Time just ran out for Pebble. The smartwatch that has been able to claim most-funded Kickstarter project ever status has lost those bragging rights to a cooler project, literally.
With hours to go before the Coolest Cooler campaign ends, the project raised $12,413,954 as of early Friday, surpassing Pebble’s $10,266,845.
Created by Ryan Grepper, the high-tech cooler is part blender, part waterproof bluetooth summer DJ speaker system, part USB recharge station, and yes, also a cooler to keep your stuff cold, with an LED light, cutting board, and bottle opener.
Although it may seem hard to believe that a cooler—the bread-and-butter of low-tech companies such as Coleman—could be the most-funded project ever in a Kickstarter universe of gamers and wearable device nerds, don’t think for a second there wasn’t a lot of hard work that went into this success story.
In fact, evolving the cooler has been a passion of Grepper’s for a decade, he told CNBC. “Nine or 10 years ago, I was making a blender out of a weed wacker, putting an old car stereo into a cooler.” His early experiments didn’t work, but Grepper—who is a member of the CNBC Tech Crowd Council—did realize technology could transform a cooler into something even the cool kids might coo over.
Grepper didn’t give up easily either. The Coolest Cooler failed the first time he rolled it out on Kickstarter in November 2013.
“We weren’t successful,” he said. “We thought tailgating folks would want it, and Christmas would work. But I hadn’t done enough homework.”
The failure—the first incarnation of the Coolest Cooler raised a little over $102,000 of a $125,000 goal, connected Grepper with enough people to give him the confidence to expand the project’s design and Kickstarter campaign.
By the time the Coolest Cooler rolled out its second bid for crowdfunding fame, on July 8, Grepper had learned a few valuable lessons about finding success on Kickstarter.
“I learned that Kickstarter and crowdfunding is a visual medium and people want to see what they are getting and we weren’t there the first time. I took the design to the stage you see it at now.”
Timing is also key—when it comes to a cooler, summer rules over Santa and Sunday football tailgating. “The cooler market is hot in the summer,” Grepper said. “That was one of those hindsight realizations.”
Equally important was not confusing the actual start date of a campaign with when a campaign should begin—well before the day it goes live on Kickstarter. “Using the folks from last time around and other fans, we made a bigger splash that had a ripple effect,” Grepper said, adding, “The campaign starts when it goes up online, but the biggest variables are the work that goes into the campaign, connecting with your backers before you go live.”
He said the connections that are key—from a review of other campaigns—run the gamut from reaching backers on social media platforms and blogs; early attention through traditional media; or simply emailing friend and families. The Coolest Cooler also did offline events, including tailgating.
“The only reason the coolest exists is because I imagined something better—and it wasn’t out there.”
One man’s undying passion for a cooler cannot be contained—though the Coolest Cooler’s 60-quart size is some sort of limitation. Grepper is still updating the design and adding features, including the ability to put two Coolest Coolers next to each other and turn them into a DJ music station.
Channeling his inner Steve Jobs, Grepper said, “The only reason the ‘coolest’ exists is because I imagined something better—and it wasn’t out there. … And then I decided if others would think it’s as great as I thought it was.”
Grepper’s imagination is also a real run at the staid cooler industry—though he wouldn’t be surprised, or worried, if the industry responds with some of its own high-tech baby steps.
“In a low risk, relatively simple way, you can connect with potential customers,” he said. “The cooler industry has been around a long time, but this is a new concept and ultimately this will be a benefit for all consumers as other concepts come out of the traditional industry. And I hope this inspires other innovators, inventors, people with an idea for something new in an otherwise stagnant industry.”
Retail price of $299
The Coolest Cooler will sell for an estimated retail price of $299—if you pledge $185 or more you get $100 off and right to one of the first coolers off the assembly line.
The Coolest Cooler ship date is targeted for February 2015, though even the most successful Kickstarter projects have a history of delays (75 percent of all projects experience some sort of delay, according to a study done by a Wharton School professor).
Grepper is hoping to avoid being part of that 75 percent, saying that a lot of supply chain and logistics planning was done before the campaign’s scheduled end and he has sourcing partners in place because of scale of money raised. “We have options that otherwise would not have been open to us. We should have them locked by September or October.”
Interested in how the mind of the soon-to-be-Kickstarter king’s mind works? Take a look at the Kickstarter projects that Grepper has personally backed, 27 in all, including potato salad and a beer keg rocket.