Piss and Vinegar: No, I Won’t Kickstart Your Lamebrained Beer Project

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Kickstarter is so 2012.  There have been some notable business successes launched by the crowd-funding website, but the bar for getting a project on there seems pretty low, and the beer-drinking community is a source of particularly ridiculous ideas.  Ten years from now we are going to look back on the Kickstarter era and laugh at how quaintly silly it all was.

Meanwhile here in 2013, we’re still fending off digital panhandlers who want us to fund their beery projects.  Like brick-and-mortar panhandlers, these Kickstarter beggars cast a wide net, hoping to shake a few coins from as many strangers as possible.  But while it’s easy to feel a little sympathy for people living on the street, you have to wonder at the nerve of well-established people–or businesses–passing the hat, pulling their pockets inside out, Monopoly-man style.  Have some pride, people.

The impetus for this rant is a tweet that I received late last month:  “@itspubnight I’m rapidly nearing the Kickstarter goal for my next drinking show. A shout out would mean a lot!”.  I have to admit, I didn’t know who Zane Lamprey was before he spammed me, so my first reaction was one of mild bemusement at the cockiness shown by this basement-dwelling podcaster who thought a complete stranger would like to pay to see him drink beer on television.  But that bemusement turned to mild irritation when I found that Zane wasn’t a plucky upstart, but instead someone who had already made four seasons of television shows on the same subject.  Someone who–in my book–should be embarrassed to go out begging like that.  And naturally it wasn’t a personal message–a glance at his timeline showed dozens of identical messages spewed out to people with a demonstrated interest in beer.

It’s bad enough to shamelessly try to crowdsource your bar tab, but the Twitter spam aspect is amusing also.  Every so often you get a tweet addressed to you from someone you don’t follow or don’t even know, but usually it’s in reply to some other thread of conversation.  When it comes out of the blue from someone who doesn’t follow you, it’s spam, plain and simple.  But given Zane’s semi-celebrity, it was funny to see the flurry of excited beer geek tweets that day:  “Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod!  Zane Lamprey has discovered me and needs my personal assistance!  Let’s get this thing funded for my new friend!”  Sorry, folks, Zane has no idea who you are.  Someone involved with the project–surely it was an unpaid summer intern and not Zane himself–grabbed a bunch of Twitter IDs off a list of beverage-oriented tweeters and blasted out identical messages to all of them.  Cleverly, it was a plea for a donation wrapped in a flattering request for an endorsement.

As goofy as the whole episode was, I probably wouldn’t have gone on a tirade about it, except for a couple of other recent Kickstarter drinking project pleas that came from companies that shouldn’t need micro-funding.  About a week before the Lamprey tweet I had gotten a spam email from the University Games Corporation asking me to help spread the word on a Kickstarter for a pub trivia board game.  That is a lame enough request, but the kicker is that the company boasts on its website of being over 25 years old, and clearly has the means to develop and market any board game it cares to.  In a similar vein, I think it took a lot of brass earlier this year for Pacific City’s Pelican Pub and Brewery to ask for $100,000 in Kickstarter money to build a production brewery in Tillamook.  The effort fell short, rounding up just $13,883 in 64 pledges from what must have been a weird combination of suckers and insiders.  And who kicked in that last $3?  I hope Pelican does succeed with its expansion, but I think it was oddly unprofessional to try and raise the money that way.

I have contributed to two beerish Kickstarter projects in the last couple of years: local nano-brewer Short Snout Brewing and the Portland beer/bike book Hop In the Saddle, co-authored by my friend Lucy Burningham. The book was a straightforward, advance-purchase style Kickstart–if we reach our goal, we can afford to make this product and you get one.  I might have been enticed into it even if I wasn’t Lucy’s friend.  Short Snout is a little disappointing because I expected to see more of Brian’s beer around town by now.  I don’t regret contributing, but it does make me think there will have to be something extra-extra-special about future Kickstarter brewery ideas to get any money from me.  Anyway, upstart projects like those two–while they might qualify as endearingly lamebrained at some level–are not what I am scorning today.  The projects that will never get my money are those that really should be funded by existing revenue, investments, or loans.  You have to be drunk to think Kickstarter is the right way to fund a video drinking project.

