Fundable rips off Hugo-nominated writer Mary Robinette Kowal

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42 Responses to “Fundable rips off Hugo-nominated writer Mary Robinette Kowal”

  1. Cory Doctorow says:

    So, your objection is that you think the word “rip off” implies intent?

    It doesn’t.

    You can rip someone off with the best of intentions, merely by negligently ignoring seven months’ worth of “Where is my money, which you are keeping under false pretenses?” calls and emails.

    Which, by your account, is exactly what you did.

    The fact that you held Mary’s money for half a year until she embarrassed you in public doesn’t mean that you didn’t “rip her off.” It meant that you ripped her off by failing to exercise your lawful and moral duty of care to your customers and users, rather than by setting out to deceive her. And then, once you’d been embarrassed in public, you made good on that duty.

    I can’t imagine why you think it reflects well on you that you formed the intent to finally exercise your lawful and ethical duty once she embarrassed you on her moderately trafficked blog, and why you want it known that a moderate embarrassment is all that is required to spur you to action, rather than a large one.

    The fact that someone from the NYT wrote to you is interesting, but not germane. This isn’t the Times (and frankly, given that you’d spent the past seven months *not answering email* suggested that it would be a waste of time).

  2. Takuan says:

    well Mr. Pratt, please produce some witnesses. As in a flood of non-astro-turfed posts of folks sticking up for you. Or a drizzle even.

  3. Mary Robinette Kowal says:

    I personally would have taken care of this issue even if Mary hadn’t dropped a bomb on the blogosphere (though admittedly I could not in January). Her first email to me was, “look at what I posted today.” She has been kind enough to work with us without making unfair accusations.

    I have been kind enough to do that because I’m happy to let you speak for yourself. For instance, the “bomb” I dropped on the internet is to post an account of what I experienced.

    I would kindly ask that you not put things in quotes and attribute them to me unless they are my actual words. My actual email to johnpratt@fundable.com and contact@fundable.com was:

    “Dear Mr. Pratt,

    “I thought you would like to see my blog post. I waited for months before posting it, but since I still have not heard from anyone at Fundable, I thought the time was past to do it.”

    Please do not mistake the fact that I have been restrained with thinking that I am not inclined to anger.

  4. Cory Doctorow says:

    You are correct. I didn’t offer it, and I did refuse it. Startling as it may be to you, running a poorly-managed, unresponsive funding startup does not give you editorial oversight authority on this blog.

  5. Anonymous says:

    And now reopened it?

  6. Scalzi says:

    Mr. Pratt:

    You were personally going to take care of this issue? Really? And when would that have been? If you couldn’t have taken care of it in January, then how about February? Or March? April? May? June? July? We’re to believe you would have taken care of it in August, had not you and your company been properly embarrassed online about your lack of responsiveness for several months, in which Ms. Kowal repeatedly attempted to resolve the situation, privately?

    The facts of the matter and previous behavior of the company in dealing with her suggest rather strongly that had you not felt the need to counter a wave of embarrassing publicity regarding your company, Ms. Kowal would still be waiting to have her situation resolved.

    Mr. Pratt, just how long should one be required to wait for a company to address a basic customer relations snafu before one may reasonably suggest one is getting ripped off? May I suggest to you that this amount of time is considerably less than half a year?

    If you don’t want to be accused of ripping people off, don’t act in a manner that suggests that, in fact, that is exactly what you are doing.

  7. LOLvis says:

    Mr Pratt:

    How about openly answering some of the questions that have been posed here?

  8. Mary Robinette Kowal says:

    To be completely fair, since my post went up, Mr. Pratt has responded on my blog and by email. In comments he says, “While commenters are quick to ask, ‘what are you doing now for Mary?’ we are in the process of investigating why Mary’s contributors did not get refunds (if in fact that is the case).”

    Also, #2, I should admit that we did pay off the credit card debt from buying a computer with the signing check for my first novel. My Hugo-nomination was for a short story. Thank you for your indignation on my behalf, though. I wish I could make a living writing short fiction.

