January 2018 in the Electric Skateboarding World

January in Electric Skateboarding:

Audit: Electric Skateboard Crowdfunding 2017

2017 is the year of electric skateboard crowdfunding.
Around 34 products were crowdfunded in either Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

However, there is a saying – Back an Eskate crowdfunding campaign only if you believe in Unicorn.

The pessimism is warranted as crowdfunding campaigns for electric skateboards have always been ridden with problems.
For starters, delays are the rule rather than the exception while overstating the performance is just too common.
As if that is not bad enough, there were outright scams! Anyone remembers Tinboard?

Here are the most common problems in Eskate crowd fundings.

Delays

Delays are the rules rather than the exception when it comes to eskate crowdfunding.
20 out of 30 boards had their delivery delayed for more than 1 month.
That is 66%!
And if you counted out 4 of those boards which were existing products (Ivory, Nuff, Maxfind C, Backfire G2), the statistic of delays would be 19 out of 26 boards, 73%!
If you are not willing to wait an extra 6 months, don’t back an eskate crowdfunding campaign.

Offenders: Most of the campaigns.

Overstating the performance

Eskate crowdfunding campaign is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

The price is too good, you think.
This must be due to an early bird discount, you think.

But more likely it is because the board is just a POS and the marketed specs straight-up lies.

Influencers may be influenced or did not give the board a rigorous test.
Even if they did, what’s stopping the company to produce something weaker than the prototypes?

Offenders: Buffalo, Leafboard, LouBoards, Enskate FiBoard.

Poor Quality

On the other hand, even if a board could hit all the numbers, but broke the very next day, what is the use?

Too many boards end up having disappointing quality.

Offenders: Longrunner, Leafboard, LouBoards, Acton Blinks, Enskate Fiboard.

Problem with import custom and delivery

Electric skateboards are very difficult to ship mainly due to the batteries they carry.

A lot of campaigners underestimated the difficulty when it comes to getting their products to the customer’s doorstep.
There are delivery companies that failed to deliver, or outright refuse to deliver the electric skateboards, which in turns leads to an unexpected increase in both the delivery cost and the duration it takes.

Be extra wary if you are not from the States because international delivery are often problematics.

Offenders: Mellow, Leafboard, Acton Blinks, Elwing, Juiced (can’t post overseas), Linky,  Enskate Fiboard

Need to top up cash

Besides underestimating the complexity of delivering the board, many campaigners underestimated the import tax or shipping cost.
They either end up requiring the backers to shell out extra or leave the backer in shock when their custom inform them to pay a significant amount to have their board to have clearance.

Offenders: Acton Blinks, Walnutt Spectra ($19), Backfire G2 (Initially asked for it, then decided not to), Leafboard.

Did not deliver

Some campaigner straight up never delivers.
Sometimes, some backer receives their boards while others did not.
This might also be something to do with the delivery company.

Offenders: Longrunner, Leafboard, Kuickwheel (went missing before delivery).

Poor post-sale service

Nothing is going to stop a new company to just disappear after delivering the boards.
They delivered the board as promised, and now there are nowhere to be found.

Luckily, not all of the offenders went MIA. Most just straight-up suck in post-sales service.

Offenders: Buffalo, Longrunner, Leafboard, LouBoards, Elwing,  Enskate Fiboard, Huger Boards

Spec or design change

Spec changes are not always bad, but it is often unexpected.
How do you feel if the board doesn’t come with the deck that you ordered?
Or if the range was sacrificed in favor of more stable voltage output?

Design changes often come with good reason, but it might not be “your” reason.

Offenders: Acton Blink, Backfire G2.

Obsolete Specs

The board that we chose to back is most often state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line new tech that came with an unbelievable price.

However, after waiting 4 months for the due date we were hit by another 3 months of delay.
By the time the board reaches our hand, it has lost its edge in specs and pricing to the latest set of new boards in the market.

New boards are always better, and this industry moves fast.

Notable board coming out from Crowdfunding

With all that said. There are actually a few great electric skateboards that came out of 2017 crowdfunding campaigns.

Mellow

Mellow only took almost 2 years and multiple design changes to finally deliver.
Costing somewhere around $1800, Mellow is super pricey, but those who have it absolutely love it.

