Top 10 Kickstart Campaigns That Abused The System (And Pretty Much Got Away With It)

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Kickstarter and similar crowdfunding sites where users can pool their money together to help a struggling entrepreneur realize their dream without any help from the man are pretty popular these days. However, with only an estimated 9% of projects that get all the funding they’re asking for actually delivering on the promises they make to backers, the world of crowdfunding is rife with stories of dishonesty, shady dealings and just plain ol’ weirdness that genuinely make you wonder if your money would just be better off left in your PayPal account.

10. Potato salad guy – Amount raised: $55,000

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Back in the halcyon days of 2014, a software developer called Zach Brown logged into Kickstarter and created a campaign asking for 10 dollars so that he could make some potato salad. Like, that was literally it, Zach (initially) offered backers no stretch goals (additional promises if the campaign gets more funding than expected) and his description of the project simply said “I’m making potato salad.”

As is wont to happen in these situations, the internet caught wind of the project and decided that if Zach wanted to make potato salad, he was going to make all of the potato salad and ended up pledging 5500 times more money than he asked for to the tune of $55,492.

To Zach’s credit, he agreed to give half the money he raised to charity and used the rest to fund a potato themed street party called “Potatostock.” In a later interview, Zach explained that he didn’t want to milk his 15 minutes of internet fame for personal gain, which would have probably had more impact if he hadn’t also revealed in the same interview that the second the campaign started to gain traction, he’d been cold calling TV studios trying to get himself a job by telling them he was the potato salad guy. But the kicker here is the precedent that Zach’s campaign set because as soon as it went viral, countless other “wacky” campaigns began appearing on the site started by people all hoping to cash in on the internet’s fickleness and they’re almost all universally, just awful.

9. The Doom That Came to Atlantic City – Amount raised: $122,874

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The Doom That Came to Atlantic City was initially pitched to the people of Kickstarter as a “light hearted Lovecraftian” board game that was paradoxically fun for the whole family, provided your family likes arguing over who gets to play as which unpronounceable ancient Old God of misery. Despite the guy who first pitched the campaign, Erik Chevalier, having no experience making a board game whatsoever, 1246 backers pledged money to make it a reality, because two big name artists were involved with the project and come on, how hard is it really to make a board game?

Pretty damn hard as it turns out because although Chevalier raised almost $100,000 more than he asked for (his initial goal was $35,000), after 13 months of work he produced nothing but still somehow ran out of money and cancelled the project. This came as a shock to the guys who were in charge of actually designing the game and had been tinkering with the idea for a decade before Chevalier came along because according to them, they hadn’t been paid a single cent.

Chevalier heroically refused to tell backers what he’d done with their money, citing that he couldn’t do so for “legal reasons,” legal reasons in this case meaning he’d spent the money on himself and didn’t want to be sued in a class action lawsuit. That’s not speculation on our part by the way: the project was such a disaster that the Federal Trade Commission eventually stepped in to sort it out and discovered that, contrary to Chevalier’s claims that the money had been spent on producing things for the game, it had been spent on rent and things like a new Xbox. Because defrauding thousands of people is kind of something the government doesn’t approve of, the FTC ordered that Chevalier pay back everyone who funded the project, an order which, to the surprise of nobody, Chevalier claimed he wasn’t able to follow through on because old habits die hard.

By the way, another company actually followed through and made the game (without the use of Kickstarter or Chevalier, we might add), which you can buy on Amazon here.

8. ZPM Espresso machine – Amount Raised: $369,569

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Amongst the many stories of Kickstarter failure, the plight of the ZPM Espresso Machine is one of the more depressing because it came like this close to actually being a real thing. In a nutshell the idea was to create a machine that could produce high quality espresso that didn’t cost the kind of money that would make it difficult to justify not just going to Starbucks every morning instead, an idea some 1500 backers seemed to like.

Most of the campaigns 1546 backers pledged a couple of hundred dollars a piece with the implicit understanding that when the project came to fruition, they’d get an espresso machine capable of producing high quality, scalding hot coffee they could spit out dramatically while reading the paper. Three years later, the project was cancelled and it was announced there’d be no refunds or coffee machines.

What makes this this project more annoying is that the ZPM Expresso Machine totally worked, it’s just that the brains behind the project couldn’t figure out a way to make them on the scale or for the price promised, meaning it was ultimately cancelled with nothing to show for it. Backers became even more annoyed when it was revealed that alongside the nearly $400,000 raised via Kickstarter, the ZPM project had raised nearly a million dollars via other means, nearly 60 times the initial $20,000 they asked for.

