The Coolest Cooler Kickstarter is a long and winding saga with millions of dollars and thousands of backers along for the ride. When the all-in-one cooler, blender, charger, speaker and more finally arrived on the doorstep of Seattle’s Josh Belzman this week, we borrowed the main line from the viral informercial “Will It Blend?” and asked just that. The answer is yes! And then … no. And then yes again!
But first, the backstory.
In the spring of 2014, the Coolest campaign caught the attention of Belzman, a longtime former editor with msnbc.com and NBCNews.com, where we worked together for several years.
“I’d done a few Kickstarters in the past and liked the idea of helping cool gadgets come into reality that might not otherwise,” Belzman said Thursday. “I think I actually read coverage of how much pledge money Coolest had generated — they were already funded, I think they had over $8 million at the time — so it felt like a pretty safe investment.”
Coolest — billed as a “portable party disguised as a cooler” — eventually raised $13,285,226 from 62,642 backers.
Belzman pledged $185 for one cooler with a projected delivery date, at that time, of the following summer — so about a year or so.
“I followed the updates and they were actually very transparent and put out a timeline and talked about the manufacturing process and that was kind of refreshing — more transparent than a lot of these projects have been,” Belzman said. “It also exposed the challenges they were dealing with with the manufacturing issues with the motor not being up to par. I think they had an issue with suppliers or had to redesign the hinges and do some other things.”
At that point delivery was pushed to late summer of 2015. Before long it was pushed again to late fall. When late fall of 2015 rolled around, Belzman said Coolest announced that it had some news coming about delivery dates. He had actually been considering seeking a refund but held off to hear that news.
In February of this year, Coolest released a delivery map showing regions and batch numbers for backers who were finally going to get their Coolest Coolers.
“Turns out I’m in the last batch to get delivered,” Belzman said. “And there were no dates attached to this. They were showing the phasing of when they were going to deliver it, but no dates attached. Then it turns out that then they had to reveal that they didn’t have enough money to actually manufacture those units and they needed to go seek more investments.”
Belzman, like a lot of other people, was “pissed.”
“I sought a refund and found out that they had changed their terms and a refund would only be issued at the time of shipment, which wasn’t going to do me any good because there was no shipment date.”
Belzman said he started writing letters and “ranting on their Facebook page.” He got standard responses saying “we’re trying to make a good product ” and “just be patient.” He wrote a letter to the [Washington] attorney general, but admits “it’s kind of a grey area around crowdfunding — you know, you’re paying for an idea, not necessarily a product.”
And he was right, because Kickstarter eventually replied by saying it was covered and still planned to deliver as promised. No refunds.
“Around the same time there was a lot of back and forth with other backers and people coming up with ideas and speculation on what had happened and it was proposed that Kickstarter just tell the backers, ‘How much money do you need from us to complete our units and ship ’em?'” Belzman said. “And so they came out with a plan where they could ship 10,000 units by this Fourth of July if they got an additional $97.”
So on top of the $185 Belzman had spent back in 2014, he plopped down nearly $100 more.
“You were guaranteed to get your cooler … as much as a guarantee from them was worth,” Belzman said. “This one carried more of a consumer-level guarantee because you’re actually purchasing a product with a guaranteed delivery date. So I went for it.
“I had a dilemma — part of me didn’t want to give them anymore money because they hadn’t come through with the promise that I initially signed up for. The other part of me was thinking this is my chance to just get the product and be done with them. And maybe it’s worth that amount of money to do that and actually have it this summer and enjoy it rather than waiting for who knows how long without having any kind of timeline on when it might arrive.”
A couple weeks ago, Coolest started issuing updates and shipping coolers and Belzman got word that his would be coming. Creator Ryan Grepper wrote in an update on Kickstarter on Tuesday that all 10,400 coolers promised to those who opted for the $97 option had now shipped.
Indeed, Belzman was following his cooler with the UPS tracking app Tuesday when he got a notification that it arrived. He was with his wife at Seattle’s Green Lake.
