What is going on at Honeycomb? Exclusive Interview with Founder Nicki Repenning
We have been struggling with how to write this article, and to be honest with you, it is hard to stay neutral on this topic. All we can see in other media is the recitation of what has been published, and the narrative is dictated by the one in control of Honeycomb’s communication channels. So, instead of just reciting the narrative of the one in control, we wanted to dive deeper. The most recent event is that the Founder of Honeycomb and former CEO Nicki Repenning has been removed from the information page at Honeycomb, and a statement from Mike Steup, his ex-partner, founder and CEO of Snakebyte Group, has been posted. We’ll get back to Mike’s response later.
Honeycomb Aeronautical has been through a lot recently. The past 13 months have been a rollercoaster for them, from finally having a pre-order for their highly anticipated Charlie Rudder Pedals to launching new variants of the popular Alpha Flight Controls, as well as showcasing their new Delta Flight Displays, and then to a downward slide as of late. RMA’s have not been getting filled, support has been sparse, and refunds were not being honoured on time.
Questions on the status of Honeycomb have been swirling around in some circles of the flight simulation community since August but only recently came to a head when concerns became prominent on the r/flightsim subreddit. Just last week, Founder and CEO Nicki Repenning addressed those concerns in a lengthy statement and brought out bombshell allegations against his former business partner, Mike Steup.
Nicki alleges that his business partner misled him from the very beginning, hiding financials and stealing the funds allocated for Charlie Rudder Pedal production from the pre-order, among other accusations.
Two weeks before Nicki’s announcement rocked the flight sim world, we caught wind of this story and dove into doing research on everything we could find about Honeycomb. After combing through shipping records, trademarks, business records, and a lot more, we were left with clues that didn’t paint a great picture.
Armed with clues and questions, we decided to contact Nicki directly to ask him some questions. When we decided that we wanted to approach Nicki, we sent him an email with the question if he would like to give a public explanation of what is going on at Honeycomb. Nicki’s answer was an immediate yes, and we scheduled a meeting.
As a disclaimer: Our meetings occurred before Mike's latest announcement on the Honeycomb website.
We agreed on a time and quickly realised that the one hour we had set aside was not enough to get through all of what Nicki had to say. I immediately got the feeling of his profound passion for his products. So we rescheduled to give us more time. In the timeframe between our first meeting and the next, Nicki did not respond to my emails. Later, it turned out that he no longer had access to his email account, and he contacted me from a new email address to confirm our meeting.
We started our discussion with Nicki by talking about how much he can say at this time without jeopardising his case.
Nicki: I'll be as much an open book as I can, but there might be some information that I can't give.” He continued to specify about his earlier statement, “I try [sic] to keep it really neutral and that people make their own conclusions with the information I've given. So I didn't put anything in there where I don't have the exact papers to document it.”
Threshold: There are claims that your US office is closed. Is that true, and was it in any way connected to your ex-business partner?
Nicki: Yes, it was his office, and we were sharing the office with them. But they owed six months' rent, so I moved out of there and am now, in effect, working from home together with a colleague. I have started a non-profit initiative for Aviation STEM for young students, and the first one is here in Montgomery Airport, San Diego. Together with Crown Aviation FBO, we have a flight sim academy set up right at the ramp of the Airport. Right next to the FBO we have planned on building our new office. This takes time and is scheduled to be finished in the near future, but I look forward to being able to move the office there. I could also move my guys who work from Europe and Asia here as well when all is settled. I hope so.
Yes, this whole situation is bad and should never have happened. But there is nothing that can’t be fixed, and I see this as a new beginning. I am working on gaining full control of the company I founded and on getting strong financial backing. Some things were not put on paper, and now, I face the consequences of that. But Mike was my friend, and I trusted him. I was way too naive. I have been naive in the past too, but to be honest, I would rather be able to take such risks with someone I trust than never be able to trust people at all. It is what it is, I guess. If you lose faith in people because some take advantage, then that is a true loss in life.
(Interview continues below image)
Threshold: Are other products, such as the Tango Foxtrot Stick and Delta Displays, still planned?
Nicki: Yes. Nothing has been taken off the roadmap. Tango Foxtrot was planned to go into injection tooling and be set into mass production a year and a half ago. But they spent all of our money, and the product tooling costs almost half a million dollars. So the delay and the reason for the delay is clear to me now. This might actually be a good opportunity to implement some changes to it that I have been thinking of. But we will see when all of this has panned out. As soon as I have a new partner, tooling will take three months, and we’ll be up and running full speed with mass production after some production tests and quality control runs.
Threshold: Some websites have Honeycomb products listed as Snakebyte Honeycomb; why?
Nicki: Well, the “former partner” is called Snakebyte, and they were responsible for the distribution side of the operation.
(Interview continues below image)
Threshold: Now that the first-generation Alpha and Bravo controls have been released for a few years, how does the durability compare to your initial vision?
Nicki: Well, Snakebyte did not pay the warehouses, and they haven’t sent out RMA’s for almost nine months. But I am also about to solve that problem so the customers get their replacements. I just have to keep in mind that we need the factory's approval since they are responsible for manufacturing faults. I have a call with them later tonight. But all in all, faulty returns have been incredibly low, all things considered. We have sold well over a hundred thousand Alphas; a lot of them were in 2022, and of this number, only 17 Alphas have been RMA’ed in the past nine months. We have a below 1% fault rate. The general consumer electronics fault rate is around 2-3%, so we exceed that expectation immensely.
I comment here that Nicki needs to factor in the ones who have not gone through a return process, like myself. I also point out that there are “self-help videos” out there to guide people on how to fix this issue themselves.
