DRUM ROLL PLEASE!! CARBON FLYER IS SHIPPING!!!!!!!
I come to you with the news we’ve all been waiting for... The Carbon Flyer is shipping!!!!.
Despite countless breakdowns, miscalculations, mistakes, and misfortunes, we have persevered and are now beginning to ship to our backers, like you.
As you may remember, we ran our original crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in November of 2014. That’s right, 5 years ago! Our plan at that time was to ship within a year. Well, it goes without saying, we were super over-confident and off by a mile. But here we are at last.
I know you may have doubted us, and rightfully so, but I want you to know it was the support and encouragement of those of you who understood what we were up against, that kept us going. Thank you for your support, understanding, and unending patience.
If you happen to be a backer who was not as supportive, understanding, and patient, thank you for your feedback, too. All of the responses have gone into hard-won lessons for us.
Current Delivery Timeline & Details
The Carbon Flyers are being assembled in my home in Ohio by myself and a small team of 3. Each one is assembled by hand and is a beautiful work of technological art. They barely resemble the small and simple product that was presented in the original campaign.
We have already produced our first 250 planes and will begin shipping them this week! This will be followed by regular shipments of planes as we work to fulfill our backer reward pledges.
We have the vast majority of the components we need to complete all the backer planes and then some. The remainder of the components are ordered, paid for, and delivering in early October. The speed of our fulfillment will be determined by our assembly output capacity and how fast you confirm your address. Right now our output is about 320 planes per month. We should get faster over time.
Our plan is to fulfill domestic orders first so we can get the most planes out the fastest. We will reach out to backers in the order of their backing to confirm addresses. Expect to receive an email from us to confirm your shipping address in the next 60-90 days.
We will then ship the planes in the order that backers confirm their addresses, as we work our way through the backlog. Once we have completed the domestic orders, we will start working away at the international orders. Our goal is to have all the domestic planes shipped before the end of the first quarter of 2020. International orders are going to take longer as we sort out the logistics and expense.
If you are waiting on carbon fiber coasters, don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten those. With other priorities finally handled, we are looking for a source now and will be sending them separately once we find the right manufacturer. If you ordered stickers, those will be coming along as well.
Meanwhile, we will be re-opening the Carbon Flyer e-commerce site and running ads to sell some Carbon Flyers now that we have a reliable supply chain. Creating some positive cashflow is critical to being able to fulfill all of the backer pledges sooner than later. The more income we bring in, the faster we can afford to assemble and ship the rest. Please support this effort. Positive comments, messages and vibes, sharing our posts, and posting about your Flyer once you get it, all help.
The Final Version of Carbon Flyer
As has been outlined in previous updates, the final plane ended up different than we originally conceived. We made several hard design decisions as we progressed to production. On the whole, it is a much more refined, much more substantial, much higher-end product than we presented in the original Indiegogo campaign.
Here are the key differences:
1. The final model is bigger with a more advanced aerodynamic design. As we sought to improve flight performance, the plane got bigger to provide more lift. We also added some shape to the wings to provide more lift and control. It is more than double the size (with more than double the carbon fiber) than what we originally scoped out
2. The camera is gone - As we have previously shared in our updates, the camera turned into our biggest challenge and obstacle in the Carbon Flyer’s development. In the end, we have had to completely abandon the camera feature in order to move the project forward. This is unfortunate, but the camera was an afterthought accessory and it nearly tanked the entire project. More about the challenges with the camera development process below.
3. The onboard charger is replaced with a separate charger - the original design had the charging circuit on the camera board, so when we removed the camera, we also lost our charging circuit. Therefore, in order to provide a means to charge the battery, we designed and built our own USB charger for it, and this is included with your plane!
4. The Android App is currently out of commission and it is iOS only for now. We fully intend to get the Android App working again, but since the vast majority of our backers have iOS devices, we have focused there initially. Android changes regularly, requiring updates to keep an app working. As we have faced delays, we have not been keeping the app up to date for obvious reasons. Now that we are shipping it makes sense to update. Once we have some cashflow coming in, this will be one of our first priorities
We think you will find the final product is a thing of beauty, and we take great pride in it. It is not a mass-produced item made by zoned out workers on an assembly line. Each one is a carefully assembled piece of craftsmanship. The thermo-formed carbon fiber body panels are made one at a time in a carbon fiber factory with engineers working on every unit, which must be laid into their mold by hand and baked in a commercial oven for over an hour, then left to cool overnight.
The carbon fiber body panels and all the other components (plastic, metal, motors, batteries, and circuitry) are then shipped to Ohio, where we lovingly assemble them in my basement and garage. Assembly requires over 60 discrete steps, many of which require skill to execute with excellence. There is over 1 hour of handwork in every plane. Every plane is tested to connect to an iPhone and the motors are revved up to make sure it’s working properly before we package it. See the video on our website showing the assembly of a Carbon Flyer.
