Hi, Kickstarter! Zabosu’s developed an incredible, almost magical service that lets one person actually take control of another person, anywhere in the world there’s a 4G cellular signal. It’s not quite as crazy as it sounds. The person being controlled, who we call an “Actor,” starts our app and sticks their phone in a pocket (or on a lanyard) with the camera facing out to stream live audio and video of their surroundings.
The person controlling them, who we call a “Director,” connects to the stream with a web browser to see and hear everything going on around the Actor, from the Actor’s point of view. The Director also speaks to the Actor using the computer’s microphone and the Actor’s earpiece. Because the Director is paying the Actor, the Actor does what the Director tells them to do. The intention, in most applications, is to make the Actor a human extension, or projection, of the Director into whatever environment the Actor happens to be in.
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Some of the things we imagine Zabosu being used for are sightseeing, running errands, shopping, virtual assistants, gaming, buying a home, remote tradeshow attendance, and technical assistance. There are also situations where you might want to control multiple Actors simultaneously. Let’s say you’re looking for a new office and there are four candidate spaces. You could hire four Actors and send one to each space, even at the same time, to evaluate all the candidates in less time than it would take you to visit even one. Maybe you’re not looking for an office, though. Maybe it’s a wedding venue. Or, a resort for the holidays. You could even assemble an army of Actors and make a bid for world domination (you'd fail, horribly, but you definitely could try).
These are just our ideas, though, and one of the reasons we're using Kickstarter is to find out how others might use Zabosu. In the survey that goes out at the end of the campaign, we’ll be asking you what your plans are for it, so we can better target it for people's intended uses.
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The Zabosu web site will let Directors find and schedule Actors based on relevant characteristics like location, availability and skills. The site also archives the videos, so Directors, Actors and others (we call them “Viewers”) can watch them later.
It’ll also let Actors (who are independent contractors and not employed by Zabosu) create pages for themselves describing where they’re based, what they’re willing to do as an Actor, what they've specifically done for Directors, and so on.
ZabosuConnect, the phone app used by the Actor (only Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” and later at launch) shows them where they are, where they’re supposed to be, what they’re supposed to be doing, and other handy stuff.
So, what does this have to do with Kickstarter? Well, we’re super excited about enabling fun, valuable and unprecedented human interactions, but just because we think this stuff’s cool doesn't mean enough other people will to make it a viable business. That’s where you come in. If we hit our funding goal, we’ll know we’re onto something awesome and will keep working at it. The hardest and riskiest parts are already done (the app is fully functioning at this point). What’s left is all stuff the team has done many times before, so we believe we’ll be able to launch by the end of the year.
[Seen enough already? You know you want to back us to see how this all turns out, so just go ahead and do it. You can always come back and finish this later.]
But there’s a twist to this campaign that you don’t often see on Kickstarter: refunds. You see, we won’t be using $25-and-up pledges for development. That money’s just going to sit in the bank as credits for backers to use with the service. That way, if we've misjudged the balance of the project, and we’re not able to launch by the end of the year, we’ll be able to refund most of your money because we won’t have spent it.
Everything that Kickstarter and Amazon haven’t taken in fees (approximately 9% of what backers contribute), will be returned to the backers who have contributed $25 or more. This amounts to about 90% of your contribution. How many Kickstarter campaigns make that promise?
Directors and Actors will both be able to create accounts for free. Actors will set their own rates and Zabosu will collect the estimated charges from the Director (via credit card) at the start of the session. Zabosu will deduct its fee ($5.00 plus 10% of the Actor's fee) from these charges and pass the balance on to the Actor within 48 hours. The delay is to allow Zabosu to issue a refund in the event of a dispute between Director and Actor that resolves in favor of the Director.
Actors and Directors will be able to store for free up to three videos totaling 30 minutes. Additional storage may be purchased at rates still to be determined.
Karl Lautman, Founder & CEO: A graduate of Stanford and the University of Chicago, Karl has over 20 years of experience in sales and marketing as an employee of, or consultant to, many established and start-up high-tech companies, including Intel, Oracle, Motorola, and Nvidia. An accomplished sculptor in his spare time (with work in public, private, and corporate collections), Karl has successfully completed one other Kickstarter project involving the production of over 60 copies of “Primer,” one of his pieces.