  9. jpratt says:

    What happened in this article was a result of me covering for glitches in Fundable’s payment system.

    I admit this.

    However, I because did not write the payment backend that caused these glitches and I could not get my business partner to fix them, I have taken moves to close Fundable against his wishes, even though the site was making money.

    Frankly, the content on the site was disgusting to me. I don’t want to run a site helping people fund surgeries for their nearly-dead pets when there are plenty of people suffering from hideous diseases who are more conscious of their pain than animals.

    This Boing Boing article was thankfully the moment I saw clearly that my business partner is a sloppy programmer who has no drive for excellence.

    I make plenty of business mistakes but I try to own up to them, even if it is embarrassing in public.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m not astroturf, (I’m vintermann, google me if you want) and I do have sympathy with Mr. Pratt.

    I always loved the idea of fundable, but I was saddened that the idea (which was brilliant) didn’t catch on. People seemed to have trouble with the concept, and instead of using it for collective purchases, which was the intention, they just used it for begging. It’s telling that the FAQ had a question for “I didn’t reach my goal, give me the collected money anyway!” All those pet surgery fundraisers, they saddened me, too. And whoever wrote on the fundable blog seemed perfectly content about their site being used 99% for begging – that was another disappointment. I wondered how many of those auctions were scams :-(

    His explanation also sounds plausible. He is certainly not the first idealistic net merchant who has been put into deep trouble by credit card scammers, as we Magnatune buyers should know. If the scammers all acted like aggrieved legitimate customers when their deals got stopped (and why wouldn’t they?), it’s sad, but not surprising that Mary’s mails got lost in the storm. This is not just an excuse: Pratt is right that fundable has been going on for many years, on word of mouth alone, with virtually no negative feedback before recently. Mary herself confirms this on her blog; she did her due dilligence and googled for previous bad experiences with fundable, finding none.

    The technical side I can also believe, although blaming the developer might be overly harsh (why was there only one of them, for one thing?) although Fundable was never very sophisticated technically.

    In a way, it’s some comfort that the originator of fundable turned out to share my disappointment at what it had become. That fundable.org stops is nonetheless a tragedy. In between all the vet bill begging, it has been used to fund things like open RPG supplements, precisely the way it needs to be done in a world without draconian copyright enforcement regimes.

    I hope you will make another attempt some day, Mr. Pratt.

  11. oheso says:

    If we want to give Mr. Pratt the benefit of the doubt, then we still need to acknowledge that his PR skills are awful. His comments did nothing more than stir up the flames on Mary’s blog.

    I’d like to pick a nit with the commenters on Mary’s blog, though, who say (in effect) “He made a mistake to screw with someone of her stature.” No, treating any of his customers (regardless of stature) in this fashion is not only a mistake, it’s probably criminal.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Mr Pratt’s defense: Theft through incompetence.

  13. Maritza says:

    Fundable.com permitted a group of inner-city students to go on a trip that we would otherwise not have been able to afford, and it also helped raise funds for a college scholarship drive that we engaged in. Sorry for the users not serviced well from this, but in my case – twice did we reach our targeted goal and did so smoothly and very sucessfully. I was about to use them again for yet another youth program and am saddened to read that it has closed down permanently. Thank you Fundable.com for the good that you also did during your tenure.

  14. jprattiii says:

    Cory,

    What can I say? You have refused to include my last comment in the body of your post.

    Anyone who stumbles across this post now or in the distant future may e-mail me about what happened at johnpratt@fundable.com and I will openly answer any questions.

    best,

    John Pratt
    Fundable.com

  15. jprattiii says:

    This post is distressing to me.

    Without any investigation, Cory slaps a headline in front of millions(?) of viewers that accuses us of “ripping off” a customer.

    In reality, our site relies almost entirely on word-of-mouth. If we regularly or intentionally ripped customers off, our site would not survive.

    I won’t go into too much financial detail, but we could not operate Fundable if we weren’t motivated by the interesting projects that take place. That is for sure.

