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With a hardwood body, mechanical switches & custom-sculpted keycaps, it's a joy to type on. It comes with source code & a screwdriver.
With a hardwood body, mechanical switches & custom-sculpted keycaps, it's a joy to type on. It comes with source code & a screwdriver.
2,073 backers pledged $652,001 to help bring this project to life.

Day 265: A setback

Posted by Keyboardio (Creator)
47 likes

TL;DR: We got dumped. We've had the ceremonial pint of Ben & Jerry's and we’re on our way to finding a new manufacturer. Before you ask, no, there's no Tinder for keyboard factories.

Once we’ve got a new manufacturer on board, we should be able to share a revised timeline for delivery of your keyboard. You can rest assured that we’re not going to compromise on quality and that your keyboard will be as good or better than if we’d continued working with the original manufacturer.

So, what happened?

The first hint that something was catastrophically wrong was when our manufacturer's sales guy, who had left the company months earlier, messaged Jesse on WeChat out of the blue late one night just over a week ago.

"Hey, I'm really sorry that things turned out this way. I feel horrible about it."

And yes, things had been rocky with the manufacturer, but we'd done a pretty good job of mitigating the issue and things seemed to be getting back on track.

When we wrote in November that we were negotiating terms for the Statement of Work, that was 100% true. Then the manufacturer told us that they didn't want to sign paperwork until the design was 'finished.' This sounded a little bit fishy to us, so we asked around. Everyone we talked to in the industry told us that yes, that's a pretty standard thing to hear from a larger manufacturer. They seemed fairly engaged–providing design feedback and even having a partner make samples of our wooden enclosure to prove their capabilities.

In December, things started to slow down a bit–replies were taking longer, but we were still getting enough information to make design decisions as we crafted the production design of the Model 01 around their capabilities.

By early January, we'd completed the electrical design (with the updated LEDs and chips) and handed it off to them for feedback and build-out of the first test boards. Getting feedback was like pulling teeth. And the feedback we eventually got was, roughly, 'yeah, looks fine.' When we asked them about those prototype boards they were going to build, the response was a request for information we'd already delivered to them with the circuit designs.

As February crept up, we still didn't have boards and were still waiting for pricing feedback on mechanical designs we'd presented to them in December. The excuses and explanations varied, but mostly revolved around the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday. They asked us if we'd had prototype PCBs made and if we could send them some.

This was probably about the point that the panic really set in. We reached out to the folks who'd first introduced us to the manufacturer and who were helping us out with project management to express our concerns. They got on the phone with management at the manufacturer, who assured them that yes, they were still super excited about the project and that yes, they would devote more resources to it just as soon as the Chinese New Year Holiday wrapped up. They swore up and down that they'd have a run of prototype PCBs made as soon as they were back from vacation.

So we went on vacation for two weeks, still slightly uneasy, but at least slightly reassured that management was now aware of the issue and had committed to making things right.

When we got back to Oakland, the mechanical engineer was just putting the finishing touches on the CAD and mechanical drawings for the enclosure, feet and interconnect mechanism we'd designed based on the advice and in-house manufacturing capabilities of the manufacturer. At the same time, we reached out to them to ask about those PCBs. They said they were getting us a price and asked if we could send them the firmware and flashing instructions.

We sent them off the final documentation packet and a couple days later, we followed it up with the firmware. When we asked them about the PCB status a few days later, they said they were still evaluating the firmware. That was...not the right answer. So we asked the folks helping us with project management if they could see what was going on, with both the documentation packet and the PCBs.

This was Tuesday, almost two weeks ago. Management said that they were 100% on-board with staffing up our project and that they'd brought the project team lead's boss in to resolve the delay issue. Boards would be produced immediately and we'd get a final quote ASAP.

Once we got that quote, we'd finally be at the point where we could sign the Statement of Work with the manufacturer.

What happened next is unlikely to surprise you.

"Hey, I'm really sorry that things turned out this way. I feel horrible about it," the sales guy said.