Shivakumar “Shiv” Mahadevappa, Video & Apps Architect: While working for a variety of companies like LG, Shiv has built streaming stacks, IPTV platforms, and transcoders, and has extensive experience creating products which are used by millions of consumers. His areas of expertise are streaming and coding video/audio, cloud environments, distributed and parallel computing, CDN distribution, scaling, and mobile. Do not play chess with him. You will lose.
Risks and challenges
In terms of basic functionality, everything is already done and working except the e-commerce portion allowing us to charge Directors and pay Actors. That's easy and will take less than a week to implement. Most of the remaining work will focus on cleaning up the user experience on the phone app and web site, along with lots of testing, testing and testing!
One area of risk is how the site will respond to the load of increasing numbers of Directors and Actors. While everything that doesn't happen on the phone takes place in Amazon Web Services, and is designed for scalability, we're not able to realistically simulate hundreds or thousands of simultaneous sessions. Our plan is to let increasing groups of backers into the system (starting with $50 backers and then $25 backers, in pledge-date order) every couple of weeks once we launch, allowing us to manage the growth and plug any leaks as they appear.
Another area of risk doesn't have to do with us as much as the Internet. Latency (the time between somebody saying or doing something and when the other person sees or hears it) on Internet audio/video depends on many variables that are out of our control. In our experience, we've often seen latency of 1 - 2 seconds (which is quite usable), but it can be over 5 seconds (which makes communication virtually impossible). We continue to explore ways to consistently reduce it further, but until we have data from many people on different cellular networks (which will still only comprise some of the variables), we're not going to be able to make any general statements about what your experience will be like.
Lastly, since Actors will set their own rates, and we don’t know what those will be yet, we can’t tell those of you pledging as Directors how much Actor time your pledge will actually buy. Based on conventional errand services, plus cellular data charges, we expect to see Actor rates in the $20 - $30/hour range, but we just won’t know for sure until the service launches. We may also offer a way for Directors to post how much they’re willing to pay and let Actors accept what’s being offered.
So, that’s Zabosu. An incredible way to do things you’ve never been able to do before. Help us make it a reality by pledging now. We can't do it without you.
So, you think you want to be an Actor, huh? Here's a way to ease into it. Pay $25 now and the first $22 of Zabosu fees you incur as an Actor will be covered. Backers at this level will be granted access to Zabosu after all $50 backers (but ahead of the general public). And, if we meet our funding goal but aren't able to launch by the end of the year, we'll refund $22 of your pledge (see project text for details).
You know you want to be a Director but just want to dip your toe in the water first. No problem. This is the pledge level for you. Pay $25 and get $22 of prepaid Actor time. Backers at this level will be granted access to Zabosu after all $50 backers (but ahead of the general public). And, if we meet our funding goal but aren't able to launch by the end of the year, we'll refund $22 of your pledge (see project text for details).
You were born to be an Actor. Here's your chance to step up! Pay $50 now and the first $45 of Zabosu fees you incur as an Actor will be covered. Backers at this level will be among the first to be granted access to Zabosu. And, if we meet our funding goal but aren't able to launch by the end of the year, we'll refund $45 of your pledge (see project text for details).
You want to be a Director so bad you can taste it. You've come to the right place. Pay $50 for $45 of prepaid Actor time. Backers at this level will be among the first to be granted access to Zabosu. And, if we meet our funding goal but aren't able to launch by the end of the year, we'll refund $45 of your pledge (see project text for details).
So, you're just plain crazy for Zabosu. You've already gotten yourself a Zabosu tattoo (ideally on your forehead). We don't care if you want to Act or Direct, you just tell us when we launch. This level was made for you. You'll not only get a $175 credit to use on Zabosu, you'll get a t-shirt. Not just any t-shirt, though. And not just one that says "Zabosu" on it. This has a pocket. A pocket smack dab in the middle, perfect for holding your phone while Acting. And, if you're a Director? Well, you'll just look cooler than a penguin's patootie. Because how many people have a t-shirt with a pocket in the middle? That says "Zabosu?"