Caveat Backer

Jellyfish Tanks, Funded 54 Times Over on Kickstarter, Turn Out to Be Jellyfish Death Traps [UPDATED]

Maybe letting projects raise more money than they asked for isn't such a good idea.
jellyfish tank Jellyfish Tanks, Funded 54 Times Over on Kickstarter, Turn Out to Be Jellyfish Death Traps [UPDATED]

The Desktop Jellyfish Tank. (http://www.jellyfishart.com)

There are two problems with the Desktop Jellyfish Tank, a Kickstarter project based in San Francisco that raised $162,917 on a $3,000 goal.

The first problem is that some people still haven’t gotten their tanks. Wrote one backer, in a kind of free-form customer service poetry: “Where do I find out where my order is everone seems to have their tank now apart from me get highly fed up I either want to know exactly how long it will be or want a refund seems stupid I was one of the first to back but last to get it can some please help me it seems madness to I paid months ago and not even a email since.”

Second problem: Some backers who have received tanks have found that, while aesthetically attractive, the tanks may not be the safest place for a jellyfish.  “I lost one jellyfish already do to him hitting the rocks and then eventually getting stuck over and over,” backer Christopher Mendes wrote. “The past 2 mornings I’v woken up to find the other jellyfish to start doing the same thing. This morning he looked shrunken and crippled after getting out of the rocks.”

The newly-arrived jellies of Lana Vaughn didn’t fare much better: “Two Jellies in distress. One got stuck to the rocks. He got loose but has a big tear. Not sure how the other one got his tear. Third one is fine so far.”

But backer Sean Byington’s comment is the most tragic, and the most damning: “Came home to find that my replacement jellyfish had died a mere 3 days after recieving them, that’s a total of 6 dead now. I’m really disappointed in this product. Despite following all the instructions included with the tank as well as on jellyfishart.com, the tank seems incapable of sustaining life for more than 72 hours.”

Alex Andon, the creator of the project, may have a degree in biology and environmental science from Duke. His jellyfish tank design may have won the Best New Aquarium Product at this year’s Global Pet Expo trade show. But he has jellyfish blood on his hands.

As usual, this Kickstarter-gone-wrong looks like a case of well-intentioned mismanagement and not a scam. The product went to market before it had been adequately tested to make sure it didn’t kill jellyfish, and Mr. Andon was probably overrun with orders.

We have a modest proposal for Kickstarter: when a project reaches its goal, stop accepting donations.

One consistent thread among Kickstarter projects gone horribly wrong: overfunding. While seeing a project funded multiple times over is exciting and good for publicity, it consistently results in disappointment. (Notable exception: the iPod Nano watches, which narrowly missed becoming the first million-dollar project but ended up in Apple stores. But that was done by a professional.) The Minimal Pen, which many backers have failed to receive, raised $281,989 on a $2,500 goal. The SurfEasy Plug in Privacy dongle, which raised $69,404 on a $12,500 goal, resulted in creators having to handle IT problems over Kickstarter comments.

Both these projects caused people to search Google for “Kickstarter scam” and arrive right here at Betabeat, where we wrote about Vere Sandals, a project that raised $56,618 on its $12,000 goal and ran into so many technical problems creating the sandals that 10 months later, most of its backers still hadn’t received the product. (Note: the one story we know that may actually have been a scam, the Tech Sync Power System, was also overfunded ten times.)

Now that Kickstarter has had two million-dollar projects and sent at least five feature-length films to Sundance, we wonder if maybe it’s time to introduce some upper limits. Maybe a creator should have a proven track record before he or she can accept more funding than was asked for? Before more innocent jellyfish die.

Kickstarter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UPDATE: Mr. Andon wrote in to say, “The product received overwhelming positive reviews. See our Facebook page and our review in Wired.  Any live pet product is going to have complications regarding maintenance.  We hired extra employees to handle the customer service demand and make it a top priority to give excellent customer service.”

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com