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Christopher Martin

Quality Insider

The Curious Case of the Fidget Cube

How a product almost went from a million-dollar success story to a footnote in under a year

Published: Thursday, August 3, 2017 - 11:03

On Aug. 30, 2016, a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign was launched for a small stress-relief, fiddler-friendly device called a Fidget Cube, created by Matthew and Mark McLachlan, collectively known as Antsy Labs. Within one day the project’s goal of $15,000 was funded, and 30 days later the campaign ended with a staggering $6,465,690 raised, the tenth highest funded project ever on the site.

Fast forward one year, and the Fidget Cube came very close to being a flash in the pan. The world was now obsessed with a different shape, the fidget spinner, while the cube-based fidget industry was flooded with cheaper, near-identical copycats. So what happened? Well, a lot of things, but the one I am focusing on here is a commitment to quality, but a lack of risk management.


The debut image of the Fidget Cube, as seen on the Kickstarter campaign page

The original timeline for the project had a shipment date of December 2016; however, most backers did not receive their product until February, March, and beyond, depending on the tier of support a backer selected. Delays are common in the Kickstarter world, but the Fidget Cube’s delays might have been some of the most damning in the history of the site (excluding products that just outright never came out). The exact details will probably be kept under wraps, but we can discern enough from the official updates posted by the campaign:

“We need to let you know that we discovered an issue that we had to make a tough call on,” Antsy Labs said in an update to backers. “It’s an issue that many possibly wouldn’t have noticed, but it’s one that a person who uses their Fidget Cube often would probably notice over time and with heavy use. We had to make the difficult decision to briefly pause shipping in the name of quality. Typically this wouldn't be too big of an issue, but with the holidays and a tight deadline, it has made a greater impact. This decision was not made lightly—the temptation to forge ahead and ship some potentially faulty products was present, but we never want to (nor will we ever) do that. We can confidently say now that the issue is remedied, and the Fidget Cubes you receive won’t have this flaw. To reiterate, this has caused anxiety within us as we have always planned on delivery before Christmas. The glimmer of good news is that it won’t be much longer before you have your Fidget Cubes.”

Antsy Labs choosing to delay its product due to a quality issue was something most backers were more than happy to support. The only problem was that right around the time of this delay, a near-identical knockoff began to surface online. People local to China reported that they were being sold at a rapid pace at markets for as low as $2… which is $20 dollars cheaper than the $22 the Kickstarter campaign asked for per cube. How is it that the knockoffs were able to get to market so much faster than the original product? Antsy Labs responded:

“At this time, ANY online store, retailer, or listing on platforms such as eBay/Amazon/etc. (with the exception of our official website: antsylabs.com) that is claiming to sell Fidget Cube is either selling cheap, nonfunctioning counterfeits, or accepting payments with no intention of shipping any product at all,” they stated. “We want to take a second to reiterate…. If we weren’t planning on sending you a quality product, we would have shipped you your Fidget Cubes within weeks of the campaign closing. There’s the right way to test and manufacture a product, and this process can’t be rushed, especially when it comes to how important the tactile ‘feel’ is. We’re proud to say that we’ve developed and executed Fidget Cube even better than we could have imagined when we first launched the campaign.”

It didn’t take long for backers to read between the lines and come up with a very plausible theory: Antsy Labs had found itself with the good problem of having to manufacture and ship a significant number of cubes, many more than it had originally planned. Late into the manufacturing process, the company discovered a quality problem and rejected the cubes, which created an unknown quantity of “defective” cubes. Cubes that other companies would be more than happy to purchase and immediately turn into profit, while Antsy Labs’ own product was nowhere to be seen.

One of these “companies” was a 24-year-old entrepreneur known only as “Jack,” who easily made $345,000 in two months by beating Antsy Labs to the market with an admitted copy, which he and his partner obtained in bulk order to the tune of a $70,000 wire transfer to a Chinese manufacturer. Are these the defect Fidget Cubes that Antsy Labs allegedly rejected? We may never know, but the outcome is the same. Antsy’s commitment to quality was costing them money and potentially hurting its reputation, maybe more than if it had just shipped a product of lesser quality.

Fidget Cube
Antsy Labs Fidget Cube vs. a copycat cube, as seen on medium.com

The question at hand, however, is not if they should have shipped a product that wasn’t up to their quality standard. That answer is obvious. The real question is, how did it happen in the first place? Only Antsy Labs could tell us that for sure, but my best guess is simple: risk management.

This was a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $15,000 that ended up making nearly $6.5 million. As odd as it may sound, that kind of success is a risk. The campaign goals, promises, and physical products were created with that $15,000 figure in mind, and suddenly making nearly 433 times that in a mere 30 days is going to become a logistical challenge, before you even factor in the fact that the shipment date was set to be just in time for Christmas. Another risk.

All good Kickstarter campaigns have a section for the creators to openly discuss risks and challenges that the campaign could potentially face. The Fidget Cube’s campaign listed the following:

“This isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve brought several Kickstarter projects to life in the past, and have learned from our experiences. While we have been relentlessly concerned with the details throughout designing, prototyping, and planning for production, there is always the chance that pesky Murphy guy may make an entrance with that law of his.”

Simply saying, to paraphrase, “Hey, we’ve done this before, but something might go wrong even though we’re making a commitment to quality” is not exactly solid risk management. They go on to say that, if something does go wrong, they will communicate with the backers, which they diligently did. The Fidget Cube campaign exists as a shining example of the importance of expecting the unexpected. It’s not enough to simply make a commitment to quality; a plan needs to be in place for all the “what if” paths, if not from the very beginning than at least from the moment original goals were exceeded. In this case, that was one day.

