10 Terrible Crowdfunding Ideas: Can You Spot the Fakes?


High-profile crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have enjoyed several incredible success stories over the years. They’ve also helped to fund some lesser-known projects that are nonetheless empirically awesome.

Of course, there have been some spectacular failures as well. In fact, the history of crowdfunding is littered with the digital bones of truly terrible ideas — many of which have actually been funded.

Below are ten projects, past and present, from the back alleys of the crowdfunding marketplace. Three are fake; the rest are real. Can you guess the fakes? Scroll to the end for answers — and no fair using search engines.

1. Thomas the Tank Engine RPG

Blockbuster RPG franchises like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls series generate billions of dollars worldwide for game companies. So why not an RPG based on everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic locomotion fantasy, Thomas the Tank Engine? From the Kickstarter page: “You begin the story in a yet unspecified land, a land where trains with faces roam. …”

2. TARDIS in Space?

Dr. Who fans with surplus discretionary income poured more than $88,000 into this project, which pledged to launch a TARDIS phone booth into space. Backers were given the opportunity to upload up to 5MB of data to the satellite’s hard drive. Sadly, the 2013 delivery date came and went after the project team discovered that it’s actually really difficult to put things into orbit.

3. Film Hipster Retro Set

Music hipsters have their vinyl records and cabinet speakers, but what about the poor film snob who craves the analog authenticity of the 1970s? The Film Hipster Retro Set is aimed at the purist who rejects soulless high-definition digital technology. Your $500 pledge gets you instead a vintage 13-inch Sears CRT television set, a 1979 Quasar VCR and three Stanley Kubrick movies on VHS.


4. 3D iPhone Screen Filter

Using “patent-pending technology” and “precision engineered film,” the makers of this revolutionary adhesive screen promised to turn your iPhone touchscreen into a 3D display — with no need for glasses! The 2012 campaign failed spectacularly, and may have actually been a riff on a classic April Fool’s Day hoax.

5. Little Eatz, The Treat You Both Can Eat! ™

Another failed 2012 crowdfunding campaign, Little Eatz was aimed at dog owners. The tagline there says it all.

6. Robotic Earbud Untangler

A great idea that, alas, was never to be, the Robotic Earbud Untangler promised to pull apart the wires on your hopelessly knotted-up earbuds using — and we quote — “nodeological algorithms” and a database of more than 1,500 “primary knot configurations.” The project actually raised more than twice its initial funding goal, but a real product was never forthcoming.

7. Cthulhu Personal Digital Assistant

Conceived by pulp horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu is an ancient cosmic entity whose voice instantly shreds the sanity of any mortal who dares to listen. As such, the target audience here would seem to be narrow, but the Cthulhu Personal Digital Assistant very nearly met its funding goal of $50,000 last year. The last update: “Dread Cthulhu will soon drown the world in an ecstasy of fire and blood! Expect deliveries in April. Thanks, everybody!”


8. Titanoboa: 50-foot Electromechanical Serpent

One of Kickstarter’s most notoriously successful campaigns, the Titanoboa seems like a SyFy movie premise — but it’s plenty real. In 2011, backers pledged more than $10,000 to fund the robot snake, which now weighs in at 1,750 pounds with 34 articulated vertebrae stretching to more than 50 feet.

9. World Largest Jockstrap

Surely no one would seriously endeavor to stitch together the world’s largest jockstrap? Surely no one would have the audacity to ask others to fund such a project? Surely said project would not be submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records? Surely it could not possibly meet its $850 fundraising goal? Surely not.

10. Steam-powered Prosthetic Arm

As a subculture, the steampunk scene is notoriously creative. They make the best Halloween costumes, that’s for sure. But when you’re relying on coal-fired boilers and Victorian-era gaskets, it’s probably ill-advised to get into the prosthetic limb business. Still, that didn’t stop one entrepreneur from raising seed money for a steam-powered prosthetic arm.



The Film Hipster Retro Set, Robotic Earbud Untangler and Cthulhu PDA are, sadly, yet to be invented. As for the rest:

1. Thomas the Tank Engine RPG: Real!

2. TARDIS in Space: Real!

4. 3D iPhone Screen: Real!

5. Little Eatz: Real!

7. Titanoboa: Real!

9. World’s Largest Jockstrap: Real!

10. Steampunk Prosthetic Arm: Real!

Glenn McDonald writes about the intersections of technology and culture at glenn-mcdonald.com and via Twitter @glennmcdonald1.