Smart helmet startup Skully is attempting a comeback, promising to finally ship products to the thousands of customers burned by the company’s spectacular failure last year.
Skully, which tried to revolutionise the motorcycle industry with a US$1,500 (RM6,333) augmented reality helmet, crashed and burned a year ago, without delivering the vast majority of the 3,000 products customers pre-ordered and paid for. Now a new company is rising from the ashes, to be called Skully Technologies, and the owners have vowed to get the high-tech helmets on customers’ heads by next summer.
“Skully Technologies intends on fulfilling Skully’s destiny and is bringing the Skully helmet back,” the new owners wrote in an email to customers recently. “As a part of this effort we want to make it right with those of you who have contributed toward an original Skully helmet and never received one.”
The company’s new owners are Ivan Contreras and Rafael Contreras, a business duo from Spain. After buying the defunct company’s assets, they’re now trying to win back the trust of disillusioned customers.
The original Skully helmets, made by brothers Marcus and Mitchell Weller, promised motorcycle riders a new level of safety by providing a GPS display built into the visor, a rearview camera and voice control.
The idea was hugely popular, raising a whopping US$2.4mil (RM10.13mil) in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in 2014, and then another US$11mil (RM46.44mil) the following year from venture capital investors. But the Wellers kept running into hurdles that caused them to delay shipping the product. When Skully ran out of funds and shut down in August of last year, the company had shipped just 200 helmets.
The Wellers also face a lawsuit filed by a former employee, which called the startup a “sham” and claimed the brothers spent company money on cars, meals out and a strip club. That case is set to go to trial in San Francisco in January.
Marcus and Mitchell Weller said last year they would vigorously defend themselves against the lawsuit. Mitchell Weller, reached by phone last year, said he and his brother “bled blood, sweat and tears” to make the motorcycling community safer.
The company’s new owners promised to ship a new and improved Skully helmet – dubbed the Skully Fenix – at no extra charge to customers who paid for but never received the product.
Customers who paid more than US$1,200 (RM5,067) for a Skully helmet on Indiegogo, or who pre-ordered one on the company’s website, can register on the new VIP page starting Oct 16 for a free helmet. Skully backers who contributed US$499 (RM2,107) on Indiegogo can buy a new helmet for an additional US$949 (RM4,007). And those who contributed US$49 (RM206) on the crowdfunding site can register to get a Skully hat, shirt and decals.
Customers must submit proof of their contribution, and are not eligible if they received a refund from Skully or their credit card company.
Skully Technologies president Ivan Contreras and chief operating officer John Lauten were traveling internationally and unavailable for an interview, the company’s marketing director, Diane Maier, said. The executives didn’t answer emailed questions about where the money for shipping the no-charge helmets would come from.
Skully has a new website to mark its rebirth – skullytechnologies.com – that features a backlit motorcycle rider and the tagline “determined to make it right.” Its new headquarters is in Atlanta, Georgia.
Contreras appears to have turned around at least one other company before taking the helm at Skully – he’s CEO of Spain-based electric bicycle and scooter company Torrot, which rose from the dead in 2012.
Lauten was formerly a partner at TechCXO, an Atlanta-based company that finds interim executives for tech companies. He’s also a former Cisco executive.
Carlos Rodriguez, former vice president of sales and marketing for the original Skully, said he had no idea about the company’s resurrection until he saw a post about it on Facebook.
“It looks like they have great credentials and have some experience in this industry,” he said of the new owners.
But Rodriguez is sceptical about the owners’ ability to make Skully’s disappointed customers whole. The smart helmet was one of the most complex products he’s ever worked on, Rodriguez said. And even if the new owners have the old Skully technology, it would likely take them six to nine months to get a product to market.
They would have to secure manufacturing contracts and find sources for the components that go into the helmets – not to mention update the year-old technology with the latest innovations.
“My concern,” Rodriguez said, thinking of Skully’s original customers, “is that this community has been burned so badly by false starts.”
Roy Freifeld, an early Skully backer who pre-ordered a helmet on Indiegogo for US$1,399 (RM5,907), said he’ll have a hard time trusting the company’s new owners.
“I doubt they will ship next summer,” Freifeld, 34 of Oregon, wrote in an email. “It sounds too soon and too similar to many promises we’ve heard before.” — The Mercury News/Tribune News Service