2015 Art of Cool Kickstarter ends today, still needs funding

If you missed it in the most recent DNO&E, The Art of Cool Festival is holding another Kickstarter to fund the jazz festival’s second year in Durham.

The current Kickstarter project is seeking $35,000 – up $10,000 from the first year – and they’ve got about $3000 to go at the time of this writing. Even if you don’t dig jazz, it’s a pretty neat event, and hey, you can score a sweet poster or buttons or something if you back it.

Take your bike to CenterFest this weekend

The long running arts festival is celebrating its 40th year starting tomorrow. CenterFest brings arts of all sorts to downtown, and there are activities for kids and adults.

This year, free bike valet parking returns; According to Dale McKeel of the Durham DOT:

Bike valet will be located at the corner of Main Street and Corcoran Street, near the under-construction 21C Hotel (former Suntrust/CCB Tower).

This is similar to the bike parking that is available at Durham Bulls games, although presumably no goodie bag this time. Not having to take a car is its own reward, I guess!

The N&O has an article on Intrepid Life

The News and Observer has an article on the situation with additional information that supports what I was told earlier this week. They do journalism. It’s good. Go read it.

I do feel like I need to highlight Victoriano’s response when he was asked why he opted not to pay back rent with the campaign funds:

“I specifically stated that it would either be to pay back rent and stay in the space or be used to open up in a different location,” he said in an interview this week. “People didn’t donate money to the Indiegogo funds to pay my debt to (his landlords), and there are other people that I owe debt to and family members and credit cards that I owed money to before my landlords.”

The wording for the campaign wasn’t so candid.

“Wasn’t so candid” from the N&O is being generous there. The campaign text never mentioned the funds being used for moving or paying “other” debt, while it unambiguously stated that paying the rent was a campaign goal. He might have “specifically stated” those things to somebody, but he didn’t “specifically state” them at the place where he was asking people to give him money.

Durham News Odds and Ends, so long summer edition!

It’s been a long summer. Like, really long, and I haven’t managed to do a new DNO&E in two whole months, making this DNO&E also really long. That’ll teach me to go on vacation instead of writing blog posts…

Anyway, fall’s almost upon us now, and here’s the news way back from the summer that was:

Heck yeah, that’s gonna do it! The last DNO&E of the summer is always fleeting and a bit poignant, but these memories last a lifetime, ya know?

Yes, this is another post about Intrepid Life

In this instalment, I do something vaguely resembling “journalism” by actually discussing the situation with somebody privy to some details.

I know, right?

Before I get to that, here’s where the campaign and cafe stand publicly now:

  • Intrepid Life’s indiegogo campaign succeeded. They (and “they” I assume means the owner, Matt Victoriano) raised $28,643 USD.
  • After meeting the goal early, the campaign only raised $417 in its final three days. I’m guessing the announcement they were moving damped some of the enthusiasm.
  • Intrepid Life is, presently, closed. They vacated their Parrish St. location as scheduled this past weekend.
  • There are a couple of updates on the indiegogo campaign detailing future plans. Victoriano now intends to hire three managers and an event coordinator; I don’t know whether this is backfilling staff lost due to the shutdown or whether these are new positions.
  • Also from the updates, Victoriano wants to get backer perks fulfilled in “a month or so”

What follows includes information from that anonymous source (and no, I definitely can’t tell you who they are, even if you ask really nicely):

  • Intrepid Life’s financial struggles weren’t sudden, and the business was simply not ramping up fast enough to pay its rent. Quite the contrary – they were actually going further in debt.
  • The lease apparently allowed the Cafe to start off with a lower rent during its launch phase and ramp up to the full amount over time. The cafe was never able to pay the full rent from its operating budget.
  • This came to a head in August, as Victoriano learned that he needed to make a payment or vacate in September. In response, he posted to Facebook that he was closing. He quickly changed his mind and started the Indiegogo campaign to keep Intrepid Life “in Durham”
  • At the time he started the Indiegogo campaign, Victoriano knew that continuing to remain in the Parrish St. location would require him to pay back rent.
  • Even though the Indiegogo campaign succeeded, Victoriano opted to not pay and closed the shop instead. He posted to Facebook stating “The problem with downtown Durham is that it has Chapel Hill prices now.”
  • Victoriano is now attempting to negotiate an agreement to partially pay the back rent utilizing some of the indiegogo funds, while retaining the remainder for other purposes.

I asked my source whether they thought Intrepid Life’s crowdfunding success could have enabled the cafe to continue operating in its present location. Here was their response:

In theory the funds would have cleared their back rent debt and left them a bit remaining. I read in the N&O that they were running at a $12.5K / month loss during the summer which was a complete shock. So… I can’t square that circle on how the business could continue to operate at that loss without additional external capital in the $50-80K range. Can you? In the N&O article Matt also alluded to credit card and supplier debt, so…

So, now I’ll tell you my own speculation: I feel like Victoriano knew from the start of the campaign that he probably wouldn’t stay downtown even with a successful campaign. It appears that nothing materially changed about the rent situation since the beginning of the campaign, so he would have had a good understanding of what was needed to remain at the location from the start. Perhaps other debts came due around the same time, but if the money was required to pay off other, non-rent debts he should have known that going in, too.