The greatest breakdown for us was the development of the camera on Carbon Flyer. What was presented to us originally as a simple addition by the electrical engineering and supply firm we hired to do the electronics for the Carbon Flyer, turned out to be a major problem that nearly destroyed the project. The micro-voltage environment of our ultra-lightweight plane, created a situation where every time we would touch the throttle the camera would turn off, preventing them from working.
Trying to get around this roadblock cost us 2 years and many tens of thousands of dollars. We ultimately succeeded, by bringing on an electrical engineer (EE) and designing a voltage stabilizer circuit to sandwich between the camera and the Bluetooth control board. While this worked, it was not originally in the design and there were problems with it. Its addition created tons of quality control issues and defects as the boards were retro-fit. It also cost extra, both in and of itself, as well as with extra assembly and testing time.
In the meantime, the Standard Definition (SD) sensor was discontinued by our camera supplier, and we could not find a replacement that would work with our existing Bluetooth circuit boards. It became clear we were going to have to abandon the SD version. Then, to top it all off, our electronics supplier went out of business (as previously reported) and they discarded our entire HD camera inventory and all of our voltage stabilizers, at the same time they discarded 5,000 Bluetooth control boards worth over $100,000! Our lawyer informed us that we had no chance of collecting any damages and we just had to write it off.
At first this news made me want to throw in the towel. I considered it, and was advised by several of my advisors that I should. But then I thought of all the time and money already invested and all the disappointed backers, and the lesson I would be showing my son, and instead doubled down on my resolve. Plus, despite everything, I still loved the product! I had always said, as long as I could see a path forward I would keep going. So we kept going.
As we charted our path forward after this tragedy, we determined the only way we would have a chance to ship any of the planes was to abandon the camera altogether. Therefore, that is what we did. The truth is, the camera was an afterthought addition that was a novelty, and since the Carbon Flyer zooms rather than hovers, the video is shaky and unrefined, unusable for most purposes. My biggest regret in this project was the inclusion of the camera, which led to so many breakdowns. Ironically, we actually figured out the engineering, but then had to scrap it for economic reasons in the end. Bottom line: there are no cameras. Other bottom line: you won’t miss it. The fun is in flying it!
The Journey That Brought Us Here
For a recap of the adventure that led us to this point, and to attempt to answer the question of what took so damn long, following is a summary of the journey.
Most of this was being reported as we went along, except for the last couple years. Some people have asked why we stopped reporting regularly. Frankly, the reason why is that with each post, we would get dozens of angry and abusive messages, some very dark, telling us that we were liars, incompetent, scammers, etc.. We got loud and clear the message that the only news they wanted to hear was that we were shipping. This was also, to be honest, the only news we wanted to share. While we understand that people were frustrated, it was not helpful to our own morale to digest these angry messages, and as my team dwindled until it was just me and my assistant actively working on it, we chose to focus our limited bandwidth on moving the project forward, not provoking and responding to angry emails. I can leave it to you to decide whether you understand or approve of my reasoning on this, but I hope that explains it.
Although it may not have felt like it, we have been working steadily the entire time, committed to seeing this through, and delivering. With our very small team and resources, things take much longer than it might if we had a full team and endless capital. Also, believe it or not, we have invested TWICE the amount we raised through backers like you to see this project to the end. My motivation is to finish what I started, be my word to the best of my ability, and to deliver a worthy product.
Here is a recap of the timeline:
- May 2013 - The idea is born
- March 2014 - A working prototype is made
- Nov 2014 - Campaign launched
- Dec 2014 Campaign ended
- Jan-Nov 2015 Engineering and design: custom app development, airframe designed and redesigned, sourcing company hired, custom carbon fiber material developed, motors sourced, Bluetooth programmed, PCB sourced, molder identified, 2 trips to China made, prototypes made, more prototypes made, Fedexing back and forth to China, patents filed, engineers hired, samples made, FCC testing, website built
- June 2015 Tooling and molds ordered
- Dec 2015 - Original target shipment date
- Feb 2016 - 1st run of 20 from China
- March 2016 - Discovered camera problem - tried to troubleshoot with existing supplier
- April 2106 - Dec 2016 Camera struggle bus
- Aug 2016 - Hired/partnered with local electrical engineer to solve camera problem - much back and forth
- Sep 2016 - Camera problem solution created with voltage multiplier
- Oct 2016 - Aug 2017 Worked to implement voltage multiplier
- Aug 2017 - Ordered first batch of Carbon Flyers for shipment with voltage multipliers
- Oct 2017 - First shipment of 100 planes received from China and sent to Backers
- Nov 2017 - Cash crunch - Our suppliers refused to ship less than 3000 planes minimum order quantity. This required more capital than we had access to and I spent the next year trying to raise capital.
- Sept 2018 - We decided to ship all the components we had on hand and move assembly to Ohio. Then at least I could slowly but surely manufacture all the planes myself. This process moved slowly at first because our existing molders had mothballed the project.
- Sept 2018 - We discovered our electronics supplier had gone out of business while holding inventory for us, and 5000 PCBS, HD cameras and Voltage multipliers (over $100,000 in inventory) were discarded and we had no recourse. Decided to abandon camera.
