing of $36'319, which I corrected as of September 20th. I just want to say that I was not a backer. I was not promised the final product in any way nor did I ask. This was me extending my interests out to what seemed to be an all around well marketed product.

From what I can see, they did continue to provide constant updates to their backers on their Kickstarter. Even though their product was fully funded at $50'518 on October 24th, they still posted updates all the way up 'til April 27, 2015. This is when things start to get a bit muddled.

Their update titles became less cherry, even posting 'Lessons Learned' on December 19th, which does not bode well from an outside perspective. Since I didn't back the product, I can't tell you what was exactly said, but seeing a similar title ("The Lessons We've Learned") on April 27th the following year does not bode well. It's important with every Kickstarter to learn new things, especially when dealing with manufacturers and distributors for a very specific, original product.

However, when I saw the Apr. 27th title, I had a feeling in my gut that this product was forfeit, even if the blog content within doesn't explicitly say as much. If you go to the comments section, a large majority of the most recent comments, one even as recent as a few days ago, has proven my suspicions correctly. A number of the comments say that a lot of the headphones have been given in the wrong colours, that the parcels weren't able to properly pass through customs, and other such complaints. Many of them say that there are zero responses from anyone on the Vrb team.

Sadly, I'm not surprised. There are people out there who give crowdfunding projects a bad name, regardless of how nobly they start out their campaigns. When the complaints started filtering in on their page, it's very possible they tried to swim through the complaints and concerns, but ultimately it shows that they gave up entirely. The only people I feel bad for are, of course, the 433 who were taken for a ride and can't even get their money back.

It's impossible to get one's money back from a Kickstarter campaign. One way I could see them integrating a system is having backers rate the campaign after products were supposedly shipped out. If the complaints and ratings were mostly in the negative, Kickstarter could create a hold charge on the payout account. Of course, that would also insist that you would be unable to remove your payout account (like a bank) while your campaign was active and you had to have a verified account. If your campaign received highly negative reviews after your product shipped out or you went X amount of months without delivering a product, there would be a charge on your account.

Unfortunately, this is merely a thought. I could see that being a messy, hard to implement, hard to enforce, and creating a lot of financial issues for all parties involved. Could it work? Theoretically, yes, but Paypal has proven that the dispute system is full of holes. At least with the way I'm thinking, the refunds would have to be by majority opinion. Unfortunately, again, this is flawed because it's an all or nothing sort of deal. Either the whole is happy or the whole is not happy in a sense.

But I digress. Vrb Headphones is a Kickstarter horror story common to its type. People and companies fall through with their promises and get away with the money. Crowdfunding, in a way, feels more like we're rewarding the bad guys, but I know that's not the case. Kickstarter, Patreon, GameWisp, and other crowdfunded sources are a great way to get creative people where they need to be. There are people out there who want to take advantage of this system and have as we see here with Vrb Headphones.

Since there hasn't been much media movement with the campaign since 2014, it's hard to actually get a hold on the situation at large. We can only tell through the campaign's comments that there are tonnes of people who are incredibly unhappy with the situation.

Their twitter page (@VrbHeadphones) has, unsurprisingly, been deleted as has their Facebook and Instagram pages with the same handle. Julie, who entered me into this suspect world of Vrb, hasn't used her twitter in 2014 (an account that I will not directly link to, but you are free to find it on your own).

I hate that this will not be the last time that something like this happens, but I can only hope that, in the future, there are steps to prevent campaign runners from repeating these types of situations. Instituting the same painstaking financial breakdowns as they do in grants would probably only serve to drive people away from the process. Unfortunately, I don't have answers, but I can hope that there one day will be.

Remember to research and ask questions when you can. If your gut says to not trust something, listen to it and dive as deep as you can. Maybe sit back and watch for a bit before making any final decisions. In the end, all you can do is be safe out there and be financially responsible.

My deep condolences go out to those who supported this campaign. Take care, y'all.

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