Dear Rosa Labs,
Oh, what a ride it has been. It all started with a single blog post. A year or so later, a burgeoning phenomenon has emerged and is not showing any signs of stopping. A vibrant community has found its way to the fore, and we’re all very enthusiastic about the potential that products like Soylent hold.
However, if this phenomenon is to become as vibrant and healthy as it could be, we will need to need to have a frank discussion about how to manage problems when they arise.
Your backers are frustrated.
Participants of crowdfunded projects are no strangers to the concept of risk, and acknowledge that there are many possible hurdles on the way to achieving an end product. Many other crowdfunded projects have failed, and a successful outcome is never set in stone.
In spite of the good faith that has been shown on the part of your backers by entrusting you with their money, Rosa Labs appears to have been reluctant to offer the simplest form reciprocation possible: keeping stakeholders informed when problems first arise.
Taking the July 19 update as an example: Rosa Labs had been made aware of issues with the 1.0 formula several weeks before the formal update released on July 19. @JulioMiles speaks of avoiding a dreaded state of “speculation” by delaying any acknowledgement of a problem until the select group surveys were completed, a new pamphlet was designed (and sent out to print), and shipping had already been delayed for several weeks. It is my unfortunate obligation to inform you that your extended silence has achieved the exact opposite of what you set out to accomplish (see discourse threads “Updates I Wish I Would Hear (AKA why the gag order?)” and “My Request For Update Thread (Lend Me Your Voice)”).
People are rightfully upset because they feel like they were left in the dark until the very last moment. Whatever potential mistake you could have made in sharing an earlier status update was dwarfed by rampant speculation that was going through backers’ minds in the absence of valid information.
You detected a problem (flatulence and headaches), silently set about investigating it (through select and unpublished consultation with certain backers), and only informed us of what was happening weeks after the decision had been made to temporarily halt fulfillment.
We all understand that running a company entails making difficult decisions. It is indeed your prerogative to direct your communications however you see fit. It’s understandable that you’d want to control the PR message that goes out. But your backers deserve more than just a namesake (pioneers or what have you). Your backers deserve to know what’s going on. We’ve been here this long, do you really think we’re going anywhere at the first sign of bad news? Name one other product or concept that could hold the attention of this many people for so long, in spite of the challenges that we’ve faced.
Rosa Labs, your backers have taken a risk in choosing to work with you. Will you reciprocate that trust by keeping us informed before and during your decision-making process, rather than weeks or months afterward? Something as simple as publicly acknowledging that a problem exists and indicating that it is being worked on could go a long way towards holding on to backers.
Acknowledging that there’s a problem in public without having completely solved that problem doesn’t portray an image of a company that is out of control. It shows that you care enough about your backers to involve them at every step of the way.
Thank you for your consideration.
P.S. It has been pointed out that members of the community have known about the flatulence and headache issues long before July. The community exists as a vast resource standing at the ready to provide any data or feedback which may assist in debugging and improving Soylent. Had you tapped into that resource through a public request for comment (rather than private surveys), perhaps I would not be writing this letter today. Not to mention that it would have at least acknowledged that there was a problem, and that it was being worked on.
P.P.S. It would also be in your best interest to tap into the internet proofreading machine before sending pamphlets to print. The machine has already spotted several possible errors in the brief usage guide that is likely on its way to print as we speak.