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Build Nothing

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This article is a continuation of the Build One journey, an long and painful epic of trying to get a 3D printer. It's now been 8 years (or so) and I still don't have a working 3D printer, despite being interested for so long. To be clear, I haven't been waiting on the Build One for that long - that's only been an ongoing fail since 2017.

As the title suggests, it has been 4+ years and nothing has been built, i.e. we still continue to build nothing.

An Update

The most part I am far too busy and disappointed in this project to invest time into checking the project page regularly, especially since the last weekly update was sent by Erik back on January 9th, 2021.

Imagine my surprise when on September 25th, 2021 there is a new update! In the following I will discuss its contents.

Project Status

The following is a breakdown of the abstract (if you like):

The focus of this update is refunds and refund statuses. (If that is all you are after jump to the next section).

As we'll discuss soon, for an update focussed on these things, it's a little light of details!

This remains my focus as production has become even more cost prohibitive. I remain in contact with the factory in China, on good terms with them, and they still hold approximately 50% of the remaining funds. Until recently they have maintained that shipping and acquiring parts was not possible within the budget.

I would hope that he remains on good terms with the factory in China, they are essentially sitting on (a low estimate of) $200k+ USD - I imagine they are very friendly.

Here's the thing - he is essentially saying that he is unable to build the 3D printer at the target price. The design appears to be locked in and I'm sure if he was able to, he would have cost-cut where possible (I believe he even tried this in previous updates). One must then ask - what does this mean for the project feasibility? Surely this is an admittance that the goal is unachievable?

Also, of course the factory is going to insist that it's not feasible - any additional cost is coming out of their potential profit. They also get to hold into a fat stack of cash during this whole time, that they can use for whatever they like. Suddenly, when Erik is talking about taking the money back and to begin refunding backers - now - they are motivated to solve his problem.

Put simply, I think he is being played for a fool. Why didn't they look to replace expensive components way earlier? Why is this only being considered now? Before now, they were simply not motivated to help him solve his issues. It's only now that he is asking for his money back do they actually have a reason to help him.

They recently requested the chance to see if they could produce the printer with alternative parts for near the same budget, they do not charge for their time on this, and I absolutely would be overjoyed if they were now able to do that.

Of course. Look, whatever it takes to get this project across the line. I just wish Erik would be more firm with these people, this quite literally could have been done years ago.

At this time I am not optimistic and have discussed with them returning all remaining funds when/if refund requests require them. While I know many would prefer that I do, I do not feel I can remove the "Wait for production" option until I have exhausted every possibility of providing the product because the alternative is to only offer the partial refund option (to return and document all remaining funds consistent with Kickstarter requirements).

It sounds like the factory very much do not want to hand back the money. In fact, I suspect there will suddenly be a bunch of incurred costs, such as administration, storage, handling, some "already purchased materials", staff time, etc. They will do everything possible to hold onto every dollar stored in their Chinese accounts. Erik will be completely and utterly bent over a barrel on this one too, Westerners have absolutely zero hope going through a Chinese legal system to recover their money. He is very much at their mercy on this one.

If you have already applied for a partial refund, please see the next section.

If you would like to apply for a partial refund please go here: https://www.robotic.industries/orders/resend.php

and follow the link that is emailed to you.

I really wish he would stop offering refunds for a moment whilst he still fails to refund existing backers and is exploring this manufacturing option. The only thing that can possibly happen is that more people take this option and manufacturing becomes less feasible.

Refund Statuses

So now Erik addresses the current statuses of existing refunds...

If you have applied for a partial refund for this project and not yet received a refund complete email, we have added additional status information to the top of your refund contract page (go here to get a link to that page: https://www.robotic.industries/orders/resend.php). This will clearly tell you whether I was able to process a refund via Kickstarter or Paypal, or if I am still attempting to process a refund via Paypal.

It's only been over a year since he begun processing refunds, better late than never I suppose. It's really amazing it has taken this long.