2 years back, Mellow is state of the art. By the time it delivers on 2017, the competition definitely has caught up.

In particular, Onan took the concept of the electric booster and ran with it.
By the time Mellow was released, Onan was already in its third iteration.
My review of Onan X2 is here.

Though as pessimistic as I may sound, the proud owners of Mellows are mostly very satisfied with their purchase.
Why wouldn’t they, Mellow is powerful, packed with useful features and most important of all, of great quality.

For those who are flying with their boards, Mellow is also considered the best travel board ever, as you can just remove the battery and introduce it as your XXL power bank.

Check out Mellow

Arc Aileron

Arc Aileron is one of the few crowdfunding projects that delivers somewhat on time.
It also marks the second time Arc team has successfully delivered Kickstarter project, both times with flying colors. (After their first project, Arc Board)

Arc Aileron made it on my list for being the best portable shortboard available.
It only weighs 9.5lbs(4.3kg).

Equipped with VESC, the acceleration and deceleration on Arc Aileron are very smooth.
It uses small 70mm wheels, so in exchange for a responsive and agile feel, the board has problems handling rough roads.

By the way, Arc team has just teased about their new project, Arc Finix.

Nothing much has been revealed about Finix yet but if they choose to go to Kickstarter with it again, I definitely feel safe recommending it.

Check out Arc Aileron

Raptor 2

Raptor 2 needs no further introduction.

Although it has seen some delays, the final product did not disappoint.

In fact, Raptor 2 has made into many blogger’s lists as the best electric skateboard of 2017, that is how good it is.
It is good all around! Quality, range, torque, speed, you name it!

Michael Gatti has the best review for the Raptor 2.

My affiliate discount (200 AUD off) for Raptor 2 is here. 

Linky

Linky is an interesting board.

It is an electric skateboard with a foldable deck.
It also has a swappable <99wh battery.
The combination of these 2 features makes Linky the most portable travel board on my list.
Well, I just mentioned others say Mellow is the best travel board but well, I guess everyone has their own favorite. (Read: I am poor) 

Anyways I digress.
Linky is still new and not much user feedback has surfaced, so the quality and riding experiences are still largely unknown.
Linky nonetheless brought a new concept to the electric skateboard market and wasn’t that the whole purpose of crowdfunding? To support innovation?

Check out Linky

Bad fails of Crowdfunding

Leafboard

Really really portable board

Leafboard was a Kickstarter darling when it launch.
Cute size, good price and crazy powerful (marketing specs).

Well, not many people are still expecting Leafboard to deliver after they stop responding to Kickstarter comments and shut off their webpage.
They were, however, still somewhat active in their Facebook group with updates now and then, and,
finally, to most of our surprise, Leafboard delivered in September 2017.

Too bad the woes didn’t stop there. It starts with complaints of backer getting hit by surprised import charges. Then there were complaints of how the boards under-performs and felt cheap in quality.
Well…What a shame.

LouBoard

Turns out Louboards are not a real deal.
After a few months of delay, backers who received the boards were largely unimpressed.

The final product under-performs it’s marketing specs and break easily.
There were also multiple complaints about SoFlow’s customer services.

Turns out a misogynistic company wasn’t that trustworthy after all.
(Much like a misogynistic politician.)

Acton Blink Series

For Acton, the first clue of troubles was when the Indiegogo campaign ends with a 2651% funding.
How are they going to produce that many boards?

Initially, I was one of those who applauded Acton for setting a new standard for affordable high performing electric skateboards.
Their Indiegogo pricing for Blink S, S2 and Qu4tro all undercuts the competitions in value for price.

Then the Acton starts to announce delays, that was to be expected.
What was not cool was how Acton straight up lie about the delivery dates.

It frustrated the backers when Acton told them that they are shipping the very next month -failed to do so, then proceed to give the same promised for the following month and then repeats.

International backers have it worse as they have to wait another few extra months (like 3 months) for the board to finally arrive.
To add insult to injury, at one point Acton’s site listed Blink S as having ready stock for purchase while their international backers still waiting to receive their board.

