Where Invites Come From

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to start a project on Kickstarter, and I wanted to clear things up.

When we opened the doors to Kickstarter four months ago, we launched with a simple invite system: our earliest users and project creators got a handful of invites to spread to other people as they like. Nothing revolutionary, but it worked: lots of new projects have been getting added everyday since. People find invites on Twitter (over 1000 existing users have invites to pass out) or through friends (or friends of friends), and others contact us via the site.

There are many points of entry to start a project, and we are always looking for ways to make sure more invites get into the wild while not overwhelming our team of five — of which I’m the sole customer service rep. Yesterday alone I went through several hundred emails from people looking to start projects. All of them will get a response (some may need to be a bit patient), and hopefully many of these projects will soon be live and — knock on wood — getting funded.

When I correspond with potential project creators, I’m not nearly as interested in the aesthetics of their project as I am how it fits into the Kickstarter ecosystem, and how well they understand how Kickstarter works.

Here are the things we encourage potential project creators to consider:

  1. How will you tell people about your project? The key to a successful project is asking your networks, audience, friends and family for help. Kickstarter is a tool that can turn your networks into your patrons; it is not a source of funding on its own.
  2. Rewards are very important. Offer something of real value for a fair price. And more experiential rewards, things that loop backers into the story, are incredibly powerful. Most of the successful projects include them — take a look around the site and you’ll see some great examples. PS: Three or four reasonably priced rewards seems to work quite well (think of it as S, M, L, XL).
  3. Include a video. It’s more personal.
  4. Be clear and specific about your project’s goal.
  5. And finally, when it comes to your funding goal, raise as little as you’ll need to move forward. Projects can raise more, but never less.

Emily Richmond's Solo Circumnavigation

From the moment we first laid eyes on it, Emily Richmond’s Let’s Sail Around the World has captured our imagination. It’s pure adventure, it’s whimsical, and it has a fairy tale quality to it, too. Here is Emily, this 24-year-old girl from LA, planning a two-year solo voyage around the world that will take her to six continents and three oceans. As Emily points out below, “more people have, in fact, been into space than have sailed around the world alone.” Incredible.

Emily needs help to make her trip. She has six days to raise about $5,000 — a tight squeeze. We asked Emily to tell us more about her and her project, and she responded with a delightful series of ancedotes that includes just randomly chilling with the King and Queen of Spain on one of her previous journeys. When Emily sets out to do something, she comes back with a story to tell.

And it’s the story of this project that’s hooked us. I was Emily’s very first backer ($15 for a Polaroid taken at some point during the trip; I cannot wait to open the creased, world-traveled envelope!), and I’ve been following along through projects updates and her website ever since. If her project is successful, I can’t imagine what the next two years of her tale will have in store. Something amazing, to be sure.

To support Emily’s project, visit it here.

Tell us about you and your project.

Well, simply, I’m trying to sail a little boat all the way around the planet. LA to LA, via 6 continents and 3 oceans. Me - I’m just trying to live a life a little less ordinary. I really like meeting people, discovering new places, and having my insides good and stirred up. Sailing Around The World is all of that.

When did you first decide you wanted to sail around the world?

I’ve been harboring the ambition for just over 4 years now - long before I really knew much about sailing at all. I had just moved aboard my first houseboat and a neighbor/friend of mine made the mistake of giving me Tania Aebi’s book Maiden Voyage, an account of her circumnavigation aboard a 26 ft boat in the ’80s. When Tania embarked on her voyage she was just an 18-year-old street punk who worked as a bicycle messenger. She hadn’t spent a lifetime preparing for the journey and even admitted she didn’t really know how to sail before she left. That said, the fact that she accomplished something so phenomenal (more people have, in fact, been into space than have sailed around the world alone) is a huge testament to how far a dream can take you. I guess, the spirit and iconography of that book have never really left me.

What’s the longest you’ve sailed before?