I wanted to check how much I am still invested for and what it says about my current status, but it doesn't look like this can be done without potentially also requesting a refund. Here is the "address confirmation" page though:

Address confirmation page

Address confirmation page

I find a few things interesting:

  1. "We estimate shipments will occur in late Feb 2020" - I wonder if I can still change my address?! Somehow, I suspect I am not at risk of suddenly having a printer arrive at my door.
  2. They are still accepting donations to get this project across the line. I remember that a bunch of people donated $40+ to get an "extra corner support" modification after-part. Some even donated over $100 just to see this finally over. When it came to refunds, it wasn't clear whether they would see all of this money back or not, given that the donations were not stuck in production costs, etc.

If I am still attempting to process your refund, I apologize for this. We have had a variety of issues with both Paypal and our previous business bank. Both created numerous barriers to providing refunds because we were providing more refunds then we had incoming payments.

We have finally been able to move all remaining US based funds to a dedicated refund account at Novo Bank which has allowed us to resume Paypal refunds as well as offer new, faster, refund options detailed in the next section.

Honestly, I feel the pain of PayPal. PayPal deal with a lot of money, and therefore tend to act overly cautious as a payment processor. In reality this translates to them issuing refunds when they shouldn't and holding business account's money for 18+ months (or indefinitely if they like) whilst they figure out whether you're ever going to see it again.

New Refund Options

Due to unforeseen difficulties in providing refunds via Paypal I have added two more options for how to receive a refund.

Yay, new ways to "invest"!

Once you select to receive a partial refund, provide a Paypal email, and sign the contract you will now be given the option of adding information for 1-2 other refund options.

If you have already completed that process you can go back to the refund page to fill in those other options if you would like to.

Sounds overly complicated, but eh. As long as it works for those that choose this option.

One option all backers now have is to receive their refund via Bitcoin transfer. You provide a receiving Bitcoin wallet address and we will send the refund in Bitcoin to that address based on the exchange rate when we last converted dollars to Bitcoin (generally within a few days of the refund). I will cover any fees incurred to convert dollars to Bitcoin or to send the Bitcoin to your Bitcoin address.

Sounds like converting money from one scam to another. Given the Bitcoin market at the minute, this might actually be the only way to convert my virtual money (that may or may not still exist) to something that could potentially be converted back into dollars in the future.

US Based backers will also have an option to receive their refund via ACH transfer. This is similar to how most businesses pay their employees (also called direct deposit) and while most banks do not charge a fee to receive an ACH transfer, we cannot be responsible for any fees your bank charges.

Sounds like the US-backers have been taken well care of. I suspect they made up the majority of backers.

I am completely open to any ideas for other refund methods that might work, the obstacles in the refund process have been extremely frustrating and taken countless hours that I would have much rather spent actually issuing refunds.

Well, this at least sounds like some kind of rationale for the extremely slow refund process. Honestly though, if PayPal has been the bottleneck, I can somewhat understand this.

As for being "completely open to any ideas for other refund methods that might work" - I'm not going to be accepting store credits for a store that's been shutdown for two years or more now.

Missing Refunds

I use every refund option possible to try to get partial refunds to backers. This can be confusing as to where the refund will appear.

Well, this is a little ominous.

Kickstarter Refunds: Kickstarter refunds do not cost us any fees and Kickstarter handles the whole process, so we try this first. For many accounts Kickstarter tells us they can not process a refund. When they can, they charge our credit card the refund amount as soon as we hit "Process Refund."

If your refund was sent (or partially sent) via Kickstarter it should be credited to your original form of payment and appear on your Kickstarter account as well. If your original payment has expired then it should be credited to your new card/account (if you use the same bank/card provider) or sent as a credit check from your previous bank/car provider. If you do not see the refund within a month please contact Kickstarter stating the amount refunded via Kickstarter and asking for how it was refunded and that you have not received it. Kickstarter will not share this information with us, though I am happy to provide any information they need to help you.

I've seen this with some Visa/Mastercard accounts - they are all linked. Not only does that apply to crediting your account, but it also applies to debiting your account. One interesting note here is even if you change cards and cancel a subscription to a service, a company can still charge you with the old card details. Trust me when I suggest this is a pain in the arse.

Stripe Refunds/Refund to original card: Stripe is our payment provider, if you purchased add-ons directly with us using a credit card then we will attempt a refund back to that card. If your original payment has expired then it should be credited to your new card/account (if you use the same bank/card provider) or sent as a credit check from your previous bank/car provider. If you do not see the refund within a month you can contact me for assistance and I can contact Stripe for details of the refund/provide proof of refund for you to show your credit card provider.

