Thaw The Chicken: A Cautionary Tale

by Rick Carlton

It is said, that in the heady days leading up to the first Space Shuttle launch, engineers at Rockwell Aerospace wanted to measure the negative potential of bird strikes on their shiny new spacecraft. In order to produce a test regime that could be quickly measured and replicated, given the numerous sizes and weights of birds the aircraft might encounter in flight, the wonks in Palmdale hit on the novel idea of shooting raw, grocery store chickens at the Enterprise testbed using high-pressure air cannons. Allegedly, the process worked so successfully that the company published a series of technical monographs establishing its essential test requirements, followed by the effort’s detailed metric findings. 

At about the same time, engineers at British Aerospace (BAC) found themselves in the midst of a host of bird-strike incidents resulting in windscreen cracks on the supersonic Concorde. After hearing of Rockwell’s work, and being clever engineers themselves, the BAC bird team decided to adopt and apply Rockwell’s Shuttle test requirements to their own problem, since the American methodology appeared to be generally relevant to their own engineering problem, while also offering a quick way to develop their own high-speed ‘chicken-thumpin’ program. 

Unfortunately, however, things did not go well, since the BAC team experienced different results each time they pumped air through their cannon. After struggling to find a solution, and after relaxing its corporate stiff upper lip, the Brits finally decided to ask for help. Subsequently, a junior engineer was tasked with sending an early electronic BITNET message to the Rockwell team, listing all of the steps involved in the off-shore effort, then closed by suggesting that either the American requirement was in error in someway, or failing that; asking for any remedies they might offer. After a tense wait of several days (engineering is engineering, and competition is competition after all), the young boffin received a short, and entirely Americanized response in turn; ‘Thaw the chicken.’

Now, I can’t prove that any of these events actually happened, but what I do know from my own development experience is that the story of the cautionary ‘chicken-thumpin’ affair is as relevant today, as it may have been in the early 80’s. Why? Because technology has certainly evolved in the last thirty years but, to be frank, engineers haven’t, and well-educated ‘smart people’ rarely enjoy working within the limits of a formal requirement when simply being ‘creative’ is so much more fun. 

If you don’t believe that there’s a concern here, take a look at the qualities of today’s standardized and incremental software methodologies like AGILE, or globally standardized systems development protocols like ISO. The common denominator in both cases is the word ‘standardized’; and why does that word apply specifically and rigidly? Because left alone, engineers will ‘assume a fact’ that doesn’t exist within a requirement’s fine print, in the same way that the BAC team missed Rockwell’s temperature note. In the real world, however, the impact of even a small error, like acknowledging the density difference between an entirely thawed, versus a frozen-as-a-rock roasting hen, frequently costs time and money that a developer doesn’t have. 

In the end of the day, then, if you find yourself facing a go-to-market slowdown you can’t fathom, you might want to go back to the beginning, re-analyze the requirement and initiate a paper simulation to identify the problem before your ‘chicken is entirely cooked.’ Chances are that someone in the development team either didn’t ‘get the memo’ as it were, or more importantly, didn’t think to consider the impact of a small but important ingredient necessary to the entire meal.

10 Kickstarter Projects We Wish Had Offered Equity Shares

By Rick Carlton Special From CFG

For this article, I spent several hours going through the current myriad of active Kickstarter projects. Aside from identifying numerous and easily leveraged equity crowdfunding values, I also came to the conclusion that, for all of its troubles and travails, the human race is a truly wondrous organism capable of creating anything, and usually does.

Here are some of my picks, ultimate final project multiples, and why they could have done better through the application of a DPO raise:

Category: Massive Online Gaming (MOG)
Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues by Portalarium, Inc.

‘Shroud of the Avatar’ is a successor product to Portalarium’s previous work in role play genre.

Stats: 19,310 Backers, $1,495,368 pledged of $1,000,000 goal (Project multiple 1.5X)

Why: As a product category, MOG has proven its worth as a consistent revenue generator. This is primarily due to the intrinsic value of binding and holding one or more committed fan bases. More importantly, and in the case of an equity play, however, the impact of this product’s serialization could have easily assured expanding company/share value over time.

Category: Software Development
Next Generation LiveCode (Open Source)

RunRev Ltd’s effort to convert the current commercial LiveCode programming language to an open-source version is as brilliant, as it is idealistic.

Stats: 3,342 Backers, £493,795 ($757,397.58 USD), pledged of £350,000 ($536,840.50 USD) goal. (Project multiple 1.3X)

Why: In terms of economies of scale alone, the universal ability to provide a simple, easily taught code syntax leading to the creation of new products on-demand, plus the value of directly translating code to app on any of today’s computing devices, cannot be denied. In equity raise terms, this offer could have easily fetched 10X beyond the project’s original goal, and its roll-out and sure adoption by its already significant audience could have quickly secured growth value commensurate with today’s Apple share price.

Category: Hardware Development
NUIA eyeCharm: Kinect® to eye tracking

NUIA’s work on visual interface control is impressive indeed, and offers enormous human-interface value to virtually any industry segment.

Stats: 1,361 Backers, $102,608 pledged of $100,000 goal to date. (Project multiple 0.002X)

Why: This project could have easily gone from being a ‘good idea,’ to a ‘sleeper’ technology fostering world changing value had it been funded properly. Consider this alone: hosts of injured military veterans living with traumatic amputation or partial paralysis regaining the capability to operate complex computing systems well beyond the current generation of voice-only interfaces. This application could have allowed NUIA to fund at 10X or 20X on the basis of an equity raise, and therefore create significant share value for the company, its investors and the people it is able to support.

