St. Louis Startup, Seen as the ‘Next Big Thing’ for Kids, Faces Backlash for Nondelivery | News 4 Surveys
ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) – A local entrepreneur who first saw meteoric success is now facing a big backlash for not yet delivering the product that many thought was the next big thing.
Is it the global supply chain or just a bad company to blame?
FORT was born from a simple idea, born out of a pandemic problem and a global parenting problem: how to occupy your children, especially when they are inside.
A man from Saint-Louis fired last April following the pandemic turns negative into positive, becomes an entrepreneur and raises millions of dollars in crowdfunding.
âWe loved it because of the magnets, the way they fit together,â said Tara, a local relative. She told News 4 when she saw it she was addicted.
The concept is a large toy with cushions that can be configured into forts in different ways using magnets.
âI actually found it online, scrolling through social media and it looked really great,â Tara said.
Angelica Earl, too, was immediately intrigued. “I was like ‘this is so cool’, my kids would love that. I’m one of the moms who builds strong boxes for them all the time,” she said.
In fact, thousands of parents have signed up. Earlier this year, FORT inventor and St. Louisan Conor Lewis launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that raised $ 2 million in just 10 hours.
News 4 showcased the product and its success, marking the second-largest toy launch in the website’s history. Fast forward to now and not all consumers are happy.
âWe did the Kickstarter in January and we had to wait and wait and wait,â Tara said.
In fact, FORT created a firestorm.
” I have no more money ; I don’t have the product and it’s been going on for a long time, âTara said.
Facebook groups with thousands of followers tell the story. Many early Kickstarter backers still haven’t gotten their FORT months later despite paying hundreds of dollars.
Lewis asked the early backers for more money and in the meantime continued to take additional orders. The company said more than 2,500 of the 13,000 forts ordered have been delivered.
Some people seem to like it. Others claim this is not what was promised, even claiming that the magnets could be a danger to children if swallowed.
Social media ultimately pushed Earl away. âEverything about it, the quality of it, just wasn’t worth investing in, in my opinion,â she said.
News 4 spoke to Lewis, who said the backlash was bad. âIt hurts so much when people make these false claims about you,â he said.
But he recognizes the frustrations of consumers. âEvery penny of the Kickstarter has been spent to build the Kickstarter product,â Lewis said.
He explained that the company was the victim of global supply chain problems, that the costs of goods and freight were skyrocketing more than he could ever have imagined.
âI think all of our supply issues are directly related to the pandemic,â Lewis said.
Even with some quality control issues and refund requests, he remains optimistic. âAs long as I don’t stop, FORT will continue,â he said.
News 4 asked Lewis if he thinks the company can stay afloat.
âI believe I can do it. These products were made. They’re just sitting and waiting, I just have to figure out how to get them there, âLewis replied.
âThis is not a place where you want to be as a young entrepreneur, trying to start a business,â said Rebecca Phoenix of the Better Business Bureau. She told News 4 it was a scenario they had seen before.
âThe problem is that when a new business starts up it often doesn’t have the reserves, so it starts to think of other ways to fund those repayments, and so it can become a slippery slope when it does end up flying. Peter to pay. Paul, âPhoenix said.
That’s why she cautions consumers, especially parents, to be wary of toys that promise to be the ânextâ big thing, especially if the funding is crowdfunding.
“You really want to think about what might happen if things don’t go well, could you lose that money?” Do you agree with that? Because there are risks inherent in crowdfunding campaigns, âshe said.
Phoenix said that with backups of the global supply, this is yet another warning that this holiday season could be full of headaches.
âIf you are looking for a holiday gift you might want to take this into account, that you can get the item but it might not be in time for the holidays,â she said.
Lewis promises the products will be delivered, but maybe not in time for the holidays. Those who want refunds will get them, he said.
“Yes, to someone who said maybe you should have known better, it’s impossible, I can’t blame myself for the decisions I made, because I feel like I made the best decisions for the company at the time, âsaid Lewis.
âI requested a refund and received nothing in return,â Tara said.
Yet none of this fits Tara.
âI don’t know how he got through all that money and he can’t give everyone their FORT,â she said.
Tara told News 4 that she doesn’t know if she will ever get a FORT or her $ 500 back. âAt this point, I don’t think I will,â she said.
Tara said she just wanted to warn others about the risks of donating to a start-up business through crowdfunding.