“Yeah, it's been pretty rocky for a while,” Jesse said, “But it sounds like things are finally on an upswing. Yesterday, management said they're making team changes to fix things. What have you heard?”

"Oh. I thought you knew. I was texting with a buddy who's still at the company and he told me they'd cancelled the project."

“Oh. Uh. Oh. Uh. Well, that's unfortunate. Thanks for giving me the heads up.”

We reached out to the folks who've been helping us with project management and ended up in a 2am Skype concall. The long and short of it was that they'd reached out to the manufacturer again earlier that day to see how the promised project staffing changes were coming along. The response they got was that the manufacturer had neither R&D nor production resources for us as one of their larger customers was demanding all of their capacity for an upcoming product launch on short notice. The project managers were working to come up with a plan B.

Plan B is basically to rebid the project. That means reaching back out to potential manufacturers with the hopefully-still-final design and an updated bid packet for quotation.

The project management company has spent the week vetting potential keyboard manufacturers. We've spent the week updating the bid packet to contain all the detail a company who hasn't been working with us for the last 6 months would need to fully understand the design and design intent.

Some of the folks we'll be reaching out to are the most plausible backups from Jesse's trip to China last fall. Some of them are the companies recommended by the project management firm. And a few are among the best of the keyboard OEMs Jesse met at CES in January.

It wasn't until this Wednesday that the manufacturer finally took the time to write us a one paragraph breakup note.

We've spent the past week dissecting what went wrong with the relationship and what we could have done differently.

The truth is that they were out of our league. They're one of the biggest keyboard OEMs on the planet and we're one of the smallest keyboard companies. They told us that it didn't matter because they were excited about building a 'premium' keyboard like ours to show off their capabilities.

There's a rule of thumb in manufacturing: If you're not important enough to get face time with the boss, you're never going to be their priority when there's an issue. We thought we'd mitigated this: the folks who introduced us and were helping us with project management had an ongoing relationship with the manufacturer and they had a relationship with the manufacturer's management team. In the end, it sounds like they were as surprised as we were.

The schedule

In November, we told you we were going to be a bit late. We also told you that we weren't going make claims about an updated ship date until we had firm promises from our manufacturing partner and a signed Statement of Work. Given the current state of things, the earliest we'll have a manufacturing partner selected is roughly around the time of the next backer update. This sucks and we hate not having answers for you. The good news While we were naive and oblivious and should have seen the writing on the wall earlier, we weren't completely clueless. The day we sent our production design to those jerks we don't talk about anymore, we also sent the design to StrongD, the prototyping shop we've been working with for the past 18 months to have them build us a full mechanical prototype of the production design, including the feet, hinges, keycaps and enclosure. When we spoke with StrongD today, they said it should ship out tomorrow and be in our hands on Monday or Tuesday. We debated slipping this backer update until we had the unit in hand to show you, but decided that we wanted you to know about the state of things sooner, rather than later.

The good news

The project management folks are getting us quotes for a short run of test PCBs that will let us keep iterating on the firmware and turn the mechanical prototype from StrongD into a fully functioning keyboard.

Firmware

We've done relatively little work on the firmware this month. Most of what we have done has been to set up automated build tests for the firmware and all of the libraries we've written. This has the pleasant side effect of making sure that all of our example code actually compiles (and keeps compiling, even as we improve the code and APIs.)

Money

We've been really careful with your money. Because this is our first product and we're doing this on what many companies would consider a laughably small budget, we've been incredibly conservative with costs and expenses. We have plenty of cash in the bank to make and deliver your keyboards, even if our manufacturing costs are higher than expected.

Onward and upward

Over the next week, we'll be reaching out to the manufacturers on the list we mentioned again, getting NDAs in place and sending out bid packets.

Truth be told, we probably need another pint or two of Ben & Jerry's.

But it's all for the best. We’re better off without them, anyway.

<3 j+k

Jon Hovland, Reza Mahmood, and 45 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Akshay Chandrashekaran on

      This is two out of two times I have seen a Chinese company use the Chinese new year to dawdle on important decisions, and not inform the concerned parties of potentially critical information. I get that it is a vacation, but its just very unprofessional of them. Dunno if others have faced this too.