Paypal Refunds: When we are able to provide refunds via Paypal they are instant and provided only to an active Paypal account, so there should be not issues with getting them.

Bitcoin Refunds: As we are now able to provide refunds via Bitcoin they are instant and provided only to a valid Bitcoin address that you provide, so there should be not issues with getting them.

ACH Refunds: As we are now able to provide refunds via ACH for US customers, they should appear in your bank account within 7-10 days at most (generally 2-3 business days).

With so many payment methods, it's difficult to believe there is still some processing issues. I think at this point some people out there might accept chocolate buttons as a method of payment for their 50% return on initial investment.

Refund Account/Remaining Funds

This one should be where the gold is!

As mentioned above, I have moved all remaining US based funds to a dedicated checking account for issuing refunds. We will recall our remaining China based funds if necessary to meet refund requests as well.

Well, that sounds like at least 50% of backers have pulled out then. Damn.

The offer of a partial 50% refund is an approximation of the funds remaining including those held by the factory in China.

Where are the numbers? What happened to the other funds?

I have added an addendum to the refund contract (retroactively for all refunds already provided as well) stating that if any funds remain after all refunds and/or production those funds will be divided evenly and paid to those refunded - this is to remain consistent with Kickstarter terms and my ongoing commitment to refund any and all remaining funds with no funds to be kept by me or my companies. I also continue to contribute profits from other remaining Digistump LLC operations to cover transactional costs of refunds.

Not sure you can retroactively amend legal contracts... But in this case it should be beneficial to the investors. Also, if Digistump LLC is handling transaction costs, does this mean that that backers can expect closer to 100% if the project eventually decide it cannot continue?

One thing you will note that has been entirely missing, is actual numbers! Apparently the 50% refund was based on Erik's ability to also put the printer into production. If he's pulling money out of the Chinese accounts, either that means that most people have pulled out or there is not enough money to take the printer into production? If it's the latter, why not issue full refunds to all as best he can?

Other News

A few backers noticed that Robotics Industries LLC was administratively dissolved. I have applied to have our registration reinstated to avoid any confusion about our business status, this was due to a missed report deadline with the state. While I understand this may have caused confusion, and apologize for that, I want to be clear that Digistump LLC, the parent company which holds all remaining US based funds for this project, still exists and has remained continually active. Robotics Industries LLC's registration should be reinstated in the next few weeks at most.

I'll believe it when I see it. Even if we assume Erik acts in good faith, we are yet to see him actually accurately give any kind of timeline for when things will happen.

Missing Content

Now that we have covered Erik's update, let's discuss some things that were missing:

  1. Sticking production points - What is actually between this project and going into production? What part costs too much? There is an incredible community of people hidden in the backers, why not lean on them? There's a good chance they collectively know something he does not. I think if you gave them a chance, they may even be able to redesign some parts of the printer to get it through the door, free of charge.
  2. Account amounts - Let us see the numbers! We still have zero idea of exactly how many people have opted for refunds and how many are still in. Until we have some numbers, we cannot address the next point meaningfully.
  3. Discussion on feasibility - Is this project still feasible? Let's take a rain-check and figure out whether it can be completed. Is there enough money left? Is it likely parts will reduce in price in a reasonable amount of time?
  4. Updated timelines - What decisions will be made and when? How long will the factory be given to produce something? 1 month, 6 months, 4 years? When do we call it a day? And if some solution is found that allows us to move forwards, let's see some realistic estimates going forwards too.
  5. Open source - One of the commitments Erik made was to open source the project. There's a very real possibility that some of the better hackers in the group will be able to build the printer before he ships it. I personally may just about have the resources and expertise to actually build the printer right now. All I need are the files. He could even just ZIP them and dump them in GitHub. It's even weird that he has not yet done this... I suspect that this project isn't as complete as he makes out... We are still yet to see the modifications in action!

Comments

These are selected comments from the update post.

@Mike Doragh:

@Erik, Thanks for delivering an update (albeit long overdue). I would guess there are still a few outstanding questions people are waiting for answers for...

Just a few?

  • Digistump Store Credits -what is the timeline for re-stocking the store?

