Start-ups fail every day, but the downfall of Skully will leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths. The business was a genuine crowdfunding success, raising more than $2 million on Indiegogo and earning the praise of motoring enthusiasts, marketers, and technology hackers around the world.
The concept was brilliant in its simplicity – take cutting-edge car technology, and put it in a motorcycle helmet. The end result, was a helmet that had a built in heads up display that allowed the rider to see speed, fuel and GPS without lowering their head. It also had an ‘ always on,’ rear vision camera, so that the motorcyclist could get a clear view for what was behind them, essentially removing all blindspots. It also had built-in phone and audio options, making the Skully a revolution in technology application, but not in technology itself – the magic of innovation without the teething problems.
Through it’s crowdfunding campaign alone, Skully was able to raise over $2 million, on an initial goal of $250,000. The resulting hype, meant international news channels picked up on it and expectations were high of a new tech success story, carving out a meaningful and effective niche in the motorcycle world. However, rumours of CEO and co-founder Marcus Weller, being difficult to deal with and making decisions outside of the executive team, including with regards to potential acquirers, made headlines a few months ago. Add to that the hiring of an enormous staff and expensive suppliers, potentially prematurely, and you have the traditional Silicon Valley recipe for disaster.
Weller has since been unceremoniously dumped from his own company, and has refused to sign the traditional confidentiality agreement – preferring instead to talk to the media and spread malicious rumours about the executive team, investors and even the product itself.
The sad news for the almost 3000 investors who pre-ordered their Skully helmet, is that they are unlike to see a return on their investment, or receive any refund at all. This is bad news for the crowdfunding industry, and fast growth businesses in general, many of whom, including Buffer and Zenefits have been forced to trim their excessive workforces down to a more reasonable level.
But all is not lost for Skully, or rather, there is still a glimmer of hope. The product itself has an excellent profile, and as a result many investors are still interested in picking it up. The question remains, if anyone will take on the obligations of the existing business or simply wait to purchase the technology in a fire sale.
Whatever the case, Scully is another great example of a very good product, combined with a very bad business and a CEO who simply couldn’t take direction from smart people.