It looked like a promising product: A multi-featured drone that could be configured for heavier lifting. The young team behind it seemed to have a great UAV on its hands. Backers flocked to the Indiegogo site, throwing money at the Toronto-based startup. With rare exceptions, they didn’t receive the drones — or their money back.
It all looked so promising. Back in 2014, an Indigogo campaign was launched by a company called DreamQii. It was building a drone that had some cool features. The arms were removable, for example, and you could opt for a four-motor or eight-motor heavier-lift configuration. It had a “Follow Me” function, which was pretty revolutionary on October 1, 2014, when the product launched on Indiegogo. It had landing gear that folded out of the way to ensure clean video. You could get a gimbal and use a small camera of your choice. There was even the option of getting a cool hardshell backpack.
All told, it looked like DreamQii had a lot going for it. And the PlexiDrone seemed, back then, to actually have more features than products than were available at the time from market leader DJI.
Lots of features
The videos were well-produced and made the PlexiDrone look pretty appealing. Remember, this video is nearly six years old now, and features that looked pretty dazzling back then now look outdated.
Lots of optimism
The videos (and there are a ton of videos on the PlexiDrone YouTube channel) clearly illustrate that work was under way. There were actual flying prototypes, and the planned unit even came with obstacle avoidance. The face of the campaign was the company’s CEO and founder, Klever Freire:
Freire said DreamQii was attempting to push the envelope of what was possible with drones. From the video above:
In order for us to realize our dream, we need your support. Any support that you can give to us to bring the PlexiDrone to market is extremely valuable. Even just sharing our story with your friends. What we are here to do is to reimagine what drone technology means to all of us.Klever Freire
The campaign caught on
With its feature set and the slick video, it didn’t take long for the campaign to really get rocking. Launched on October 1, 2014, it raised more than $1 million by the beginning of December. And it would just keep on going. By the end of December, it had raised some $2.5 million, becoming the most successful Canadian crowdfunding campaign in history. Eventually, the Indigogo page looked like this:
CAD$2,989,317 (US $2.2M)
That’s a lot of money from a lot of people – 8,370 of them. People like Halifax physician Dr. Jamie Johnstone. He dropped $728 US in early 2015 and thought he’d soon be flying a PlexiDrone.
“I had good faith, there was such a solid promo. I felt indigo was a solid platform. I thought this will all work out. And of course here we are in 2020,” he tells DroneDJ in an interview.
At first, Johnstone wasn’t too concerned. There seemed to be regular updates from the DreamQii PlexiDrone campaign. But then he started to wonder. The updates didn’t always seem to be that significant, and the planned shipping date kept feeing more elusive than ever. Johnstone started poking around and discovered Facebook groups where backers were voicing concern. Some had asked for refunds and been refused. Some say they had contacted DreamQii and received no response.
Starting about three years ago I was firmly like: I don’t know about this. I would go long periods of time and just not think about it. I was satisfied with the little updates as they came, then I started to join the group on Facebook where there was a lot more of the other side. And I thought, ‘That really doesn’t add up.’ People seemed to have had their DreamQii accounts deleted and were frustrated… I tried to contact Klever and that went nowhere. I tried to start initiating some kind of correspondence with IndieGogo but that also went nowhere for me. They were putting me back to Klever and DreamQii and there were no responses to my queries.Dr. Jamie Johnstone, PlexiDrone backer
The updates keep coming
DreamQii couldn’t deliver the PlexiDrone to its backers. But it had no problem in delivering video after video extolling progress in the product’s development:
I was also an initial backer of this project. I’d convinced a fellow journalist and photographer to go in 50/50 with me. Remember, while this thing may look dated and cheesy now, these were pretty compelling features back in 2014. I think we went for the eight-motor configuration, extra batteries, gimbal — and it came to $1,670 and change. That was, and is, a significant amount of dough.
I started to sour on the idea in 2015. I needed to get a drone in the air and it didn’t look like DreamQii would be delivering in time for summer. I pressed hard for a refund. In fact, I had to press very hard, asking a technology journalist who’d written about DreamQii to drop a note on my behalf. The company did, eventually, come through.
DreamQii was still talking about deliveries. There was a slick new website, too, where backers had their own logins where they could check on their perks. It certainly had the feel that progress was still being made.
And then it just kept on sending updates, as it did to the other backers. Here’s my inbox, filtered for PlexiDrone.
