Kickstarter’s Biggest Shitshow Somehow Got Even Messier
The 'Coolest Cooler' creators ask backers for more money, backers threaten to kill them.
A decidedly not chill development for 36,000 Kickstarter backers of the "Coolest Cooler": Coolest is now considering asking people who haven't yet received their coolers to pay an additional $97 for "expedited delivery" of the long-past-due all-in-one disaster, a prospect that has allegedly led some backers to threaten Coolest employees.
If you're not familiar, at the time it launched, the Coolest Cooler was the most popular Kickstarter of all time, raising $13 million. The 55-quart cooler has a built-in blender, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker, a USB charger, and a bottle opener. You can buy one on Amazon, right now, and have it by the weekend if you pay $399.99.
That $399.99 price point is important—when Coolest Cooler was launched on Kickstarter, it cost between $165 and $225, a price its creator Ryan Grepper said in an update to backers was far too low. Meanwhile, a blender motor strike in China apparently drove up manufacturing costs of the cooler and pushed back its delivery date.
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"Unfortunately, we didn't set the pledge levels high enough to cover the final quality of the Coolest Cooler," Grepper wrote in the update, which was available only to backers (I have embedded it below). "The Coolest Cooler ultimately cost more than we expected to develop and manufacture."
Charging too low of a price or not being able to keep up with demand has been a notable problem with a few high-profile Kickstarters, including the Zano drone, which ran out of money before it sent products to backers.
Coolest Cooler doesn't have money to produce the remaining coolers, which is why it's selling existing stock on Amazon but not sending them to backers who haven't yet received the product (the company has delivered about 20,000 coolers to backers, but 36,000 more people are waiting). Reviews of the cooler are mixed—most say that it is indeed cool, but that it is very heavy and isn't worth $400.
But rather than fold up shop as Zano did, Grepper said that "as long as there is breath in my body we are committed to getting each and every backer their Coolest Cooler."
"We are not Zano, we are not going bankrupt and we have a way to work through this," Susan Towers, the company's marketing director, told me. "While there are clearly some disappointed folks out there, many do understand the challenges."
The question now, is how Coolest Cooler will get more funding after it has already run through its first $13 million in Kickstarter backing. Last month, Grepper said the company needed another $15 million to deliver on the company's promise, and it looks like the company is considering asking its initial backers to pay an extra $97 each to fund production.
"The threats are egregious"
"We would allow backers to pay for the remaining cost of their Coolest to get it faster, with a guaranteed delivery date before July 4," Grepper wrote. "We are open to this option and exploring it here because you have asked us to do so."
After sending out this update, Towers says she and other Coolest employees were threatened and doxxed. She had me text her before I called her, because her phone hadn't stopped ringing in the last 24 hours.
"I know the internet is an ugly place but Kickstarter is usually somewhere people spend discretionary income," she said. "I got doxxed by a backer and my phone has been blowing up. I do think some of the reaction is beyond the pale. We've been physically threatened and abused and yesterday some backer threatened Ryan's family."
"We had a guy show up at the office, Ryan had someone show up at the door a few months ago," Towers added. "I think it's out of all proportion to physically threaten someone. I'm not denying it's a substantial amount of money for some people, but come on, this is crazy."
There are two other options the company is considering. Coolest says it's exploring an investment partnership with an unnamed company.
"You can't announce a deal is done until it's done," Towers said. "We have a path forward. All of us are working our asses off."
Finally, Grepper said the company can continue down the line it's currently on—allowing $400 Amazon units to fund the initial Kickstarter orders. Grepper said the company can ship one new cooler "for every 2-4 [retail] sales."
"You can call it a clusterfuck or whatever, but it's a Kickstarter"
So Coolest is suggesting that it may need to sell as many as 144,000 coolers at full retail price in order to deliver its initial promise, which is more Coolest Coolers than have been produced to date.
"The cooler market is exploding right now. Cooler sales have doubled in the last year," Towers said. "We could do it in a year or 18 months, but that depends on part on the backers."
Towers says that disgruntled backers have made it difficult to sell on Amazon.
"We thought Amazon would be a tremendous opportunity for us," Towers said. "They flooded Amazon with fake 1 star reviews and have made it impossible to sell a lot of coolers."
The question here, of course, is whether any of this is actually worth it for anyone involved. You can buy a Mophie phone charger, a Bluetooth speaker, and a cooler and strap them all together and get a low-rent version of the Coolest, without having to earn an economics degree on the side to calculate when you're going to get yours.
Kickstarter and Coolest are quick to say that when you invest in a Kickstarter, you're merely funding an idea and that you're not actually entitled to a product on any sort of timeline. But it's hard to explain away Coolest's bad estimate of how much the product would actually cost, and it's hard to explain to first time crowdfunders why the company is able to deliver the coolers to people willing to pay retail today but not to the people who took a leap of faith on the company in the first place.
For every Kickstarter backer who has threatened the company, there are dozens more who simply want their damn coolers.
"I'm not sure that I could enjoy using it if I got it tomorrow. I think I would look at it as this idea I was so excited about but now every time I look at it I got taken for over $200," Jason Sebell, a Coolest Cooler backer who has not received his product, told me. "I don't anticipate receiving it before the summer. Should it come six months from now, I think it will be hard for me to use it and feel good that I own it. If I had my druthers, I'd get my money back tomorrow. I want to wash my hands of Ryan."
And so Coolest is in an incredibly tough spot: Unable to appease the people who are truly pissed off, and forced to ask the people who have waited patiently to pay more money.
"You can call it a clusterfuck or whatever, but it's a Kickstarter. It's not an online store, it's a cooler. It's a party cooler," Towers said. "The threats are egregious and it turns my stomach."