Last week, I wrote about the changes that Kickstarter made late last year, aiming to educate backers and provide a little more accountability to project creators, after several over-funded projects flushed backers’ money down the drain. Despite the improvements at Kickstarter, scams are still prevalent on the popular crowd funding site. Most projects that fail to deliver are technology- or gaming-related, however even food-related projects aren’t immune from possible scammers.
It’s All About the Money, Money, Money
For best results, play the video while you read. It sets the tone quite nicely, I think.
Just this morning, a group of filmmakers exposed most-likely the largest Kickstarter food project scam, literally just minutes before funding. Kickstarter shut down the Kobe Red project, which promised to deliver mouthwatering beef jerky made from Japanese cows fed on 100% organic feed and treated to beer and massages just before scammers would have successfully made off with $120,309 from the project’s 3,252 backers.
In my previous article, I talked about one food-related project that really caught my eye. First, it happens to be a project by a food blog that I’ve read before – one that was local to me when I lived in Sacramento a couple of years ago. But, then it’s also strangely similar to another recent story by Charles Luzar over at Crowdfund Insider about Seth Quest of San Francisco who raised $35,000 for his Hanfree iPad stand, then failed to deliver any rewards to backers. The Hanfree project allegedly became the first Kickstarter project where a backer, Neil Singh of Arizona sued a project creator.
As I read through 50 comments from backers on the Poor Girl Eats Well cookbook Kickstarter, I saw some very familiar tell-tale signs that this project may have been destined for failure from the onset, and it rang strangely similar to Neil Singh’s experience with the Hanfree project. I decided to reach out to some of the backers, and get their take on the project. I spoke with Alejandro Galaviz from Texas. He and his wife backed the Poor Girl Eats Well cookbook Kickstarter nearly a year ago, and have all but given up any hope that they’ll see a finished cookbook, let alone the homemade cookies Morales promised.
But First, The Back Story
Kimberly Morales, Sacramento, California resident, and owner of the Poor Girl Eats Well blog amassed more than 20,000 fans on her Facebook fan page, and had all of the makings of a successful cookbook Kickstarter. She successfully raised nearly $12,000 of a $9750 goal nearly one year ago, but frustrated backers are still waiting for the cookbook with no word from Morales. Having been familiar with the Poor Girl Eats Well blog, I was surprised to discover the tragic outcome of this project.
It began with an appeal in a heartfelt letter posted to the Poor Girl Eats Well blog on April 2, 2012, the same day that the Poor Girl Eats Well Cookbook Kickstarter campaign was launched, opening with “My Dearest Family, Friends and Fans,” and taking readers back over a four-year period, leading up to writing a book.
On the Poor Girl Eats Well Cookbook Kickstarter page, Morales describes the blog, her mission, and provides some detail of the progress of the book.
“This will be a professionally designed, professionally printed book! The majority of the funds will go towards designing and printing the final piece. Most of the content is written and ready to go, but I need your help with the final steps. I need all I can to get this project completed. So, I’m asking my amazing community to come on board with me in the process. Let’s do this together! Publishing this book will not only mean a signed copy for you to keep and use, but you’ll be supporting Poor Girl Eats Well and helping me keep the site going while I add new features and content.” (emphasis added)
The project included various reward gifts for pledges between $5 and $5,000 with deliveries ranging from June, 2012 through August, 2012.
- Custom, signed PGEW recipe cards
- Backers’ names placed on the Poor Girl Eats Well website
- Bonus eBook, “The $25 Shopping Cart”
- Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies (1/2 and full dozen)
- Poor Girl Eats Well Cookbook (eBook)
- Signed, printed copy of the Poor Girl Eats Well cookbook
- Poor Girl Eats Well canvas shopping bag (from Cafe Press)
- Poor Girl Eats Well apron (from Cafe Press)
- One month above-the-fold advertising on the poorgirleatswell.com homepage
Other than “professionally designed, professionally printed,” neither the Kickstarter campaign nor the Poor Girl Eats Well blog described the print specifications of the book. Was it to be hardbound? Paperback? Was cover art created? What would the dimensions be? What type of paper would it be printed on? Why are funds for the book production being used to keep the website going? The project description is ambiguous, at best.
