Most Wilmingtonians are familiar with the story of one of their own, Zach Crain. He’s the most successful guy in short shorts moseying about town with his trusty quadruped, Pete, trotting along beside him. Founder of the successful Freaker USA, Crain’s story is one of age-old entrepreneurship—albeit read in a different language with lots of ad-libbing. Crain turned Freaker on its head by crowdsourcing his startup in 2011 rather than trying to “sell” his idea to a big company. Now, just a few years later, he has led a second successful Kickstarter campaign for a line of socks (“Freak Your Feet!”). His accomplishments in this new platform of crowdfunding is part of a documentary, “Capital C,” set to debut Friday, July 24.
Crain’s story is one of three followed by directors and producers Timon Birkhofer and Jørg M. Kundinger; other subjects include Wasteland video game creator Brian Fargo and poker-card designer Jackson Robinson. All three, including the filmmakers themselves, used crowdsourced funds to upstart their projects and/or businesses.
Crain was approached by the two filmmakers around the time they launched their own Kickstarter campaign to fund “Captial C.” At the time the Freaker founder more or less took their interest in his story with a grain of salt—until the filmmakers came knocking a few months later.
“At first we said, ‘Sure, we’ll do it, it sounds like fun,’” Crain tells. “So, then there’s just two German guys following us around and hanging out for a few months.”
The movie centers on the three varied stories because they represent a few different perspectives and backgrounds of crowdsourcing: Crain, being an off-beat entrepreneur with an eccentric idea of how to start and run his Freaker bottle insulator company; Fargo, someone who has found success (monetarily and otherwise) in his work in the past but still needs backing for a remake of a 20-year classic game; and Robinson, a young artist and family man trying to make it as an artist, and doing so with unexpected success of his hand-drawn poker cards.
“I feel like [Birkhofer and Kundinger] did a great job of putting the thought out there that we’re in a time period where the only thing between you and doing something is using your head,” Crain observes. “The movie motivates people, too, and . . . I’m sure it will spawn a lot of new crowdfunding projects.”
In a traditional world, folks have an idea, develop a prototype and try to shop it around to someone who can back it monetarily. Crowdsourcing offers an immediate response to the product (good or bad), funded by those who support the idea—ideally, potential consumers. When people decide to participate in crowdsourcing and put their dollars toward seeing a project to fruition, it raises lots of questions about how it can change not only the landscape of starting a business, but which businesses get started, what they make and where they make it.
Crain says if it wasn’t for the supporters backing his all-made-in-the-USA Freaker, it wouldn’t have happened. “There’s a lot of companies on [crowdsourcing sites] that aren’t making products in the U.S.,” he explains. “It’s really hard to do and we got lucky that we can. I feel like people are starting to see the correlation with complaints about [lack of] jobs and where they spend their money. We just need to love and support our people . . . and if you’re spending your money here, then it’s going to create jobs here.”
While the movie does outline inspiring moments of dreams coming true, it covers the pitfalls, hardships and downright crappy sides of being solely responsible for the business’ success. As the person raising the money, for example, watching the clock tick away on your idea can be excruciating. “It’s that middle period of a crowdfunding campaign that—instead of just watching it —you ask, ‘What can we do?’” Crain says. For him and the Freaker team, it was making videos and doing photoshoots with their products and “acting sillier”—the latter being one of the most defining for the company.
Freaker USA wrapped their second Kickstarter last January to support a line of 127 sock designs. They needed $250,000, which may seem like a lot but in the end isn’t really when it comes to business. The film covers the idea about people getting more than enough or “getting rich” off crowdsourcing.
“Even at $250,000, it put us in a tight, tight spot,” Crain says. “It’s unfathomable what [production] costs, where [the money] goes for shipping and all that other stuff, and we did a good enough job to where [the goal] was the bare minimum of what we needed.”
In addition to the dollars crowdsourcing can bring, “Capital C” shows how it brings in a sense of ownership and support unlike any other. When the movie cuts into the story of Crain finding what looks to be a carbon copy of his Freakers on Urban Outfitter’s website (read encore report here), it was a moment the audience could feel his sense of helplessness.
“I’m not the guy that wants to go in and say, ‘This is mine, you can’t have it,’” Crain tells. Not to mention, it takes a lot of funds for drawn-out, expensive legal action for a small business. Unable and unwilling to “fight back,” Crain and his team decided to just keep doing what they do: Make some freakin’ Freakers.
Then social media and Freaker USA supporters took the wheel, with comments, pictures and an overwhelming response in protest of the large company’s knock-offs. Best explained in the film, amongst the series of comments and photos, one picture lingers of an arm fitted with an American flag Freaker and a middle finger raised. “They eventually stopped selling them,” Crain says.
After seeing “Capital C” for himself at the Newport Beach Film Festival premiere last April, Crain says it’s a very unexpected emotional journey about the rise of crowdfunding. “After the movie, one guy raised his hand and said, ‘I didn’t think a movie about crowdfunding would make me cry,’” he shares. “It’s got all the good spots that make a good movie and I feel like it leaves you wanting more.”
Beginning Friday, July 24, “Capital C” will play in select theaters nationwide, and will be available via iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, GooglePlay, and Vudu. For more, visit www.capitalc-movie.com.