    I am working with Mary personally to make sure that all of her contributions are refunded.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I am working with Mary personally to make sure that all of her contributions are refunded.

      It’s been seven months. Apparently, you’re not working hard enough.

      Googling ‘fundable scam’ suggests that your word of mouth isn’t as great as you make it out to be. There are multiple complaints from people who didn’t get their money or a proper response. And you have a Better Business Bureau rating of F.

  16. Knurm says:

    I’m going to go ahead and give Fundable the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how I’m certain they’ve been covered here before with little more than a passing mention of their service.

    Quoth Mr. Pratt:

    “Without any investigation, Cory slaps a headline in front of millions(?) of viewers that accuses us of “ripping off” a customer.”

    Hear, hear.

  17. Scalzi says:

    “I am working with Mary personally to make sure that all of her contributions are refunded.”

    Yes, you are working with her NOW, several months after she initially sent in queries and complaints regarding her interaction with your company and with you, and after she publicly aired her complaints, and those complaints have begun to be linked to online.

    Mr. Pratt, if you give every indication of moving to address a fairly egregious customer service issue only as the result of bad publicity, then the suggestion that you were ripping off a customer is not entirely out of line or undeserved.

    As to you being distressed regarding this post, well, good. Maybe the next time your site falls down on the job of performing as it advertises, it won’t take a series of posts “distressing” to you to motivate you to do the right thing by one of your customers.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Just how friggin’ complicated can it be for Fundable to figure out if they paid people back? I would assume they keep records of that sort of thing.

  19. Mary Robinette Kowal says:

    Mr. Pratt gave me permission to post our email correspondence on my blog post, which I’ve now done.

  20. Mktgpro says:

    Read a lot of dissatisfied views of people complaining that have not got their dues /replies from fundable.com. It has already impacted the trust of people & hence Mr. Pratt, it would be in your interest to sort these out promptly rather than repent later.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Fundable has now closed its site entirely.

  22. mikesum32 says:

    @2
    Perhaps he’s not such an idiot after all if he’s making millions of dollars. I wish I was that stupid.

    @3
    Have you though of high-pressure used-car-salesman-like tv and radio ads to sell your work ?

    I’ll preface this same post I made on the blog by saying I haven’t reached my goal yet, so getting the money is as yet an unknown. I don’t see much in the way of problems though.

    “I’ve had a bit of luck with smartypig.com They have a rather cool site that allows you to set multiple goals, add monthly contributions and have your friend and family add funds as well. Also when a goal is complete you can get a gift card with an added “boost” up to about 3.75% of your money saved. They also pay you interest on your money like a savings account.

    It’s not all roses though, in the 3 months I’ve joined the interest rate dropped from 3.05% to 2.75% to 2.01% They have a contest once a month to give out three $100 gift cards, this week they gave out three a day M-F to make up for the shit-storm from lowered interest rates.

    All in all it’s a pretty good site, perhaps keep it in mind for the future. They don’t pay me or anything, but it sounds like more of what you wanted.”

    -mikesum32

  23. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry that you had a bad experience, but Fundable helped save my dog’s life. She would have died b/c I couldnt afford the surgery b/c I was just laid off from my job. With Fundable, we raised $2500. Hopefully they will get this all fixed so that they can continue to help others. Hope you and your donators get all your money back!

  24. Cory Doctorow says:

    Pratt, I rather suspect the biggest problem with this blog post is that your company ripped off Mary and her friends, and *not* that I failed to have an “investigation.”

    You’ve got lots of phosphors here to explain how keeping $1400 for 7 months and not replying to multiple queries by phone and email isn’t “ripping off” Mary.

    Can you explain it? I’d be happy to publish a blazing retraction if it turns out that Mary made the whole thing up.

    But I’ve known Mary for years. She is unimpeachable, honorable and smart. I am so sure that she didn’t make this whole thing up that I will personally mail you a testicle* if it turns out that this is the case.