How will your campaign react if you are met with staggering success? How will you deal with knockoffs and copycats? How involved with the manufacturer should you be along the way, so mistakes aren’t found too late in the process? If the product is defective, is it wise to buy the stock anyway simply to keep it off the market? All hard questions that should have detailed plans in place long before they come up (even if the chances were slim).

Now, how about the elephant in the room: the fidget spinner. While the Fidget Cube might have had a hugely successful Kickstarter run and been the talk of the town a year ago, the fidget spinner has absolutely eclipsed it in popularity due to one primary reason: the target market. The Fidget Cube describes itself as vinyl desk toy, aimed at adults who have a habit of fiddling with things around them while they work, use the phone, or just lounge. The presentation of the website and the branding is sleek, modern, and fits right in with the minimalistic stylings of Apple and Google. Fidget spinners, however, are an absolute free-for-all of colors, brand names, designs, and functions that took the children’s toy market by storm, an area the Fidget Cube campaign hadn’t breached, despite being a very similar product.

Fidget Sales
“Fidget cubes” search spikes are barely visible when compared to the search popularity for “fidget spinners.” Click here for larger image.

Though these spinners have different brand names and manufacturers on the packaging, such as “Stress Gear,” they are all basically referred to as fidget spinners. Whereas yo-yos have premiere brands like Duncan, fidget spinners are just fidget spinners, which had the unexpected side-effect of diminishing the Fidget Cube brand name. To the public, there are fidget spinners, fidget cubes, fidget this, fidget that... and the copycat versions have been getting away with referring to themselves as such.

Someone who saw the Fidget Cube Kickstarter last year can easily walk into a toy store, see an identical looking product on the shelf for half the price that calls itself a “fidget cube,” and walk out thinking they bought the same product. Even worse, if they do take issue with the product quality (since Antsy Labs’ is adamant that its product is of higher quality), the consumer will still think it’s the same product. Antsy Labs’ assumption that the cube will speak for itself, and choosing not to retaliate against knockoffs, is simply not enough for this kind of consumer good; your product quality cannot speak for itself when the consumer thinks the knockoff is your product. Many purchasers are not realizing they are even making a choice between poor and high quality. Fidget cube’s unique brand was taking some serious damage as this went on, until Antsy Labs received some much needed backup.

In May 2017, toy manufacturer ZURU Inc. announced an exclusive partnership with Antsy Labs. Not only would ZURU distribute Antsy Labs’ Fidget Cubes—now rebranded as “ZURU Fidget Cubes by Antsy Labs”—across the United States and Canada, they would also sell a new product, “ZURU Fidget Spinners by Antsy Labs,” in stores as well, right next to the cubes. Beyond this, ZURU also made a commitment to aggressively stop sales of copycat cubes.

Fidget Cube and Spinner
The new ZURU brand of Fidget products, by the original creators of the Fidget Cube, Antsy Labs, seeks to create a universal premium line of fidget toys while stamping out copycats.

In one fell swoop, ZURU has addressed several issues: the branding now has a “premium product” feel to it, setting it above other cubes and establishing an identity; the placement next to fidget spinners with the same branding in toy stores will bring in a new, younger audience; and the huge amount of copycat products will be hit with trademark claims for their knockoff cubes.

Save for some awkward branding (“The original Fidget Cube by Antsy Labs, new from ZURU”) there’s only one problem: as of May 2017, some backers of the original Kickstarter were still waiting for their products to arrive, even after the ZURU version had hit store shelves, causing further confusion and frustration for the original Kickstarter crowd. Furthermore, as of today, Antsy Labs still sells its cubes directly from its website for $25, compared to the $12.99 version you can find in the store, or online, from ZURU (“by Antsy Labs”). Both are Antsy Labs cubes, supposedly the exact same product, so why is one almost half the price?

Like most good ideas, the timing and execution of the Fidget Cube was more important than the actual idea itself. Fidget devices aren’t a new concept; despite the spinner being a significantly different product design, a woman from Orlando, Florida, claims to have invented and patented the fidget spinner 20 years ago, selling them locally and breaking even. Her patent expired more than a decade ago, and she has not seen any money from the recent craze. Her Kickstarter campaign to fund her “classic” fidget spinner toy fell short of the $23k goal by almost $10k. The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago even houses a “spinning toy with animal heads” that is believed to be from the year 2017... BC.

The debut of the Fidget Cube Kickstarter and its enormous success no doubt signaled the arrival of an emerging market that others were happy to jump in on, and formed the “fidget” umbrella that so many products now rest comfortably under. For years fidget spinners have existed as a device used to help children with autism or attention disorders concentrate or cope; but the Fidget Cube’s funding success, as well as the popularity of the previously mentioned copycats, didn’t just help bring the spinners to the mainstream, it also played a role in increased sales of other hand-based toys such as Rubik’s Cubes and yo-yos, according to Toys ‘R’ Us.

The time was right, but the execution, many would argue, was not. Without Anty Labs’ support from ZURU Inc., toy stores would likely still be selling knockoff cubes passed off as the original; however, you can’t always bank on a buyout or partnership saving the day. Diligent risk management is a crucial part of launching any product, and it could have helped reduce many of the challenges the Fidget Cube faced.

Discuss

About The Author

Christopher Martin’s picture

Christopher Martin

Christopher Martin is an account manager at Quality Digest and a freelance journalist in his nonexistent spare time. With roots in covering the entertainment industry, he has expanded his reporting to include the ever-growing and ever-important role of quality management in everyday life.  

Comments

Fidgety

Perhaps a "Fidget Rock" would have been easier in the long run