The longest distance I’ve sailed was a trip I did a couple years ago from Los Angeles down to southern Costa Rica. I spent about 9 months in and out of the Pacific ports of Central America. The longest consecutive amount of time I’ve ever spent - as in one leg - was 8 days. It was one of the hardest passages I’ve ever done and I did that one alone. I had to cross through the Gulf of Tehuantepec (famous for it’s brutality) in a boat really much too small and light for the sort of seas and winds experienced. I was doing that trip with no real electronic aids (save for a small handheld GPS) so I really never slept more than a handful of minutes at a time. It really felt like I had reached some new level of exhaustion I didn’t even know existed.

But somehow the universe always seems to pay you back; the next port was one of the most interesting experiences of the trip: my and another sailor/friend’s arrival serendipitously coincided with a visit by some foreign dignitaries who were keen on our wacky adventures aboard our boats. We were personally invited by the ex-President of El Salvador to join him and his guests, the King and Queen of Spain (!!), for a private concert by a 16 piece mariachi band he had flown in especially for the evening. It was surreal to say the least — me, a friend, and a few world political figures all gathered together at river’s edge in a tucked away corner of the planet, chatting about how great it is to take the unbeaten path.

What are you most excited about?

WHAT AM I NOT EXCITED ABOUT!?! I want to paint my face and do tribal dances, I wanna roam forests and learn about natural healing. I wanna snap photos and swim with fish. I want to learn and give, grow wiser and kinder.

How will you be keeping backers updated?

I’ll be blogging, podcasting, and shooting video updates. I have a site up now at www.bobbieroundstheworld.com where you can begin following the trip even in the prep stages. Once at sea, I’ll have email connections via SSB radio and will be sending in my blog updates while underway. At each port stopover I’ll be doing the larger, more multi-media updating. Everything you could want to know will be online!

What’s been your most popular reward so far?

The most popular so far has definitely been the $15 dollar level — get a polaroid picture from the trip. It makes sense, it’s relatively affordable but gives you a real sense of connectedness to the trip. Because they’re going to be one-of-a-kind, it’s a way to essentially sponsor a specific time and place… it’s like you get to say, “What was happening when this photo was taken is mine, I made this happen.”

Anything else you’d like to share?

Oh, just how in love with Kickstarter I am… I really can’t say enough good things about it! To me it’s like a little dream machine, a platform for you to express your ideas and see them nourished by peers. It’s an example of all that’s right and good about technology. It’s a place where you can cast your vote with usable dollars, stand in solidarity with creatives and innovators and say, “I think what you’re doing is good.” And to me that’s just really cool.

Kickstarter in the New York Times

Kickstarter is featured in today’s New York Times in an article written by Jenna Wortham. The article gives Kickstarter a nice overview, and focuses on a few specific projects, including Earl Scioneaux’s Electronola and Emily Grander’s 365 Postcards, and Emily Richmond’s solo circumnavigation, Sarah Sharp’s 50 States, and Grand Opening’s Wedding Chapel, where the photos were taken, are also mentioned. All are incredible projects deserving of the spotlight (so many projects are).

Obviously this is a huge honor, and we’re thrilled to be covered. We do have one correction: the article states that Kickstarter pledges are not tax deductible. Some pledges are tax deductible: if the project creator is a 501c3 that is registered as such with Amazon Payments, pledges would be deductible. It’s up to each eligible project to handle.

But anyway: thanks to all the backers and creators for participating in the piece, and thanks for everyone’s support.

EDITED TO ADD: The Times just added a second Kickstarter piece, this one on their Bits blog that talks about Polyvinyl’s Kickstarter success. Awesome!

