Just to warn/advise, these are my personal views on Kickstarter, and the pens I’ve either bought through it, or have come about as a result of previous campaigns.
First, for those not aware. Kickstarter is not a shop. It is just a venture capital raising platform, which rapidly changed from campaigns promising financial returns to discounted end products instead. This can be beneficial to us, with some decent savings, but there is also the element of risk as campaigns may run late or even fail. With the latter any investment/payment is lost.
Now before I go over the pens, I feel I should illustrate one of the big wins of Kickstarter and how it all can go wrong, which also will influence some of my later views. The Pebble Smart Watch. Now the Pebble was not the first smart watch, nor the first for its creators, as they had previous made small scale companion for the Blackberry phone system, but this was their first multi-platform solution, which was also their first real full time commercial adventure. It broke Kickstarter funding records, raising over $10 million, when the target was ‘only’ $100,000. It went well, the company was formed, the watch went out, it started to be sold commercially and the company grew. An updated watch, with a colour screen and a steel body option, was due to come out. This also went on to Kickstarter and raised even more money. In the back of my mind alarm bells started to go off. Sure they raised $20 million, but as a full blown company, could they not have done this privately, or more accurately had they not looked at banks and private investors. Arguably the discounts they were giving backers were larger than interest which would have been paid on loans. Still it went well, then rumours went round about staff redundancies. A couple of years later and a new, updated watch was due to be launched, with a larger screen (for both the plastic and metal versions), a heart rate monitor and also a separate GPS tracker unit. Again this went on Kickstarter, but this time it was obvious they had failed to get funding else where and the company was in trouble. The Pebble 2 did come out, though late, and in small numbers for retail. The Pebble Time Steel 2 and GPS tracker, however, did not and anyone who had paid for them on Kickstarter lost their money. Shortly after Pebble confirmed they were in trouble and were eventually bought out by Fitbit. I was and still am a Pebble fan, having bought a classic in a Black Friday sale, and was planning on buying a Pebble Time Steel 2 once they came out post campaign (as Pebble routinely had decent discounts on their website). Instead my classic failed just before the company was sold (I was very lucky to get a warranty replacement) and I bought a Pebble Time Steel before they disappeared from the shops. It is a lesson though on how over reliance for a company on Kickstarter can back fire or be a warning to investors/buyers, and also how even with an apparently safe campaign fingers can be burnt.
I have five pens connected with Kickstarter campaigns and I will go through each in order of purchase, with my personal views. Note I’m leaving out the Pay it Forward campaign as that was actually to raise funds for the project, the pen manufacturer was only involved as a supplier.
A pocket pen made out of titanium, with a Schmidt nib that could be swapped out for a rollerball unit, which also worked with the ink cartridge. This was the first campaign done by bespoke luxury pen maker Yaroslaw Kaminskiy and showed the risks to the creator. Previously he had made a small batch of cheap metal ballpoints, which went well, and so he looked to produce what was potentially going to be the first of a series of regular pens. While the fountain pen arrived late (deliveries were actually just before Yaroslaw got married, just to add extra pressure), communications were excellent. We knew why there were delays when they happened. First he decided the grade of titanium he was going to use was not good enough and easily scratched, so he experimented with other grades and chose a far tougher one (at no extra cost to us, despite it being more expensive). Next when the nibs arrived, on assembling the pens he started to test them to find many needed tweaking and polishing, all by hand. End result was a well made pen, with a nib that worked out of the box. Alas I’ve not seen Yaroslaw run another campaign or do another series of ‘normal cost’ pens so I suspect he had his fingers burnt on this one due to the additional cost of the higher grade titanium.
When I backed the project, this was to be a perfect EDC pen for me as I was using A6/pocket pads that fitted in the arm pocket of an all weather jacket I wear, and the pen was the perfect size to replace the assortment of small pencils and ballpoints I’d previously used. Unfortunately for the pen, by the time it had arrived (and this was coincidental), I had moved on to using a Midori Traveller Passport with pen loop, allowing me to use much my collection, none of which would require the cap to be screwed on to the barrel to be used (yes this pen is that small). Shame really as this is a nice pen to write with and one I will be keeping.
The Nova was actually the fourth campaign for Namisu and their second pen. Mine I bought a year or so later in a sale on their website, with the brass version I own being a post campaign option. Presently Namisu have run 8 campaigns, with the seventh being problematic with many complaints and the eighth being cancelled having failed to reach the funding goal. To me Namisu risk being another Pebble, though I do not know if this is a full time business for the owners, or just an extra on the side, in which case the store will probably tick over while in profit.
The first two Namisu pens, the Nessus and Nova were both well received. Both machined pens with Bock nibs. I do not know if they were meant to be made on site, I now get the impression that only the design and assembly was done by Namisu with others doing the actual manufacturing. What I do know is the QC can be poor as the tines on my nib were badly out of alignment. Fortunately an easy fix with a steel nib.
The third fountain pen (7th campaign) shows how a company reliant on Kickstarter can be a real risk. The Ixion was well received, though not overly original (and now also cloned by at least one Chinese manufacturer), however it ran late, updates were few and far between, many backers were complaining, those who received had quality problems, and over a year after Namisu had declared the project complete, people are still posting on the Kickstarter site that they are still awaiting their pens. Caveat Emptor.
