Redesign headaches and production delays: Toronto inventor pushes forward with foot-powered washing machine

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CBCnews | Makda Ghebreslassie | Jan 4, 2018

An award-winning idea to build a pedal-powered washing machine has hit some snags and its inventor is facing questions about what's taking so long. But one expert has told CBC Toronto stories like this are common and are even to be expected before a new product finally makes it to store shelves.

Yi Jiang, the creator of the Drumi — an electricity-free, foot-powered washing machine — has experienced many challenges taking his product from mock-up to market.

"It's just taking us so much time and energy to figure out how to make things work," he said.

The prototype won the national James Dyson Award in 2015.

See: Finalists Announced for the 2016 Canadian Crowdfunding Summit Live Pitch

It's a compact washing machine, operated by a pedal, that can hold about two kilograms of clothing. That's usually three to five items.

All that is required is water, detergent, sanitizer and a few minutes of your foot pushing the pedal to spin the drum that holds the clothes.

Jiang gained financial support for the concept with pre-orders on the crowdfunding site Indigogo and his company's website.

'Not chump change'

Walter Sanchez says he came across the Drumi while reading an article about inventions that could make a difference in your life.

"I was attracted to that concept of having an item that is easily accessible to me that would make an otherwise tedious task more appealing and more functional and efficient," he said.

In May of 2016, he went on the website for Jiang's company, Yirego, and pre-ordered it for $265 plus tax and shipping.

Sanchez says the website indicated pre-orders would be shipped out by the end of the year but that kept being pushed back.

He says he emailed Yirego last April and was told they did not know when the product would be shipped out and they would keep him informed.

But Sanchez says eventually all communication, including the company's monthly updates on its website came to a halt.

"The product doesn't get delivered and no one is returning your calls and there are no updates, so as a consumer it raises a lot of concern because three hundred and whatever dollars is not chump change for a lot of us," he said.

Jiang says the plan was to have the actual product shipped to customers by 2016 but that deadline has come and gone.

Yi Jiang says he was inspired to create the Drumi after having negative experiences with public laundromats. 'It's not just about the cost and the time consumption, it's also about the energy and the way that people are using it,' he says. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC News)

The delay, he says is partly due to redesigning the Drumi, adding new features and meeting manufacturing standards.

Jiang says because he was creating a whole new product with no electrical parts, off-the-shelf components were not an option.

He even had to design and produce basic parts like the springs the machine needs.

"It's like a concept car. You can't drive around a concept car," Jiang said.

But while his team works on improving the product, customers who pre-ordered are left waiting.

After sending several messages this past spring, Sanchez said the company finally contacted him and provided him with the refund he requested in October.

"The way the situation was handled, I think it was poor," said Sanchez.

Expect delays

Many of the challenges faced by the inventor of the DRUMI and its clients are very common, says Daryl Hatton, the CEO of  FundRazr and the director of the National Crowdfunding Association of Canada.

See: Crowdfunding raises a roof: Tips for newbie Crowdfunders

Hatton says people choosing to get behind products on crowdfunding sites need to fully understand what they are committing to.

"They will have to be patient because it frequently takes longer than they want. There's a chance that they might not ever get it. It's possible that the entrepreneur might fail and it won't work," he said.

"You're backing a venture and a concept and an idea more than just a purchase. There's risk involved," he said.

Hatton said there are things that entrepreneurs like Jiang can do to help ease the concerns of their clients.

"The number one advice is to over communicate and demonstrate the progress being made," he said.

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The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a national non-profit actively engaged with social and investment crowdfunding, alternative finance, fintech, peer-to-peer (P2P), initial coin offerings (ICO), and online investing stakeholders across the country. NCFA Canada provides education, research, industry stewardship, networking opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, academia and eco-system partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and online financing industry in Canada.  For more information, please visit:  ncfacanada.org

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