There is a mystical place in San Francisco where whiskey drinks are made with marshmallows, salads contain pork three ways, rows of grilled cheese are constantly replenished, and the pale beer option is saison. All of it is free. People are healthy as fuck. It's as if everyone stepped out of a PacSun commercial.
Such a place existed last Thursday at the private launch party for Rumpl, a startup that makes blankets out of sleeping bag material. To make these sleeping-bags-sans-zippers, Rumpl set up a Kickstarter campaign for $15,000, but instead raised $216,889. As you know by now, the gods of crowdfunded fortune are rarely fair.
I wasn't invited to this private party and neither was anyone I came with. We were just leaving a monthly tech writers meetup in the Dogpatch neighborhood when we stopped to stare through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Invention Hub, where Rumpl was hosting its launch. You couldn't not look at it. The chillness just wafted out of the space. Life inside seemed breezy.
In New York, I would've kept going. But this is Stardate: Startupland. Even after we made our interloper status clear, the Blue Crush extras manning the sign-in desk still warmly welcomed us in. Casey Newton, senior reporter for The Verge, shrugged off the absurdity: "We're gonna give you a sales pitch on a blanket then have some bacon and whiskey. Welcome to San Francisco in 2014."
The party was both expected and an aberration, the latter because guests seemed plucked from a time when Valley Girl meant San Fernando, not Silicon. "There's a genre of people in San Francisco that I feel like I never see in life," said Ellen Cushing, a senior editor at San Francisco magazine.
Soon another handful of tech bloggers walked in. They had been on their way to meet us for dinner when the siren song called: "The guys outside were like, 'You should come in.'" My group went straight for the food, but the newcomers made a beeline for the wall of blankets. "It wasn't until they were pushing the sleeping bag around my face that I realized oh this is why we're here," said another reporter who accidentally ensnared herself in the party photographer's trap. "If you get near it," she warned, "they will attempt to suffocate you."
Those noobs made the wrong decision.
Marone the food, there was so much of it. A table by the window was covered with offerings from Bacon Bacon, a local cafe and food truck. Next to a Paleo salad of pork three ways were stacked rows of sandwiches. Cushing was pretty sure they were L.B.G.T.s—BLTs with goat cheese, which the city of Berkeley has apparently been feeding its children for years.
That night no one ate the wordplay because just around the corner an angel in plaid from Luke's Local was pressing grilled cheese after grilled cheese with two kinds of cheese. The second cheese was superfluous, but in that context, it just felt right. Why shouldn't white and gold melted blessings ooze from side of your free meal?
When the cocktail stand outside ran out of whiskey, the bartender put aside the "big-ass chain saw" used to cut ice for the signature Campfire Cocktail, and one resourceful partygoer made himself an ad hoc s'mores with the leftover marshmallows.
The next day, Rumpl cofounder Nick Polinko assured me by email that the $200,000 or so extra donated via Kickstarter wasn't squandered on the celebration:
Both me and my partner Wylie [Robinson] have put up quite a bit of our own money to bootstrap the company, but we did make a little bit of profit (as any self respecting business person would devoting a year of their life to one project :) off our KS campaign that is also in our funding pool.
When I looked up the campaign, it was clear some version of this oasis was part of the plan even at the modest $15,000 goal. All 1,601 sleeping bag blanket backers were promised a spot on the guest list even if they only kicked in $5. Besides, the Invention Hub, a coworking space by day, apparently offers reasonable rates, said Polinko:
Our Party was done on a VERY low budget. For example the Reclaimed pallet bed instead of a "real" bed. The most expensive part was the venue rental fee. After a long search we were able to find a venue with the lowest fees in SF, that still met our size and aesthetic requirements.
Most of the dudes manning the food and beverage booths explained that they were there as a through some degree of connection to Rumpl's other cofounder Wylie Robinson, a human-centered designed expert. Polinko described the all-for-one-for-profit spirit like a Burning Man for baby brands. Luke's Local, the company behind the grilled cheese, are the beloved little guy. They're now competing with the venture-backed meal delivery monsters at SpoonRocket, which has raised $13.5 million or Sprig, which has raised $11.7 million, as the blanket-ensnared reporter explained. It sounded like the start of a slow startup movement, except that's already a thing. Said Polinko:
Its amazing how fast you make *new friends when you reach out to people/companies for mutual benefit. Our approach was: we are doing something fun and bringing together a solid group of people, other companies and individuals could also benefit form this group while adding value to our party. Instead of paying for food, we reached out to hungry, growing chefs with great items with Luke's Local and Bacon Truck (who happened to also be a backer) to get their name out in that circle. For the booze, we also took the same approach with Sonoma County Distilling and Pacific Brew Labs, both small, growing brands that jumped at the chance to serve at the unique event like. We also had our mattress donated from Tuft and Needle, who we immediately became our friends with after hearing about their frustrations with the mattress buying process mirroring our own frustrations in the blanker/bedding industry, and their similar approach to solve it.
His cofounder, Robinson, may also have been responsible for the attractiveness quotient. The kid who handed me a saison from Pacific Brew Labs said he went surfing with Robinson. A couple guests had grown up with him, including the young Cary Elwes type who went to boarding school in Santa Barbara before working at Patagonia. Wylie, he said, had "always been a creative guy."
According to Polinko, Rumpl has already shipped more than 2,100 blankets to at least 30 countries.
All of this was done with no one ever seeing or touching our product in person. As you know from the party, feeling is believing with our product and we are excited to hit the streets and retail channels to get blankets into peoples hands.
At $229 for the King-sized option that's not bad. The couple self-consciously making out on the bed decor seemed to enjoy it. The blankets have comforting softness, but Cushing chalked that up to the invention of the sleeping bag. "They took a thing that already existed and removed utility from it. They removed the zipper, made $200,000, and fed us pork."
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