Blink S and S2 are meant to be the best affordable boards.
However, it took so long for Acton to deliver that, by the time they were out, better budget options like the Meepo and Backfire G2 were already roaming the streets.

It is even more disappointing if you consider that Acton already had a Kickstarter experience (which they somewhat screw up too) under their belt.
Speaking of not learning from experience.

Final Thoughts:

Backing a crowdfunding campaign can be a very tricky ordeal.
Considering the risk mentioned above, most of the time, it is not worth the risk.
However, a successful crowdfunding campaign usually has a few characteristic.

  1.  The company/ team had done it successfully before.
    Arc, Enertion
  2. The founders are reputable in the Eskate community
    Enertion, Riptide
  3. The product already somewhat exist.
    Backfire G2, All those Onan clones
  4. It’s not Acton

StarkBoard- A bumpy start for a hands-free ride

StarkBoard, a new electric skateboard by Stark Mobility launched their Indiegogo campaign on 8th November 2017.

They have concluded their Indiegogo campaign successfully as of today (9th Dec 2017), and if everything goes swimmingly (which is rare in the case of crowdfunding), we will be seeing the first Starkboard on road by February 2018.

I had been given the opportunity to interview the co-founder Kamil Banc to get a feel of the team behind this new brand and their philosophy in developing StarkBoard.

My plan to publish this piece took an unexpected turn when some controversy regarding StarkBoard the company surfaced but we shall talk about that last.

So what about Starkboard?

Short introduction

Starkboard is a dual-hub electric longboard.
It distinguishes itself for using posture sensor as the way to control the acceleration and braking, quite similar to the hoverboard or the Walnutt Spectra.

The ability to ride it without needing a remote is their main selling point.

 

What is StarkBoard about?

Well, StarkBoard is not named after Tony Stark or the Stark Industries.

“Stark in German means strong, and we want that to be the quality of our board.”

Starkboard is meant to be the ‘Tesla Model 3’ of electric skateboard world – an affordable option for everyone who wants something good but wouldn’t buy a thousand dollar Eskate.

After the likes of Boosted Board, Evolve and Inboard have shown the world what electric skateboard can do, StarkBoard aims to bring that awesome experience to the masses at an affordable price.

Starkboard main purpose is to be the vehicle for short distance commuting.
Something that brings you from point A to point B comfortably. A quality mobility device for the last mile.

During the Indiegogo campaign, StarkBoard is available for around $500 for the backers. With it’s suggested retail value at $999.
It is still available for $599 for Indiegogo-in-demand for now.

For now, Stark Mobility couldn’t quote a reliable price for the time when StarkBoard hit retail. The team just hopes to have it be affordable for the masses.

Specs

 

StarkBoard is made as an electric mobility device in mind and the specs reflected that –
Good range, just fast enough for commute and light enough for its size.

It is also one of those boards that are pack with features.

  • Top Speed: 20mph (32kmh)
  • Range: 13mil (21km)
  • Weight: 17.4lbs (7.9kg)
  • Charge Time: 1-2 hours
  • Features: Posture control, Swappable battery, 2 hub motors, dust and splash proof, handles up to 15% slope, LED lights, Phone Apps, 3 driving modes.
  • Price: Around $599 Indiegogo price.  (retail price to be decided)

Speed:

Aiming as a tool for commute and not for sport, StarkBoard is configured to have a top speed of 20mph (32kmh).

“There is a dilemma when commuting on an eskate – You can either just keep a casual speed or go fast. But if you were to go fast, you had to go really fast so you could zoom past a bicyclist, or you would be in an awkward position where you were slightly faster than a bicyclist but not quite fast enough to overtake them comfortably.”

That’s why Starkboard chose not to design for higher speed but for more of a functional and stress-free commute.

It was a sound decision in my opinion, as the goal of StarkBoard was to be a mobility tool for the masses, many whom are not skateboarders, and for that 20mph is fast enough.
Well, fast enough for a person to hurt themselves definitely. (Please wear a helmet.)

And seeing that country like Singapore explicitly limit the top speed of the e-mobility device to 25kmh (15mph), it is clear that StarkBoard is fast enough for its intended purpose.

Also, California Electric Skateboard Law AB-604 outlaws any electric skateboard that has a top speed >20mph.

