When Potato Salad Goes Bad: How to Tick Off Your Kickstarter Backers

Deb Amlen
July 11, 2014


This is a story about potato salad. I started writing it at the beginning of the week, with the intent of appreciating the humor behind the good-hearted parody Kickstarter campaign in which Zack “Danger” Brown sought $10 in funding for salad ingredients. Hilarious.

Over the course of the week, however, the story evolved, and the humor gave way to more practical lessons in what happens when you fly too close to the Kickstarter sun.

The ascent of the campaign was rapid. By the fifth day, Brown had unexpectedly managed to raise approximately $72,000 as the project went viral, because who wouldn’t appreciate the grand optimism of an average Joe who just wants to stride manfully into his kitchen and get his potato salad mojo working? People from all over the globe responded enthusiastically to Brown’s wide-eyed, Midwestern demeanor and donated to the project just for the pure silliness of it. Encouraging him in his quest became almost a high for people who wanted to see this average Joe succeed in his quest for side-dish glory. Donations skyrocketed.

And then things began to fall apart, leaving us with valuable lessons on how not to anger your crowdfunding audience:

Lesson #1: Don’t get carried away with your reward promises.
Crowdfunding can be a wonderful thing, especially when it’s used to fund brilliant, artistic or do-good projects that otherwise might not make a venture capitalist’s eye twinkle. In return, people who feel generous and supportive receive neat swag as a reward, and also get to feel like they are helping the creation of the Next Big Thing.

And in a country where we’re so confused about what constitutes quality entertainment that our most popular television shows have names that sound like NCIS: America’s Got Bachelorettes, why shouldn’t that Next Big Thing be a bowl of potato salad?

But here’s the thing: If you’re going to set goals, make sure you can realistically achieve them, even if they’re humorous. Your backers expect you to fulfill the promises you make.

Granted, the Potato Salad Project is not over yet, and we have yet to see how Brown meets his obligations, but he hasn’t made it easy on himself.

As donations increased, Brown responded to his audience equally enthusiastically, promising hilariously silly goals, like shipping bites of the potato salad to backers all over the world, and saying each donor’s name out loud as he made the potato salad.

At this writing, there are 5,401 backers. That’s a lot of names to say, and we highly encourage him to set aside at least some of his funds for throat lozenges. He also announced plans for a party to which “the entire Internet” will be invited, and all we can say is, we have some extra folding chairs if you need them, Mr. Brown.

Lesson #2: Don’t be a promotional ho.
Brown was still busy mulling over ways to best spend the money he had raised, and in Update #14 — Kickstarter creators are required to update their backers on the project as often as possible — he made an interesting move: He stated that he was working with a local radio station to sponsor a concert in conjunction with his party, and he linked to the station’s website. No one thought anything of it, and donations continued to increase.

Then he appeared on ABC TV’s Good Morning America on Wednesday morning and was oddly vague about what he would do with all the extra money, turning to the camera and asking viewers “how we can take this moment, this campaign and this money, and do the most good with it.” Kickstarter prohibits donating funds to charity, so that’s out.


On July 9, Brown posted another update that used a photo of a potato salad that he had recently eaten at a restaurant in his hometown, including links to that restaurant.

(Zack Brown/Kickstarter) 

He also plugged a local photo studio that allegedly “helped” him with the photo, which was taken on his cellphone.

That’s when things got weird.

(Zack Brown/Kickstarter)

Reactions to the plugs were swift and harsh: People wanted back their average Joe, not someone who was going to be wearing the potato salad version of the Nike swoosh on his shirt. Assuming that there is a potato salad version of the swoosh.

In a move that is unusual for Kickstarter backers, people started to withdraw their donations, and Brown lost more than $23,000 in one day.

(Kicktraq, July 9, 2014)

And the wrath of his backers, both serious and humorous, was made very clear:

(Zack Brown/Kickstarter)

The loss might actually be a relief to him, according to Time.com. Because according to U.S. tax law, Kickstarter funds are taxable income. Had the donations stopped at $70,000, Brown would have owed the government more than $21,000 next April. And remember, he’s not allowed to donate directly to charity, so no write-offs for him.

But the late adopters are still trickling in. Donations as of the morning of July 10 are trending up again, and, at this writing, Brown has exceeded his original funding goal by 462,860 percent. And the potato salad Kickstarter campaign chugs on, with 22 days left to go.

We genuinely wish Zack Brown the best of luck with his attempt to bring “peace, love and potato salad” to the world. Potato salad, crowdfunding, and jokes that make people happy are all wonderful things.

We just hope he has a good accountant. And a lot of folding chairs.

UPDATE: Yahoo Tech has learned that one cause of the rapid drop in contributions after the total shot up to more than $70,000 was the withdrawal of multiple five-figure donations by people who had no intention of really contributing in the first place. Those backers have been banned by Kickstarter.

Note: Attempts to connect with Brown for an interview were unsuccessful.

Is there something weirdly popular on the Internet that you’d like explained? Write to Deb Amlen at buzzologyYT@yahoo.com and let her know. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@debamlen).