Creator Q&A: Mr. Dream

Mr. Dream are a band from Brooklyn who are raising money for a new EP. The band’s good rewards and strong effort have not only made their $3,000 goal reachable (they’ve raised $2,600 with a week to go), but it’s made their project more interesting as well. Take a look at these:

Not the normal rewards you see for a music project: an essay by a New Yorker cartoonist, a reward from the Colbert Report writer, and a lifetime show pass that’s way cheaper than a Rocket From the Crypt tattoo. These media rewards are helped by Nick Sylvester, a well-known Colbert Report writer and music journalist who is also the band’s drummer. (The project’s excellent pitch video hints at Colbert’s “The Word” segment.)

Of course not every project has the connections for rewards like these. But what these offers illustrate — and I should include Earl’s gumbo, Emily’s postcard, and LaPorte’s song here too — is that rewards can have only a cursory relationship to the actual project, especially if they highlight another part of the story.

Because project creators get to sculpt their own offer from top to bottom, there’s the option to commodify whatever you choose: you can be a painter and offer cookies, you can be an explorer and hand-knit scarves, anything that someone might want. And in many cases, there’s a real benefit to moving outside of the natural wheelhouse: it broadens the appeal and can add to the story element, too.

We sent Mr. Dream a few questions about their project and their rewards, and here is their response. You can visit their Kickstarter project here.

Tell us about your project and your background.

Our project is fairly straightforward: We are a punk-rock band, and we have it in our punk-rock-band heads that the first release should be a four-song seven-inch vinyl EP. The corollary to that is we don’t have the kind of money to put that one out ourselves. The catch-22 is we won’t find a label to back us without a legitimate recording. Outside of extreme maneuvering on next year’s tax returns, or outright theft, Kickstarter is the only way we’ll be able to put this record together.

How’s it going so far?

We’re thrilled. Shocked, really. Our friends have been generous in a way we never expected. A large part of this — not to sell ourselves short but still — part of this is that people want to see something like a Kickstarter campaign *work*. The campaign runs on optimism, and optimism runs on positive feedback. It’s been heartwarming to see the number and level of contribution increase as our campaign faces down its last few days.

What’s been your most popular reward?

The $100 incentive has been popular. You get the seven-inch record, the MP3s, the digital bonus track, the exclusive liner notes written by New Yorker cartoonist Zach Kanin, and an 8x10 photo print by cover artist Rob Dubbin, who daylights as a writer for the Colbert Report. Additionally — and I admit this is probably only interesting if you have a lot of time and/or our band gets massively popular and inspires cult-like devotion — you also get every single one-mic demo recording of the five final songs. So you can hear the evolution of the songs — some of them over the course of a year — which parts were added, how the melodies and rhythms changed, and so on.

What’s your strategy for getting your project funded?

There were a few emails to friends, some twittering (mrdreamnyc), some posts on my blog Riffmarket. Matt, Adam, and I aren’t the greatest self-promoters, so we came up with roundabout ways to point people to the  campaign: a vanity URL that we left as our gchat away messages (http://mrdream.goestojail.com), a set of mini-moo business cards that we handed out at concerts. In what strikes me only now as a move reminiscent of the burglars in Home Alone, I left the cards at restaurants and in bathrooms on my way out too. Our most important and successful strategy though was playing really good live shows, and getting people to actually see us and like our music. “The only way you’ll be able to hear these songs is if you help us record them,” is the implication.

What will you do with the money?

The money pays for a 300-copy vinyl run of Mr. Dream Goes To Jail. A short version of what that entails is: In early August, we recorded the songs ourselves in our practice space in Brooklyn. Those songs, once mixed, we took to Joe Lambert for mastering. We’re thrilled we got to work with Joe. This year alone, he’s mastered Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Black Dice’s Repo, Obits’ I Blame You, Deerhunter’s Microcastle, Yacht’s See Mystery Lights… Joe cuts the master lacquers of our record too, which, from what I understand, means he turns our sounds into a spiral of grooves that
turntables read to re-produce our songs. The master lacquers are brittle though, which is why a company called Mastercraft plates them, and then these plates are sent down to A&R Records in Texas, who use them to press the vinyl copies of the record. This is to say nothing of packaging and artwork costs and, if there’s any money left over, a music video for “No Pressure.”