“I see the notification that it was left at the front door and I said, ‘We gotta go home. I’m not telling you why,'” Belzman said. “It’s been like two years, I’m not gonna let this thing get stolen off the street!”
At home, the couple found a box branded with “Today’s the Day.” They unpacked the Coolest Cooler and checked it all out and ran through some of the features and tested the blender before heading out the door to a park with some ice and stuff for drinks.
They blended, they rocked out, they did a photo shoot and bragged about it on social media.
“It’s pretty amazing, when I posted on it the other day on Facebook I got as many likes on that as, like, a wedding post,” Belzman said. “People are thrilled and I don’t even know if they know what it is. I’ve always been attracted to the gadget that does it all. And when it comes to a party device … this does that.”
So Belzman headed to GeekWire on Thursday to show off how cool the thing actually is. We loaded some ice and booze and mixers into his neon green Coolest and rolled it down the block and over to the edge of the Ship Canal in Fremont.
We blended drinks and played music through the bluetooth speaker. Belzman charged his phone. He pointed out the bottle opener, the four plastic plates, the cheese knife, the cutting board, the wine opener. People ran and biked past on the Burke Gilman Trail and did a double take — probably because we were drinking in public, not because his fancy cooler said ‘Coolest’ in chrome lettering. But who knows?
“There’s a certain cool factor to it,” Belzman said. “Yeah, you could jury-rig and hack together your own version for a lot less, but having something that says ‘Coolest’ on it and has all these gadgets, it’s pretty cool.”
And then we rolled back up to the GeekWire offices with the promise of making more drinks for co-workers familiar with the Coolest saga. They gawked, they took pictures and laughed. We loaded the ice, the mixers and the booze and … nothing. It wouldn’t blend.
Belzman fiddled with the battery for a while as the buzz from his rum Pain Killer seemed to wash away. The fresh batch of unblended cocktail mixings sat in the blender pitcher and eventually started to sweat as the motor failed to power back up.
“A bit of disbelief,” Belzman said. “The anticipation of using this thing and going picnicking and barbecuing was pretty high, so ….”
The failure of the blender wasn’t the first glitch, beyond the long delivery wait. Belzman was ticked on Tuesday that his $282 cooler arrived with a small dent in one side. He reached out through the company’s support channel, writing that he didn’t need a new cooler if they’d just send a backup battery or speaker as compensation. He’d yet to hear back.
“I’m disappointed,” he sighed after sending them another note, about the non-blending blender, from the GeekWire offices. “I’m hoping their support team responds quickly, but I’m not quite sure. They’ve had such a problem producing units and enough of them that I’m not sure what it actually looks like to get a replacement.”
Like many proud Americans flush with gadgetry, Belzman was particularly excited about showing off the Coolest for the upcoming Fourth of July.
“We were gonna go do a barbecue at my wife’s parents’ place,” Belzman said. “I was gonna bring it over all triumphantly — ‘the Coolest Cooler! It’s got a built-in blender!’ … It still has a built-in blender, it just doesn’t turn on.”
A few hours later, Belzman was back in touch from home. He gave the battery a quick charge and was back in blender business. He figures he’ll probably still need to contact the company for a new battery.
“This thing has been more an emotional investment than a financial one,” Belzman said. “I feel like a kid who asked for a shiny bike, was told I couldn’t have it, begged, pleaded, whined and finally got it — ripped it open, showed it off, then crashed it. But despite all that, it didn’t completely die, which seems fitting.”
Belzman said the Coolest manual claims the blender should get through 16 pitchers on a single charge, and that clearly something went wrong after our two pitchers.
Ever the optimist, he said, “A cooler with an owner’s manual. How cool is that?”
Update: Belzman heard from the marketing director of Coolest Cooler on Friday, after this story was published. She asked for his shipping address. On Saturday morning he woke up to a package containing a new battery, a backup speaker and a T-shirt with an image of a blender that read “Keep Calm, Blend On.”