7. Postal 2 – Amount raised: Not enough

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Back in 2013, infamously bad director and one of this writer’s personal heroes, Uwe Boll decided to dip his toes into the pool of Kickstarter in an attempt to secure funding for the movie, Postal 2, a sequel to a critically panned movie based on one of the most offensive video games of all time. What could go wrong?

With a humble (for a movie) goal of half a million dollars and some fairly unique backer rewards (exclusive prizes and gifts for pledging a certain amount of money) including a part in the movie (a steal at $500) to a private dinner and movie date with Boll himself ($5000 and you got to pick the movie!) the campaign would probably have been a success if not for one pertinent fact: Uwe Boll movies suck ass.

When the project failed to generate the kind of hype Boll had anticipated, and in fact seemed to be generative negative hype, Boll abruptly cancelled the campaign. A few months later he tried again with a second sequel to his film “Rampage,” which similarly failed to raise nearly enough money, prompting Boll to swear off the platform forever and release a video addressed to everyone who hadn’t financed his films aptly titled “#[email protected]* you all.” Did I mention that I love this guy?

6. Yogventures – Amount raised: $567,665

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Pitched as what has been described as a “laughably ambitious” video game featuring the likenesses of what are apparently some of the most popular and presumably shouty people on YouTube, this campaign had more twists and turns before ending in disaster than a HotWheels track made of crazy straws.

For starters, Yogscast (the group of YouTube stars lending their likeness to the game and the main reason it secured so much funding in the first place) quickly began distancing themselves from it as soon as it became clear it wasn’t going to be as ambitious as promised. This culminated in the group completely disavowing the company making the game and sending people who paid money to play it a completely different game instead. Yogscast then claimed that the game actually had little do with them, you know, even though their faces were literally the main selling point, effectively throwing the six man team making the game to the wolves. After successfully distancing themselves from the failed game, Yogscast then masterfully sidestepped allegations of dishonesty when it emerged that they’d received $150,000 of the money from the project, $50,000 of which was unaccounted for by saying “there’s no value in going into detail” and then refusing to talk about it anymore.

Truly a masterclass in PR we can all learn a lesson from.

5. Synchronized – Amount raised: $1,762

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Unlike the other entries on this list, not only did this project to raise funds for a short student film raise the full amount and some change, but the campaign creator, Matias Shimada delivered exactly what he promised: A short science fiction piece set in a post-apocalyptic world that was deemed good enough to win first place at Campus Movie Fest, one of the world’s largest student film festivals.

The problem was that the film Matias produced was an almost shot for shot rip-off of a French animated film that featured the same plot, visuals and general tone called Replay. When confronted with the evidence that he’d stolen his idea, Matias apologized for not being open with backers (read: getting caught) adding that “Everything I did, I did in complete innocence” because there’s absolutely nothing wrong or unethical about plagiarizing someone else’s idea when using other people’s money to win a competition.

For some reason, despite claiming that he didn’t do anything wrong, Matias removed his film from YouTube so we can only like the vastly superior version he ripped off.

4. myIDkey– Amount raised: $473,333

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Like many ideas that appear on Kickstarter, myIDkey was one of those things that you read about and think to yourself, “Why doesn’t this thing already exist?” like a laptop that doesn’t keep playing YouTube videos for 20 seconds after you close it and beer bottles with labels that peel off in one satisfying go. In the most basic sense, myIDkey was a USB stick that, when inserted into a computer, would automatically and securely enter password and login info while browsing the web, but was locked to your fingerprint so could only work when inserted by you.

The simplicity of the idea combined with the fact it could potentially eliminate the annoyance of friends logging into your Facebook and telling everyone who much you love parts of the male anatomy, saw it bring in nearly half a million dollars from 3,972 backers. The project later received nearly 3 million additional dollars in funding after being covered extensively by tech sites.

Although the project seemed like a slam dunk to most critics, the project continually faltered and missed deadlines, only sporadically updating backers to tell them they were adding new features or updates nobody wanted or asked for. At the time of writing this article, which is nearly 3 years after the project launched and 2 years after its initial deadline, almost nobody has one of these things and the few who do report that it either doesn’t work, is buggy, or broke after a few days of regular use. Man, it’s almost like it’d just be easier to remember your Facebook password or something.

