Not Cool -- the Unlucky Kickstarter Backers Behind the Coolest Cooler

I understand and appreciate what it takes to start a business from scratch.

I started mine out of my apartment in 1999 with an idea for a unique and novel head-shaver (called HeadBlade) and a little over $150K in start-up funds. I had to learn, quickly and on the fly, what it meant to take an idea and turn it into an actual product. I was naïve but determined. Once I had the 'final' prototype in hand, I though the hardest part was over.

It had only begun. But fortunately my investors consisted of two friends and my father; none of who were headshavers. They did not invest in the product; they invested in me.

Which brings me to the Coolest Cooler; I'm one of the original 60,000 backers of their record-breaking Kickstarter campaign. Each of us paid around $200 (once the goal was successfully met). In all, over $13 MILLION dollars were raised in August of 2014. I'm sure it felt as though they had struck gold and the hard part (raising money) was over. All double rainbows here on out, I'm sure they thought. The projected final product ship date was a very ambitious February, of 2015. If you know what it takes to make a retail product, you can conservatively add six months to that delivery date and still feel pressed.

The video, presented by owner Ryan Grepper, showed a very novel, and cool take on the traditional picnic cooler. No real technological advancements were introduced; most of the key elements of the cooler were combining things like Bluetooth speakers, a portable blender, stored kitchenware, heavy duty wheels, and putting it all under one roof, or in this case, in one fabulously overloaded cooler. It really was a party on wheels.

Ryan and his small team raised many times over their original goal ($50,000), which is good, because you can't produce a product like that without creating molds and they usually will cost $10,000-$15,000 per piece. The original Cooler appeared to be made from about 30 molds. There were a lot of other components that had to be sourced and some would not be cheap (blender motor, battery, speaker. Not to mention shipping such large items from China...then sending individually to each investor). Someone do the math; but it's clear they didn't.

Spoiler alert: Ryan and his team did not make the February ship date. It's now November 23rd and many backers haven't received their initial purchase. Myself included.

So why the blog? With their recent "Campaign Updates" Kickstarter's star pupil is now probably their most troubled alumnus.

As the project and delays rolled on, Grepper and his team infuriated the initial backers to a point that talk of a class action lawsuit has surfaced. Sure, some original backers have received their orders but a recent "strike at the blender motor factory" has stopped any more items being shipped.

But somehow that did not stop Ryan and his team from selling the Coolest Cooler on Amazon for $500 along with a PR push that seems to be in full swing. In the past month the Cooler has had some MAJOR TV press, including The Today Show. Just in time for the holiday season.

His justification to backers? We're out of money and we need to sell on Amazon to "Keep the lights on."

It's obvious he made a decision to push the original backers aside in order to make the quick buck. It's not about the lights... it's about losing holiday sales. Plain and simple. Some companies make as much as 50% of their yearly revenue during the holidays. Ryan and his team had to make a decision concerning the inventory they had available and with some great TV coverage why not capitalize? The rationale must be that original backers can't demand the product in time for Christmas; only those who pay full retail have that right. Backers can wait, the holidays can't.

The issue I have is the wording in their 2014 campaign that clearly states the investors get theirs FIRST. No asterisk, no other stipulations. Unambiguously it read, "People who back the project on Kickstarter get to have the very first Coolest Coolers." Period.

When Ryan was basking in the money and had the highest funded Kickstarter Campaign he seemed to be available for any press. Giving interviews left and right. Now that times have changed, and he has alienated his original backers with some very bad decisions, only to suffer the huge backlash, he hasn't been available for comment. He's probably off somewhere on a desert isle with his invention, listening to a violin concerto over nifty Bluetooth speakers, sitting next to his pal Nero.

The thing to remember, for all involved, including Ryan, is that you are backing a product, not investing In a person or company. This makes all the difference when the game is on the line.