Two months ago, my beloved beau decided he wanted to start a salt business. He claimed Kickstarter would be the way to help fund his love for seasoning.
“What’s Kickstarter?” I asked.
“It’s this really cool website where people post their business ventures, art projects or anything that they’re looking to create which needs funding,” he replied rather nonchalantly, as he showed me a picture of someone who had raised several thousand dollars to start their bakery.
“And who funds it?” I asked, imagining a money fairy somewhere dispersing Benjamins to anyone who asked.
“People?” As a skeptic, I couldn’t help but raise my eyebrows. “I don’t understand.”
“Yea, people who want to donate to the cause. And if the fund-raising goal isn’t met, then the money isn’t handed over.”
Immediately, I imagined people asking for their credit card debts to be taken care of in one fell swoop or their mortgages to be paid for over the next few months. Matthew clarified. “It has to be a creative platform to get funded, and the Kickstarter administrators have to approve it. So, no, a mortage wouldn’t get passed, I am sure.”
Within a few months, “Kickstarter” seemingly became the buzz word in every conversation I had. As it turned out, many of my friends were familiar with the concept. Jonathan Guggenheim, one-half Superkiiid!, filmmaker and actor in “Americatown” attempted to use the site to help pay for his film’s 2009 summer-long venture across the states. However, his funding didn’t work out, something he attributes to many factors: one being he and his “Americatown” filmmakers launched the campaign the month that Kickstarter went live, April 2009.
“It was a very new website,” Guggenheim says, “without a credible reputation that involved pledging money—these tend to scare some people. Also, we needed more hype to catch the attention of random web crawlers.”
In essence, Guggenheim now realizes more could have been put into marketing the project. As an experiment, part of the game is to learn what does and does not work.
“You have to put the effort in [to make it a success,]” he says. “In the cut-throat world of online self-marketing you either got it or you don’t—or you look like you got it, but you still don’t. However, when a creative website seeps into the zeitgeist, it becomes harder for the individual project to stand out while holding tight to its integrity. It’s how you end up watching 9 minutes of a drunken cat playing a keyboard on YouTube, as opposed to watching 9 minutes of a well-made short called ‘Spider’—also on YouTube.”
Quickly, the depth of Kickstarter shined.
It’s a much more elaborate process, really. It takes more than posting a project, setting a goal, and waiting for people all over the world to find it and willingly donate money to it. The site is quite interactive—almost like the entrepreneur side of social networking. Bands post strategies to make CDs and go on tour, offering copies of their music for minor donations. Some are willing to cook a gourmet meal for four at the donor’s house if the pledge is right.
Chad Keith happens to be a frequent Kickstarter supporter. He was the only person to actually pledge $50 to “Americatown” last summer. [Full disclosure: He also worked on the film.] Though Keith is a friend of the Superkiiids!, he also uses Kickstarter to find music, which led him to the band For a Minor Reflection out of Reykjavík, Iceland.
“For a $5 pledge, they sent me their CD,” he says. “It’s a great way to support new artists. I’ve gone on the site many times to see what others are doing, and I’ve donated to projects I think are cool.”
Artists, entrepreneurs and even students writing their theses find newfound interest from like-minded followers willing to pay a buck to back something they believe is for a good cause. The “Kickstarters,” so to speak, get first-hand feedback as to whether their ventures and projects are something the public can get behind, too. It all comes down to a new era of attracting dollars and cents and utilizing clever marketing. Though it seems like a more sophisticated and interactive way to raise funds, it takes finesse and persistence. Kickstarter.com offers one more creative tool in a very arduous capital-gaining process.
Local filmmaker Meg Lansaw is the latest friend I know to join this new wave of commerce. Lansaw hopes to fund $11,111 for her film “11:11.” It is something she literally says she has felt pregnant with throughout eight years of its writing process. An “ensemble piece about the interconnectivity of lives, and the effects that timing and decision-making have on destiny,” Lansaw has set her premiere date for 11/11/11. Beforehand she hopes to raise a chunk of change on Kickstarter this Thursday, 11/11. Lansaw’s obsession over the time frame has been an ongoing love affair.
“In 2002 I began writing ‘11:11’ in a spiral notebook,” she says. Since taking second place at the 2008 Appalachian Film Festival, in the screenplay category, Lansaw has been writing, rewriting “and catching the time 11:11 while writing” along the way. The signs all point to her dream being fulfilled.
“The clock constantly reminds me I’m supposed to make this movie,” she notes of her uncanny ability to always catch the time. She also refers to other incidents that prove as much is true: Her watch once stopped on 11:11 for an entire day, and while choosing music by Azure Ray for the climax scene in her movie, she found out lead singer Maria Taylor had a solo album called “11:11” set for release.
“I got butterflies,” Lansaw reveals.
Yet, she knew destiny alone wouldn’t complete her project. She needed funding to turn her concept into a fleshed-out reality. Thus Kickstarter.com entered her world through the suggestion of a friend’s roommate.
“Fund-raising I’ve done in the past has always been a chore,” Lansaw tells encore, “from yard sales to writing letters to friends and family asking for donations. Online crowd funding is brilliant! It saves paper and taps into a much broader audience.”