The Reddit/JetBlue/Kickstarter Challenge

Three days ago a Reddit user named hiS_oWn started a thread suggesting that members of Reddit join together to buy one of those JetBlue promotional passes that gets you unlimited flights for a month for $600, and that they use it to run continental errands and for general adventure.

At some point someone decided giving Kickstarter a try, and so within a couple of hours there was a Kickstarter project seeking $600 in two days (the promotion was ending this week) to send one unemployed Redditor on a month-long trip. Within a couple of hours the money was raised, and before the clock ended the project pulled in $1,943, enough money to send three people, if that’s what the community decided to do.

The key to this entire project has been the communal self-determination that lead to its creation and that’s currently deciding the particulars of how this will be executed. Redditors are being asked to make their pitch for why they should be allowed to be the community’s representative, and a group screening process has begun. The Reddit folks are also creating what is essentially a project constitution: what sorts of missions should be allowed on this trip? Does someone who contributed $100 get to request a similarly scoped mission as someone who contributed $15? Everything is up to the members.

While building Kickstarter, we talked a lot about groups and communities using Kickstarter as a tool to solve their own needs — we always thought it served that purpose perfectly. This Reddit project is an incredible example of that, and it’s a perfect illustration of how Kickstarter can make Herculean efforts simpler, cleaner, and so much less of a headache.

We can’t wait to see how these trips develop and where it will take them. And fortunately we will get to follow along — apparently one of the chosen Redditors is a filmmaker, and will be documenting the experience. Sounds like a second Kickstarter project to us!

Now Available: Kind of Bloop

Kickstarter CTO Andy Baio’s Miles Davis tribute album Kind of Bloop went on sale today to non-Kickstarter backers. (Backers got their copies on Monday.) It’ll set you back a reasonable $5, and it’s available in both MP3 and FLAC formats. Get your copy here: http://kindofbloop.com/

Kind of Bloop was the subject of a Time article today, as well. Congrats to Andy and the five incredible musicians who made the record. And if anyone’s taking requests on the next 8-bit project, can I nominate the Jon Spencer Bloop Explosion?

Creator Q&A: Crossword Puzzles!

Eric Berlin’s Crossword Puzzles! was an early Kickstarter success. And how could it not be? Berlin makes crosswords and puzzles for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other esteemed establishments, and for a paltry $100 he offered to make people a completely custom crossword puzzle. As Berlin notes in our Q&A below, that’s quite the bargain. And we almost forgot about all-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings blogging about the project.

Crossword Puzzles! ended on June 30, and on August 31 Berlin will be presenting the nine promised puzzles for the very first time. There’s even a grand prize!

Nine crosswords, including a couple of nifty variety puzzles, all based on board games you know and love. Solve them all, figure out the final answer, and maybe you’ll win yourself a juicy little prize.

We’re thrilled that Berlin was able to put Kickstarter to good use and was able to create a non-traditional vehicle for his work in the process. Read on for some thoughts from Eric Berlin.

Tell us about your project.

It is a suite of nine interelated crossword puzzles. There is almost no market for such a thing — I can sell individual puzzles to newspapers, and I can make a whole book of crosswords and try to sell it to a publisher, but there is no way to sell a set of nine crosswords to any media outlet. Kickstarter let me market the product directly to crossword-loving consumers.

How did you decide on your rewards?

Impulsively. I have a couple of puzzle-filled mysteries for kids, so it seemed a natural to offer those as rewards. And what else could I offer big spenders but a custom made crossword? So that’s the direction I went.

How many of your backers do you know personally?

I’d guess about 20%, maybe a little more.

Have you learned/discovered anything from the experience?

I confirmed something that I suspected, which is that there is a good-sized audience out there seeking high-quality crosswords. I’m already trying to think of a new product to sell to this audience.

