KulaBrands Review: Crowdfunding manipulation?
The webinar page of the KulaBrands website contains images of two individuals, Peter Gantner and Doug Kyle. The website does not disclose their roles within the company.
On his LinkedIn profileFurther research reveals Gantner citing himself as the CEO of KulaShare Inc. KulaShare Inc is assumed to be the parent company of KulaBrands.
Update October 5th 2016 – Peter Gantner has been in touch to clarify that ‘kulaBrands and kulaShare are two separate and distinct companies with no affiliation other than some common ownership.‘ /end update
As per a marketing video uploaded to YouTube on February 22nd 2016, up until recently Gantner was promoting Kannaway (right). Whether Gantner’s still involved in Kannaway is unclear.
Doug Kyle is the owner of the KulaBrands website domain (“kulabrands.com”), registered on the 4th of September, 2015. An address in the US state of Arizona is also provided.
In late 2015 Kyle attempted to fund development for “Fuel Matrix” on KickStarter.
Fuel Matrix is a breakthrough technology that will help you mitigate your personal impact on the environment from driving.
Fuel Matrix bonds oxygen to gas or diesel at the molecular level. This helps your car engine burn cleaner, resulting in an up to 50% reduction in harmful emissions.
Moreover, it saves you money by improving your gas mileage up to 20%.
The project goal was $50,000 but as of January 16th, 2016 only $10,312 had been pledged.
Read on for a full review of the KulaBrands MLM opportunity.
The KulaBrands Product Line
KulaBrands has no retailable products or services of its own, with affiliates only able to market KulaBrands affiliate membership itself.
Third-party merchants are able to use the KulaBrands crowd-sharing platform, through which products and services can be marketed by KulaBrands affiliates.
The gist of this process sees a merchant list a product on the KulaBrands network.
KulaBrands affiliates vote on which product(s) they wish to support, be pledging to pre-purchase a product.
Once a set target is reached, the product is then listed on a third-party crowdfunding platform (such as Kickstarter or IndieGogo). KulaBrands affiliates who pledged to pre-purchase the product donate funds to the project, in an attempt to manipulate the popularity of the project and attract non-KulaBrands affiliate interest.
If a product is ultimately developed through the platform, KulaBrands run a replicated storefront through which affiliates can market and sell developed products through.
The KulaBrands Compensation Plan
If a third-party merchant decides to use the KulaBrands platform, the company negotiates a royalty fee that is paid out on the sale of each product.
Assuming the project is funded and products are actually manufactured for sale, KulaBrands take a cut of the royalty fees and split the rest with their affiliate-base.
The affiliate portion of the royalty fees are placed into two pools; a Founder’s Pool and a Brand-Marketing Pool.
- a Founder’s Pool
- a Branding-Marketing Pool and
- a Direct-Online Pool
Each pool is paid out via “points”, with affiliates able to generate points in each pool via the following criteria:
When a KulaBrands affiliate pledges a dollar amount to a project, they earn a point in the Founder’s Pool.
The Branding-Marketing Pool rewards affiliates for spamming social media with advertising for KulaBrands crowdfunding projects.
KulaBrands tracks these efforts through an inhouse system that affiliates use to publish unsolicited advertising to social networks.
When products are purchased through a KulaBrands affiliate’s replicated storefront, they earn points in the Direct-Online Pool.
The MLM side of KulaBrands sees “partial points” awarded when a downline qualifies for points in any of the three offered pools.
This will be tracked via a unilevel compensation structure of unspecified depth.
At the time of publication KulaBrands have also not specified how many points will be generated by downline activity.
Update October 5th 2016 – Peter Gantner has been in touch and states that
every product that is brought to kulaBrands is unique and the terms will be individually negotiated with the inventor or owner of that product. This negotiation will involve community members.
Due to the unique nature of each product and the community involvement undertaken before committing to each project, it is impossible to identify the points generated by downline activity before the projects are identified.
Affiliate membership with KulaBrands is currently $199. KulaBrands marketing material suggests this might be raised to $299 at a later date.