3. Asylum Playing Cards – Amount raised: $25,146

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The Asylum playing card fiasco is one of the more baffling Kickstarter stories of the last few years because it resulted in the creator being forced to pay back double what they raised to a handful of backers in one specific part of America. The short version is that in 2012, a guy calling himself Ed Nash started a Kickstarter to raise funds to create a deck of playing cards sporting unique horror themed art work, most of which was seemingly already done.

To be clear, the plan was to create a deck of ordinary playing cards like the kind you can buy from any store, not create a new card game like Cards Against Humanity or Exploding Kittens, meaning literally the only thing they had to do was print and deliver them. And yet, for some unknown reason, the company behind the campaign, Altius Management, abruptly stopped communicating with backers after a few months.

This apparently irked the state of Washington who went after the company like a bulldog attacking a slightly smaller bulldog coated in peanut butter, citing that they would not tolerate “crowdfunding theft” and thus ordering Altius Management to pay over $50,000 in damages (twice as much as they’d raised during the campaign itself) that was to be split between the courts and 31 Washington based backers. That means that each would get $668 regardless of how much they actually pledged. The lesson here obviously being if you’re going to rip someone off, make sure they don’t live in Washington first.

2. Eye3 Drone – Amount raised: $78,481

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While reading this you may have noticed that every one of the campaigns we’ve noted at the very least produced something even if that thing was just excuses, which has probably left you thinking, “Has anyone ever just tried to take the money and run?” to which the answer is, of course.

The Eye3 Drone Kickstarter campaign was such a transparent attempt to scam early tech adopters who don’t know better from their money that it’d make Apple stop and think. The campaign promised to deliver a low-cost drone that could fly itself while carrying a professional grade camera for users who wanted to film things from the air, but preferred to let a robot handle the cinematography. Almost immediately drone aficionados, who are like the vape enthusiasts of the robot world in that they insist the technology makes them look cool instead of just like a douche, pulled the campaign apart after discovering that every piece of promotional material was of another drone consumers could buy for less.

After more digging, it was discovered that the people behind the campaign had made off with other people’s money in a similar scheme, prompting Kickstarter to step in and refund everyone’s money. The team behind the Eye3 insisted that they were, like, totally on the level, you guys, gosh, and invited people with faith in the project to pledge money via their website. As of today, the website no longer exists after the project was mysteriously cancelled when everyone stopped pledging money.

1. Amanda Palmer – Amount raised: $1,192,793

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In 2012, Amanda Palmer, a musician best known for being part of the alt-rock band The Dresdon Dolls as well some other, less commercially successful projects, launched a Kickstarter to fund her new album, asking for a conservative $100,000. Palmer raised 10 times this amount by the time the campaign ended.

In a blog post, Palmer noted that $250,000 of the money raised would be spent paying off the debts she’d accumulated by not working the previous year and recording the album, which was already finished by the time she posted on Kickstarter, prompting the question of what exactly she’d have done if she’d only raised the $100,000 she asked for at first if she needed at least double that just to not go bankrupt.

Despite the crux of the campaign being that this was about “the future of music” and taking power away from a corrupt music industry that doesn’t pay artists what they’re worth, Palmer refused to pay local musicians she recruited to open for her band, instead saying she’d pay them in hugs, beer and that most valuable commodity, exposure, a deal even the freaking New Yorker stated was probably “worse than nothing.” When musicians pointed out the obvious hypocrisy of this, especially considering Palmer had raised over a million dollars and spent a quarter of it on herself, Palmer suddenly changed her mind. In a rambling post to her own website, Palmer almost broke an arm patting herself on the back for scraping together enough money to pay the musicians a fair wage for their work, noting that they could have done so all along, while backhandedly referring to comments from friends about how “some people play for reasons other than cash.” A bold claim coming from the person who in the same post states the she pays her own band a yearly salary regardless of whether or not they’re on tour or not.

The end result was that Palmer’s tour ended up being a massive success, the Kickstarter is still one of the most popular music projects the site has ever had and she got to keep an estimated $100,000 of the money raised for herself. For the curious, Palmer currently has a Patreon where she charges you a dollar every time she releases a piece of content, whether it’s a song, essay or old photo she found on a hard drive on her laptop she thinks is neat.

It’s articles like this that make use think we’re in the wrong business.


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1 Comment

  1. I was down with Amanda Palmer until I read her book. I hate to admit it, but she’s literally only famous because she gets naked in public and is married to Neil Gaimann.