On the art of anticipating velocity (Memoto Shipping Update)

Shipment date, new partners and farewell to a name we love 1

There is a trap that many Kickstarter projects seem to fall into: that of miscalculating the time it will need to fulfill the pledges. For extremely successful projects, an extra challenge lies in delivering a larger amount of units than expected.

When we launched the Memoto Lifelogging Camera on Kickstarter, we were well aware of this pattern. We made a time estimate that we truly considered “conservative.” We made sure to have a manufacturer and production process in place that wouldn’t be harmed by an unexpected large volume. And so we launched, and looked forward to being one of the few that actually delivered on time.

Turns out, we still fell into the same trap as others before us. Adding to the lessons we learned from previous Kickstarter projects (time estimation and volume adaptation) we would like to present a third one:

Know the complexity of the products you are building

The Memoto product, as a whole, is somewhat uniquely challenging as a startup project for a small team because it involves so many very different and mostly self-contained sub-parts, listed in order of how the photos flow from the camera to the app:

  1. The camera hardware that captures your moments
  2. The software that runs in the hardware, controlling the camera and storage
  3. The client programs that run on Mac OSX and Windows to allow the device to communicate with the server, downloading settings and uploading photos
  4. The server and storage that has to work securely in a high-availability mode
  5. The image analysis platform that makes sense out of millions of pictures uploaded each day without being able to spend too much time processing each photo
  6. The apps for Android and iOS that allow you to effortlessly relive your moments anywhere you go

All these sub-parts are highly ambitious by themselves, and in total meant that our team of 15 became spread a bit too thin compared to what we had estimated in the beginning. When we, maybe a bit naively, thought that hey, it’s just a camera and an app, while in reality there was more work to be done with the things in between.

We have very high expectations for ourselves and we are committed to shipping a beautiful, fantastic product.  What we obviously should have done is to leave more room for the unexpected in our original estimates. Unfortunately, our expectations also mean that we are not prepared to compromise on quality to compensate for the delay caused by unforeseen problems.

Let’s recap: The progress so far

Before we get down to what’s left before we will ship, let’s recap what’s been said in previous updates and follow up with some news on what’s going on at the moment:

  • The mechanical design of the camera has been finalized. The design we thought was finished back in December has been through a lot of small adjustments to increase production yield and product quality. Such adjustments look minor in advance but add up to significant work for many involved parts and is notoriously difficult to predict. Some examples: half a millimetre had to be added in thickness to support the swelling of LiPo-batteries over time (something we had no idea about before). The fastening of the PCB had to be reworked to assure contact between the new GPS antenna and the PCB and we reduced the number of LEDs from 5 to 4 (increasing their separation) to reduce the risk of light bleed.
  • The electronics design has been finalized. Like the mechanics, the electronics that were completed in November have gone through a lot of fixes and tweaks that were difficult to predict. For example, the chip pinouts in the datasheet of one critical component, confirmed several times by the supplier, turned out to be incorrect, immediately delaying the verification of most other components by 1.5 months. The GPS antenna we had on-board the PCB turned out to be suboptimal for our small PCB size, so we had to create a new antenna from scratch. Other small details that took many weeks in total to find and fix were power sequencing issues that prevented the board from retaining the clock and suspend/resume information over suspend cycles, a critical part of the Memoto device’s long battery life.
  • Most of the key functionality in the firmware is in place and is being tested. Most notable: the camera is actually capable of taking high quality photos.
  • All necessary suppliers have been identified and contracted. All components, except the camera sensor, have been purchased and are on their way to our manufacturer. A short lead time on the sensor allows us to do more testing before making the final order. The logistics of assuring timely delivery of 50 components from 10 suppliers, each with individual lead times, turned out to require a lot more attention than we previously figured.
  • A fulfillment partner (Shipwire) has been identified and contracted. This means we have an experienced partner making sure the devices get from the manufacturer into your hands.
  • The first beta batch of cameras has been manufactured and is currently being tested by the team. Sample photos from this testing have been published.
  • The design of the iPhone and Android app have been usability tested and tweaked to perfection. This includes both final interactions design and final graphics design.
  • The core functionality in the iPhone and Android app is in place and is being tested. This lets the user browse her/his moments on a timeline and play a timelapse of the photos in a moment.
  • The uploader app for OSX and Windows has been designed and built and is being tested. The photos are automatically transferred from the camera to the backend system with the uploader. The uploader needs to be robust and give clear feedback to the user about what is happening to her/his photos
  • The backend system with securely storing and “momentifying” is in place and is being tested. As previously described, this is a core feature of the whole Memoto experience. Deciding what photos should be considered a “moment” is a demanding mathematical challenge but we are getting close to what we think represents the user’s own perception.
  • The necessary surrounding support (from packaging to instructions material to support resources) has been initiated. We want to give you a pleasant Memoto experience from the first time you use the product.
SEE ALSO:  Robots building 2nd revision of the Memoto Camera [VIDEO INSIDE]