Right, a bunch of people took the "let it ride" option (a callback to the Fyre Festival). They are still waiting to spend these Digistump coins.

  • Your time availability - at one point you were working on this project fulltime (or more!), whereas now you have a fulltime job (and your family too), so presumably your time availability to resolve these issues is much deminished. It would be good for us as your backers/investors to know what sort of time you have to work on these issues. (My guess would be varies from week to week, with a few hours some week, and then gaps of a month or more where you get too busy with LIFE - but you haven't said, so we can only guess). I think as your backers/investors, we deserve to know this, so we can make an informed decision whether to wait for the printer, or request a refund.

Again, the point of feasibility. We still do not know whether this project even can still be completed. I'm starting to suspect it cannot be.

  • When should we next expect an update? (even if it is just to say "Still alive. Nothing to report. More next month"). Although ideally you would address the Store restock and time availability questions in the next update! ;)

It better not be another 8 months!

For what it is worth, I am waiting still. Although I continue to reassess that decision and might change my mind eventually.

As may we all. I really want to see more communication, even if it's simple "nothing to report" - just an indication that he is actively working on this project.

@hair10 (Superbacker):

I asked for a partial refund nearly a year ago (on 10/17/2020) and never received it. And now you want me to give you my bank info? Lol. Yeah, right.

TODO

Kickstarter Comments

These are selected comments from the main Kickstarter page.

@first-trickstarter=LAST-TRICKSTARTER:

Today exactly one year ago (Update #95) the lying toad statet:

"I have been cleaning up the source files as time has permitted for this, and I sincerely hope to get them all on Github next month."

One year later:

https://github.com/digistump/BuildOne

Yep! I would really like to start making one of the 3D printers out here with the resources I have. There's a very real possibility I have the resources (minus time) to begin building a replica printer.

If that's the case, the community can begin assembling, improving and possibly even help contribute to the cost reduction exercise. Zero of that will be possible though if there is nothing to work with!

@Chuck Perdue:

Back when this started a $99 3D printer was an awesome idea. Now you can get a 3D printer off amazon for $150. For what I pledged to this kickstarter I could buy a really nice 3D printer and laser engraver.

True. Whatever arrives now will be insanely outdated compared to what the same money will buy today.

@Beverley Hollis:

I’ve stuck with this since the start, and, crazy bitch that I am, I’m still sticking with it.

I'm not sure if I'm now stuck in a long-ball success project, or a slow and painful death spiral. Either way, I will continue to ride this bull as long as I can!

Wishful Think (Revisited)

Addressing my hopeful outcomes from the previous post:

  1. Box of parts -- At this point I would simply suggest to drop the power supply and ask each person to buy their own, that way you save on shipping weight and printer cost. Go back the design with a standard barrel jack and each person should be able to find something suitable. You never technically promised a power supply, so it could be a compromise to get this thing delivered.

I still agree with this point. I remember the power supply was external, really expensive (due to power and safety requirements) and really heavy. It's entirely reasonable that people could source one locally. If you want to be kind, throw in a DC fuse to prevent people burning down their houses. Job done.

Having the printer arrived disassembled also means that the packaging requirements are significantly reduced, and further reduces the costs.

  1. Open source -- At the very least, this project should be open sourced, especially if it doesn't deliver. It's entirely possible somebody can pick it up, modernize it and deliver it. There are still some really nice features that are interesting, especially to the open source community.

I still very much agree with this point. We can't help unless you throw us something.

  1. More updates -- Whatever happens, please just inform us. Good news, bad news, no news, it's fine. Just touch base and let us know that you're still thinking about the project. It's not hard. Early on we got updates from Erik that also included his personal situation, such as a fire near his home. This helped people understand exactly his situation and work with him.

For the love of god, update more. The previous update was 8 months ago. Please communicate!

  1. Reach out -- The backers are not your normal consumers, some of these people are literally industry experts. Lean on them, they want to see this delivered too. The sooner you so this, the sooner people can even help patch and improve your designs. It should remove stress if done properly, for example, send a prototype to somebody in the US to help you update the very lacking wiki. They could even do some videos of the printing process for you, something you've not been very good at providing lately.

Again, open source the project and let us help. Whatever state it's in, let's at least get some value out of it.