      Sorry you guys faced this setback. Hope I get this sweet keyboard before I start writing my thesis :)

      Good luck Guys.

    2. annag
      Superbacker
      on

      yay, an update! thank you. it's always good to hear from you. best wishes for better luck in the future.

      i hear what you're saying, that it would be cool for such a keyboard to exist, even if you didn't get full ownership of the project, but i, for one, would far rather have a Keyboardio made by my friends and their partner companies than by other people.

      it's heartening to read the civility of the comments here. i hope you don't have too much trouble with customers as a result of these delays.

      good luck!

    3. Neil Kandalgaonkar on

      Sorry you've had such a setback. Just letting you know that I still believe in you guys.

      I guess this whole new economy, where a pair of dreamers interface with global industrial supply chains, isn't quite worked out yet. But I have faith that you'll blaze this trail eventually.

      I also backed the Roost Stand on KickStarter and they had similar issues, for a much simpler product. It finally got here a couple of weeks ago. Hope it won't be lonely much longer!

    4. Barbie K. Schrick
      Superbacker
      on

      When the wrong people leave your life, the right things start happening. Kudos to you for heading forth with increased knowledge and a positive attitude!

    5. Keyboardio 2-time creator on

      @spaztastic: We did, of course, have an NDA in place with them. As we mentioned in a previous comment, the reason we got dumped was that we're a small player to them--their typical clients are some of the largest computer companies on earth. If the manufacturer got caught playing fast and loose with customer IP, it'd have dire consequences for them.

    6. Missing avatar

      spaztastic on

      You gave everything to a Chinese manufacturer without a contract and then they dumped you? Don't be too surprised if you see something similar out on the market in the not too distant future.

    7. Keyboardio 2-time creator on

      You guys are the best. Thanks, everybody.

    8. Robin Sloan on

      I loved Goutte's comment below, and just wanted to echo this part: "You can never be thanked enough for the respect you show your backers." It's so true, and it's b/c you communicate not only with such honesty but also with such *detail*. Basically: it's exemplary.

      Onward, Model 01!

    9. Mark Allen on

      Just read through the update - it sucks but it happens from time to time. Still have 110% confidence in y'all. Thanks for keeping it real with us even when the news sucks. <3

    10. John Luker on

      @Jimmy Dee: What you said. Probably before the campaign has completed.

    11. SAMUEL SEBASTIAN HOLDEN BRAMAH on

      Hang in there guys!!! It will all work out for the best in the end. I am 100% certain that things will get better now and that it will all go smoothly.

      Keep up the great work and thank you so much for keeping us all in the loop with such thorough updates. I know that facing the music with these things can be really really hard.

      You are very brave.

      You are awesome!!!

      All my love from sunny Valencia in Spain!

    12. Missing avatar

      Gunnar on

      I wish you all the best! Keep going!
      This is the project with the best and reliable updates I ever backed!

    13. Goutte on

      You can never be thanked enough for the respect you show your backers.

      Maintain your honest and transparent stance, even if writing such updates must be taxing for you ; they're everything to us.

      I don't care if the keyboards ship next year ; I care only that it is good and that you survive to make another model (one that can work a while unhooked, on a rechargeable battery).

      I enjoy following your entrepreneurial adventures, and if you ever visit the old continent I'll make sure to meet you when you're in france ! ;)

      I wonder about European key layouts ; custom laser engraving looks pretty hardcore to set up with manufacturers, and there's also not a negligible amount of work involved to collect the user's choices.

      I don't know where you guys are regarding this matter and I bet you have more pressing matters, but still... I guess a single webpage with an interactive view of the keyboard and the ability to set up keys to create and edit key layouts, and share them publicly... It can totally be done quickly in a hackathon ! Just a thought... I'll even participate if not otherwise engaged.

