Savannah-based tech company Aetho promised its initial product, Aeon – a handheld stabilizer for GoPro cameras – would be easier to use than a smartphone, but paying customers from around the globe say the local startup has failed to deliver and has stopped responding to emails and phone calls.
Ian Nott, co-founder of Aetho, introduced a prototype a few years ago and, after various redesigns, the company produced a handheld device that featured a joystick to pan and tilt the GoPro, LCD screen and an accessory mount for selfie sticks and other accessories. The gadget used sensors and motors to balance the camera, which allowed the user to run, skip or jump and still have smooth footage every time.
The product was a hit with local investors who contributed thousands of dollars to get the campaign off the ground. Following the successful round of seed funding of more than $100,000, Aetho launched its crowd funding for Aeon last September on the online crowdsharing platform Indiegogo.
All the money raised through Indiegogo went toward each individual customer’s Aeon device and surpassed $15,000 within days of launching. The campaigned eventually netted about $151,000.
Peter Preston, who lives in West Yorkshire, England, found the product on Indiegogo, but paid upward of $380 for an Aeon directly though Aetho's website in June , but never received the device and eventually the company stopped replying to his inquires.
“The video made it look great, and just the thing for recording my kids and elements of my trips around Europe on my motorcycle,” Preston said in a recent email conversation.
On Oct. 20, he said he was told his Aeon would ship the following week, and he’d be contacted afterwards, but even after sending about a dozen emails, he hasn’t heard from anyone at the company since October.
Aetho had rented workspace at the Creative Coast’s headquarters, the Creators’ Foundry, which is located on Savannah’s westside, but since the nonprofit isn’t associated with Aetho in any professional manner, they were unable to help short of passing along Preston’s complaints.
Kait Lance, community manager for the Creative Coast, confirmed on Thursday that as of Dec. 31, Aetho was no longer a tenant at the foundry.
Preston finally received a refund from his credit card company and according to Preston, per his credit card company, Aetho has 45 days to dispute the refund, but he says he’s nearing day 40 and Aetho hasn’t disputed the transaction.
Another Aetho customer, Matty McClain, who lives in San Clemente, Calif., took his concerns online and founded a Facebook group for other unhappy customers. To date there are about 22 members, many with stories that mirror Preston’s experience with Aetho.
In November 2015 McClain paid $319 through Indiegogo for an Aeon that was slated to ship in the spring of 2016. He received several emails alerting him to delays and when his product finally arrived in early August 2016 it didn’t work.
“I contacted Aetho and was told to send the unit back – at my expense. I did so and Aetho sent me a new unit on Aug. 24.
That unit was functional and I used it to shoot three film projects over the following month. Then in early October, my unit stopped functioning,” McClain said.
According to McClain, he sent in his second defective unit at the end of October and was informed a refund wasn’t possible, but they would again replace it.
He said that’s when Aetho quit responding to emails and he never received a replacement unit.
“I started the Facebook group so that I could communicate and coordinate with other customers who were having problems with the company,” he said.
“My hope is that by sharing our experiences we could perhaps file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or possibly pursue a class action suit.”
Reached by email after various attempts to contact Nott by email and phone, co-founder Harrison Lee said the company expects to have an announcement later in the quarter and that several corporate development efforts are in progress, but he couldn’t go into detail.
“Ahead of the announcement, we intend to share an update and to work towards a reconciliation with Aeon backers. Based on the outcome of certain discussions, we will either be fulfilling remaining pre-orders or providing a full refund,” Lee said in the email.
“We are sincerely remorseful for the heavy delays and are determined to reach an adequate remedy with our very patient customers.”
Lee said several extenuating and unforeseen circumstances contributed to the delays including component defects from their supply partners.
“While those vendors were keen on resolving their mishaps, multiple slips in the timeline spilled over to other parts of the business,” Lee said.
“Admittedly, scaling production has proven to be more challenging than our expectations. We will elaborate further in an update to customers.”