When David Hall’s sister was involved in a life-threatening bicycle accident, he and Jordan Klein came up with a great idea: a foldable bike helmet that looks and feels like a baseball cap. The two graduates of Virginia Tech’s engineering program developed an award- winning prototype that led to $1 million in seed money from venture capital firm Third Sphere.
Their new company, Park & Diamond, based here in Brooklyn, then launched an Indiegogo campaign. The goal was to raise $50,000. Fast-forward five years, and with over $3 million in Indiegogo contributions, additional rounds of seed money and the help of MINI-funded accelerator program Urban-X, Hall and Klein have raised over $5 million. And to date, they’ve produced a grand total of zero bicycle helmets.
As an avid cyclist who has been waiting for a product like this and, more importantly, as someone who handed over $84 to the Park & Diamond cause, I wanted to know, What happened?
Crowdfunding, like any business venture, is a risk. An independent study by the University of Pennsylvania found that only 9 percent of Kickstarter campaigns fail to deliver rewards as promised. And yet a quick scan through the Reddit subthread r/shittykickstarters suggests that everyone is a dumb, lying, thieving, scam-artist criminal. Surely, the truth lies somewhere in between. I reached out to Indiegogo, Kickstarter and Park & Diamond, along with some of my fellow frustrated backers on Reddit, to find out more.
Indiegogo does not provide in-depth statistics, and an email to Customer Happiness (a real department, apparently) returned only generic answers and links to its Trust & Commitment pages. Over the years, both companies have implemented more oversight to curb fraud and scams. Kickstarter is way ahead in this department and provides annual reports called Public Benefit Statements. Indiegogo? Not so much.
“I knew immediately P&D faced major hurdles to bring their concept to reality,” said Jim McIIvain, former Bell Helmets manager and an editor of bicycle and motocross magazines, to me via email. McIIvain has been covering the Park & Diamond updates on his site, Jimmy Mac On Two Wheels.
McIIvain is skeptical, but doesn’t think it’s a scam. For the record, neither do I. Two ambitious guys may have gotten in way over their helmeted heads in a field they had no prior knowledge of or experience in. But when it comes to transparency and communication, David Hall and Jordan Klein have failed. According to Indiegogo, the duo even stopped responding to the company when asked to prove their claim that the helmet was created by former Space-X engineers.
Call me naive, but I did expect more accountability from these young, scrappy upstart entrepreneurs and the platforms that hosted them. Companies these days are easier than ever to reach, but true results seem harder to come by. Face-to- face customer service has been replaced with email departments called Customer Happiness — a cute name, but not much else. It’s a new sticker on an old product.
I shudder every time I reach out to any company that has anything resembling a “Happiness Engineer” because it won’t be long before I’m transferred to some “Customer Care Ninja” named Tristan from the “Dept. of Sick Shreds” to further assist me. And when he invariably tells me, “Sorry bruhhhh,” I’m going to see right through it, even if the only thing he grinds harder than his trucks are data points.
Kickstarter has made improvements little by little over more than a decade. Its most recent is the Community Advisor Council, made up of creators who have succeeded on the platform. This is good news, but again, it doesn’t give the backers a voice. Maybe schedule a Zoom meeting with the members of r/shittykickstarters and get some fresh eyes.
In January of this year, Indiegogo suspended Park & Diamond and put it “under review.” I figured since P&D and its accelerator, Urban-X, are both located in Brooklyn, I’d jump on my bike, strap on my, ahem, non-foldable helmet and pedal on down to get answers the old-fashioned way: in person.
Located in a converted warehouse turned shared workspace called Newlab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the office’s weathered brick and patina-coated steel beams provided a sharp contrast to the New Balance- and Patagonia-clad programmers staring into their MacBook screens. The stillness and blue-hued faces made for a dystopian and unsettling scene. The Urban-X doors were locked. A front-desk attendant said they come in maybe once a week. A subsequent email through the Urban-X website went unanswered. So I biked down to the Park & Diamond offices on Prospect Street in Dumbo. The building was covered in “for lease” signs. No directory or front-desk attendant were in sight. A subsequent email to the P&D marketing director remains unanswered. I’ve also tried connecting with the founders through Facebook and LinkedIn. Nada.
I doubt I’ll ever get that foldable and stylish helmet. In fact, Indiegogo has started issuing refunds on behalf of P&D, something its Trust page on its site claims it never does. An email for clarification delivered yet another vague and generic response. Since getting a refund removes you from the campaign and locks you out of all future updates, I’ll pass. I’m in it till the end!
When it comes to foldable helmets and other protect-you-from-death ideas that sound too good to be true, I’ll stick to going to my local Brooklyn shops. Some of my favorites are R&A Cycles, Haven Cycles, Roy’s Sheepshead Cycle Shop, Hilltop NYC Bicycles, 718 Cyclery and newcomer Eighth Hour Bike Studio.
As for crowdfunding, this was my fifth contribution. I backed Hypnos: the world’s best sleep hoodie, the Field Pen and the Wandrd Roam sling bag, which was late, but still a great product. I’m still a believer. In many industries, the gatekeepers are gone. We have more choice with our dollars from the ground up. Things aren’t perfect, but innovation and success are ever evolving — born from the eternal clash between old and new. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But here’s an idea: Someone crowdfund a new crowdfunding platform. I’ll back you.