Threshold: I have repaired my Bravo for the weak point it suffers from in reverser cables snapping within the Bravo unit. And I used one of the available YouTube videos to guide me with that repair. I assume that there are significant dark numbers out there of people who repair their faulty devices themselves and never go through your support.
Nicki: Yeah, and that has probably been necessary because we have not done our duty with regard to tech support. The tech support guys want to send these products out, take good care of the customers, and tell them when they can expect their replacements. However, the support team has been fed a lie by Snakebyte that they will pay the warehouse to get the shipments out and always had an excuse as to why this did not happen. Support then becomes reluctant and embarrassed to tell customers when they can expect their units and to repeat that there is a delay. Communication plainly collapsed at that point. That is not how you treat your customers, but I understand entirely why support ended up that way; I feel so sorry for them to have been put in such an impossible position, and they can not be blamed for this. I feel that my statement (Read More Here) helped regain that communication.
Threshold: Have there been any significant changes to improve durability? Are there any plans to make changes to improve durability moving forward?
Nicki: I never consider a product completely finished. One of the reasons why we gained such a large market share in the first place is that the Flight Simulation Industry had become lazy. Logitech sat on the yoke market, and both Logitech and Thrustmaster sat on the Joystick market. There were others, but in reality, there was no competition. And with that, there was no real innovation. But yes, to answer your question, we are constantly improving our products and are listening to customer feedback.
Nicki has shown me the future lineup, and I can attest that there is no lack of innovation to disrupt the market yet again. We just can’t write about it. Yet. Nicki further explains that there has been a constant improvement in material, and every RMA report is looked at to see if there is anything that needs to be changed.
Nicki: There is a difference between a fault that needs correcting and an evolution of the product. We have mid-production quality control, where we take a sample from the production line, test it for immediate faults and put it through long-term durability tests. We make sure that the production is on par with what we expect.
(A reminder: This interview, and thus the following question, was asked in the context before Mike Steup published his statement on the Honeycomb website.)
Threshold: Has your ex-partner done anything in response to your allegations?
Nicki: I know that he moved our mail servers and locked me out of all instances he can since he has control over the domain. He also contacted some of my retail partners and told them that he has control over all Honeycomb assets and that I no longer have anything to do with Honeycomb. Which, obviously, is not true. I can prove that. I have all the product rights and design trademarks. Other than that, I hear things here and there and that he is planning on releasing a press release. However, I have no idea what that entails. He has been fabricating things for the last year and a half internally, and I assume he is just trying to get a payout or something like that. Right now, I still control the sales while he tells people that I don’t. For the past six months, after I started getting suspicious and getting proof that he was deceiving us all, I have tried to foresee his movements. So I am prepared.
I do know for sure that he is trying to get full control over Honeycomb since he has emailed customers, among others, that he is in control and that I am completely out of the picture.
Threshold: What happened to your website?
Nicki: I don’t know if he took it down or if it was cancelled because he didn’t pay the bills. I have no access or information. That was his job. But while I can’t access any of that, I have all of the data on orders, contact information and so on. He has no intention of fulfilling those orders even though he was paid for them, so while I can’t access the orders in Shopify any more, I have the database and what I need to rebuild everything and get everything back in place. We will figure this out.
The Honeycomb Facebook page with almost 30k members, where Nicki Repenning posted his initial statement, was taken down after a copyright infringement claim by Mike Steup. A new Facebook page has since been created by Mike Steup.
The Other Side
Since the meeting with Nicki, we have contacted Mike Steup from Snakebyte, Nicki's former partner at Honeycomb. We received an answer to our email where he did not answer our questions but referred to his statement that he released the same day. He refers to his statement on the Honeycomb website and says he is “preparing a press release the next days”. A part of Mike Steup’s answer directly contradicts Nicki’s claims and has us somewhat wondering who has the controls, if at all anyone has it:
“Happy to send over some real facts once the time is right. At the moment we are concentrating on the customers. Feels like a couple of thousand mails and support tickets are not answered. We are trying to get access to it but don't know if this is still possible.”
We answered his email, where we wrote that we look forward to hearing his side of the story. We have yet to hear back.
We can only relate to the information we have been given and that is publicly available. To us, Nicki seems sincere and very passionate about the company he founded. So, while we can’t be 100% sure that he is telling the truth, we have to admit that he deserves an Oscar for his passionate and extensive five-hour interview if he isn’t. Nicki glows as he talks about the Honeycomb lineup and what he has planned for the next iteration of their products. His plans for the future of Honeycomb are incredible, and he wishes we were writing about this instead of a potential ruin.
What happens next? We’re not sure if anyone knows at this point. We know that retailers of Honeycomb products still sell the Bravo and Alpha units, and we’re fairly confident that these sales are not of high risk and, to be honest, a bargain if you get them at a discount. The Alpha and especially the Bravo are impressive! And as long as you buy from a reputable store, they are the ones you go to if you have any issues with your unit.
The huge exception would be the Charlie Rudder Pedals. At this point, we would be very cautious about pre-ordering the Charlie Rudder Pedals, and we find the timing of the announcement to be borderline reckless. If anything, when both Nicki and Mike are practically at war with each other and both claim to not have full control over Honeycomb assets, to then announce a pre-order of a product that has yet to see a physical unit in the wild is questionable at best.
If this means the end of Honeycomb, then we have lost a huge disruptor in the lower to medium-priced peripheral market. We all lose. The Bravo, in particular, is a throttle quadrant that has no equal on the market. We really hope that whoever comes out on top after the dust has settled in the Honeycomb drama, we are left with a company that takes the customers and its role in our community seriously. A company that continues to innovate and brings quality products at an affordable price point to our sim-pits, like the vision Honeycomb was founded on in the first place.
Share this page
Threshold encourages informed discussion and debate - though this can only happen if all commenters remain civil when voicing their opinions.