To celebrate hitting $1 billion in pledges on Kickstarter, we’re putting the spotlight on the people who made that happen. We’ll be posting excerpts from chats with some notable backers, talking about projects they love and the joys of supporting someone's idea.
Hope Leman of Corvallis, Ore., is known in the Kickstarter community for the great feedback she gives creators — everything from a pat on the back to a “Hey! You should really send an update!” nudge. She has backed 224 wildly diverse projects and is one of 1,627 people who’ve "completed the pie" by backing a project in every category. When she isn't on Kickstarter, Hope is a research information technologist at a hospital.
Why back projects?
I’m interested in technology and open data and academia, so Kickstarter blends into several of my interests. Also literature and film and… all over the map! I just like to encourage young people who are doing something worthwhile. Not necessarily young — just people. I back a lot of things just for a dollar, just to show support and enable them to get that first crucial 10 backers.
The first thing I backed was GoldieBlox. It was a woman entrepreneur and it was science education for young girls, which appealed to me. And also she responded immediately — I wrote her and said, "I don't really like the pink ribbon," and she wrote back and said, "It doesn't have to be pink! It can be any color!" So I loved that, because she responded and she listened. And that's what I tell all the people: You have to respond as quickly as you can because the attention span — I'll wander away if i don't get a response.
What appeals to you in a project?
My criteria are if the project meets a need, or if it's just simply cool. It doesn't have to be saving the world, but it has to be something that's not dumb. If it's innovative, if it's worthwhile, and if the person seems to be a good person who makes a convincing case.
And also if they're badly proofread I tend not to back them, because that's really important.
What are your favorite projects?
I liked Sewing Arteries in the Snows of Korea because it was a young medical student who was researching medical history. I thought that was cool and worthwhile. And I also liked Teaching the Body which was about an exhibition on anatomical illustration. She did a very good job of updating. People that update a lot and seem engaged and excited about what they're doing, I really like.
What kind of feedback do you give to creators, and how do they respond?
I often tell them you can’t just assume that once you launch the project, people are going to give you money just at the blink of an eye. You have to woo them and you have to engage them and you have to appreciate them! When I've backed something, oftentimes they'll write a thank-you note, and that's wonderful. That engages me and also it’s flattering. Because they notice — and that shows that they're actually interested in their own project.
Oftentimes they'll send me the thing even though I have not pledged the amount that merits it. But they'll say, well, you were so helpful with our corkscrew that here’s a corkscrew just for you! And that's kind of sweet.
What's the best thing about backing?
It makes you feel like you are somehow contributing to technological innovation. Like the Memoto — I’m interested in the whole idea of participatory innovation. People really were commenting on that and saying, this is how you can tweak it and this is what we think. And then Memoto was responding very quickly and appreciating what was being said. I think that's fascinating.
Some projects are like, who would back that? And yet they do! Sometimes I'll think, well, that’s just not going to make it — but it does, and sometimes it makes it by fivefold what it was asking for. It's very humbling in that way. It tells me, well, you don’t know as much as you thought you did, which is a good lesson.
Kickstarter is wonderful for technology, it’s wonderful for the backers, it's exciting and interesting, it makes us feel worthwhile. It's very much a public service to invention, to innovation, to art and literature. It's just a wonderful mix of things.