Range:

13mil (21km) range, if not inflated, is in the middle of the pack in the world of the electric skateboards. Long enough for most commutes, and considering it has an easily swappable battery, the range is not going to be a concern.

Starkboard pit against all boards. Click to enlarge.

For metric units of the above chart, click here.

Weight:

Considering that the hub motor weighs about 1kg each, Starkboard had tried their best in shaving down it’s weight to 17.4lbs (7.9kg).

The board is aimed to be a mobility device hence the weight is an important factor for it to be good at that. I sure am reluctant to carry a heavy eskate around.

17.4lbs (7.9kg) is a pretty standard weight among electric longboard.

For reference:
Enertion Raptor 2: 20lbs (9kg)
41″ Metroboard Slim 17.6lbs(8kg)
Evolve Bamboo GT: 17lbs (7.9kg)
Boosted Dual: 15.5lbs(7kg)
Meepo Board: 15.2lbs(6.9kg)
Backfire Galaxy 13.6lbs(6.2kg)

Battery:

StarkBoard uses 194.4 Wh Battery @ 36V/5.4Ah.
It is compliance with the UN38.3 and UL2272 worldwide industry standards.

The estimated charging time is 2-3 hours.

194.4Wh also means that you probably couldn’t carry it with you on flight.
Most airlines don’t allow battery with a capacity of more than 160wh on board.

See my guide to bringing an electric skateboard on a flight here.

Wheels:

Starkboard is rocking 90mm wheels that can handle most terrain well.
Starkboard also chooses to use treaded longboard wheel in order to better handle rough terrain.

It’s a shame that the PU sleeve on the motor is not replaceable.
That means when the PU wears down, you will have to change the hub motor with the wheels.

Stark Mobility will offer full replacement wheels and hub motor in the future.

Deck:

The deck is made of 7 layers of Canadian maple plywood and 3 layers of fiberglass so is stiff with little flex.
For those who are looking for a flexible deck, this might be a letdown.

The deck also has handle cut-out on both sides, which to me, is a must as it makes carrying the board around so much easier.

The handle cut out also provides a means to secure your electric skateboard on railings or bicycle parking rack with a bicycle chain.

Features

As mentioned, Starkboard has lots of special features, and the posture control is the one that garners the most attention.

Posture Control

“It would be great if our rider can ride the board while eating an ice cream or taking a selfie.”

StarkBoard uses gyroscope sensor & weight and motion sensors to control the acceleration and deceleration. According to Kamil, it is not the same technology from the hoverboard but the experience of riding one may be similar.

To me, it sounds very similar to what Walnutt is doing with their Spectra series.

The control is said to be very intuitive, and most people take about 3 minutes to master it.

We all, however, still remember how Casey Niestat couldn’t figure out how to ride the Walnut Spectra, so hopefully, StarkBoard’s posture sensor is more intuitive than that.

In fact, it should be as unlike Spectra, StarkBoard doesn’t require the rider to stand on a certain area of the deck and hence allows for a more natural stance.

Swappable battery

If you need extended range, you will definitely appreciate swappable battery.

StarkBoard’s battery is very easily swappable.

LED lights

Front and back LED lights that let you be seen.
Always nice to have the LED lights integrated with the board.

3 riding mode

I just recently had a conversation with a fellow Eskater and he explained to me on the usefulness of having different top speed settings.

It is convenient if the eskater can change the top speed when riding on different setting or at different traffic.

Starkboard has 3 riding mode, Beginner, Normal and Master that differs in top speed and acceleration-deceleration rate.

Not quite the 5 riding mode that you are looking for but I hope you are satisfied with this, Paul!

Phone Application

Available for both iOS and Android, Starkboard’s app can do a lot of things.

It allows you to:

  • change driving modes
  • track your route
  • distance
  • average speed
  • control the LED device
  • see the working of your Starkboard including
    • sensor status
    • motor temperature
    • etc.

This also means future OTA firmware updates are possible.

However for now, the application is still in early stage of development with only the core feature available.
More extensive features will be developed down the line.

Dust and Splash proof

StarkBoards are IP62 dust and splash proof. So puddle will not be a concern but still, wheels are slippery when wet, so don’t ride in the rain.

