All about Eve: The upstart PC brand struggling to pay back jilted customers

Buying into big promises isn't always a great idea.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

When the Eve V made its first in-person appearance at Computex 2017, it seemed like a capable Microsoft Surface rival from a promising hardware startup. And when we reviewed it later that year, we were impressed with what Eve — a small, untested team — managed to deliver. As the industry maxim goes, hardware is hard.

But for a brand that prides itself on its crowdsourced designs, Eve has a questionable track record of delivering the products people have paid for. Three years after the first Eve-branded computers went on sale, some customers still haven’t received their machines, and attempts to reclaim their money have largely gone unanswered. Now, with a bevy of new products in the works — including a follow-up to that original V PC — Eve seemingly hopes its new customers will forget how much it still owes some of its earliest backers.

After soliciting feedback in our story discussing the company’s plans for a second-generation PC in late 2020, Engadget heard from more than a dozen customers who were in one way or another jilted by Eve. Some requested repairs or replacements under warranty, which never materialized. Others requested refunds, and were ignored outright. And more than a few people who paid full price for their Eve Vs never received anything at all. According to those people’s invoices and testimonials, the company still owes at least $25,000 to dissatisfied customers — and that’s just for the people who contacted us.

According to accounts compiled by r/EveV subreddit moderator Kirk Miller, more than 100 people have yet to receive refunds from Eve as of April 2021, but even that seems to be lowballing it. Tuukka Korhonen, managing director of Eve Distribution — a successor to the original Eve-Tech business — told Engadget in an email that “approximately 300” people have requested refunds since 2019. The most conservative estimate, which assumes those people all paid for the most basic, $800 Eve V model, would put the total balance of money owed at a minimum of $240,000. That said, our understanding is that most customers paid well in excess of $800 for their Eve V PCs, so the full balance due is much higher.

“Honestly, this whole refund has just been a nightmare for me,” said Kevin, an Eve customer who asked us not to share his last name over privacy concerns. “I live in Canada, in one of the most expensive cities with a low-paid job, and with the currency exchange my V was over $1,600 and I still haven’t paid off that amount on my Visa. It’s this large bullet of nothing to show for it except stress and anxiety with added monthly interest.”

Kevin’s story is, unfortunately, not unusual. Among the people who reached out to us were other students who bought into the hype, a person who had to borrow laptops from friends after starting a new job because their Eve V had never arrived, and a retired Microsoft employee whose V had become “a lovely Finnish doorstop” after Eve agreed to replace a faulty unit but never did.

Eve T1 Windows 8.1 tablet

Eve-Tech's first product was a cheap, unassuming Windows 8.1 tablet.

Early momentum

To understand how Eve could leave so many of its once-devoted fans in the lurch, we first need to dig into some of the startup’s earliest issues, and how they led to a deal that would ultimately leave a new batch of people struggling to clean up the mess.

The earliest reports about the Eve V — mine included — were just as focused on the startup’s approach to product development as they were on the product itself. Co-founders Konstantinos Karatsevidis and Mikko Malhonen incorporated Eve-Tech in Finland in 2014, and first got acquainted with the PC business by building an inexpensive Windows 8.1 tablet they sold in Europe in 2015. Before long, though, Karatsevidis and Malhonen refocused the company around a new idea: rather than deciding internally what its next product would be, they chose to design the product their customers told them they wanted.

“We got tired of all the cheating in the industry, and decided to build the best flippin’ computer with you,” the Eve website proclaimed in 2016.

That year, Eve set up a dedicated forum and began cultivating a community of users who were eager to share their thoughts about what the company’s first high-profile PC should be like. In a matter of months, the community decided on the idea of a 2-in-1 convertible much like Microsoft’s Surface — they asked for stylus support, an integrated kickstand, a 3:2 aspect ratio for its display, and an Intel Core M chipset for prolonged battery life. They got them.

Eve V community chooses a PC design

Going into 2017, everything seemed to be going quite well. The computer now had a catchy, single-letter name, and it was well into the certification stage. Meanwhile, the company behind it had locked down a six-figure investment from Intel, and got to demo its PC as part of a Windows product showcase put together by Microsoft at Computex 2017. That time under the spotlight helped put Eve-Tech on the radar of some major suppliers, which ultimately allowed the team to overcome some early issues with low-quality displays. But that shift in supplier led to what would be the first of multiple delays.