Drunk kickstarting, is that a thing?  Sounds even more dangerous than drunk texting, drunk tweeting, and drunk facebooking all put together.

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Bill Night

For the last several years Bill Night has been writing a Portland-centric beer blog called It’s Pub Night, named after the ritual weekly phone call or email rounding up friends for a night out: “Hey, it’s pub night!”. Despite his advanced age, he is lending a hand to the New School with a monthly rant called “Piss and Vinegar”. The name of the column comes from the British colloquial phrase “taking the piss” — making fun — and the sour character of Bill’s rants. He continues to maintain It’s Pub Night, and he invites you to take a look at some of the fun things over there, like the Beer Review Generator, the Portland Beer Price Index, and the Six-Pack Equivalent Calculator.

13 Comments

  1. ithinkaboutbeer

    June 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    I totally agree. I like the kickstarter idea for those small struggling businesses that need a little help and are offering something in return.

    But really, Pelican? You’ve been an established brewery for many years with good success. If you can’t get a bank to loan you money? Why should I? And if you’re just trying to scam me so you don’t have to pay interest? That’s a misuse of what should be an authentic program to crowd-fund cool and unique projects.

    Well spoken, sir.

  2. Anonymous

    June 18, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I kicked in for Short Snout Brewing’s project, and shook my head at Pelican’s in disbelief.

    • Anonymous

      June 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      I did the EXACT same two things as Anonymous #1. Pelican’s beers and food at their pub are already OUTRAGEOUSLY expensive and, IMHO, going downhill. And then they have the nerve to ask the public for money to fund their expansion??? Ridiculous…

  3. Jeff Alworth

    June 18, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    I think Kickstarter is a great thing, but it’s not broadly useful. Your examples of Pelican and Hop in the Saddle are useful contrasts. In the former case, you have a successful commercial enterprise. It will continue to be a successful commercial enterprise whether you pony up a Ben Franklin or not. The world will not be deprived of India Pelican Ale. But Hop in the Saddle is a niche product. The market for a beer-and-bike book is wee. Putting books together is hard work. If you’re one of the people would would like to see that product, Kickstarting it is a great way to go.

    The service is valuable in helping small creative products find a big enough base of support to come into being. It’s way less valuable when businesspeople use it to reduce risk just so they can make more money selling widgets. (Even if they’re really tasty widgets.)

    • Bill Night

      June 19, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Thanks, Jeff. Agreed all around.

      Note: The world has already been deprived of India Pelican Ale. The brewery recently renamed it Imperial Pelican Ale!

  4. Joemo

    June 18, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    I fumed about the Pelican expansion kickstarter. How terribly unprofessional of a well-established, well-respected and immensely well-supported brand to solicit contributions.

    I want them to succeed. I want them to expand. That is why I buy their beer and visit their brewery.

  5. ElGordo

    June 18, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I had my doubts about the Short Snout Kickstarter project when it was announced. I’m happy to see it was successful, although Bill is right, the lack of visibility of the brewery’s beers at this point is a little disappointing.

    I’ve studied informal economics as they relate to the developing world, i.e. microloans for emerging small businesses and the like. Even in those economies, people putting up the money to help launch businesses get a real return on their dollars (or birrs, or rands). Many Kickstarter campaigns for for-profit entities that don’t really provide even a zero-interest monetary return for investors, which instead makes them donors. I can only really see the Kickstarter model remaining viable for small business fundraising if the participating businesses actually make it worthwhile for a donor to put up some money. If Pelican set it up so each dollar submitted through Kickstarter was in turn worth an equivalent or greater amount in gift cards, for example, it might not be that difficult to raise funding that way. Otherwise, the owners can go to a damn bank or the Small Business Administration like every other business in the country that needs funding to expand.

  6. Bill Night

    June 18, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    Wow, I’m pissed about Zane Lamprey, throw in two sentences about Pelican, and it turns out that’s what’s got everyone in a fizz. My finger isn’t on the pulse, but at least it’s near the pulse.

    Thanks for your comments everyone. Any other egregious beer Kickstarters you can think of?

