The story of eBike maker Sondors Electric Bike just keeps getting weirder … from rumblings that the specs of the promised low-cost bike can’t possibly be accurate, to some ads that lambasted a tech journalist who criticised the company.
The first shipment of bikes from the controversial eBike maker, who raised nearly $US5.3 million on Indiegogo, aren’t supposed to be delivered to the initial investors until May.
Now a lawsuit against the bike maker has been filed. The big surprise is who’s suing: The PR company representing Sondors, Agency 2.0.
Agency 2.0 is a PR firm that specialises in crowdsourced funding campaigns and has had a lot of success (for instance GOkey).
Chris Olenik, who runs Agency 2.0, has been part of the Sondor’s story from the beginning. He says that Sondors hasn’t paid the PR firm what it’s due.
Olenik told CrowdInsider.com (who broke the story) that the Agency waived all up front fees, and spent a lot of money on advertising and PR out of pocket: “At this time we have not been paid for our services per contract relating to the Sondors’ eBike campaign and are now forced to spend even more money on legal. … Sondors refuses to even acknowledge the money is owed to Agency 2.0 for its services in raising $US5.28M.”
Given this lawsuit by the PR firm, investors are now concerned that they won’t be getting their bikes in May, and may not be getting them ever. For instance, IndieGoGo user, squalz419, writes, “We wont see this bike period…”
(See below for Olenik’s full statement.)
We also reached out to Sondors and IndieGoGo for comment and we’ll update this story if we hear back.
All in all, this is shaping up to be a crazy story. Here are some more things we’ve learned since first covering the company’s IndieGoGo campaign.
An ad that trashes a tech blogger
This eBike campaign took off when Agency 2.0 and Sondors organised a tour of the bike’s prototype to several influential tech bloggers. The campaign was promising to produce a workhorse electric bike with a 50-mile range for under $US600.
Tynan then left messages on the IndieGoGo forum asking them to remove a favourable quote from him from his first article and saying he thought the company intentionally mislead him about the price.
By then the bike had garnered nearly $US2 million in investment, and that amount was climbing fast.
The company started clarifying its price and its specs and debate was so heated that Electric Bike Review fired up a “Sondors Fact Finding. Due Diligence. Scrutiny” thread in which people could only submit actual evidence of issues with the bike.
The administrator of that thread also showed off a very odd ad that appeared on a YouTube video. The ad skewered Tynan for writing about Sondors and linked to someone’s blog post that skewered him some more.
Who bought the ad? That’s not clear.
A controversial founder
When we first reported a low-cost eBike was raising millions of dollars extremely fast on Indiegogo, we got an outpouring of emails about the bike and its inventor, who calls himself Storm Sondors.
One person that reached out to us was a toy maker named Peter Greenley, who said he knew Sondors since Sondors was an 18-year-old kid, newly arrived in the US from Latvia and going by the name of Ivars.
They worked together at Greenley’s former employer, Chicago toymaker Rehkemper, many years ago, Greenley told Business Insider. Years later, Sondors was running his own toy manufacturing business and Greenley worked for him for 11 months, and was “fired” by him, Greenley told us.
Greenley told us a few stories about Sondors, including one about a previous legal scuffle. Toyjobs, a head hunter for the toy industry, accused Sondors’ company of going “behind our backs” to hire candidates that Toyjobs had found, then not paying Toyjobs for its work.
Tom Keoughan of Toyjobs eventually won a nearly $US40,000 judgement against Ivars Sondors in 2011. But the company then had difficulty collecting, according to a statement hosted on the Toyjobs site, which says “we have chased him for over three years across two continents.”
We contacted Keoughan, who confirmed the story and told us, “When someone doesn’t pay their vendors I always wonder how they will be able to deliver the goods.”
Some backers are protected
While the lawsuit from the PR company has made wary investors even more worried, some of them should be protected if everyone’s worst fears come true.
With IndieGoGo, investors pay up front. In this case, IndieGoGo offered investors insurance. For another $US150, backers could get their money back if the bike wasn’t delivered as promised in May.
But if this thing actually does go south, and investors don’t get the bike they are promised, it will be a black eye for IndieGoGo and for crowdfunding in general.
Here’s the full statement sent to us by the PR company, Agency 2.0:
Agency 2.0 wants the backers and everyone involved with the Sondors eBike campaign to get what they signed up for. Agency 2.0 willingly delayed receipt of any and all upfront service fees and invested an immense amount of resources in the Indiegogo campaign. This includes, without limitation, paying out of pocket for an extensive advertising campaign, dealing with graphic design, organising a bike demo day (city permits, staff, all logistics) paid for out of pocket, responding to thousands of emails and comments, running hundreds of advertisements, and in general having all Agency 2.0 staff engaged in the campaign for months.
At this time we have not been compensated for our services per contract relating to the Sondors’ eBike campaign and are now forced to spend even more money on legal. Our fees owed are well past due and have no bearing on the delivery of the eBikes. The fees were agreed upon in writing prior to the launch of the campaign. Sondors refuses to even acknowledge the money is owed to Agency 2.0 for its services in raising $US5.28M. We have made repeated efforts to try to work out our compensation issue with Sondors, to no avail and have been left with no choice but to take legal action. Despite the situation, we at Agency 2.0, like all interested in the Sondors eBike expect and hope for successful delivery of the product.