    14. Missing avatar

      Adam Spiers on

      Thanks for the honest and transparent update! Hope you're not too stressed out over this - as you can see, your backers (including me) remain supportive and are happy to wait for the process to complete in the right way. You obviously did everything right so it was totally beyond your control. I'm sure you'll find a more respectful / competent / long-sighted manufacturer to replace them, so it was probably better this way :)

    15. Dezponia on

      To bad but I'm not too fuzzed since you've done a solid job of keeping things under control. Particularly the note in the comments below about not having fronted them any money yet was reassuring and should've been more heavily weighted on in the main post. Also please do a smaller "mini-backer-update" with the new mechanical prototype when you get it in a few days!

    16. Keyboardio 2-time creator on

      Thanks everybody, we really appreciate all of your support. We are still incredibly excited to make your keyboards for you. :)

    17. Keyboardio 2-time creator on

      @Christopher: as it happens, we hadn't actually fronted them a dime. The situation is unfortunate, but it could've been a lot worse.

    18. Keyboardio 2-time creator on

      @Jimmy: while that is always a risk with a manufacturer, we think that is pretty unlikely with these folks. Some of their clients include three of the top three computer makers. We know that they actually take intellectual property pretty seriously. On top of that, if they wanted to do that, they would've been much better off taking our money, making the product for us and just making more of them.

      But hey, if somebody else can make our product cheaper than we can and will pay for all of the tooling, everybody wins. ;)

    19. Missing avatar

      Christopher Browne
      Superbacker
      on

      The parts up to "and soon, Chinese New Year will be over" seem quite consistent with other things I've seen. My employer has had some dealings in China, and there's definitely something of a "discontinuity" of activity surrounding that time.

      It's dismaying, but not completely surprising, that they dropped your project.

      Hopefully there's not much money that was sent to them in return for, well, nothing. That would be really unfortunate.

    20. Missing avatar

      Jimmy Dee on

      Hmm... Let's see: The design, documentation, and firmware were finalized and delivered to a firm in China, right?

      I wonder how long it will be before a remarkably similar product will be offered on eBay and shipped from Hong Kong. Ask Yaesu; they should be able to give you an idea.

    21. Don Armbruster on

      For me, yes it sucks, but I am a patient person.
      For you, it is a learning experience. I am happiest about the fact you have been wise with your resources (there is still money in the kitty). You are a small fish in a big ocean and I feel that you should work with companies that do see you as a nice size fish.
      I am also happy that you are staying with it and working hard to see your idea materialize.
      Good luck to you all.

    22. Ed Poe on

      Ugh, that sucks. We never liked that manufacturer anyway. You're better off without them. And so on.

    23. Chris Conley on

      Thanks for the detailed update about the problems. Some KS projects tend to push back and delay announcing problems... which only compounds things, of course. Glad you're not playing that game.

    24. Robert Hencke on

      So sorry to hear you got dumped by the manufacturer. Thank you for the detailed update - whether it's good or bad news, it helps a lot on the backer end to have a clear picture of where things are at. Hang in there!

    25. ML Hart on

      Wow. Some day, you'll look back on this and laugh. Meanwhile, thanks for the details and staying in touch... and thanks for finding ways around, over and through the obstacles. I know you're going to deliver the most beautiful wonderful keyboard... if it takes a little longer, that's okay. We got your back. Get some more ice cream and try not to stress too much!

    26. Mark Govea on

      ❤️❤️ Thanks for the update, and sorry about the tough break. Screw the deadline, we can wait for a bit longer while you keep cranking. I really appreciate your dedication and transparency.

    27. Missing avatar

      rob vincent on

      thanks, kids.
      you are doing a great job of mitigating.
      yes, we here on 58th can wait a little longer.
      you, and keyboardio, are so worth it!

    28. Missing avatar

      Gareth Townsend on

      Thanks for the detailed update. It sucks what happened, glad there's a backup plan ��

    29. Missing avatar

      Elizabeth Furr on

      Thanks for keeping us all up to date! Man, that sucks that they dumped you/us/the keyboard. I'm pulling for you.