    *Not one of mine

  25. cinemajay says:

    @5, Mr. Pratt, you seriously need to revise the way you handle customers and the public. Blowing off business and attacking those who document your organization’s repeated failures is no way to run a successful venture. While you did rectify the situation, it was only after the issue became public did you bother do something about it. With so little regard for customers and their money I’m not sure you’re in the right business.

    I wish you the best of luck, but you’ll need an attitude adjustment before any karma steps in to help you out.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Wow, it’s amazing to see such incredibly bad PR efforts unfold in the comments here. John Pratt’s comments reek of flippant contempt and only make me more inclined to believe that fundable has been acting in bad faith from the beginning. I know I won’t be doing business with them and will warn my friends and family to stay far far away.

  27. Anonymous says:

    There are some sites that avoid this kind of problems, simply because it’s technically impossible for them to keep the money.

    http://www.kickstarter.com
    via Amazon Web Payments, money goes directly to you, but only if 100% is reached. For public projects and artists.

    http://www.kapipal.com
    via Paypal, money goes directly and instantly to you, even if 100% is not reached. For personal/private collections, and for public projects.

  28. IamInnocent says:

    I will personally mail you a testicle* if it turns out that this is the case.

    *Not one of mine

    Just as my faith in you was renewed you falter. Maybe a good thing though because, as an incentive for Mr. Pratt, it might not have been the better choice, especially if not mailed ‘Express’, no ice…

  29. dculberson says:

    Cory, thanks for the laugh. That was great!

  30. Mary Robinette Kowal says:

    Aw, thanks, Cory. I’ve never had someone offer to deliver a testicle in defense of my honor before.

    In an update: Mr. Pratt sent me screenshots this morning of paypal payment going to Donor 2 and checks going to my dad and Donor 1. I’m paraphrasing, but if I get permission to post the email, I will: He reiterated the explanation that they were overwhelmed by fraudulent fundraisers back in January. My fundraiser looked to them like a classic example of a fraud, at a time when they were scrambling with no way to tell what was genuine. That is why there was a “delay” in issuing refunds in my case.

    I am sympathetic to the issue of my fundraiser looking like a fraud.

    I am less sympathetic to the “delay” but do appreciate that Mr. Pratt took time to work with me personally this weekend when the situation came to his attention.

  31. LOLvis says:

    I’m still not buying the “it looked like a fraud” excuse: if they honestly believed that back in January, I can’t fathom why they weren’t more concerned with getting those supposedly fraudulent payments refunded before the inevitable chargebacks. Chargebacks hurt a merchant much worse than refunds, right? They may cost more, and definitely are more harmful to the merchant’s standing with whoever’s processing the cards for them.

    And no heads-up to the holders of the supposedly scammed/stolen cards?

    To top it all off, they apparently didn’t interact AT ALL with the fraud departments of the credit card companies. If they had, the cardholders would have seen some evidence of it – a call at the least, more likely a surprise freeze on the card.

    I think squaring up monies owed at this point is far too little, far too late. There are big apologies and explanations owed, and I don’t think it’s even possible to spin Mr. Pratt’s behavior from the initial “do nothing, make no contact” approach to the sidelong accusations on Ms. Kowal’s blog and here into something forgivable.

  32. TheRealRalf says:

    Hi, I must agree with #40. I used fundable.org three years in a row for a browsercam-groupaccount and it just did what it was supposed to. No probs at all.

    And also everybody is lamenting about the pet-surgery-begs,etc. I really don’t get it: Everybody is responsible for the projects he participates in and therefore should also be able to a) get in direct contact with the fundraiser and b) to decide for himself wether it’s worth it.

    I really would like to see fundable up and running again sometime soon.

  33. Clumpy says:

    After reading a little online, it seems clear that Fundable’s behavior in this case (alleged violations of terms of service) are not necessarily unique. As John Pratt claims I’m sure Fundable provides good service to most of its customers, but repeated behavior like this in negative cases is more than a small warning flag.

  34. Takuan says:

    yes, I always keep a keg handy:

    “The testicle (from Latin testiculus, diminutive of testis, meaning “witness” [of virility],[1] plural testes) is the male generative gland in animals. This article will concentrate on mammalian testicles unless otherwise noted.

