Dear Rosa Labs: Let's talk about updates


#1

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You detected a problem (flatulence and headaches), silently set about investigating it (through select and unpublished consultation with certain backers), and only informed us of what was happening weeks after the decision had been made to temporarily halt fulfillment.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.


#3

The posts that I would ask all Soylenteers to consider liking are:

  • [Dear Rosa Labs: Let’s talk about updates][1] by @dialogos
  • [A great ‘Example Update’ (in response to “Soylent Update 7/18”)][2] by @Karunamon
  • [The Soylent Side Effect Experiments Thread][3] by @axcho

For those Soylenteers that are unaware, the discourse forum that we are currently using supports badges.  Among the badges is one for “Great Post”.  To qualify as a great post, a post must receive 50 or more likes.  [The Great Post badge is the only real badge that has yet to be granted!][4] (One of two if you count “Elder”; which has only be granted to the system.)  I’ve seen three posts recently that I believe are deserving of a “Great Post” badge.  So, I’m encouraging everyone to read these posts and - if you concur that they are valuable messages for Rosa Labs - click the grey :yellow_heart:  icon below the post (you can confirm that you’ve liked a post by finding the statement, “You and x other people liked this.” near the heart icon and reply button.)  It would rock if the Rosa Labs team came in Monday morning to three great posts, one that explains why the most recent update was so unfulfilling and two examples of what would be fulfilling information!

[1]: http://discourse.soylent.me/t/dear-rosa-labs-lets-talk-about-updates/15429?u=biab
  [2]: http://discourse.soylent.me/t/soylent-update-7-18/15413/26?u=biab
  [3]: http://discourse.soylent.me/t/the-soylent-side-effect-experiments-thread/15363?u=biab
  [4]: http://discourse.soylent.me/badges?u=biab


#4

Most high $$$ PR consultants will tell you to shout good news everywhere; but when the news is bad: SHUT THE FECK UP.    Good advice in the 20th century.

However Rosa Labs is a 21st century company. It was seeded in social media and launched via crowdfunding.   Different game. To STFU about production and shipping blips is the exact opposite of the right thing to do. I’m surprised the flame-fests here weren’t more intense.

Going quiet was somewhere between a mistake and a huge mistake.  I sincerely hope @Rob and @JulioMiles learn from this experience and go back towards openness.

You do not need to “let it all hang out” as in the early days. I believe a weekly update should meet the minimum expectations of your stakeholders.


#5

The radio silence may in fact be an expectation of their stakeholders.


#6

The VC investors have a lot more skin in the game than the rest of us, don’t they?


#7

Yeah to be clear… none of us are “stakeholders” as we hold no equity whatsoever in the company.


#8

I think in the context of something was promised to the Backers in exchange for an early donation, backers are Stakeholders up until the promise is fulfilled.


#9

Actually, it’s closer to charity than any sort of investment. And it’s not like you’re not going to get your Soylent - you’re not entitled to anything except the product, at some undisclosed point in the future or a refund. While it’d be nice to have more information, I’m pretty sure there’s legal reasons for the recent change in updates.


#10

Actually even the government is a stakeholder so we are too.
We are not shareholders that’s right :wink:


#11

I guess we could be considered stakeholders as we’ve invested in the product - given them money in order to develop Soylent - we’d be very different from stakeholders in other traditional forms of investing, but still a stakeholder under that definition.


#12

But those who’ve given the biggest amount of money tend to have the loudest voices.


#13

Hmm… yeah I’ve only ever heard the term stakeholder used to refer to members of a project who actually hold some responsibility for the project itself. By that definition we are definitely not stakeholders. But I suppose the definition can be bent/stretched to fit. Personally though I don’t consider myself one.


#14

With all due respect jrowe47, I couldn’t disagree more.

Consider the following:

  1. As you pointed out in a later post, the definition of a stakeholder is “a person that has invested money in something” or (more broadly) “one who is involved in or affected by a course of action”. Although they may not hold an equity stake in the company, backers satisfy both of those definitions.

  2. The definition of charity (according to Webster) is “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity” or “generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering”. Crowdfunding backers satisfy neither of these definitions, considering the expectations of individual backers upon releasing their funds to a campaign. Unlike crowdfunding, charity is not generally given to benefit one’s self directly (other than in the warm fuzzy way).

  3. According to CrowdTilt, Soylent’s crowdfunding campaign raised in excess of $3 million. The only publicly-acknowledged venture capital funding that Soylent has received is $1.5 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Lerer Ventures, Hydrazine Capital, and Initialized Capital. Backers have collectively invested more than double the amount of money that the venture capital investors have, collectively or individually.