“We’re getting close to 40% funding, which is fantastic, but we still have a long way to go. But that doesn’t mean work isn’t getting done! The list of exclusive new recipes to be featured in the new book is growing daily, and the Tips section just got a fresh new outline detailing all the other tips I’ll be sharing, so there will be a lot of good stuff in there.”
In the same update, Morales announced,
“Lastly, I took a moment to get a few common questions answered in the new FAQ section, so check that out for some updates & ideas on how you can help make this project dream into reality.”
Buried within the Frequently Asked Questions, Morales announced that the actual delivery date of the cookbook would be in November, 2012, not August. This was the first mention of a date change on the project.
“There wasn’t a way to make this clear in the incentive section, but basically the incentives will ship out on the dates listed, and the book will ship once it is actually complete. There’s still a lot left to work on, including recipe testing, photo shoots, etc., so the book will take a bit longer. I’m hoping to have it ready by November 2012, so it’ll be just in time for the holidays! ”
To Be (Written) or Not to Be (Written) … Wait, what was the question?
Her statement, “There’s still a lot left to work on, including recipe testing, photo shoots, etc., so the book will take a bit longer,” conflicts with her statements on April 2, when Morales launched the campaign, and wrote, “Most of the content is written and ready to go.”
By the evening of May 7, the project had reached 100% funding, and an ecstatic Morales asked backers to continue pledging, and slipped another date change in, seemingly unnoticed,
“Remember, every extra dollar over the goal amount means more pictures, more recipes – just more. And that will make the book that much more awesome, which is what we’re all hoping for! Pledging now vs. waiting for the book to be released in December, also means you get perks! The $25 & higher tiers include things like signed copies of the book, free shipping on the book, PGEW swag, and cookies.”
Little did backers know, this would be the final update that Morales would write on the Kickstarter campaign page.
On May 17, 2012, five days after the Kickstarter campaign closed, Morales wrote another blog post, announcing her Kickstarter success, and giving backers a glimpse into the first steps of her cookbook production.
“So what’s next, you may ask? Well… a lot! To say I have my work cut out for me is quite an understatement. Though a lot of the book is already being written, there is still a ton of recipe testing, tip-writing, etc. to be done, not to mention the 188 dozen cookies to bake (!!!) and 230 books to sign (!!!!!!!!) for all you fantastic backers.” (emphasis added)
In the same blog post, she asked backers for suggestions on recipes to include in the cookbook – she received 25 responses.
In a Facebook status update on June 1, 2012 on the Poor Girl Eats Well page, Morales announced that she had started writing the cookbook, despite her previous conflicting status updates which indicated the book was mostly written.
“Outline I love: Check. Solid first set of new, exclusive recipes to style & shoot:Check. Small freak out moment at the realization that yes, this is really happening: Check. Knowing I’m doing exactly what I should be doing with my life: CHECK.
And so it begins. Chapter One, Page 1.”
Beginning in July, 2012, backers began asking for project updates in the Kickstarter campaign comments. Morales did not respond to any comments on the campaign page, however on August 20, she posted a status update on the Poor Girl Eats Well Facebook page with an abbreviated outline of four sections of the book.
On September 18, 2012 – the same day she published a scathing blog post, Time Out: Bloggers are people, not machines, ranting about readers asking questions or criticizing the blog, health crises, and living with severe pain – Morales responded to a comment on the Kickstarter comments page via email to Jason TS Chiu. In her email, which Chiu reposted to the Kickstarter comments, Morales explains that she was unaware that backers expected updates, assured him that she was working on the book, and promised an update in a couple of days.
A Prelude to Silence
There were no updates on the Kickstarter page. In fact, there were no updates anywhere until Christmas eve, 2012, in the form of a blog post, Updates: Tech Issues, New PGEW Book Release Date/Sneak Peeks, and I Got a New Job! where she asks readers for technical assistance with the Poor Girl Eats Well blog. Most of the blog post describes technical challenges related to changing the blog format, and the “personal betrayal” by a former best friend who was ultimately responsible for maintaining the website.
