Skully, the company that ambitiously tried to create the most technologically advanced motorcycle helmet ever made, closed it’s doors without announcement this week – after spending millions of dollars of investment capital, delaying product deliveries for over a year, and firing the company’s founder. What caused Skully’s fall from being the most successful crowd-funding campaign ever to complete collapse?
Skully, the company known for introducing the AR-1, the most technologically advanced motorcycle helmet ever created, went out of business last week. This took place only a week after the Board of Directors ousted the company’s founder, Marcus Weller, and his brother Mitchell, for undisclosed reasons, and happened with millions of dollars worth of undelivered orders still outstanding. No official statement has been released from Skully about the shutdown, but sources say that customers who ordered and paid for Skully helmets should not expect to receive them, or a refund on their purchase.
How It All Started
When the Skully AR-1 first went live on crowdfunding site IndieGoGo, it would have been hard to imagine they would be out of business only a couple of years later – and on extraordinarily bad terms.
At its introduction, the Skully appeared to be a technological marvel, easily the most advanced motorcycle helmet ever made. The features integrated into this sharp, stealthy-looking black helmet read like specs off the navigation system of a fighter plane: heads-up display, rearview camera, and GPS navigation, all tied together by a high-speed microprocessor, and fully integratable with wireless devices to listen to music, place calls, and even connect to the internet.
The key feature of the Skully was this HUD display, where the rider could interface with all the helmet’s features through this tiny HUD screen.
The AR-1 (which stands for “augmented reality,” to describe the computer-enhanced view of the world the Skully provided) was a spectacular concept that captured the attention of not only the motorcycle riding community, but of tech and gadget enthusiasts the world over. As a result, the campaign not only met its initial funding goal of $250,000 in a record-setting eight minutes, and over $1 million in only 48 hours, but went on to raise a total of $2.4 million from almost 2,000 backers, making it the most successful tech campaign in IndieGoGo’s history.
The buzz surrounding Skully went into overdrive after the wildly successful money-raising campaign. Articles about the Skully were written in numerous major media outlets like CNN, Maxim, Road and Track, and Popular Science, and in every major motorcycle blog on the web (including ours!), with the helmet described as “revolutionary” and “disruptive technology,” and with founder Weller described as a “visionary.”
Prototypes were demonstrated to journalists at several product demonstrations and electronics shows to boost the hype, and a 2014 announcement about a beta-testing program garnered a staggering 100,000 applications. The buzz surrounding the Skully was so strong, it seemed like the company could do no wrong. The world was clamoring for it’s revolutionary new product. Now all Skully had to do was deliver it.
A look at the fin on the back of the Skully helmet shell, where all the gadgetry is housed so as not to affect the integrity of the shell or EPS liner itself.
Unfortunately, that proved to be where Skully ran into trouble. Skully’s marketing was second-to-none, but they quickly showed difficulty actually bringing the product to market. The AR-1 had very eager backers – who were already out the $1500 it took to pre-order one – but their patience was being tried with announcements of delay after delay. Delays are expected in crowd-funding campaigns, particularly with such a complex tech product, but the patience of the backers began to wear thin as announcements claiming that “helmets will ship within six months” were still being made over two years later.
Even after receiving nearly ten times the amount initially sought in their crowdfunding campaign in cash, Skully could not seem to get production of the AR-1 figured out. Skully was still selling helmets on pre-order, even as further delays were announced, and they continued to promote sales, even offering a “pay half now, half on delivery” option. But still, no deliveries were made.
The narrative around Skully began to shift from one of enthusiasm to doubt, as people began to accuse Skully of pushing typical Silicon Valley “vaporware,” and of using the millions they took in for fancy marketing and high-paid executive salaries rather than actually simply producing the product. Some of the most virulent dialogue about Skully was actually coming from the initial backers who became fed up with waiting – people who had actually put their own money on the line on day one!
Skully was clearly in trouble. But for a product with as much interest as the AR-1 had, more money would be easy to find – and indeed it was. In February of 2015, Skully raised $11 million in Series A financing, in a deal with investment firms Intel Capital and Walden Riverwood Ventures, putting a total of $12.5 million in cash at their disposal – a whopping 50 times the amount they originally sought to develop the AR-1.
But even with all that capital on hand, production was still being delayed, all throughout 2015, and into 2016. All the media buzz about Skully died down, and only one question that an unfortunate couple thousand people were asking remained: “where is my helmet?”
After making one commitment after another that helmets would ship soon, then delivering only another apology and a pushed-back delivery date, Skully, and it’s vocal founder Marcus Weller, lost credibility. Rumors of internal strife were circulating on social media and forums, but no official announcements were made – that is, until Skully dropped a bomb, announcing that company founder and CEO Weller had been fired by the Board of Directors, along with his brother Mitchell.
Marcus Weller, the founder of Skully, was ousted by the Board of Directors after disputes about how money was being spent, and a failed acquisition deal with Chinese conglomerate LeSports was the nail in the coffin. Sources say that remaining Skully execs were making an effort to acquire bridge financing to get Skully through the financial mess they were in, but it was too little too late, and institutional investors pulled the plug.
New Leadership, and New Promises
A helmet industry veteran, Martin Fichter, was appointed as interim CEO in Weller’s place. He promptly released a post called “Delivering on our Promise” on Skully’s blog, saying that the company was “shifting gears” and that he “can confidently say that we have all the resources we need to deliver the rest of our pre-orders.”
But only a week later, Skully was unceremoniously shut down, without even issuing a statement to the customers who were still expecting their products. At the time of this writing, no explanation as been given, but sources suggest that internal strife about a major acquisition deal by Chinese company LeSports created the rift between Weller and the board, and that the company was ultimately shut down by institutional investors who finally decided to cut their losses when it became clear that Skully was in too deep over its head.
A look inside Skully’s San Francisco headquarters, which was officially shut down last week.
Ultimately, many investors lost money on Skully, from institutional investment firms to first round crowdfunding investors – who shelled out $1,500 on blind faith and lost their money – not to mention all the staff who had been working at Skully who lost their jobs overnight. It remains to be seen if refunds will be issued, if any more helmets will be shipped, or if Skully or it’s technology will be resurrected by another company with the resources to carry it out.
But one thing is for sure – as revolutionary and exciting as the Skully AR-1 was, “augmented reality” will, unfortunately, not be reality anytime soon – at least not with the Skully brand name on it.
What do you think went wrong at Skully? Do you think “augmented reality” has a place in the future of motorcycling?