  7. Samurai Artist

    June 18, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Like everyone else says the Pelican one is ridiculous. Lately though I have been following a lot of startup brewery kick starters and those fascinate me because many times its as if they think they merely need to put their project on Kickstarter to get funded. I wonder what it is like to have your entire brewery plans hinging on a kickstarter and see it fail miserably, see the recent True Shot Brewery who asked for $48,000 and raised only $465 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/585717878/trueshot-brewery-oregon-nano-brewing. I can’t believe they actually thought they had a chance to raise 48 grand. Even more noble efforts like the new Crooked Bottle kickstarter are unlikely to succeed.

  8. Aaron Fabbri

    June 18, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Beer blogging is so 2011. ;-) It is easy to be a critic. It is harder to really look at why people use Kickstarter as gap funding. It does seem like an easy funding cop out on the surface, but it is actually a difficult thing to pull off. Yes there are questionable projects.

    I’m owner of a recent beer-related business that has a kickstarter running (crookedbottle.com). ElGordo says get a damn bank or SBA loan. It is not that easy. We were turned down for all of our SBA loans (about 5 apps). You have to be a pretty big business in this credit market to qualify. We are not.

    We have a space built out (which we already have 350k on loans for). We are not covering the mortgage so we were going to rent out extra space for offices or other retail. (My wife and I both work day jobs and subsidize the space at this point.) After talking with our staff and customers–they really liked this concept (crooked bottle) that we had zero money left to execute.

    An employee mentioned Kickstarter–I agreed to try it. Let me tell you it is not easy. Asking friends for support is humiliating. You have to put yourself out there in a major way.

    The good thing about it is the all-or-nothing funding model. It allows us to throw a concept out there, and see if our neighborhood really wants this. If so, we get funded, and Arbor Lodge has a new place to hang out, eat good food, and collaborate on super local beer. If not, no loss except on our end (we are putting a lot into marketing the thing and getting the word out).

    So why wouldn’t we do a Kickstarter? What else would you have done? Just give up?

    • Bill Night

      June 18, 2013 at 11:40 pm

      Aaron, I’m really glad you wrote in. I thought about mentioning Crooked Bottle alongside Short Snout and Hop in the Saddle, as an example of the shoestring projects I was not whining about, but that paragraph was already getting heavy. Your comment does better than I could have done at laying out a Kickstarter flowchart:

      Mom&Pop? -Y-> EnoughRevenue? -N-> BankLoan -N-> CommunitySupport? -???->

      To answer your question: I probably would have done a Kickstarter like you. Good luck with it.

      And beer blogging is so 2008, thanks for rubbing it in.

  9. Aaron Fabbri

    June 19, 2013 at 12:26 am

    Ha ha. Thanks for letting me get in on the spirit of the Piss and Vinegar column with the blogging comment.

    I was concerned that people would think we were asking for money we don’t need.. so we bared our asses and were honest about our financials (my comment in the video about two mortgages, as well as the Oregonian article http://goo.gl/324IV).

    Fact is, we do this for the love of beer and fermentation. There are businesses out there already cash flow positive who can fund expansion w/o crowd funding, and then there are scrappy little neighborhood businesses doing it for the meaning–scraping by. Maybe the money will follow one day. If not we’ve made the neighborhood much nicer around here (again see the video). In this context I feel crowd funding is a good fit.

    Yes we will likely fail to reach our aggressive target. You and Ezra can tell everyone you were right.

    I still believe the large funding target is the right approach because if we fail, our backers won’t have to pay a dime towards a less well-planned and undercapitalized venture.

    If we succeed… we hire a server, a brewer, and a label designer. Either way it is a win in my book–minus the painful process of being in a Kickstarter.

  10. Mark Joseph

    June 19, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Crowdfunding is a great concept (IMHO). Many great ideas, projects and businesses have been given a chance with it that probably wouldn’t have any other way (with some great successes).

    So, I guess your column, as a rant, is supposed to rally the pitchforks and torches.. But it seems kinda weak to piss on someone for pursuing their dream. I too supported Short Snout (and have yet to come across one of their beers), and didn’t fund Pelican (sorry guys, wish you the best but I’m -really- into the local Portland beer scene) but I don’t begrudge them having greater ambitions.

    Part of the draw of crowfunding (from the funding side) is that you get to be a part of something that you otherwise wouldn’t. You get to be philanthropic without having to be rich. I see no reason to call people who are fans of Pelican and want to be a part of their growth and success “suckers”. Geez, it’s America, they’re not hurting anybody.

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