The first batch of acceptable units was produced and shipped to people who had originally backed the project on Indiegogo. But, shortly afterward, Eve-Tech reported production delays related to Chinese New Year, preventing more pre-sold units from being shipped. Then, a spike in orders related to a flash sale prompted the company’s payment processor to freeze funds, which seemingly prevented Eve-Tech from paying off its vendors and fulfilling orders.

“We warned them in advance about large sales amounts coming, but I think they didn’t take our forecasts seriously,” Karatsevidis, then Eve-Tech’s CEO, told The Verge in a 2019 interview. “So we ended up with a lot of devices sold and all of the funds frozen up. We had to switch to another payment processor and persuade our manufacturer to give better payment terms to resolve the issue.”

Eve philosophy

As early as 2016, Eve had pro-consumer, pro-transparency slogans plastered across its website.

A tale of three Eves

Karatsevidis and the rest of the Eve team kept the community updated on the many delays, but despair was running rampant through the forums. Nearly all of the customers who contacted Engadget purchased their Eve Vs in late 2017 or early 2018, and when Eve eventually responded offering full refunds, they jumped at the chance. Those refunds never materialized, and as far as Eve-Tech was concerned, it wasn’t its responsibility.

What wasn’t immediately clear to outside observers was that Eve-Tech had always intended to be more of a licensing company than an actual hardware maker. Karatsevidis laid things out in a 2019 forum post, noting that the company had entered into three-year ‘licensing’ deals with vendors that would ultimately handle the V's production and distribution.

“Our Helsinki team and company invested funds into the R&D, design, brand, and marketing,” Karatsevidis wrote at the time. “In this business model sales partners are able to use our brand, toolings, motherboard designs, et cetera for a fraction of the cost by paying us a license fee per unit sold, taking care of manufacturing, shipping, replacements and so on.”

Unfortunately for everyone involved, one of the companies Eve-Tech inked a deal with was a Hong Kong firm called Fortress Tech Distribution Limited, which was meant to operate the company’s online storefront and manage orders and deliveries. Karatsevidis went onto note that Eve-Tech’s relationship soured with Fortress because of “issues with the supply chain, funds frozen by payment processors and untimely deliveries, causing frustration among the community and direct damage to our brand.” By Eve-Tech’s spurious logic, because Fortress was the entity that accepted people’s money and handled order distribution, the responsibility of returning that money fell to them. (Note: Karatsevidis didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview before publication.)

At this point, it’s unclear to what extent that company still operates. According to records obtained from the Hong Kong Integrated Company Register, Fortress Tech Distribution was incorporated on December 2nd, 2016, and its main office is a single room in an office rental building in the city’s Wan Chai district. We contacted the building, but the staff wouldn’t confirm whether that room was still in use, and we have also been unable to contact Chi Wai Liu, the person named in the filing as company director.

While Liu may be Fortress’s current director, someone else was responsible for actually incorporating the company. According to documents first spotted by r/EveV’s Miller, the paperwork was originally filed with Hong Kong’s Companies Register by MianZe Zheng in November 2016, and that same name appears in minutes of Eve-Tech meetings as a minority shareholder who controlled about 20 percent of the company’s total shares. That curious reoccurrence of names has sparked speculation that Eve-Tech actually owned Fortress Tech Distribution, but the exact nature of their relationship is still unclear.

Eve refund form
Eve started collecting publicly collecting refund and support requests in mid-2019, more than a year since the first issues were reported.

Interestingly, the forum post in which Karatsevidis spelled the problems with Fortress ended with two bits of ostensibly good news. First, he announced a new corporate structure that would pivot from the existing ‘licensing’ model and allow the team to launch a new online store and handle international sales internally, with the help of a “top-tier” supply chain partner later revealed to be PCH International. What he didn’t mention was the fact that, as part of this plan, control of the brand would be sold to Eve-Tech CFO Tuukka Korhonen, who spun up a new Hong Kong company called Eve Holdings Limited in early 2017 and took a position as managing director of another, called Eve Distribution Limited that was meant to handle the manufacture and sale of Eve products going forward.

The second bit of good news was that, at long last, customers who purchased their Eve Vs from Fortress could directly appeal to the newly reorganized brand for a refund. As one might expect from a company so frequently troubled by delays, this development was added to the forum post two months after it was originally published. Still, the end appeared to be in sight.

And what of Eve-Tech? The company that set all of this into motion? We’re not entirely sure. What we do know is that, while he continues to act as an advisor to Eve Distribution, Konstantinos Karatsevidis is no longer CEO of Eve-Tech.

