Kickstarter darling Pirate3D flounders, delivers less than half of 3D printers ordered

The Buccaneer 3D printer was a major crowdfunding success in 2013 but two years on, the company has owned up to having bitten off more than it could chew.

Rahil Bhagat
Based in Singapore, Rahil Bhagat is a freelance tech journalist with a passion for consumer tech and startups. He is also an avid gamer and does not believe that celery exists. He tweets into the ether via @rahilmb
Rahil Bhagat
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Pirate 3D

Kickstarter users who poured over $1.5 million into the Pirate3D Buccaneer 3D printer may never see their extruded-plastic dreams become reality.

Over 3,500 backers pledged money to the project, but according to its creators, in a note on their Kickstarter page, the majority of them will never see their Buccaneer.

The 3D printer generated significant excitement in 2013, raising $1.4 million on the crowdfunding platform -- a major success at that time. Its promise was a simple-to-use device for less than $500 (about £300 or AU$650), much less than other 3D printers on the market, which can costs thousands.

The Singapore-based startup, which aimed to release the Buccaneer early in 2014, says it has only fulfilled around 40 percent of its total orders due to a lack of cash flow. Pirate3D is said to be raising additional capital, but whether it will fulfil its remaining orders is unclear.

Pirate3D raised 1,400 percent of its original $100,000 goal, making it the most successful Kickstarter in its field at the time. But despite that success, and that of other projects, the news is a reminder of the inherent risk prospective backers undertake when they participate in crowdfunded ventures.

The Buccaneer is far from the first crowdfunding flop. In 2013, the Krayos Meteor, a smartwatch that raised $1.5 million through Indiegogo but failed to arrive on most of its backers' wrists. The ones that did lived up to very few of its promises, as PC World reported in 2014.

Pirate3D co-founder Brendan Goh blames the Buccaneer debacle on two main factors. First were the engineering costs, with Goh admitting that the team "bit off more than we could chew." Pirate3D wanted to build an entire ecosystem including software development kits (SDKs), application programming interfaces (APIs) and new kinds of custom hardware.

The second factor was Kickstarter's regulations. In October 2014, Kickstarter updated its rules to allow campaign creators a way to default on fulfilling its obligation if some very strict criteria are met. The problem here is that Pirate3D's campaign falls under an older set of rules that do not allow for this way out. Additionally, these older set of rules, according to Goh, did not let the company charge for shipping.

"As much as possible, we have tried to bear these costs," Goh said. "However, paying $600 each time for just shipping to South America and similar amounts to other places has proved to be too much a burden for the company. Along with handling international deliveries for warranty and repairs, which most Kickstarter projects don't do (and now we know why), has led us to where we are now."

Pirate3D is trying to secure new investors, but it cannot use that money to fulfil Kickstarter obligations, Tech in Asia reports. Instead, it is going back to the drawing board to build a better 3D printer, which it hopes it can then make enough on to satisfy its remaining orders at some point in the future.