- Jan 2019 - We identified new electronics manufacturer and molder in China
- May 2019 - Shipped all plastic components and carbon fiber bodies to Ohio. Ordered 500 PCBS from new electronics factory.
- June - Aug 2019 Figured out how to assemble planes in Ohio and set up assembly line. Found teammates
- August 2019 - Set up first run in Ohio
- Sept 2019 - We start shipping!
After we decided to move the assembly line to Ohio, it set in motion a lot of activity after things had been stalled for quite a while while we were trying to come up with additional capital. First, we had to get the attention of our existing molders in China who had mothballed the project. They were not anxious to dust it off or help us, and we ultimately had to hire someone to go knock on their doors and retrieve the molds. We then relocated them to another factory to ensure we could continue to produce parts. We then arranged to have all the already molded components (enough for 4,000 planes) shipped to Ohio. We also had to identify a new electronics supplier, get samples from them and test them, so we could move forward, which eventually did.
Meanwhile, I had to figure out the assembly line process, which was not something I ever expected to be doing. It was a great learning experience for me, as I experienced first hand the challenge of making a smooth, step-by-step process for assembly of a product which required significant skill and dexterity to do well. To make it as fast, predictable and consistent as possible, I worked with a mechanical engineer to develop custom sanding and gluing fixtures so we could glue the bodies quickly and well. We set up a soldering station and learned produciton soldering. We sourced custom carbon fiber vinyl for the wings.
Having worked out all the details and assembled the equipment for each step (sixty all together) we sought out our assembly team and started slowly making our first planes. It took a few weeks to find our initial team and get revved up, but we are now able to produce around 80 planes per week. We’ve been sorting out our shipping strategy and stacking up inventory while we waited on FCC approval for our new circuit board, which was granted Sept. 12. And now here we go!
There are endless details to the journey that I am not going into here, but the bottom line, again, is that despite all the challenges here we are at last. In fact, you may be part of a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign...the campaign that took the longest time to actually deliver!
While I am certainly disappointed it took so long, I am also proud that we have gotten to this point. And, of course, we still have a lot of work to do to finish all the planes and get them delivered to you, but now the end is in sight. So is your Carbon Flyer!
Lessons from the journey
In spite of this crazy, stressful journey, I don’t regret this adventure we call the Carbon Flyer. In fact, it has been one of the greatest teachers of my life. I have learned so much that is valuable in every domain.
Here are 20 lessons I will take away from this experience:
- Keep your head down and never give up
- Stay in gratitude
- Don’t take haters and naysayers personally
- Practice patience
- Be careful what you wish for
- Don’t be overconfident or believe others who are over-confident
- Focus on details - immerse yourself
- Stay connected to your vision
- Beware of feature creep
- Get into the nuts and bolts of your projects - you can’t delegate connection to the process
- Crowdfunding is a type of debt - not easy or free money
- Crowdfunding is best suited for creating momentum for products about to launch, or for market validation - not finishing a product still in development
- Running a crowdfunding campaign comes with lots of responsibility if it’s successful. People will hold you accountable
- Hardware is hard and easy to underestimate the challenge of developing
- Minimize intermediaries and subs in business dealings - work directly with each supplier whenever possible
- Managing expectations is as important as managing deadlines
- Flying things are complicated and challenging to manufacture
- Choose your team wisely and carefully
- Local manufacturing beats China in some cases, especially with tricky assemblies
- Design with assembly in mind
Learn from my lessons!
I’d like to take this moment to express my gratitude. First to all the backers who believed in and supported the vision with your dollars: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. To those who have been encouraging me along the way to keep going despite all the hardships, your love and support made the difference.
To those who were angry or discouraging, thank you for giving me the lesson to not be deterred as I pursue my dreams, and for holding me accountable to deliver. You supported, too. To my wife, who has supported me and this dream, and allowed our family money to go here rather than all the other places it may have gone, and who does such an amazing job of raising our son and running our household while making magic of her own. To my parents and brother for always believing in me and teaching me to never quit. To my friends and family who invested and supported in countless ways on the journey. To Abe and Chris Lee for your guidance.
To my partners, Bret Gould who designed the planes, and EE John Smeltzer who fixed the electronics. To Mike for being the first believer. To Christos who did all the CAD. To the old Trident team who ran the campaign. To Lewis for helping promote. To Damian for being a true gentleman and mentor. To Seymour, my partner in crowdfunding purgatory. To Lisa for being my right and left hand. To Brian Blum of Buildmore Workshop for getting me across the finish line. To April, Crystal and Kaleema, for being my assembly team.
We will be reaching out to you soon to confirm your address and then working our way through shipping them all out. As you recieve your plane, please take a moment to take a picture with it and posit it on your social media with the hashtag #carbonflyerhaslanded. And of course, enjoy your Carbon Flyer! Thank you again for your support all those years ago, and thank you for your patience as we have worked to deliver on our vision. I appreciate you all.