The todo list

Before we ship the first batches of cameras and accordingly release the iPhone and Android apps for download, we and our manufacturer have the following things to do. They are all works in progress and are done completely in parallel now:

  • Finish the tooling for the plastic injection molding. One steel mold for every plastic or rubber part, and one tool for shaping the steel clip.
  • Create and approve samples of all parts. This includes approving the look and feel for each surface, color and material.
  • Manufacture all the plastic/rubber parts and steel clip for each camera.
  • Manufacture the circuit board for each camera. 
  • Manufacture a Micro USB cable. This will be used for charging the battery and transferring photos from the camera.
  • Finish the test bench and testing firmware. When we’ve done this, our manufacturer can test each camera individually before shipping.
  • Print an instruction manual/quick start guide for each camera. Simple as the device is to use, we still want to make sure you get everything you need to operate your Memoto camera when you get it.
  • Manufacture the packaging. Some have requested us to ship the camera in a brown bag, but… no, we can’t do that. Simply can’t.
  • Add features to the firmware. We are working on assuring that the firmware can be updated safely by the customer after delivery. There are also a couple of tweaks left to increase the battery life, mainly by minimizing the time the camera is awake when it takes a picture.
  • Add features to the mobile apps. There are still some things that we want to implement, such as permanently deleting photos and social sharing.
  • Test, test and test. Hardware, firmware, mobile apps, desktop apps, backend system, support resources. It’s all there now, but we want to make sure it works 100% perfectly before releasing anything.
SEE ALSO:  Top 10 holiday gifts for the tech-savvy parents

And last but not least:

  • Do quality testing on each camera individually so we know that your camera works when you get it.
  • Ship cameras in bulk from the manufacturer to warehouses in US, UK and Hong Kong.
  • Pack and ship each camera from the nearest warehouse and send it home to you!

What about my delivery date?

The original plan was to ship in batches spread over February, March and April.  Unfortunately, we stumbled on a couple of big risk factors (the radio reception of the GPS and incorrect chip documentation). The new dates we set for the first batch (March, then April) were then based on the timely solving of these issues, but in reality they took longer than expected to solve.

This time, when these issues have been dealt with, we are honestly a bit hesitant to immediately give you yet another estimate, so we are currently revisiting and reworking our project plan and trying hard to remove as much risk as possible from it before communicating a new date.

But let’s be clear:

1. We will ship. Memoto is a company we’re striving to build for the future and shipping the first units is an unquestionable founding stone.

2. We will ship within months. Not next year, not “sometime”, but as soon as physically possible.

This is our commitment in the meantime: We will increase the frequency of our updates on what we are working on and we will make them even more specific than they have been so far. Our goal is to have a new update for you at least once a week to let you closely follow our progress and get insight into our process of crossing things off of our todo list above. And as soon as we have a 100% reliable delivery date, we will let you know.

SEE ALSO:  This Week in Lifelogging: Quantifying photos, Sousveillance and how self-tracking could save your life.

Finally, we would like to restate our commitment to deliver an excellent product to you. Knowing that you have the same high expectations as we do keeps us focused and motivated.

On that note, we would like to hear your thoughts on this update as well, as with everything we do. Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Best regards,

Memoto co-founders:

Martin, Björn, Oskar, Eric, Simon & Sebastian