As I mentioned last time, the campaign text walks a fine line of implying that the cafe could stay open on Parrish St. without ever stating that outright, and likewise the campaign never mentioned the possibility of moving at all. Victoriano could have disclosed the possibility that he would close the cafe even with a successful campaign, but he opted not to.

Since a majority of that crowdfunded money isn’t going to the back rent, where is it going? If that N&O article is correct, it only covers two months of operating losses for a business that had been open for 8 months, so there could be a great deal of outstanding debt.

I’m inclined to conclude that Intrepid Life does not presently have a functional business plan. Victoriano may well intend to reopen elsewhere and continue operating the business as before, but based on what I’ve learned it seems unlikely to me that he has a way to do that. If the cafe is to succeed, it really seems like they’re going to need more funds from somewhere, or perhaps a very different approach to running the business.

*** EDIT ***

The News and Observer has an article on the situation with additional information which supports what I was told. From that article, this was Victoriano’s response when asked why he opted not to pay the rent:

“It would be unethical to pay debt with the money that people paid with the full expectation that I would not be able to remain open,” Victoriano said.

The article also names Golden Belt as one of two locations that Victoriano is considering for re-opening the shop.

Intrepid Life’s crowdfunding campaign succeeds, but the cafe is closing anyway

As discussed last week, Matt Victoriano, the owner of Intrepid Life, launched an indiegogo campaign to raise $25,000 in support of the business. The campaign exceeded that goal and is now sitting at $28,226 with three days left.

And yet, as per their Facebook page, the cafe is still unable to stay open, and they’re now hosting a “silent auction” to liquidate items and raise funds:

Thanks for all of the support. We aren’t able to stay at our current location, so we are looking for a new space in Durham. Our last open at the current location is this Saturday.

To be clear, Victoriano made no guarantees to backers that a successful fundraiser would enable the cafe to continue on Parrish St. It was, however, heavily implied in the campaign text:

While business was expanding rapidly during the spring, it stagnated to such a degree during the summer that my landlords have given me until September 7 to pay past rent or close the business…

… a tidal wave of support from patrons, community members, and business owners convinced me to look deeper, find solutions, and start a Kickstarter campaign to continue the work that I have dedicated to veterans and the Durham community.

Money raised would enable Victoriano to:

4) keep Intrepid open by paying past-due rent.

Nowhere does the campaign text state that the goal is to help re-open the business later.

I’ve never met Victoriano and I don’t know what he was thinking going into this project. It may well be that he was blindsided by something after the crowdfunding campaign started, and that he had to change his plans midstream. Or maybe he knew all along he’d have to shut down even if funding succeeded. I just don’t know.

Regardless, communicating details like this in a timely manner is crucial to building trust and running a successful crowdfunding venture, because you really want your contributors to know what they’re getting for their donation. It’s one thing to shell over some cash to keep a functional business operational in its current form; it’s something quite different to shell over some cash to the owner of a defunct business to help him potentially re-open elsewhere in the future.

Since the project has met its funding goal, the money will be dispensed to Victoriano (minus Indiegogo’s cut) and he’ll be able to use it as he deems appropriate.

What happens to people who funded the campaign? Well, some of the backer rewards can be delivered without the cafe existing in a physical location. But for those backers who were expecting, say, a $50 store credit delivered in September? Yeah, you might be getting that credit in September, but there may not be anywhere for you to use it for a while.

Intrepid Life launches indiegogo campaign, is also apparently for sale

The first time I heard anything about Intrepid Life Coffee and Spirits was when I saw on reddit that it’s closing.

The business, which is owned and operated by a former Marine and strives to employ vets, has apparently been struggling for a while. In response to back rent, a couple of weeks ago the owner indicated on Facebook that he was closing shop.

The following week, though, an indiegogo campaign showed up asking for $25k to keep the business going. Shortly after the launch of the campaign, Intrepid Life started receiving some press, and most notably they were honored by President Obama. They’re now at $21,090 out of the $25000 goal following an apparent Obama bump.

On the face of it Intrepid Life looks like a business that’s worthy of support, but /u/sellbotics did a bit of digging and noticed that the business has been listed as for sale for some months now. The reason listed for selling: “Owner is burnt out.”

Is this a struggling business looking for a cash infusion to keep the doors open? Or is the owner looking to move on?

Regardless, crowdfunding is never a sure thing, either for the funder or the funded. As always, caveat emptor.