As it turns out, this “former best friend” was also responsible for the design and layout of the cookbook. On December 24, Morales announced that due to these technical issues with her website, and the “personal betrayal,” delivery of the final cookbook would be delayed until March, 2013. But, in parting she left readers with a full chapter outline which would be the final Kickstarter project update on the Poor Girl Eats Well blog… or anywhere for that matter.
Since that final update on December 24, announcing that the cookbook would be delayed until March, seven months later than the original delivery date, there have been no project updates whatsoever. Backers looking for answers have continued posting comments to the Kickstarter page, but they’ve gone unattended. All fan comments to the Poor Girl Eats Well Facebook page have been removed. For all intents and purposes, the project simply does not exist.
A Backer Speaks About Poor Girl Eats Well – The Cookbook
Alejandro Galaviz from Texas spoke to me about his experience with the project – he and several other backers could very well be the next Neil Singh who sued the Hanfree project creator when he failed to deliver on his promises.
SND: A lot has happened since this project was launched. It seems there’s been confusion about what people would receive and when. What are your thoughts on that… what did you expect to receive and when?
AG: We expected to receive her finished product, her book. I’ve backed other Kickstarter Projects before, mainly board games because I am a big board gamer. Delays can be common in that industry but I can’t begin to stress the importance of communication. In all those cases they were constantly in communication with us telling us what was going on. So it was easy to deal with delays. In Kimberly’s case, she specifically stated on her page that… “Most of the content is written and ready to go…” and it turns out that this wasn’t the case.
SND: Yes, when the project launched, Morales said that the book was mostly written, but since then we’ve seen nothing more than a chapter outline. What happened?
AG: At first, I wanted to believe that she ran into some issues publishing the book or with her “friend” who we still don’t know much about. However, over time I began to realize that she completely left all her backers in the dark about the project. I now feel that she maliciously mislead her backers and somehow believes she can continue to ignore the problem and it will go away. So what do I think happened? She stole twelve thousand dollars. She hasn’t produced any kind of evidence to convince me otherwise.
SND: The Poor Girl Eats Well blog has a strong fan base with over 20,000 fans on its Facebook page. None of this seems “in character.” Have you seen any indication of what went wrong?
AG: Good question, because it seems that we continue to get excuses and excuses and none of it ever seems to be her fault. It’s always someone else or some other issue. She is never culpable for her actions.
SND: Most of the rewards for this project are ready-made items, like the apron and the bag, or easy to fulfill, like the cookies. Some of the rewards are essentially free, like listing backers’ names on the website. But none of these have been fulfilled – or at least, we see no indication that they have been. Why do you think none of the rewards have been fulfilled to date?
AG: She was jobless at one point in time and desperately low on funds. I imagine she probably spent the money to keep her finances afloat. So, to put it bluntly she spent it.
SND: Do you believe there has been any progress on the book – has Morales continued writing?
AG: I’m speculating, but I believe she has not continued writing the book because the project was probably never in that stage. The only “progress” we’ve seen so far was her Chapter List that she’s referred us to at least twice. That’s fantastic. I can write up a chapter list for a non-existent book in a matter of minutes. “Feast your eyes on that”… So I believe that the book was never truly “mostly written”.
SND: What do you think about how Morales has communicated as the creator of the project?
AG: Kimberly has communicated poorly on the project, I can’t stress that enough; very poor communication on her part. You can see the requests for updates on the Kickstarter page and her Facebook page. It is interesting to note that I have attempted to leave several comments on her blog politely asking for updates and they always require “moderation” before going live. Guess what? They never get posted. She continues to avoid the issue as much as possible. I wouldn’t even consider her communicating about her project, she is flat out avoiding and dodging the issues.
SND: At this point, nothing’s been delivered, the cookbook delivery has been pushed out three times, and there’s been no status reported for nearly six months. The book is now three months passed the latest delivery – seven months since the first – and backers’ comments on the Kickstarter page seem to indicate that all hope is lost. What would make it right for you right now?
AG: What would make it right for me? An open and public apology to all her followers, admission that she squandered the funds, and a full refund to all her backers. As far as I’m concerned, she’s lost credibility in the food blogverse. If she was residing in Texas, I wouldn’t hesitate to take her to small claims court. Believe me… it’s crossed my mind many times.