There were always new opportunities to get in on PlexiDrone “deals.”
Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping
Over time, frustration among backers started to show. There was a lot of justifiable grumbling from people who were out $700, 800 – even $1,500 – and were beginning to doubt if they would see a product. Some, like Ioannis Tsiokos, wrote to IndieGogo in the hope of obtaining a refund.
My recollection, for some time, was that Klever was actually handling some of the comments from backers on the Indiegogo forum. For a time they seemed to be landing daily, though backers wanted to receive drones rather than explanations. I saw another name pop up from time to time, also occasionally answering queries from customers. That person was Gabriel Otrin, an industrial designer whose LinkedIn profile shows him as still actively working for DreamQii:
Over time, I started to forgot about the whole thing, though the constant Campaign Updates kept jogging my memory. But forgetting was easier for me than for others, as I had received a refund.
And then? Klever and Otrin both surfaced in the news.
In a dramatic story, the pair had been trapped in an elevator during a severe storm in Toronto. The storm was so severe that the elevator he was trapped in at the bottom of the shaft began to flood. Klever and Otrin were literally breathing from a gap in the top of the elevator when they were rescued:
They even posted about the incident on PlexiDrone’s FaceBook page:
Well, that harrowing incident took place in August 2018. DreamQii was still sending updates until July 2019. Update #106 was the last dispatched. My recollection is that nearly all of the dispatches were positive. Even if they mentioned delays or setbacks, they consistently indicated the product was coming. I don’t recall seeing any that said backers were potentially not going to receive the goods.
Updates, updates — but no drones
That last update went on to explain DreamQii’s “long-term manufacturing strategy.”
Wait a second
WTH? Look at this through the eyes of a backer. You’ve spent $800, $900, $1500. You might have been waiting since 2014. You’ve read countless glowing dispatches that reassure you your product is coming soon. And NOW, the company unveils its “Long Term Manufacturing Strategy.” This, after backers were originally told their products would ship in 2015. If they weren’t already upset, this post would have been enough to make many people livid.
Many backers say they tried hard for refunds. Some who got in early and were persistent (like myself) were lucky. And I do mean lucky. When looking at how many people backed this project, and how much money was taken in, it’s astonishing. Remember, there were 8,370 backers.
One of the backers had some direct exchanges with Klever. In them, Klever blamed the crowdfunding platform rather than offer any explanations about what might have been done better at DreamQii itself.
Klever Freire spends much of this exchange dumping on Indiegogo. “They profit from every scam and success and every good intention.” The exchange produced another interesting quote (and here I’ll fix any grammatical or spelling errors):
I know we have one advantage. It’s weird. But we are hated enough or (feared) enough to still be newsworthy.Klever Freire
Freire also pledges that he will make transparency and changing the crowdfunding scene a priority moving forward. Mind you, he made this pledge at 3:24 a.m. in late October 2016. DreamQii would still be sending offers of perks and campaign updates for nearly another three years.
Crowdfunding has become big business. Backers want to get in on the next cool thing, and hopefully score a deal in the process. There’s also that feeling of being *part* of something when you sign on. You’re backing someone with a dream, and those who back feel like they’re helping to turn that dream into reality. Indiegogo describes the process as follows:
Indiegogo’s crowdfunding campaigns are where new and groundbreaking products take flight, sometimes long before they hit mainstream availability. With thousands of campaigns launching every week, there’s great tech, design, and much more around every corner — often with limited-time perks and pricing for the earliest backers. Before it’s everywhere, it’s on Indiegogo.Indiegogo web site
But there’s a caveat
Keep reading, and you’ll see that Indiegogo also throws out a cautionary tale: There are no guarantees in this crowdfunding world:
With Indiegogo, you have the opportunity to support entrepreneurs and new technology from the earliest stages of development. Be sure to evaluate every campaign closely and contribute at a level you can afford in the event that the team is unable to complete the project as planned.Browse campaigns, read the stories from the entrepreneurs themselves, evaluate the stage of development and any potential production risks — and then fund the projects that you want to help succeed.Indiegogo web site
If you keep reading, and make another click, you’re taken to a page that offers tips on how to evaluate campaigns. It also makes clear that funding a dream on Indiegogo is no guarantee that you will ever see a product in return for your money. Have a careful read:
I was lucky to get my money back.
