California-based AI web design startup The Grid has been under constant scrutiny since it was crowdfunded in 2014 and its CEO recently emerged to address the controversy.
In an interview with Edward Ongweso Jr for Motherboard, The Grid CEO Dan Toucchi IV seemed somewhat understated about the company’s issues. “The problem space we tackled, we had the kind of hopeful naivety that would actually give us the balls to do it, but it's much more difficult than any of us realized[...] I can imagine there's a few people who are pissed off."
‘A few people’ is a bit of an understatement. Ever since the campaign, The Grid has run into numerous problems including product delays and missing features. The big sticking point however is that the company basically went silent in March 2019 when customers that used its Version 2 program were locked out of their accounts with no warning. All that was formulated in response was a blog post announcing that Version 2 would be sunsetted in favor of the still in development Version 3 with only a brief apology to show for it. “...[I]n this mad-mindedness we neglected those who matter most, please forgive our lack of responsiveness.”
“To keep expectations clear, we will not be uber-regular with life-is-swell emails,” the apology went on to say. “We will not be shipping *minimally* viable shells of a product to satisfy suits. We won't talk talk talk about how close we are (though we are) and how game-changing yada yada. You won't be hearing from us in full dose till the new engine hums.”
As a final sticking point, the post features a <marquee> scroll saying “‘AI’ was the easy part. Wait until you see Version 3...”
In the year since that post, many unhappy customers have taken to social media to express their displeasement, specifically those who had been sold on the $144 Pro Membership that promised early access to Version 3. No updates have been given to those who were locked out of their accounts either. Many posts on the theGrid subreddit have suggested legal action against the company.
Still, Toucchi didn’t seem concerned with the complaints, claiming that the company only made a 20 percent profit after the crowdfunding was complete and that the company was still actively working on Version 3 while ‘bootstrapping’ with three employees. “We had to shut down the product and work on getting [V3] out. One of the hidden costs that's coming to light with the cloud infrastructure with AI is that it's a lot more expensive than people realize. [The Grid will be] just a more decentralized peer-to-peer version of what we're doing."
Toucchi did not provide Motherboard with a timeline of when Version 3 would be expected.