How a Failed Kickstarter Campaign Told The World Half The Story and Painted Us As Crowdfunding Super-Villains. And, Yes… We’re Partially To Blame.
When Crowdfunding campaigns fail, it’s pretty easy for Project Creators to blame the Agency for the failure. It’s not often true of course, but agencies are convenient scapegoats. That’s fine. We get it. It’s part of the reality of working in Crowdfunding. After all, project creators are the reason we all love crowdfunding. They dedicate years of their lives to these projects. Many creators quit their jobs to focus on their projects. The stakes and emotions are high. Realizing that their project is likely to fail can be devastating, it often leads them to desperate measures. After all, the culmination of all of their hard work hangs in the balance. Our role as an agency is to support project creators. We’re here to help them succeed. But not every project succeeds. And sometimes, like in the case of Upstart: The Board Game, we the Agency are partial to blame. We’re pretty sure these things have been on our former client D-Cal’s mind over the past year.
Around midnight on December 20th, 2017 the article below appeared online.
Shortly after that, a flurry of nasty and negative comments about Woodshed Agency and it’s founders Jeff Wenzel and Shawn Neal started to roll in on Facebook, Twitter, and our website and even on those of our clients. After we read the article, it was pretty clear why. D-Cal paints a compelling portrait of a successful Kickstarter Campaign being taken to the cleaners by a craven company that took the founders money and appears inexplicably hell-bent on self-destruction. It’s devastating, but it’s also very, very incomplete.
After this turn of events, we decided it was time to tell the rest of the story that D-Cal shared with everyone, albeit with some crucial details and facts filled in.
1) Yes. Woodshed Agency did work with Upstart: The Board Game on their Kickstarter campaign.
As described in the article, on August 31st, 2016 D-Cal brought us on to help manage, maintain and promote his Kickstarter campaign. Upstart: The Board Game looked fun, well researched and fully developed as a product. They had been demoing it in the Philippines and getting good feedback. However, their social media presence was pretty underdeveloped with only a handful of likes and very little engagement. They also didn’t have much traction in the United States. We all agreed that needed to be developed as the key to success. It was also a little unclear what audience this game was meant to be targeted toward, home players or education? But no worries, that’s why we’ve been hired. Under normal circumstances, it takes an agency like ours around 4–6 months to build a target audience, shape a campaign and develop a marketing strategy. It was pretty clear that on that front we were starting a bit behind with Upstart. But, all that said we were confident that given enough time to build an audience and a solid marketing plan based on industry best practices we could give D-Cal’s campaign the absolute best chance to succeed on Kickstarter. That is of course if the client follows our advice. D-Cal did not.
2) No. The Upstart: The Board Game Kickstarter Campaign was NOT successful.
Shortly after our two teams began working together, D-Cal decided the campaign had to launch in Mid-October because he had previously booked a trip to the US to tour and promote the game. Now on the face of it, touring and promoting the game during a live campaign is a solid strategy. One we would have fully supported provided that all of the hard work had been done before launch to build an audience that would indicate the campaign would be successful. In the case of Upstart, we were not given the time to make this happen. Given that at the time the Upstart pages had only a handful of followers, it was pretty clear this would be an uphill battle. After many calls with us suggesting D-Cal delay his launch and give his project to build an interested audience, D-Cal insisted the campaign had to launch right away.
So, with our client’s marching orders in place, we set a launch date of October 17th, 2016. This incidentally is our first big mistake as a young agency. We should never have let the client push so hard against such common best practices. Instead, we did what we could to rush the creation of a campaign video, edit it together, build out the page and muster up whatever supportive audience we could find using all of the social media tools at our disposal. Predictably, once the campaign launched, we did not get much traction in the first 48 hours and right away we knew the campaign was going to struggle.
Now, as you can see on his blog post, D-Cal paints a fairly accurate picture of what transpired during the live campaign. Here’s a snapshot of our efforts:
- We conducted twice a week, hour-long conference calls helping them with their message and touring strategy.
- We did, in fact, connect Richard with a representative Kickstarter looking for additional guidance.
- We sent out hundreds of press releases.
- We ran hundreds of Facebook ads totaling agreeing to front over $4,000 of our own money for this budget. (This too, would be a fateful mistake on our part).
- We sent out hundreds of emails.
Despite the long odds we faced, together our two teams tried our hardest to get people’s attention through social media and live event marketing and worked countless hours on end to try and make Upstart a Success, but unfortunately, the campaign was a failure and what you see on the Kickstarter page is not real.
While the campaign says it’s successfully funded, the facts are that with 4 days to go and only $12,872 of the $35,000 goal raised, D-Cal and co-founder Ina had their family members make fake pledges totaling $19,101 to ensure the campaign would succeed and they could collect on whatever money was pledged. The community had spoken, Upstart was going to fail. D-Cal and his team refused to accept this reality. They pumped fake money in during the final hours, and on November 19th, 2017 Upstart: The Board Game was “Successfully Funded.”
**This would turn out to be the major issue that set this whole saga in motion, and one D-Cal failed to address in his blog piece. See the screenshots below.**
3) Yes. Woodshed Agency allowed D-Cal to tie our bank account to his campaign because he could not secure a domestic account of his own. (This was a HUGE mistake on our part).
About a week before launch, D-Cal reached out in a panic. His domestic bank account fell through. He needed to use our account. Otherwise, they were done. We felt bad; we liked them. We liked the game. We thought, why not? Let’s be good partners. Hindsight is 20/20 and agreeing to this was stupid on our part. Flat out, bad business on our end.
Now here is where the pickle starts.
The fake pledges totaled $19,101. They were never collected from Kickstarter as all of those credit cards were either fake or did not have sufficient funds to honor the pledge, commonly known as “Dropped Backers” as a term of art in Kickstarter.