In fact, expanding upon potential “investors” remains key to Kickstarter. It allows independent artists and entrepreneurs a chance to reach out beyond their normal target audience. “The people who typically go to the website are supporters of the arts—the exact people you want to [reach],” Lansaw says. “So rather than licking a million stamps and making frequent visits to the bank, you can sit on your couch, focus on promoting your film and let the work do itself.”
Though it sounds simple, it’s far from easy. The “work” includes mass-marketing on Facebook, Twitter and anywhere word can spread to inner-connected groups outside of Lansaw’s immediate reach. Just last week, she sent links of her Kickstarter page to friends on Facebook, asking them to send the link to 11 of their friends she does not know, and so forth. Within a day, she had raised close to $300. As of press time, 59 days remained to reach her goal (Kickstarter projects can’t exceed 90 days of potential funding).
“I have also printed 11:11 postcards with a Web address and short pitch on the back that I will be handing out and mailing to friends to scatter around different cities,” she notes.
“I have contacted newspapers … [and] I’m working on getting time on the radio.”
Lansaw was inspired to start a Kickstarter page from friends who had found success before with their own projects. “[T]he band The Sheila Divine posted a page seeking funding to record a reunion album. Their goal was $5,000, and they ended up 260 percent funded with a total of $13,001!” she says. “Cucalorus alumnus Todd Rohal posted a film project requesting $6,500 and ended up with $9,310! Granted, these are projects that already have a foundation audience, so this could be the reason for their success.”
The fundamental aspect to reaching a goal, outside of marketing to the hilt and seeing that the project stays in the face of potential backers, also can be related to a solid idea. Thus is the case for Logan Mock-Bunting, a local photo journalist. He faced the grave loss of his mother to cancer and found the courage to capture her journey upon her request. With tons of images left in her wake, he discussed with his roommate a desire to actually do something with them instead of allowing them little exposure on a hard drive.
“My roommate also lost a parent, and suggested that a book about mourning and dying could really help others going through the same process,” Mock-Bunting says. “Initially, I was doubtful, but then, literally, a day later a different friend wrote me and asked for advice on how to deal with a parent’s death. From then I began talking to others about the idea with 100 percent good feedback. I was still a little doubtful, but since putting it out via Kickstarter, the support has really solidified the determination and acceptance of the book.”
Mock-Bunting has more than doubled his goal of $1,150, and he has until November 14th to continue collecting pledges for his project, “Details in Dying: Creating a book to help families with the mourning process.” In a Kickstarter world, there is no such thing as “over-funding.” The photographer plans on using every dime toward the final product, which he wants to give to hospices and bereavement centers.
“One of the interesting aspects of Kickstarter is that it is an all-or-nothing process,” he notes. “If you do not reach your minimum goal, you get nothing. So it encourages you to really pare down your financial plan in order to receive something instead of making a dream budget, and falling just a bit short, leaving the project with zero funding. It is better to submit something barebones in order to get a financial base.”
All money he collects, after paying Kickstarter a 5 percent user fee, will go toward top-notch design and editing from Mike Davis (National Geographic). Mock-Bunting is also “speaking with and interviewing hospice councilors, renowned experts on the psychology of death and mourning, as well as many folks who have lost someone they love.” The process is one that takes money, time and dedicated effort, all in hopes of providing a product that will help “spread some knowledge, sensitivity and comfort,” not to mention help others deal with the awkward conversation of death.
“The outpouring of support has made the project become bigger,” he says. “People are supportive of the idea, [one] they believe has a place—something that I hope can make a real difference to others.”
While the idea must be convincing, sometimes the right push in the “green” direction comes from rewards. Monies aren’t immediately withdrawn from the pledgers’ credit cards until the projects have met their goals. Then, through Amazon’s Flexible Payments Service, Kickstarter charges each pledge, and the project’s founders begin mailing off the gifts.
Filmmaker Meg Lansaw promises a host of goodies to anyone who makes as small a donation as $11 (which gets the donator a postcard signed by the director and cast, plus a button pin) to a larger $4,444 gift (which can land someone four tickets to the premiere, a set visit, an IMDB co-producer credit, among other perks, like 11 lottery tickets).
Though Mock-Bunting’s pledges start at $1, and come with heartfelt gratitude, he also promotes his talent in photography. For $500 donors get an 11 x 14 print of one of his own nature/outdoor images, a signed copy of the book and a thank-you postcard. The real reward comes from supporting the project in and of its own accord.
“I really hope by sharing this experience, people can process different means of support—physical, emotional, logistical,” he says, referring to his book. Yet, the parallel to Kickstarter support also seems relevant, when it comes to helping fulfill someone’s dreams. “I don’t know if one can be taught ‘compassion,’ but I really hope that ‘feeling into’ another person’s experience can raise awareness and thoughtfulness.”
More information about Kickstarter.com can be found online. Those interested in supporting Meg Lansaw’s project are encouraged to make a pledge on the 11th, while Logan Mock-Bunting’s project will take pledges through the 14th.