KulaBrands affiliates who signed up before March 14th only paid $150.
Before we get into the ethics of people with a financial incentive manipulating crowdfunding campaigns before they are opened up to the general public, the glaring compliance issue inherent within KulaBrands needs to be addressed.
I think the best way to get into that is to look at KulaBrands’ first crowdfunding project.
It’s… wait for it, KulaBrands.
I’m not kidding. The first project offered for funding through KulaBrands is KulaBrands. Affiliates who pledge money to the project are promised a quarterly share of 8% of the total revenue raised by the company.
That’s starting to get into securities territory, with the pitch for third-party merchant offerings not any better:
We’re going to do the research on the marketplace, that we’re going to provide to you – so you understand what the potential is for that product or service in the marketplace.
What is the potential that product can sell (at), so if you make a decision to get involved in that project and support it, that you know what the potential is that you can get from that.
We’re gunna let you know the numbers, so you’re going to know what the reverse royalty percentage is. So it’s going to say, “Hey, this project is willing to pay four, six percent royalties to the community.”
And then we’re going to explain how you participate and how you get your share in that reverse royalty.
We’re gunna give you sales projections and what this (product or service) has the potential to do.
So we’re gunna give you the data and the information. Once you have that data and information and you’ve analyzed it, then you’re gunna do step 2.
Step 2 is whether or not an affiliate votes on the project.
This is problematic, as KulaBrands affiliates are voting with a passive financial return in mind – based on information the company, with a financial vested interest itself, has provided them.
The instinctive reaction upon claiming this to be a security is to compare KulaBrands’ offering with existing crowdfunding platforms.
It is the financial incentive of the company and its affiliates however that sets it apart.
This isn’t the public pledging funds to a cause and receiving a product or service in exchange. This is a company providing investor information, which its members then decide to pledge money towards based on ongoing ROI projections.
Those ROIs are based on the efforts of others (passive), which defines KulaBrands’ offering as a security.
The KulaBrands’ crowdfunding project offering is even more murky, as affiliates are pledging funds to qualify themselves for a share of 8% of funds deposited into the company by subsequently recruited affiliates.
To offer securities, in MLM or otherwise, you need to be registered with the SEC. Nowhere on the KulaBrands website or in their marketing presentation does the company represent it is registered to offer securities.
As to the ethics of the KulaBrands concept, legitimate crowdfunding sees projects succeed or fail based on public interest. The general concept is crappy ideas don’t get funded.
Through KulaBrands, it’s entirely possible that a crappy idea will get funded, based on projected ROIs rather than the merits of the product or service itself.
It is unashamedly mentioned in KulaBrands webinars that the aim of getting affiliates to pledge before the general public is to generate immediate interest in a KulaBrands’ backed project when it goes live on a public platform.
It is represented that this immediate interest, the source of which is not disclosed to the general public, will spark group mentality interest in the project.
That’d be fine without the financial incentive… but in KulaBrands it’s very much a factor.
Is it ethical to represent to the general public that a crowdfunding project has a high level of initial organic interest that’s infact artificially curated?
I personally don’t think it is. Do you?
Update 27th November 2017 – As of mid 2017, KulaBrands has registered itself with the SEC.
A June 8th Form C Offering Statement reveals KulaBrands intends to issue common stock through “TruCrowd”.
As per a 20th July post on the official KulaBrands Facebook page;
Kulabrands is now offering its members the opportunity to purchase stock through the Chicago-based equity crowdfunding company, tru-Crowd.
This is a kulaBrands members-only offer, so if you want to get in on this, join our community.
4551 shares are to be offered at $8.79 a share.
The filing also reveals that last year KulaBrands made a net-loss of $33,981, despite generating $263,133 in sales.
Might be worth re-examining your business model if generating a quarter million dollars in revenue still results in a loss.
Anyway, glad to see an MLM company involved in securities actually register itself with the SEC.
Props to Peter Gantner and his team for not ignoring what were obvious glaring regulatory issues with KulaBrands initial MLM offering.