The actual amount deposited into our bank account was $16,687.01. Here’s a screenshot of the deposit.
- As outlined in the terms of our contract, we were due a 10% commission on the amount raised. Depending if you choose to calculate this amount on the fake number D-Cal’s team created or the actual amount raised, our commission was anywhere between $1,669 and $3,579.
- We also spent $3,699 on Facebook ads, which needed to be reimbursed. See screenshot below.
- Out of the $16,687.01 actually raised, Woodshed Agency was owed anywhere from $5,368 to $7,278 in reimbursements and commissions, depending on how you calculate the raise (Real or Fake Pledges).
- Furthermore, AND WE OWN EQUAL BLAME FOR THIS, because D-Cal couldn’t resolve his US banking issues and is demanding incorrect payment. There isn’t a clear way for us to show the proper income from our fees that doesn’t leave us liable for taxes on the total amount of $16,687.01, which is currently an exposure of nearly $5,000 in taxes vs what we actually earned from the campaign. Even we own part of this issue, we can’t absorb the tax burden of our clients, let alone what fees exist in wiring these type of payments to a company in the Philippines. We almost agreed to this. Our Accountant stopped us.
- Lastly, because we added our banking information to the account, we were liable for any and all refunds to backers if the Upstart The Board Game was never delivered. In a nutshell, if backers requested refunds, the money would be pulled from our account, not D-Cals.
Bottom Line: D-Cal needed to raise $35,000 to build his molds, designs, print and ship his game. In total, Upstart only raised around $16K in real pledges. Take away what we were owed and if all tax issues were accounted for and Upstart netted somewhere between $4,409 and $9,319*. What was D-Cal’s plan to come up with the nearly $20,000* gap in funding he needed to deliver the game and assure us that Woodshed Agency wasn’t on the hook for an additional $16,687 in potential refunds?
D-Cal never was able to supply us with a sufficient answer to this question. Their plan was to launch an Indiegogo In-demand campaign to fill in the gap. To date, it’s raised zero dollars. Click here. That is the real reason why were are holding back up to $6,319 in funds from Upstart. Because we are legally exposed if they fail to deliver rewards to backers.
Since that time, D-Cal and his team have taken to Facebook and Twitter multiple times, slandering us to all of our current and former clients and the crowdfunding community at large, finally culminating in his most recent Blog post where D-Cal again accurately stated that legal letters have been exchanged between each parties attorneys and ultimately this will be resolved in court. This incidentally is why we’ve gone radio silent to them, based on our attorney’s advice.
So, here we are. What a mess. This sucks. It’s bad for D-Cal, bad for Upstart’s backers, bad for Woodshed Agency and bad for the crowdfunding community as a whole.
What do we know:
- Woodshed Agency is not without blame in this matter.
- We let a client push us into financing a launch date that was to soon and that we knew had a very high chance of failing. That’s mistake #1
- We let our client use our bank account. That’s mistake #2
- We let D-Cal pump fake money into the campaign. That’s mistake #3
- Woodshed Agency did not set out on a path to defraud Upstart or it’s backers nor did we set out to hurt or disappoint and the crowdfunding community, board game community or the start-up world. The Woodshed team has spent the last decade helping hundreds of projects get funded from bands to documentary films to products and clothing.
- However, D-Cal is not without blame either.
- It’s clear that D-Cal knew Upstart: The Board Game was never going to get delivered to backers when they pumped $19,101 of fake pledges into the campaign knowing they would only clear up to $6,319, maybe more if tax issues were resolved. In fact, it’s likely he knew it would never get delivered at all.
- It’s also been made abundantly clear that if that were to happen, Woodshed Agency would be SOLEY responsible for refunding backers if D-Cal’s team fails to deliver. That is not in the contract and will need to be resolved through litigation.
- Despite his slander, Woodshed Agency believes D-Cal is a good guy who genuinely wants his game to succeed. Unfortunately, it’s pretty clear he hasn’t embraced the reality that he wasn’t able to raise enough money to realize that goal. His campaign should have failed, he should have moved on to plan B.
- For whatever reason, D-Cal has chosen to gloss over the fact that his campaign fell $19,000 short of its goal. He hasn’t shared this fact with his backers and he certainly hasn’t shared that fact while slandering Woodshed Agency. Instead, he’s perpetuating the myth that we Stole $35,000 from him, which is simply false.
- D-Cal, his team and online compatriots have taken the opportunity to slander Woodshed Agency on multiple occasions. This pains us, as up to this point we’ve neither responded to their actions nor disparaged them in any way.
- D-Cal is not telling the whole truth. When the whole picture is revealed, you see two teams so eager to make this game succeed they both make some very regrettable mistakes.
So, where do go from here?
It appears Upstart: The Board Game is beginning to ship. This is good news! Our hope is that all of the backers get their rewards. As far as the remainder of funds goes, this is complicated. Fundamentally we want backers to be whole, we want every dollar accounted for and we want to close the books on Upstart. This may include refunding the money to the backers. Obviously, this is a mess and it’s going to take time to untangle. At this point, it’s in lawyers hands. Words have been spoken, falsehoods have been spread, reputations have been damaged. That needs to be addressed, likely though attorneys.
In the end, we think the world of D-Cal and Upstart. They deserve to be out there. The game is great and I’m sure he’s got more solid ideas in the pipe. Hopefully we all learn from this and are able to move on to do and create great things.
To the broader crowdfunding community, we are now back online. Going off may have been an error, we’ll see. We pledge to be open and answer all takers and questions. We’ll be online tonight and the rest of the week. And as final resolution draws to and end we’ll share the results as best we can.
Shawn and Jeff
Email — firstname.lastname@example.org
*Corrected for typos