    The etymology of the word is somewhat colorfully based on Roman law. The aforementioned Latin word “testis”, witness, was used in the firmly established legal principle “Testis unus, testis nullus” (one witness [equals] no witness), meaning that testimony by any one person in court was to be disregarded unless corroborated by the testimony of at least another. This led to the common practice of producing two witnesses, bribed to testify the same way in cases of lawsuits with ulterior motives. Since such “witnesses” always came in pairs, the meaning was accordingly extended, often in the diminutive (testiculus, testiculi). After a while, it was reduced to a companion to the penis”

  35. Anonymous says:

    What makes me mad here (besides Fundable’s behavior) is the fact that a Hugo-nominated writer can’t afford a new computer. It just goes to show how little value is placed on literature.

    There’s an idiot in my home town who makes millions of dollars every years selling crappy cars; he floods the airwaves with his offensive commercials and contributes nothing, in my opinion, to society.

    Yet, talented writers are forced to resort to scam artists.

    When I was a teenager, and an aspiring author, I innocently thought that once I got published, my financial worries would disappear. Now, at the age of fifty-one, I see how foolish and naive I was.

    Okay, now I guess I win the award for Most Pompous Comment to a BoingBoing blog.

  36. Takuan says:

    I wonder what Fundable.com would do with thousands of testicles arriving in their mail? Unrefrigerated.
    No, that would be vigilantism, and wrong. Not this though:
    http://news.msn.co.nz/article.aspx?id=837517

    What’s the digital equivalent of a brick?

  37. Antinous / Moderator says:

    from Latin testiculus, diminutive of testis, meaning “witness” [of virility], plural testes

    So…this man is giving a deposition?

  38. Gelfin says:

    Pratt’s explanations are a sieve.

    Since Fundable claims they do not collect until the goal is reached, the allegedly suspect nature of the pledges was knowable before funds were ever collected. If fraud was suspected, whatever mechanism triggered the hold should instead have prevented the funds from being collected at all, thus avoiding the burden of ether chargebacks or refunds.

    This would make fraud a near zero-cost event for all involved, but instead Fundable prefers a scheme that allows them to credulously collect the money and only then become suspicious enough not to pay. Especially in light of Pratt’s complaint about thousands lost to chargebacks one must wonder, why is that?

    Pratt is on the horns of a dilemma. His defense against claims that his company is too untrustworthy to do business with seem to turn on the idea that his company is too incompetent to do business with. When operating any kind of financial service there is one question you must never be found unable to answer: where is the money? No amount of warm sentiment about “helping people” can wash away the stain of a failure to account for those people’s money under your control.

  39. jprattiii says:

    Cory,

    I appreciate your response.

    I don’t want your testicle, but I want you to make a clear distinction in your posts between a serious screwup and an intentional “rip off.”

    The first makes us look like we made a really big mistake, which we did. The second, which your post claims, makes us look like we are out to steal people’s money and will only give it back once our reputation has been torn apart on one of the highest traffic blogs.

    Even though Mary is a trustworthy friend of yours, let me point out that a journalist from one of the most famous papers in the world had the professionalism to email me and ask what was going on before tearing us apart.

    I personally would have taken care of this issue even if Mary hadn’t dropped a bomb on the blogosphere (though admittedly I could not in January). Her first email to me was, “look at what I posted today.” She has been kind enough to work with us without making unfair accusations.

    For fairness, I welcome you to add what I just wrote in full to your post.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Pratt I try to reach you for over one week, sent you many emails but surprisingly enough couldn’t received a response yet! Are you going to return current fundraisers pledges to donors and when?

  41. Tdawwg says:

    The testicle-”witness” link is spurious, according to the OED, which notes that its etymology is “uncertain” and that

    An assumed identity with testis witness (quasi ‘the witness or evidence of virility’) is rejected by Walde, who suggests connexion with testa, pot, shell, etc.

    Thus Walde, whoever he was. Damn those nitpicking lexicographers!