According to minutes we obtained from an Eve-Tech shareholder meeting from October 2019, the first order of business was to officially install Eve-Tech employee and current Eve Distribution business development manager Velimir Elezovic as chief executive. From what we understand, his tenure as CEO so far has largely been taken up by another corporate restructuring that would see the company formerly known as Eve-Tech become a firm called Veleventures. The problem is, that process was at least temporarily put on hold because an outside audit found (among other things) a string of late and inaccurate financial filings and little evidence to suggest Eve-Tech/Veleventures would be able to generate revenue to sustain itself through a restructuring.

So, to sum up: Eve-Tech is under someone else’s control, has tried to change its name a few times, and doesn’t appear to have any money. Fortress Tech Distribution was designated the scapegoat and barely seems to exist anymore. The only entity left actively engaging with the world is Eve Distribution. The problem is, while it has made overtures to the community about repayment, it’s still not clear when — or even if — it will be capable of giving people their money back.

2021 Eve V

Work on the second-generation Eve V (above) is already underway.

Rebuilding a brand

Nelson Wong has been frustrated since 2017. When the Eve V first went on sale, he whipped up a sweet custom build for himself with an Intel Core i7 processor and a 1GB SSD, and you know where this is going. He never received anything to show for the $2,100 he paid to Fortress.

“It’s been three years since I was fooled into buying something they don’t have and I get more and more angry when I see them in the news,” Wong said in an email. “They are still lying if they said most of the refunds have already been processed.” Despite filling out the official refund request form Karatsevidis shared in 2019, he hasn’t heard from anyone at Fortress, Eve-Tech, Eve Holdings, or Eve Distribution since February 2020. Back then, he hoped that some representative of the Eve brand might be able to deliver the computer he still wanted, the computer he paid $2,100 for, but not anymore.

Eve Distribution estimates that some 12,000 first-generation Eve Vs were produced and sold, and most of them were delivered without incident. It’s the 300 or so outstanding requests for refunds that concern managing director Tuukka Korhonen, who told Engadget that the company still aims to compensate jilted customers like Wong, all while maintaining that Eve Distribution was never officially liable for their problems.

“I feel it is important to clarify that these are not refunds that we owe,” Korhonen wrote in an email. “It is a goodwill gesture from us to repair the negative brand experience a group of people has had with one of the previous vendors, Fortress Tech Distribution Limited. We acknowledge that there are people who have been affected by one of the previous vendors and we want to help them.” In a subsequent email, Korhonen went on to note that during the process of acquiring the Eve brand, the expectation was that “all previous vendors bear their responsibilities, as they still do. Eve Distribution Ltd bears no legal responsibility.”

So far though, Eve Distribution hasn’t done a very good job communicating that to its customers. After reaching out to the support desk, some users have reported that the company is planning to “follow up with a compensation offer” this May, and according to conversations we’ve had with Eve Distribution, that could include direct payouts or offers of second-generation V PCs. Still, the fact that the company hasn’t been proactively keeping its customers abreast of new developments like this continues to stoke tension within the Eve community, particularly on the r/EveV subreddit.

Eve Spectrum monitors
Eve's ability to compensate customers hinges on sales of new products, like this Spectrum monitor. (Eve)

That tension has apparently escalated beyond flames on a forum, as Korhonen claims employees have been subjected to "personal attacks" and that emails to Eve's suppliers have been "forged with the goal to spread incorrect information." That said, Korhonen did not elaborate on the precise nature of the attacks or the effect such emails could have over concerns of interfering with an ongoing legal investigation.

Ultimately, it seems like the only way for Eve Distribution to clear the air and salvage the Eve brand is to finally compensate all the people who have waited years for answers. That’s what everyone involved wants. There’s just one more catch: Korhonen said that the company plans to fund those “compensation offers” out of its profits, and it doesn’t seem to have any.

For that, Eve Distribution will have to successfully shepherd two of its newest products to market, and we’ve already mentioned the first — a second-generation Eve V PC that people can pre-order for $300 each. (The company predicts the first wave of units will start shipping in Q3 2021.) And the second product? A line of competitively spec’d, aggressively priced monitors called Spectrum that has already been delayed at least twice.

“I appreciate that you guys are trying to make the best product you can make but you guys seriously need to calibrate your shipping estimates,” a user named John_Abraham wrote on the Eve Community forum. “It’s very disappointing to me that I’m having to wait over half a year longer than expected to get my new monitor.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this sordid saga ends the same way it started: With an ambitious product designed by a community, punted launch windows and people wondering if they should try to get their money back.

Richard Lai contributed to this story. Special thanks to r/EveV moderator Kirk Miller for meticulously tracking user complaints and issues.