Crowdfunding sites makes copied-in-China even easier: All is needed is a Photoshopped image

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Pressy Button, a small gadget for Android devices, landed on Kickstarter in August 2013. It drew much media attention as it met its fundraising goal in a single day. Two months later the project ended up with more than 7 times of its goal in funding from more than 28 thousand contributors.

pressy

Before long Pressy would come across many Pressy Buttons on Alibaba.com, the marketplace ran by Alibaba Group for Chinese to sell goods overseas. The search query “Pressy” returns a lot of results featuring Pressy Button. None of them, of course, is by Pressy team.

Pressy aren’t sure whether those sellers will really re-sell their products or just want to see if there’s demand. Or, they are making counterfeits and want  them to surface as results when potential customers search for Pressy Button on Alibaba.com. Not only on Alibaba.com, Pressy also found out similar projects on other crowdfunding platforms.

Pressy, like many nowadays makers, outsourced a component to a Chinese manufacturer. But the team don’t think that has much to do with the quick emergence of counterfeits, for they don’t believe those sellers on Alibaba or some other crowdfunding platforms have already had the product in their hands but just the idea.

One Pressy backer from China who pledged $20 or more recently was attracted to a project named Quick Button on Demohour, the Chinese Kickstarter, for it is almost the same with Pressy in shape and function.

Quick Button claims there are over 50 features tailored for Chinese users, but it only lists ten features on its Demohour page that are almost the same with Pressy’s ten on Kickstarter. The minor differences include 1) instead of enabling checking in on social networks, Quick Button shows group-buying or restaurants nearby– it doesn’t say which third-party apps it gets content from; 2) while Pressy helps instantly close all running apps, Quick Button thinks such an gadget should be used for opening apps.

Quick Button claims its team began with demand analysis and feasibility study in March 2013 and it’s the world’s first of this kind. But there isn’t a real thing in any images (as you can see below) or the intro video on Quick Button’s Demohour page.

Quick Button (image: demohour.com/projects/336815)

Quick Button on Demohour

Quick Button got onto Demohour in mid-December 2013 and got successfully funded one month later with 20 times of its target amount of funding from 2432 backers. Most of the 9 team members, according its Demohour page, are from Shanghai Jiaotong University and Harbin Institute of Technology, two of the top colleges in China.

Qihoo, the largest free security and web browser provider in China, announced Smart Button last week. Based on its own intro, the features of Smart Button are almost the same with Quick Button — Yes, including those differences from Pressy’s.

Qihoo Smart Button

Qihoo 360 Smart Button — just an image,too

Qihoo said the project came out of an internal contest for engineers and was designed by four fresh college graduates. The button will be produced by a third-party manufacturer. Qihoo plans to sell the gadget at a price lower than 10 yuan (a little more than $1.5).

Pressy felt surprised the idea traveled so far and got adopted by such a big Chinese Internet company. They don’t know that’s what’s happening in China everyday. The next thing after the Qihoo Smart Button announcement, unsurprisingly, is local media began to ask Quick Button how they’d fight against such a behemoth.

Even if Quick Button didn’t lie about the time when the idea popped into its parent developers’ mind, having some pictures or a fancy video on a crowdfunding site really doesn’t mean anything. The interesting fact is Quick Button posted an apology note on Demohour on Jan. 19th, for they couldn’t deliver the promise that the gadget would be shipped one month after the funding was finished. Their reason is all the 10,000 something buttons produced are defective, for employees at their partner manufacturer, so eager to travel home for Chinese New Year, ‘did shoddy work and used inferior materials’ .

Quick Button postponed the shipping date to Feb. 20th and Qihoo’s Smart Button see itself will be shipped in the same month, the coming March, with Pressy Buttons.

Let’s see who’d be the world’s first to ship then.

Chinese web developers were notorious for making pixel-to-pixel copies of western Internet products. Now with crowdfunding platforms, copycats can get funding and early users even before they can make a product. For ideas that were first exposed to the public like Pressy, one terrible thing could be the late comers who adopt their ideas ship products, good or not, even earlier than them. So far Pressy don’t think those counterfeits have had real products ready.

Crowdfunding ecosystem doesn’t seem like a place that copycats can get away with. Backers are so important to the ecosystem. It’ll be interesting to see the reactions of backers whenever they find out the idea they back with money and love is actually stolen from elsewhere. Greedy venture capital may don’t care to invest in a mere copy, but backers of ideas on platforms like Kickstarter are not only for certain products or returns. The Chinese backer of Pressy said he’d ask for refund right away if the product turns out to be a counterfeit.

Also, backers are likely to place high hopes on those ideas. Some backers of Quick Button — it’s unclear whether they are aware it’s a copycat — now are calling the team cheaters for the undelivered promise on shipment.