Most of the backers — and here I’m hypothesizing the vast majority, based on comments — did not. And, for many, that really burns. Some can afford to lose money like that, but many cannot.
These backers lost more than money: They lost faith. Many, I’m sure, felt they were getting in on the ground floor, were going to help an entrepreneur, and were going to receive an amazing piece of technology at the time. When that all fails, and you feel you haven’t received an adequate explanation from the head of the campaign, people get understandably bitter.
There are two groups of disgruntled former PlexiDrone backers on Facebook. One of those groups has nearly 800 members, including Klever Freire. And that’s just a sliver – less than 1/10 – of the nearly 8,400 backers who believed in this project.
Some of those backers have commenced legal action, or at least say they have. Others have tried to galvanize backers into a campaign to either seek refunds or change the status quo to protect future potential backers. The following, at Change.org, was launched by Daniel Silver:
“Waiting over 4 years for a product that was said to be already produced is straight lying in my book!” wrote Jason Hatch.
But it was this post that caught my attention. Because, in short, it summed everything up:
In my opinion crowdfunding does NOT mean — taking money and disappearing with it. We have supported a project and we have the right to know what happened with our money.
By the way, it seems that a few of those out for a refund via public exposure were successful:
A sad story
DroneDJ has received emails from a number of backers who are still hurting over this one. Some are hurting financially, and others are just feeling really burned by what happened.
“I’m one of the original backers and I put around $1,500 toward this project. They were fairly good about communication early on but ever since last year and the last update, I think they either failed or gave up. But it would be nice if they are upfront about it,” wrote Shin Nguyen.
One of the responses that really touched me came from Dennis Bastin. Here’s what he wrote:
As you can see below my original order was placed on 10/5/2014. I got an shipping notice from Zaeem Samer on 7/31/15 stating the shipping would begin In Sept. 2015. I inquired about my order shipping on 12/12/15 and if it wasn’t going to ship I wanted a refund. but didn’t get one. I did get more notices and opted to upgrade to the Plexi-8 and got the incredible progress update on 2/6/17 that shipping would begin in 3 months. Just a bunch of bull and videos of guys getting arms as shipments and nothing of substance. The last update was July, 2019. I’m out about $1.200.00, not easy to take being a retired guy.Dennis Bastin, DreamQii backer
None of those backers who contacted DroneDJ said they had been given an adequate explanation.
Something went wrong
I won’t make any excuses for DreamQii and Klever Freire. Starting a business isn’t easy – and thinking you can just run to Shenzhen and have a flawless product produced is a pipe dream. A project like this requires a lot of experience and prior business skills. We can imagine a scenario where there were endless production issues and, perhaps, some problems with the crowdfunding platform itself.
But we also believe, as Dietmar Hanke posted above, that people who pledged hard-earned money deserve a clear explanation. They may even deserve a partial refund. Think of backers like Wayne Collins:
I had pretty much all the options ordered, Cinema 3D X8 FPV, Dual Controller etc. so I’m in it for about $2,800, and for all that… I have received nothing!Wayne Collins, PlexiDrone Backer
We wanted to ask Klever Freire about these things. And we tried.
We reached out to him via Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, where he maintains a premium account:
We also messaged Gabriel Otrin. As of publication time, neither person had responded. We are still trying.
We note, however, that Klever was approached by the Globe and Mail in October 2018. He cooperated then with a story about DreamQii. And he told the newspaper DreamQii was still planning on shipping by the following here. Specifically:
Mr. Freire now says the company is ‘doing the work to produce thousands of units right now,’ and all PlexiDrones should be delivered to backers by the end of next August [meaning 2019]. He said he has refunded more than US$250,000 since the Indiegogo campaign concluded.The Globe and Mail story on DreamQii
Klever also admitted mistakes had been made — and said he would make good:
‘I will be the first one to admit the mistakes that were made and the things that were unexpected.’ And though he knows he has backers who are upset, he underlined the nature of crowdfunding. ‘We have always been very careful to let people know that what they contributed to was a crowdfunding campaign for the realization of an idea.’ While waiting for rescue during the Toronto storm, Mr. Freire said he recalled his drive to deliver the long-promised drone. ‘One of the things that we were thinking about while we were in there was to make sure that we make good on our commitment to our backers.’The Globe and Mail
We hope that Freire sees this story. We hope he gets in touch and can offer his view on how things unfolded. We don’t know what happened, but he may have some really important things to say.
