Crowdfunding: kick-start

Published:  May 28, 2012
Brita Frost
Crowdfunding: kick-start

Beautiful in its simplicity, crowdfunding is changing the way we consume, and the way creatives bring projects to life.

When I was at university, my art school friends and I liked to talk about patrons with embarrassing regularity. Staring wistfully into space, we’d wonder what it’d be like to have someone just give us money. To make stuff.

Enter crowd-funding, a modern twist on patronage. Kickstarter, and similar Australian site Pozible, require you to submit your creative idea, and nominate the amount you need to bring it to life. Then, if people like it they will help you fund it. Another Australian site, PlanBig works a little differently. It brings people together and asks them to trade in a different type of capital: knowledge and expertise rather than dollars.

To date, around 46 percent of projects on Kickstarter have reached their funding target and, according to tech blog The Verge, in 2011 alone, a total of 11,836 projects managed to  raise close to $100 million. These creative projects spread across design, music, film, art, publishing, food, theatre and more. When your nominated time is up and you have reached or surpassed your funding target each person who has pledged money has their credit card debited, with five percent going to Kickstarter and between three and five percent going in credit card fees to Amazon. Currently, you need a US bank account for an Amazon account and an Amazon account to sign up for a Kickstarter project.

Kickstarter highlights an interesting and (perhaps) glaringly obvious cultural phenomenon: people want to be involved in the process of making things, they believe in creative projects and they want to engage with what they are consuming in a real and meaningful way. Importantly, they are willing take a punt on someone’s ‘idea’ to do so. People choose to fund projects because they want to support creatives.

Caroline Lee, Stripped, 2010. Design by Chase and Galley

I recently asked my friend Emily why she chose to fund Caroline Lee’s limited edition book Stripped on Pozible and she said, “For me, it seems an excellent way to fundraise. It’s non-intrusive, yet depends on the artists involved to be proactive and organised. And it demonstrates that you don’t have to be rich to be a patron of the arts. It gives anyone interested the opportunity to contribute to the process, even if that contribution is only a few dollars.”

In this way, Kickstarter allows creatives to test ideas, and to see if they can successfully engage people in a highly competitive market. CW&T is Taylor Levy and Che-Wei Wang, a small multidisciplinary design studio based in Brooklyn, who achieved Kickstarter glory with their Pen Type-A project. Pen Type-A is a simple stainless steel casing for their all-time favourite but ultimately disposable pen, the Pilot Hi-Tec-C. Their goal was to raise $2500, but they far surpassed this, raising a lifechanging $281,989. As Taylor says, “A lot of factors played into it. I think for one thing, we really, and accidentally, hit on a niche market of people who also love Hi-Tec-C pens. We had an idea that there were other people who liked the pen, but absolutely no idea that there were so many diehard fans.”


Pen Type-A by CW&T stainless steel pen housing and ruler sleeve

Ruler sleeve detail

Kickstarter, Pozible and PlanBig allow creators an intimate and direct engagement with their consumers. Something that, as Taylor points out, “Allows for a much more lightweight flow between things that are entering the world and the people who might want them. It feels a lot more honest and efficient to check first before you go all-in and waste tonnes of resources.”

There is a kind of reverse economy of scale in most Kickstarter projects. Not only are the creators feeling out interest before they even embark on a project, the projects themselves are taken out of the hands of gatekeepers, whoever they may be (editors, executive committees) and rely instead on an engaged public in a way that leaves creative control entirely with the creator. This allows the creative brains behind the project to adhere to their own personal production values, hopefully resulting in high quality, meaningful and completed creative projects.

It is products, as opposed to more abstract creative projects, that consistently seem to do well on Kickstarter (though interestingly, it is films that reach their funding target most often), if only because people who pledge are often incentivised with the finished product. Last month for example, the Elevation Dock, a solid aluminium iPod dock, far surpassed its goal of $75,000 and raised an astonishing $1,464,706. If you pledged $59 or more, you would be sent an Elevation dock once produced. Kickstarter has allowed Casey Hopkins, creator of the Elevation Dock, to test his product and locate his market even before he goes into production. This is not some small, artsy project. People like what they see and are willing to pre-order it. As Taylor says, “I think Kickstarter can be used to carve out a market to help make anything real. But like any new platform, Kickstarter has a learning curve. It’s a lot easier to understand the concept when you are getting a tangible reward, because you can actually see where the money is going. But there is huge potential for the platform outside the design world.”


Sauerkraut by People Collective

Last year, Australian design studio People Collective went looking for an alternative means to fund its new typeface, Sauerkraut. The studio pitched its idea on Kickstarter with only limited success. The reasons that People Collective didn’t reach its funding goal were varied. As Aaron Moodie points out, “There are certainly things we would do differently. There are a few reasons we think the project didn’t reach its goal, the primary one being that the goal was too high. We originally felt that our funding goal for Sauerkraut should be about $4500; what we hadn’t accounted for were all the prizes for the various levels of pledging. In retrospect, we should have done a little more legwork in the beginning, finding pledge prizes that didn’t cost us extra money. We should have looked for donations or made prizes that we didn’t have to buy, which ended up almost doubling the ‘cost’ of creating the typeface. I think we also could have pushed for more publicity, especially internationally.”

Ultimately whether or not your project reaches its funding goal seems to have little to do with pledging prizes and a lot more to do with how pledgers connect with you and your project. Though there are a near limitless number of people willing to part with money for the right creative project or idea, it seems that an immediate and personal connection with the project and the creative behind it is crucial. As Moodie says, “Kickstarter and similar funding platforms are beautiful in their simplicity. There is an idea and if it is presented well, with a reasonable goal, to the right audience – it gets funded. The type of project doesn’t seem to matter as much as how original or well-considered the idea is, how it is described and who it is shared with.”

Kickstarter, PlanBig and Pozible clearly indicate that people are interested. They want to be engaged with the things they are consuming and they want to contribute in real and meaningful ways to help get things made and creatives funded. As someone recently commented on The New York Times ‘Personal Tech’ blog: “If nothing else, Kickstarter demonstrates that communities of generous people are still willing to build a neighbour’s (metaphorical) barn just for the satisfaction of a job well done and a need well met.”

From desktop magazine.

Thumbnail image: Caroline Lee, Stripped, 2010. Design by Chase and Galley.

2 Responses

  1. Considering the recent success of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing talent for the Iron Sky movie, I can see indie films trying this path to a greater degree in future. (plus with the success of Iron Sky we may see it as a model for future funding of films and the like)

    It is a great way of getting the funding, from memory ShadowEra (a card game for the iPhone) recent funded a physical print run of the cards from the game and offered a pretty nice set of gifts to the people who were funding it.

    If you offer something in return for the funding, I can see it being a way of getting funds for special projects. But I don’t see it as a way of funding yourself to do self indulgent projects. (Just having a look on the kickstarter site you will see plenty of them)

  2. Long live crowd funding! Project supporters will always be motivated to pledge to projects run by people they like, to projects whose cause and outcomes they feel passionate about, and to get their hands on the cool rewards on offer. The sites you mention are great, as are some of the new players like that offer a broad base of scope for project creators

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