Category: Food/Personal Gardening
Smart Herb Garden by Click & Grow

This clever garden technology ‘should’ be sold on TV or seen in the ‘As Seen on TV’ aisle at Walgreens or similar stores. The sophisticated growing medium allows the user to simply install a sealed ‘seed cartridge’, pour water in the vessel and viola, leafy stuff grows.

Stats: 4,341 Backers, $245,203 pledged of $75,000 goal (stretch funding is still available). (Project multiple 3X)

Why: Everyone likes food (sometimes too much), and unless you’re completely out of touch with today’s interest in eating healthy, the Smart Herb Garden’s commercial value could have undoubtedly created scrumptious share prices, along with the fruits and veggies it fosters.

Category: Personal Security
myIDkey: Passwords at the tip of your finger

This is a mobile, voice activated password manager. The system leverages and integrates Bluetooth with a USB drive.

Stats: 3,927 Backers, $473,333 pledged of $150,000 goal. (Project multiple 3.1X)

Why: Although we’d like to believe otherwise, there are people out there that love to steal personal information from other folks, and the problem is only getting worse. Consequently, device security is emerging as one of those first world problems.’ Sooner or later, anyone who operates a digital device will buy one or more products like myIDKey. That said, then, had the manufacturer been offered an equity raise, rather than a project driven play, chances are that the product wouldn’t have had to finish up with a half-million in capital, but instead could have started off with a Series A largess of 10X or more.

Category: Virtual Reality Headgear
Oculus Rift: Step Into the Game

This Irvine California startup caused a stir with its first product Rift, and lead to numerous awards along with a direct commercial integration with Meteor Entertainment’s Hawken game product.

Stats: 9,522 Backers, $2,437,429 pledged of $250,000 goal (Project multiple 10X).

Why: Although Oculus’ Rift product certainly offers direct value to the gaming community, what is more impressive is the product’s potential universality given other more traditional segments including health care, law enforcement and military applications. Consequently, even though the company blew away any competition in terms of Kickstarter dollars, Oculus ‘could’ have done much better than the 10X non-equity raise they ultimately achieved, while applying that cash infusion in order to extended product and company growth over time.

Category: Wearable Computer Hardware
Keyglove Wearable Input Prototype

Designer Jeff Rowberg has created a new hardware interface specifically applicable to the health and injury recovery care segments.

Stats: 95 Backers, $12,474 pledged of $10,000 goal (Project multiple 1.2X)

Why: The Keyglove prototype is configured as a wearable glove able to directly activate the internal interfaces of desk, laptop, tablet and mobile devices, thereby allowing a patient wide range to operate devices that would otherwise be difficult to access. That said, should Rowberg be able to complete his work by delivering a complete ‘productized’ technology, its value could engender enormous market value over time.

Category: Camera Stabilizer
SweepCam UTX

Torsten Scholl has designed a reasonably priced camera stabilization system for nearly every small-scale camera system.

Stats: 44 Backers, $8,910 pledged of $5,000 goal (Project multiple 1.3X)

Why: Everyone loves video imagery, and whether you have a Camcorder, Digital DLR, or Camera-phone, this very simple approach to solving the problem of image wobble and shake, should offer better than expected revenue value over time. The real problem is extending the project’s commercial life by means of an effective product marketing and distribution program as asserted in the project brief. So in this case, rather than completing a raise oriented to the simple completion of the engineering, had he been afforded the opportunity to do an equity raise including a global marketing and sales effort, the project could have produced at least 10X or more, thereby quickly resolving the old age problem of ‘How the hell do you make money from a product now that it’s built.’

Category: Green Power Storage
Velkess Energy Storage

The folks at Velkess have come up with a moderately priced way to complete half of the solar to storage power problem on the basis of mechanical flywheel technology.

Stats: 315 Backers, $56,162 pledged of $54,000 goal (Project multiple 1.005X)

Why: Velkess’ relatively thin and elegant approach affords considerable promise for energy storage in the residential and/or small-footprint building segments. In this case, however, applying an equity raise would have allowed the company to do better than its original project multiple. Had they directed part of their early effort toward a US commercial Solar partnership, producing a complete system at an affordable price, their success multiple could have tripled. This in turn could have attracted a minimum raise value of 10X or more when all was said and done.

Category: Personal GPS Accessory
Leikr: The new Danish designed GPS sports watch

The Leikr is a very clever miniaturized GPS system focused on the personal performance segment.

Stats: 801 Backers, $267,389 pledged of $250,000 goal (Project multiple 1.1X)

Why: Although this product was driven by a sporting play, the final result harbors so much more than simply telling runners how to navigate a route. This finely designed technology is not only relevant to wider markets such as the personal fashion/accessory segments, but lends itself to more utilitarian purposes including law enforcement and emergency services. Given those commercial potentials, and had the company sold the device on the basis of a wider market value, equity investors would have undoubtedly embraced the project by delivering a raise multiple on the order of 5X to 10X of the original goal.

So there you go. I hope my list pointed you toward some interesting companies and products, although owning a piece of your favorite isn’t in the cards yet. Nevertheless, things are changing since to paraphrase Einstein, “if one runs around a tree fast enough, one will catch up with what one is running from sooner or later.” So, in the meantime all we need to do is look for the regulators to ‘catch themselves’ as it were. Once that happens we’ll finally be able to move off the equity dime.