Lily, the autonomous camera drone that sold a massive $34 million in preorders, has announced that it will fold.
In an email sent to customers earlier this morning, the startup said that it was unable to raise an additional round of funding which would have allowed it to start production of the drone. So it announced instead that it will be winding down the company, and offering an automatic refund to all preorder customers.
Lily burst onto the global scene in the early Summer of 2015; when their crowdfunding launch video went massively viral…so much so that the company was able to boast $34 million in pre-orders. Since then though, the company’s trajectory had gradually fallen all but flat, which has made the announcement this morning all the more inevitable for those of us who followed their progress closely (full-disclosure: I was one of the many who threw my hat into the ring and pre-ordered way back in July 2015). After 3 launch delays and a complete shift of tide in the goodwill of the adopters as they lost patience watching rival products launching which started to outstrip Lily’s own claims, frankly this is best-case scenario. If you’ve got nothing good worth launching…
Immediate focus today is being placed on the fact that Lily are promising to refund all customers who pre-ordered, and – at time of publication – we have no reason not to believe this will be the full-amount initially paid. However, after another high-profile crowdfunding failure (Lily isn’t even the first high-profile drone to fail), the bigger emphasis and searching questions are surely around the nature of the crowdsourcing/crowdfunding bubble…and how much more damage it will take before people start to see through empty promises.
Whilst the Brit in me finds some satisfaction in being proven right on my assumptions (I cancelled my Lily order 3 months ago, seeing this as the inevitable direction things were heading), it’s also much more a real shame. When Lily first announced the drone it looked so incredibly promising – here was a ‘lifestyle capture solution’ (to steal that phrase from GoPro), which would allow us to pack the camera in our backpacks, head outdoors, and get on with enjoying ourselves whilst our trusty Lily ensured all our greatest (and less great) moments were captured from the air, without any input on the user’s part. No more being the filmer and sitting out runs whilst shooting footage for your friends! Shut up and take my money!
The warning lights started flashing when it became apparent that the drone in their launch video (the one that scored them $34m in pre-orders) was in fact nothing but parlour tricks. What followed was 2 years of sporadic emails, launch delay announcements, and video teasers from the team as they proceeded to build their new product in (what seemed like) an incredibly inefficient and long-winded way. All goodwill of the early-adopters was lost as we saw deadline after deadline missed; and the tech started to fall seriously behind some of the other solutions on the market – the release of DJI’s Mavic essentially sounded the death knell for this product. Watching the social page for Lily that week was actually painful. Whoever was managing their social feeds, my heart goes out to you. To quote Butters when made to filter Cartman’s social feeds in South Park, “It’s a pretty brutal job sifting through all that darkness.“
Hindsight has the magical ability to make everyone an expert in topics that are most likely far more complex than they perhaps realise. That said, the situation Lily have found themselves in today is one entirely of their own creation. I’m normally staunchly libertarian in my views on innovation, but the crowdfunding campaign that had all of us rushing to put our money down was so incredibly dishonest…and if you trade in lies, there comes a point when they catch up with you. At no point before purchasing was I made aware that the product was still in a conceptual stage – simply that pre-orders would be starting in about 5 or 6 months once they’d ‘finalized production’. What followed was the (unsurprisingly) meek announcement by the team that they would be delaying the launch, and providing daily updates on their progress to the website. Looking at these showed a team that were still researching the technology for their end-product, let alone any closer to bringing it to market, already at a point when it was due to be released.
A teaser video launched by Lily half-way through 2016, 7 months after the initial launch date. Doesn’t quite look up to the promises of the sales video, does it?