A financial fuss about FurFlight – can it fend off a fandom fiasco?

by Patch O'Furr

Distressing news has come out about a furry-organized travel service, which appears to be in trouble with some big financial obligations at the moment. The fur is flying, and not in a good way.

FurFlight bundles furries together for group air travel from highly-active fandom regions to highly-attended conventions, most notably from Seattle and San Francisco to Midwest FurFest. The idea is to improve the boring parts and the endpoint arrangements. It happened successfully in 2017. (As far as I know, no fellow travelers complained about fur allergy flareups or the plane smelling like a zoo – score for fandom image!)

FurFlight isn’t affiliated with Midwest FurFest. One of the con staffers told me about previously advising people not to buy in because of no accountability for an independent operation. Trusting other fans comes with risks known to anyone who’s been burned by bad art commissions.

Mike Folf is the organizer and principal of Canis Vulpes LLC, FurFlight’s corporation registered in 2018.  Nobody else appears on the paperwork (although I’ve seen references to unnamed other team members or execs.) Mike goes to my local events and I’ve liked knowing him as a friendly furry guy. (I have no business relationship with the service). I’ve also seen many good recommendations and social media posts about the trips. So I was happy to host Mike on the site as “community access” so he could promote it:

Now that a problem has reared its fluffy head, I’m guessing that the September timing may have involved pressure to increase signups and income. That unfortunately synchs with a LiveJournal post by Aloha Wolf made on October 24.

Aloha Wolf reports that shortly after the Dogpatch article went out, Mike told him there was an imminent travel booking deadline with Alaska Air, and difficulty with the bank limiting a payment over $10,000.  On October 9, Aloha Wolf was convinced to advance a credit card payment of over $35,000 to cover costs. Making the deadline would keep FurFlight on track to honor obligations to paying users (113 of them).

One can see the pressure that led Aloha Wolf to help in an emergency – and the trap he got into if FurFlight’s finances can’t match promises to repay the credit. On October 20, repayment from Canis Vulpes LLC to Aloha Wolf bounced, leaving him holding a major debt, at least for now.

A trusted tipper and FurFlight user sent me a chat log showing the events. Mike admitted to misleading about repayment ability, so he could secure the $35,000 in credit – which I can’t read as anything but criminal fraud. (Edit: I’m saying this to clarify rumors, but not sharing the doc because I would say it’s up to others to decide how to resolve it.)  The tipper also gave further info about loan requests that supported a desperate lack of funds.

There’s more info about how things went downhill. According to Aloha Wolf, his casual review of records showed insubstantial budget or accounting, and flights were being sold at a loss. He judged the company planning as unsustainable if things can’t turn around. Commenters judged the prices as “too good to be true“.

Where did FurFlight’s income go? According to the chat log, company setup included costs of thousands for Twitter marketing, costs for Mike Folf to visit places being marketed to, and GSuite software. There was merchandise planned to earn funds but production time extended into 2019.

Flights were being sold for 2019 to cover 2018 costs – which social media observers compared to a Ponzi scheme. That synchs with FurFlight’s October appeals for more signups for new service to new conventions:

The more I read, the more it makes me think there was months of time where Mike Folf knew and didn’t address a looming problem before what looks like using false pretenses to buy more time. I wish I’d known this before promoting FurFlight.

There were some people with closer involvement who saw this coming. I don’t know if there’s more to know about why Aloha Wolf was convinced to pay so much, but Asic Fox corroborates being misled to cover $5000 in FurFlight costs. (Most of that debt is paid down, but he claims it was caused by malfeasance.)

Scaleup problems are often a dramatic way that apparently successful ventures derail (remember Fyre Fest, where fraud just got prison time for its organizer?) Luckily, this didn’t hit hundreds of travelers en route, perhaps leaving them high and dry – just two creditors, so far.

It doesn’t help that the personal @MikeFolf Twitter account was just deleted. However, I haven’t directly spoken to Aloha Wolf or Mike Folf about this yet, so this is where things stand. It could be possible for things to turn around – perhaps with additional funding appeals.

Personally, given what I saw Mike Folf admit in the chat log, I can’t see this happening without his position of responsibility going to someone else. He would be very lucky if it ends there. It would be nice to see a formal statement (I’d be happy to host one.)

Time will tell if repayment is made, obligations are honored, and FurFlight’s public problem is smoothed over. Travelers may or may not get what they expect.

UPDATE: Boozy Badger has his own take with the bluntest headline ever, about state law of licensing for travel service.

UPDATE: a closing message from FurFlight on Telegram. Also I spoke to people close to Mike Folf and would personally suggest sympathy for someone who got in over their head.

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