I hope that at this point, we have established that StarkBoard is going to be a cool addition to the big electric skateboard family.

However, as I often emphasis, the company behind an electric skateboard is sometimes more important than the eskate itself as an electric skateboard, much like a car, needs regular maintenance and even repairs.

In a crowdfunding setting, the company behind the project is of course even more important, as we are putting money for the company to develop a product that hasn’t exist yet.

I did mention that there was a controversy, so, what’s the story?

What is Stark Mobility about?

Stark Mobility is a small the team of 7 people.

The team members came from various backgrounds, a few of them are engineers who designed the board, one owns a hoverboard business.
There are also team members who have a background in renewable energy.

Although StarkBoard is their first project together, the team from various background brings their own knowledge and expertise that they are confident that could make the product, and the Indiegogo campaign a success.

Most of the team members are based in Germany while the company is incorporated in the USA.

Controversy

Laurens Laudowicz and Hannes Reichelt, 2 of the co-founder of StarkBoard was previously involved in Juicies- a Kickstarter project for iphone cables that failed to deliver.
Let just say, it ended poorly with backers who didn’t receive the product calling for their heads.

Juicies. The Kickstarter iphone cable that failed to deliver.

With the damaged personal credibility of 2 of their founder, Stark Mobility was under attack since day 1 of their campaign and was being labeled as a scam project.

I’ve followed up with Kamil about this.

“Lauren is and was always involved in Stark Mobility. However, he is also working on sunsetting Juices and need to focus on that.”

He conceded that Laurens and Hannes had a failed project but stood behind them as a person.

Juices was a failed project but weren’t a scam. And their experience with crowdfunding, even if from a failed crowdfunding project is important in helping to make this one a successful one.

Indiegogo?

I wonder if any other market has the same crowdfunding fatigue as the electric skateboard market. Every other month, there will be a new electric skateboard launching their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter or on Indiegogo.

Unfortunately, not many of those campaigns deliver without major issues.
Delays, spec changes, problems with tax and delivery are few of the common issues that we are just too familiar with.

From my interview with Kamil, it is clear that the team at Stark Mobility is aware of all those possible problems that plague most crowdfunding campaigns.

They tried to be very conservative by setting their estimated delivery date in February 2018.

Hopefully, the team can learn from the mistake of others Eskate crowdfunding campaign and from their other crowdfunding project and marks StarkBoard campaign a smooth one.

Final Thoughts

Initially, I was approached by Laurens Laudowicz to cover Starkboard at its Indiegogo launch.
I decided that an interview with the team member is a bare minimum to get a feel for how StarkBoard as a company is. And that, in turn, is important to predict if the crowdfunding campaign is legit.

After some back and forth, I get to interview the very charismatic co-founder Kamil Banc.

Just before I was to publish the article, the controversy regarding Laurens and Hannes with the Juices Kickstarter campaign surfaced.
Though I am satisfied with the clarification from Kamil regarding the issue, I couldn’t really recommend anyone to back a crowdfunding campaign unless they are 110% confident on the project, and I am at most at 70%.

With that being said, StarkBoard’s Indiegogo campaign had blow by its goal despite the controversy.

So, here is my current thought:

Starkboard is a great addition to the electric skateboard market.
It is innovation that electric skateboard market desperately needs.
Not another assembled-with-generic-part electric skateboard or “Meepo-alternative”. It is only the 3rd electric skateboard we have that is posture controlled and it is different than the pressure pad controlled Z-board and the smaller size Walnutt Spectra.

And it is definitely affordable with it’s $500 price tag.

Could it be the best board to buy at $500? Time will tell.

Starkboard has enough bells and whistle to distinguish itself from your typical generic electric skateboard.

Swappable battery, smartphone app, LED lights, IP62 water & dust proof and a changeable urethane for the motor wheels is all very neat feature to have, but the success of Starkboard mainly rely on 2 factor: The riding experience and the built quality.

If it can be as intuitive to ride and as well made as promised, it could very well be the go-to board for a ≈$600 last-mile vehicle.

Those are things that we won’t know until the board shipped so if you are interested, saved up and wait for the on-hands review to come in.

Goodluck Starkboard!