This is a good example of where Kickstarter can be used to move in to a different/new direction for a company. Prior to this Taizo Okagaki was known for selling Japanese JDM pens to the rest of the world through Engeika (which has now been put on hold/merged in to Wancher) and Wancher, which sold/resold pen related paraphernalia, such as soft and display cases. In addition Okagaki-san produced officially sanctioned limited edition re-bodies of certain Sailor and Platinum pens. At some point he decided to move forwards and to make pens for himself and his own brand, starting with ones based on Japanese traditions with three models, a base one made of ebonite, a second which took the first before finishing in urushi lacquer, and a third going further with hand drawn Maki-E art.
When I first heard about the project I was intrigued and like the pricing they were talking about for the Urushi pens. It was a mixture of the reviews of the prototype ebonite pens on various vblogs that made me more interested, then when I heard one of the bloggers in question was supporting the campaign, I decided that was my tipping point. As with all things Kickstarter, the project did run late, and there were problems with supplies of certain gold nibs (with the result that Wancher now make their own – I would love to try one of these), also while updates were regular, some backers complained about a lack of response to direct contact, especially after the problems with the supply of rose gold nibs surfaced. All being told I’m happy with my pen as I reviewed here.
Wancher have since expanded their range, including some cheap pens they had previously made for individual shops (such as the Crystal range) and I’m not expecting them to launch another Kickstarter campaign now their goals have been achieved.
Now this is where things can sound a little weird and I think a number of us should have seen warning flags/signals (I was lucky). Back in 2016 an Italian architect and designer working in Paris, Lucio Rossi, designed a pen based on looks and material usage, rather than tradition. This was sold under the VENVSTAS brand (also written as Venustas on the company site), a company he either ran or worked for (details are very sketchy). It had mixed reviews due to quality and design defects (with Stephen Brown infamously lambasting it). Updated and additional pens were launched and seemed to have got other these problems and a new model was promoted (direct, not through Kickstarter). This is where things became a little murky. Lucio suddenly launched a new company, U75, and a new pen under that brand on Kickstarter similar to the latest Venvstas model, though with a more natural finger placement. His initial statements made it sound like this was a side project, however since then the Venvstas account on Kickstarter has been deleted, the U75 website looks like it is for a dedicated company, and the Venvstas website and store are still up and running and posting announcements. I could speculate, as you the reader possibly also are, but needless to say this should have started alarm bells ringing. Communications from Lucio were initially regular, but then slowed. We were told of a redesign (think the grip section was changed to make the nib less hooded), then there was nib sourcing problems. A new alternative was also suddenly offered (looking a bit like a Kaweco Liliput), but then some pens, including mine, started to ship. I’m not sure if I got mine because I was on the intial list, or because I just happen to ask him that question when there were a few of the first batch still left. Needless to say many people are still complaining they’ve not received their pens and he’s also said one of the batches is using another type of plastic.
For €45 it’s actually not a bad pen, but it’s also not a good one either. Mine wrote out of the box, but it is uncomfortable to hold, the surface has a texture for grip but actually just looks cheap, the cap is hard to remove and harder to put back on and the ink cart was a tad hard to insert. Others have reported gaps in the material (perhaps the plastic is 3D printed, which another recipient suggested). Think I was lucky on this one in that I received the pen.
Any of you who listen to Brad Dowdy on The Pen Addict podcast (well worth listening to him and Myke Hurley BTW) will know the trouble he got in to over this campaign. Brad was talking about how he judges Kickstarter deals, be they safe, needing caution, or to be avoided. Alas he did not realise that Indian Ink is the original (and to a Brit, correct) term for what in the USA is known as India Ink. This apparent repeated mistake in the campaign blurb made this an avoid to him. On the next episode he was very apologetic, though I believe the pen was not for him.
Now I first saw this pen on a vblog and the one thing that interested me was that the cap contained a water reservoir and membrane to keep the nib moist and stop the indian ink from drying up (which would result in pen disassembly to clean). I think the reason I really went for it was due to memories of my father (a now retired architect) trying to fill and get working his Rotring Isograph pens. The campaign started mid April with shipping due by the end of August. Mine arrived the start of September, so about on time, not bad for a first project.
If I am to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m going to use this pen much, if at all, and if I should have skipped the campaign. The pen works well, it does what it says on the tin. The line it lays (even with a traditional steel nib) is consistent and easy to place the starting/end points. I’ve left the pen for several weeks and there’s been no water loss or signs of the nib drying, the pen worked straight away. Shape wise it’s a littler thin for comfortable use, but I suppose if you were to use it for technical drawing, rather than sketching/writing, you would be holding it at a higher angle, like a craft knife.
I’m actually comparatively picky when it comes to campaigns I back. In seven years it has been just ten, with only one cheap failure (I’m assuming after six years). The pen related projects I have backed, however, are a rather good representation of some of the risks that can be faced, even if I seem to have been lucky and avoided them.