What was unanticipated about the experience?

I set the price of my topmost tier too low — I should have made it $150 instead of $100. I honestly didn’t think anybody would donate that much money, and six people did. I had to close out that tier.

What, if anything, would you change about your project?

Besides charging more for the top tier, nothing.

Creator Q&A: LaPorte Indiana

LaPorte, Indiana is a documentary film about a small town in Indiana told through formal portraits of the townspeople taken in the 1950s and ’60s that were later discovered (and turned into a book) by Jason Bitner, the cocreator of Found Magazine. Two years after Bitner’s photo book of 200-some images from the town was published, townspeople began idenitfying themselves in the anonymous photos, and stories began to leap from its pages.

Jason has since teamed with an Emmy-nominated This American Life producer named Joe Beshenkovsky to make a documentary about the town and its population, and their Kickstarter project is raising money for its completion. The project has done very well: in the two days between me sending Jason a handful of questions about his in-progress project and his answers’ return, LaPorte has shot right past its $7500 goal and is closing in on $10,000.

One area where this project really excels is rewards, which are all based on a “portrait” theme: backers can elect to have a song written about them, can have a professional portrait, and can even get a personal tour of LaPorte itself.

We asked Jason Bitner about his rewards and some other topics as well. Read on for his responses.

Tell us about your project and your background.

A few years ago, I came across a stash of 18,000 portrait photos in the back room of a diner in Northwestern Indiana.  The photos were beautiful, and they documented thousands of townspeople from the 1950s and 60s.  I ended up making a book out of these images, and after the collection was published, I ended up meeting many of the people from the photos.

The film will be a feature documentary about the town of LaPorte, Indiana.  We’ve done extensive interviews with many of the people found in these photos, and we’ll be weaving their stories together to get a sense of this small Midwestern town.

How’s it going so far?

Kickstarter has been a perfect vehicle for raising money.  We’d initially decided we wanted to have a community-funded approach, but I don’t have the skills to develop a good system for raising funds.  As soon as I’d heard about Kickstarter, I knew it would be the perfect approach.

Our initial goal was to raise $7500; to date, we’re up to $9027, with a new goal of $12,000 by August 21st.  We’re hopeful we’ll make the new number— but more than anything we’re thrilled with the community of people who are becoming active supporters of the project.  We feel a ton of support and good will from everyone who donates, and we couldn’t be happier with the turnout.

What’s been your most popular reward?

People seem to gravitate toward the $100 reward.  I’m not sure if there’s a preference for round numbers, or if they’re excited to receive a copy of the book, two original photos and a thank you in the film credits.  We’re also surprised to have received six $500 pledges (very helpful!) as well as fifteen people who just wanted to donate funds, without asking for any reward in return.  Whether it’s $3 or $1000, we’re thrilled that people are helping out in any way they can.  Pretty awesome.

So far, no one’s taken us up on the $2495 reward.  I’d be thrilled to provide a two-day tour of LaPorte for anyone interested, but so far, this one’s gone unclaimed.

What’s your strategy for getting your project funded?

I’m not sure that we have much of a strategy, other than giving people a chance to view a trailer of the film.  Director/editor Joe Beshenkovsky (along with our cinematographer Jeremy Gould) have made a beautiful video that can describe the project much better than my words can… if people watch the teaser, they’ll come to understand what the project is all about.

What will you do with the money?

Every dollar that we receive will go directly towards the production and post-production costs for our film.  Turns out that filmmaking is a pricey endeavor- but we’re enthusiastic about the film, and Joe is extremely devoted and hard-working, so we hope to have a rough cut finished in a couple months.  From there, we hope to screen it in a bunch of festivals, and see what happens…

Any closing thoughts?

We’re incredibly thankful for everyone who’s donated to the project, and incredibly thankful for Kickstarter.  This whole fundraising effort has put a lot of wind in our sails, and we’ll use that to help finish up our film.