The terms of a backer’s investment in a crowdfunding campaign are undoubtedly different than that of a venture capital investment. Venture capitalists seek to earn a monetary return on investment having owned an equity stake in a company prior to significant growth. Whereas, crowdfunding backers usually expect nothing more than to receive the final product pledged towards (or sometimes a few extra goodies on top of that depending on contribution level).

All the same, even if the VC firms provided more funding than the backers did collectively, Rosa would still not be able to abandon their responsibilities towards the original backers. Equity stake or no equity stake, backers played an enormous part in this project. After all, without those original backers there would be no Soylent to begin with.

If Rosa makes a decision which suspends delivery of the final product (one of the few strings attached to a backer’s funds), then I think backers are at least entitled to an explanation of why that delay is happening when the decision is made rather than weeks or months later. If the backers don’t stand up and make this point, fulfillment will keep getting pushed back again and again and again.


Official Soylent Shipping/Fulfillment Thread [updated 8/8]
#15

Thanks for getting those numbers… interesting to know that we outspent the VC’s 2:1!

As to the delivery suspension, I’m really, really torn on that one, the more I think about it.

On one hand, I can see why they did it. I can see a lot of irrational people out there seeing “We’re halting fulfillment until we can address a problem with the product”, combined with RL’s refusal to give projections, smelling a rat, and immediately dropping their preorders.

On the other hand, that particular problem was widely known and reported, at least as far back as the Ars Technica review last August, as well as on these forums, and the idea that Rosa wasn’t aware of it until now doesn’t make any sense. It leads me to think there was an ulterior motive for the halt, one we’re not being told.

(This is what happens when you are not transparent - people are reduced to speculation with what little data they have. RL could clear this up in one post, hint hint.)

I went into this post ready to say it’s unlikely that fulfillment will get pushed back again - this sounded like a one-off, but now I’m not so sure. The lack of clear information from RL is baffling.


#16

I think that one of the common frustrations that backers had in reaction to the July 19 announcement was the suggestion that they should suffer as a result of the actions of backers that had already received their Soylent.

Specifically, the issue is that those who abruptly (and unwisely) switched to 100% Soylent would delay unfulfilled backers from even trying Soylent for an appreciable amount of time. @Economonster expresses this sentiment rather bluntly here.

Some people may have found it insulting that Rosa delayed their orders by weeks, only to proclaim something that a 5-minute forum question could have told them: don’t switch to an experimental liquid diet overnight as your sole source of nutrition!

My thinking is that anyone considering taking Soylent should recognize that it is not a thoroughly established regimen yet, and is still somewhat hot off the press. Most backers knew this when they funded the project. Of course, bugs will be worked out in future iterations once more feedback is provided by backers.

In the meantime, the #1 priority should be to get the current iteration of Soylent into the hands (and mouths) of the people that made the project possible in the first place, come what may.


#17

[quote=“Karunamon, post:15, topic:15429”]
I went into this post ready to say it’s unlikely that fulfillment will get pushed back again - this sounded like a one-off, but now I’m not so sure. The lack of clear information from RL is baffling.
[/quote]Yes. I can’t remember when we first thought fulfillment would happen. Was it January or February (with no explanation of the amount of time it would take to get through the order queue)? I’ve been expecting to receive my order in a 2-4 week time-frame for almost 6 months. First it was initial shipment delays. Now it seems that they substantially underestimated (or knew and did not disclose) the amount of time it would take to get through the order backlog. All the time they have been accepting additional orders and preorders, taking more money from people, and making more promises! They definitely have an M.O. (Link).


#18

A round of applause is in order for @dialogos and their Great Post!

http://discourse.soylent.me/badges/8/great-post


#19

Ah yes, I remember back then when I had an expectation that I’d get a two week order sometime near the end of march, an order which I had placed months before in the previous year. The thing that has bothered me the most is the order re-arrangement that occurred. The amount I ordered was based on the expectation I would share it with my friends so they could sample it, and a large enough sample to tell if I wanted to commit to a larger order.

So a two week supply was never intended to last two weeks. I feel like the people that ordered 3 month supplies would be in the minority if it takes them 3 months before they re-order. Any scenario where a person runs out before the predicted time throws off the entire premise of trying to coordinate re-order times to the quantity ordered.

If sharing between friends, family, or even just flat out reselling the product occurs for a non-negligible amount of people, the entire exercise in re-arranging shipment order was pointless. The only thing that would make me feel better about it is if no re-orders are processed until every last starter shipment is fulfilled, such that original backers are not further delayed by this re-prioritization.

I agree the concept wouldn’t be a bad idea, if it wasn’t for the fact that the very first shipments are the most likely to have the most significant portion of the order shared. After people incorporate soylent into their daily habits, it would be in a predictable state that would likely work out with a simple logic like ‘3 months ordered = a re-order in 3 months’.


#20

Here is an update :smile: