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SwanLuv’s site, showing the new option to start a crowfunding campaign, a surprise change from the startup’s original wedding financing plan.

Updated below with SwanLuv statement and additional information.

Was it too good to be true? Or was it a joke all along?

Some couples are now asking those questions about SwanLuv, the Seattle startup that made big headlines last year with its plan to loan up to $10,000 to finance the weddings of couples chosen for the program, promising that they wouldn’t need to repay the money as long as they stayed married.

SwanLuv CEO Scott Avy
SwanLuv CEO Scott Avy

The service made its debut this week, but with a very different twist. SwanLuv instead launched a free crowdfunding platform for weddings, in which couples raise the money themselves from friends, family and community members.

“Based on the overwhelming interest in SwanLuv’s financing program (totaling billions of dollars of demand), we have adjusted our platform to help support more couples!” the company said in a message on its site, which has been regularly offline this morning. “Introducing SwanLuv’s New Wedding Crowdfunding Campaign!”

At least one aspect of the original plan remains: If the couples ultimately divorce, they still have to pay the money back.

Update: In a response to GeekWire’s questions, SwanLuv CEO Scott Avy says the people who donated to the crowdfunding campaign would get their money back in the event of a divorce. (We’ve asked how the company would make money if that’s the case.) The company issued this statement in response to critics of the change.

We sincerely apologize to anyone we have upset by adjusting our funding platform.

The initial business plan was to provide a lending model, “Receive funds up to $10,000 towards your dream wedding for FREE (paid by members that don’t stay married).”

Due to overwhelming demand (nearly two billion dollars at $10,000 per couple) and unanticipated legal regulations/restrictions in the lending space, rather than pull out we came up with a tool we believe still helps couples with their wedding financing.

Before adjusting our funding platform to a wedding crowdfunding model, we released surveys asking our users if wedding crowdfunding is something they would consider. The results showed a relatively high percentage of users are interested in a wedding crowdfunding platform. We have been working hard on developing the new model “Wedding Crowdfunding Platform.”

Unfortunately, under the crowdfunding model our servers have had trouble keeping up with demand. Our apologies if you have had to wait or have been unable to get through to our site. We are currently working on a stable solution to the volume of site traffic we are experiencing.

Couples who were banking on SwanLuv are reacting with anger and disappointment.

“If so many other couples as myself had the family and friends to help with our weddings, we would have already gone this route, not wait months on end for help from what seemed like a dream come true,” wrote a woman from New York state in a message to GeekWire.

Another would-be user likened the new approach to a “horrible version of gofundme.”

To be sure, there are no accusations that SwanLuv has taken any money from customers. But the switch is garnering a similar reaction on the company’s Facebook page.

SwanLuv’s site has been suffering intermittent outages since the announcement was made. We were unable to create an account this morning to verify the terms of the crowdfunding campaign or the payback requirements.

Speaking with GeekWire in December, Avy said the original plan was like a casino for marriages. SwanLuv planned to look at the statistics, survey potential couples and give higher interest rates to the stronger relationships in order to “protect ourselves as a company,” he said. If couples stayed together, they would never have to pay back the money. But if they someday got divorced, they would have to pay back the original amount, plus interest, which is how the company planned to make money.

The original plan made headlines in publications including the Washington Post, CNBC, Business Insider, and many others, including GeekWire.

Avy works a day job at Expedia as a product manager, according to his LinkedIn profile, which lists SwanLuv as the fourth business he’s founded, along with mobile app development company Attack Touch, app analytics company Yslides and SnapDare, which is a combination of Snapchat and truth or dare.

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