When I posted in one of the PlexiDrone Facebook groups that I was going to pursue this story, there was a fairly positive result from people. I asked those who were willing to email me a synopsis of their experience. Many did. But there was one person who responded with the following:
Just curious, for what purpose? Us that didn’t get our money back aren’t likely to at this point so what would the purpose be for sending you this information?PlexiDrone backer
Good question, and I see your point. But I believe, and clearly many backers believe, that this story is worth telling and putting on the record as a cautionary tale. Did Indiegogo play a role? It certainly took its share of money, likely at least 5%. But it takes a lot of things going wrong — and a huge amount of commission — to use up nearly US$2.3 million ($2,989, 317).
Is that money all gone? We don’t know.
But we should know. And people who have spent significant amounts of money and waited for years deserve some answers.
Does that ring a bell? The drone you could throw in the air and it would just start flying? Well, despite raising a staggering $34 million in pre-orders in 2015, plus another $14 million in VC, it was not able to produce.
It was likely the highest-profile drone ever to hit crowdfunding.
So what happened to all of that money? According to Business Insider, backers were to receive refunds.
Where is he now?
Freire is back working as an entrepreneur again. No, he’s not building drones. He’s with a small group manufacturing and distributing Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE. Specifically, face shields.
The company is called Healthful Plus and it has a website and Instagram account. And here’s Klever:
And it appears that Gabriel Otrin is part of this venture.
What’s happening now with DreamQii?
We did a corporate search for DreamQii. Industry Canada shows the company remains a legal entity:
Klever is sole director
Documentation filed with Industry Canada in 2017 lists Klever Freire as the company’s sole director:
Lack of transparency
For a backer without a refund, this has been a hugely frustrating journey. Sure, Indiegogo (or DreamQii, or Klever) can say you were simply backing an idea. But that’s not what a “perk” feels like. Backers were bombarded with offers of other deals and given promises that their product would be shipped.
How much money did Klever refund? He says $250,000. Did he refund more after that? We don’t know. How much did he spend on R&D? We don’t know. How much did was left, if any? We don’t know.
And that is the issue. There is basically no accountability here, and no transparency about where the money sent by backers went. Some of it went to video production. How much? Some of it likely went to salaries or other expenses for Klever and others on DreamQii staff. Some of it went to product development. But again, we don’t know how much went where.
Is some of that money left? Funds that, even if it’s a fraction of what was pledged, might be divided among the backers? Again, because of the lack of transparency, we don’t know. And the DreamQii website? Well, it’s not really very forthcoming.
There may be no legal imperative to refund money in a failed crowdfunding campaign. At DroneDJ we certainly believe there’s a moral imperative for accountability, even if that just comes down to a detailed explanation of what happened and where the money went. We believe the people who coughed up money — regardless of how much — are owed that.
Klever and Otrin
We tried to reach out to both Klever and Otrin. They’ve each had several days to respond.
We’ve heard nothing. And, we note, the new venture they’re involved with has been very active when it comes to social media.
There were a lot of additional sources we wanted to quote in this story. But we wanted to keep it to the basics, and we didn’t want to recount something that might potentially be sketchy. We do, however, note there’s no shortage of places where people have been posting about their DreamQii experience. If you’d like to dive in and explore, or add your own comments, these are good starting points.
- Owner’s Group (FB)
- PlexiDrone FB Page
- Indiegogo PlexiDrone Comments
- Change.org PlexiDrone Refund Project
Industry Canada can be reached at this email or by calling 1-800-328-6189.
It ain’t simple
Lots of us have ideas. Big, bold ideas. But it takes an entrepreneur to put themselves out there and try to take that from an idea to a manufactured product. And that’s not always easy.
You don’t just hop a jet to Shenzhen or elsewhere in Asia and things run like clockwork. All sorts of problems that can arise and transform something that began with very good intentions to something far less appealing. We suspect that’s likely what happened here.
Of course, we still welcome a discussion with both men. Or an email from anyone else who has been involved with this venture.
In the .gif we posted above, Klever is pumping hand sanitizer repeatedly. He looks happy as he continues to pump.
You keep thinking something’s going to come out.
Ultimately, like the PlexiDrone DreamQii promised, very little gets delivered.