A bladeless razor? Irvine startup Skarp’s invention raises $4 million, but also online criticism




By LAUREN A. WILLIAMS / STAFF WRITER

An Irvine-based startup was booted from the crowdfunding site Kickstarter and lost $4 million in pledges after its conceptual bladeless shaving razor struck a nerve with online critics.

Just one day after being kicked off Kickstarter, Skarp Technologies launched another campaign on Indiegogo and within hours hit a self-imposed goal of $160,000 to fund the razor. The company says the product will be completed by March 2016.

Skarp claims to be in the early stages of making a laser hair removal device the size and shape of a disposable razor. But almost immediately after launching its Kickstarter fundraising page, the company was faced with intense skepticism that questioned whether the product is based in sound science.

Impassioned commenters took to the company’s Facebook page and the online forum Reddit to criticize the concept. Critics questioned Skarp’s viability and ambitious timeline for bringing the product to market. Supporters heralded the company’s creators as geniuses who will disrupt the shaving industry.

Skarp co-founder Morgan Gustavsson claims he invented “intense pulse light” as a hair-removal treatment in the 1980s. He and business partner Paul Binun applied for a patent for the laser razor with the U.S. Patent Office in 2013, and the Kickstarter campaign kicked off late last month.

Informational videos on the Kickstarter page claimed the invention would use light to cut through hair rather than heat used in traditional laser systems, which burns a hair follicle at the root.

The video shows what appears to be a razor-like device with a thin fiber stretched across the head; light pulses from an unknown source and the hair is slowly cut near the skin.

The use of an at-home laser to melt away hair had hackles raised at Reddit.

“Laser-based systems for epilation are available for home use,” one Reddit poster wrote of Skarp’s technology. “They rely on repeated usage to kill hair follicles, not ‘melting hair’ by targeting their wavelengths for ‘absorption by chromophores.’ These claims seem dubious to me.”

But many people were impressed with this new approach to a daily chore. In 22 days the company raised more than $4 million from 20,631 backers on Kickstarter. Supporters spent $89 to get their hands on the company’s first Skarp razor.

But on Monday the crowdfunding platform suspended the campaign and all financial pledges were canceled. In an email to those who promised to fund the project, Kickstarter said it had requested additional materials from the Skarp team and discovered the nascent company didn’t have a working prototype, a requirement at the site.

“We encourage creators to bring early stage and ambitious ideas to Kickstarter,” said David Gallagher, a spokesman for the organization. “These are often the ideas that are most in need of support. But we require that, from the beginning, backers are given a realistic sense of where the project stands in the development process. And we ask creators of complex hardware projects to demonstrate a working prototype.”

Skarp relaunched its campaign Tuesday at the rival crowdfunding site Indiegogo and within 15 hours hit its target of $160,000 with 1,079 backers.

Indiegogo does not require a working prototype and instead says a campaign can’t claim to achieve the impossible. A representative of Indiegogo declined to comment on Skarp’s campaign.

In a statement, Skarp said it was held to standards not applied to most Kickstarter users and it will proceed with production.

“After pressure from special interests lobbying Kickstarter regarding the stage of our working prototype, Kickstarter applied a rule in a way it is not applied to others,” the company said in a statement to the Register. “A rule which if applied, would warrant the removal of the majority of the campaigns on Kickstarter. This decision left tens of thousands of people disappointed. Indiegogo has been incredible and it’s clear they are interested in bringing exciting, cutting-edge campaigns to their platform.”

Pledges on such fundraising pages sometimes lead to the next big thing, as seen with Oculus VR, which raised $2 million and was later bought by Facebook. But projects can flop and a contribution isn’t a guarantee a concept will ever reach consumers.

The Food and Drug Administration would not comment specifically on the Skarp product, but said current laser hair-removal devices qualify as medical devices and require a pre-market review for safety and efficacy. Skarp Technologies is preparing for the eventuality that it may need such approval, the company said.

The Skarp Facebook page and campaign sites have been filled with passionate commenters who question the technology and allege the company is scamming users out of their money as well as those who are ardent believers in the potential product.

“Ugh…I can’t figure out if I am smart or insane,” wrote one backer who donated to Skarp’s Indiegogo campaign. “I’m putting my money on you guys figuring this out, even though you got booted off KS. I really hope you guys can get this done. If it works…God, I’ll be so happy!”

Contact the writer: lwilliams@ocregister.com, 714-796-2286

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