Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Crowdfunding a Super-Smartphone

Well..... it's been a while since I posted here. I like to think I took a little sabbatical for the past four months. Most of my summer was spent on the road so it feels pretty good to be back at home for at least a little while. Even though I was not posting here I was still keeping up with technology and the business of technology.

Today I wanted to write a bit about a company called Canonical that's run by Mark Shuttleworth. You may not have heard of Mark or Canonical but you probably have heard of a version of the Linux operating system called Ubuntu that Canonical makes. Ubuntu is used on millions of servers around the world - basically big high horsepower computers used to host websites, etc.

Mark has this idea to launch what many call a super-smartphone - basically a tablet computer that has all the functionality of a PC called the Ubuntu Edge.  Now, Mark happens to be a billionaire but decided back in July he wanted to crowdfund the project to the tune on $32 million using the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. Well long story short, Mark failed - at least with the crowdfunding idea. Canonical raised a little under $13 million ($12,813,501 to be exact) of the $32 million Mark was looking for.

The phone that was spec'd sounded pretty nice - a multi-core processor (fastest on the market), at least 4GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, a sapphire crystal screen (only a diamond can scratch it), a high capacity silicon anode battery, GPS, gyro, accelerometer, proximity sensor, compass, barometer, HDMI interface for TVs and monitors, dual-LTE, dual band 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4, and near field communications.

I found Mark's crowdfunding approach interesting because with Indiegogo there are two options - an all or nothing approach (that's the one Mark picked) or the second option where the company keeps everything pledged whether the stated goal is met or not.

Why did it fail? Mark may have been asking for too much. Donors that wanted to get one of the first phones made were required to pledge at least $725. Initially the campaign set crowdfunding speed records but in the end stalled once the buzz wore off.

Is it over? For Canonical it may be for now. Mark has said he will not use his own funds for the project. But Mark is not the only one with  super-smartphone desires - on July 16 (when I was in Poland right next door) Alexey Miller, chief executive officer of a Russian natural gas exporter called Gazprom offered to pay $3.7 million to anyone who could come up with one.

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