The contraption known as the Coolest, a portable outdoor party station that not only holds ice but will also blend your drinks, play your music, and recharge your phone, is getting a cold shoulder from its Kickstarter backers. The company recently began selling the Coolest for $499 on Amazon, which would seem like a good thing--sales being the aim of most new products. Except that the Coolest is leaving its many of its backers, who have put up some $13 million, out in the you-know-what.
The Coolest is short of coolers and cash because of production issues. Sponsors were supposed to be the first to receive the Coolest, and they are deservedly hot about it, blistering the company in web posts. Founder Ryan Grepper explained that the Coolest is selling its inventory to the public to generate operating funds. He blamed the lack of product on a strike at a supplier that makes the blender motor. There was no backup supplier, in part because the motor's specifications are so over the top, to enhance durability. "We spent so much time testing this motor to make sure it would stand up for the long life of a Coolest, and it really felt like a sucker punch to have our supply suddenly cut off without warning," Grepper said in a post. Not having a backup supplier, he admitted, is a rookie mistake.
Now the long-delayed delivery to backers is being pushed back again while the company scrambles to get another supplier up to speed. If things go well, production will restart on December 20th.
Then again, things haven't been going particularly well for the Coolest. Like many startups, it fell behind schedule for its product launch. And unlike software, or a service that can be changed on the fly, building the ultimate cooler became more of an engineering test than the Coolest bargained for. None of the individual pieces of this thing--a cooler, blender, waterproof Bluetooth speaker, lid light, and lithium battery or USB charger--represents any particular technological challenge. But integrating them into a single product obviously complicates sourcing and manufacturing. So does building them to the tough specifications for outdoor use that the Coolest demanded in order to be able to command the premium $499 price. (The average backer put up $185, meaning they are not realizing that "return" on their investment.)
With the recent high-profile failure of Zano, a nano-drone maker, there's a bit of griping that the Kickstarter model is somehow at fault. Which seems a bit odd. Crowdsourcing is a logical way to select promising ideas for development and then spread the risk of executing the business model. Failure is an inevitable and valuable part of the process, in that it then diverts investor capital to other projects. The fact that some of the Coolest's investors are currently out 500 bucks is clearly irritating, especially if you can't mix a margarita on your next camping trip. But maybe they need to just chill.
Note: This post has been updated to reflect that the average Kickstarter backer paid $185 for a cooler.