The Power of Quests

If you want to go on a meaningful quest, you must be lacking in something. [T]he protagonist cannot focus on everything and thus must choose and discard priorities to define a preferred quest. Tyler Cowen, Create Your Own Economy

Last week we used Cowen’s quote about quests in relation to Geoff Edgers’ Kinks documentary project. This was no accident. In the film, Geoff repeatedly declares himself to be “on a quest” (he also uses the word “mission”) to reunite the Kinks, a phrasing that has a visible effect on people like Sting and Zooey Deschanel, who give his film and goal their endorsement.

“Quest” is a powerful word. Quests are Wall-E rescuing Eve, Frodo climbing Mordor, the Losties getting off the island. Quests are legends, bold steps into folklore, celluloid, and pulp. As even Don Quixote — and the mere existence of the word “quixotic” — illustrates so vividly, quests are burdens. Quests demand sacrifice and determination, a myopic focus on, well, something.

A handful of new Kickstarter projects are themselves quests. They are the works of individuals who felt a spark one day — we don’t choose our quests; they choose us — and abruptly realigned their lives in pursuit. They sail seas and climb mountains. They seek meaning in faded black-and-white. They awoke one day to find they were giants.

We’ll look at three projects today that embody this, and three more tomorrow.

The American Who Went Up a Mountain and Came Down a Hero: Chris Waddell Climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro

One man. One mountain. Chris Waddell attempts to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro without the use of his legs.

That quote from Chris Waddell’s project really says it all, doesn’t it? A five-time gold medal paralympian skier, Chris is the picture of determination and focus. Chris is raising $50,000 to fund his climb of Africa’s tallest peak using a wheeled rig that he hand-cranks up the mountain, each revolution of its gears moving him only three inches. It’s a chariot of his own design, and the brute force required to even operate it is Herculean — to make the five-day climb, he will have to turn that crank a staggering 528,000 times while traversing terrain straight out of Middle-earth. Chris describes the trek by day in his project description; here’s a sample quote:

2nd Day. Mandara Hut to Horombo Hut—Approximately 3,300 feet of elevation change and about 9.3 miles of distance. Leaving the forest and entering the heather, we will travel through the mists and the fog. Then the vegetation thins in the moorland. The trail stays rough and rocky with some big steps. The second day will be technical and difficult the whole time. It could rival the summit day for the most challenging. Horombo Hut Elevation: 12,205 feet.


Chris asks prospective copilots to consider backing his journey for a simple $1/revolution of his wheels. The ride downhill, he states, is on him.

Lascaux Meets LaPorte: Joe Beshenkovsky and Jason Bitner Decipher the Faces of LaPorte, Indiana

One afternoon not long ago, after lunch at a small Midwestern diner, I stumbled onto a forgotten archive…

That evocative sentence opens the description of LaPorte, Indiana, the documentary film created by This American Life producer Joe Beshenkovsky and FOUND magazine co-creator Jason Bitner. That archive contains more than 18,000 photographs of the citizens of LaPorte, Indiana taken from the 1950s-70s. Jason turned the photographs into a photo book released a couple of years ago, and in the time since the allure of the pictures has grown.

Using a copy of the book left in the diner, LaPorte’s citizens began identifying themselves and their peers. And it was then that Joe and Jason began interviewing these people some forty to fifty years after those initial images: the young couple in the wedding photo, the cowlicked boy with his fist raised like Huey Long, the woman who swore she would one day leave and never come back.

The interviews uncover this small town’s living histories, the happy days and tragic ends that are LaPorte’s folklore.

Around the World in Seven Hundred and Thirty Days: Emily Richmond Sets Sail

so in my head i know sailing really means storms, cold water, scary squalls, and the great unknown but today, in my heart, it feels like this:

— Emily Richmond posting on her blog, Bobbie Rounds the World

Emily Richmond is a 24-year-old woman from Los Angeles who has decided to sail around the world. Her two-year journey will swing her across the Southern Hemisphere. Here’s her planned route:

With stops in Cyprus, the Galapagos Islands, Trinidad, Morocco, and Bali (among others), Emily’s circumnavigation is straight out of a fairy tale. And the rewards she is offering accentuate the romatic appeal.

For $15, she will mail you a Polaroid picture taken over the course of the trip. In our minds, this instantly sparked images of a worn, mysteriously stamped envelope arriving one day, a strong scent of seawater accompanying its opening, the enclosed Polaroid capturing beauty as far as the lens can see.

Our other favorite is perfectly self-explanatory:

Whereas Magellan needed King Manuel to fund his journey and outfit his ship, Emily will share her bounty with us. A mere $8,000 and she’s on her way.

Coming tomorrow… Part Two.

Wedding Chapel Open House

Attention NYC Kickstarters. Tonight in the Lower East Side at 139 Norfolk St there will be a Wedding Chapel open house ceremony with a fake wedding as entertainment. And this man will be officiating:

The Kickstarter crew will be in attendance, so come on out if you’re in the mood. More details are here. Drinks and friends are welcome.

Do It Again: One Man's Quest to Reunite the Kinks

Last night I had the honor to join Geoff Edgers and a group of his friends for one of the first screenings of Do It Again, a film Geoff has made about his quest to reunite the Kinks. Do It Again was one of the very first projects on Kickstarter — our very first film project, I believe — and it has raised more than $6,000 so far (the project still has eleven days left: support it).

Do It Again is not only an excellent film (more on that in a moment), it also makes crystal clear why Geoff needed to raise the money in the first place. You see, this quest to reunite the Kinks moves a bit into the quixotic territory, with money problems, a pay cut at work (he’s a Boston Globe reporter), and a host of other sacrifices standing as substantial impediments to his dream. I’m reminded of something economics professor  Tyler Cowen notes in his book Create Your Own Economy:

If you want to go on a meaningful quest, you must be lacking in something. [T]he protagonist cannot focus on everything and thus must choose and discard priorities to define a preferred quest.

As Do It Again makes clear over its 90 minutes, Geoff does far more than that. Possessing few resources beyond the worn soles of a newspaperman and an incredible tolerance for rejection, Geoff tries again and again and again to make something — anything — happen, whether it be by validating the worthiness of his mission through conversations with people like Sting, Peter Buck, Zooey Deschanel, etc (all of whom appear in the film) or even just getting his seven-year-old daughter to understand how it is that adult brothers like Kinks Ray and Dave Davies can still hate each other well into their sixties. (Musician Warren Zanes goes to Freud to explain it; Geoff did not try that tactic with his daughter.)

I’m a Kinks fan. A huge one. And a site that I cofounded helped get this made. So obviously I have dogs in this hunt. But still: this is a very, very good film. And I detest both music documentaries and personality-driven docs. Honestly. But Geoff’s film is about something deeper, about a need for accomplishment, about a life that feels unfulfilled. So he has done what we all want to do: he dropped everything and did something about it — and it’s great.

So what’s next for Geoff? Incredibly, just making the film is the first step of many. He is now working on finding a distributor, which he will need to pay the music licensing fees (there’s a lot of great music in the film, as you might have guessed) and find an audience and on and on. It’s an enormous task, and one that I hope Kickstarter can aid yet again. Because if there’s one thing Do It Again makes very, very clear, it’s that Geoff Edgers does not give up.

The Gumbo Party

Back when we counted down the five best project updates so far, we discussed Earl Scioneaux’s Electronola project and its awesome studio updates. Earl has posted 22 updates so far from his New Orleans studio, detailing his backers about each step of the recording process as he records some of New Orleans’ most legendary musicians. (Just take a look at this post, with detailed recording notes, pictures from the session, and some raw audio with bassist George Porter Jr. So cool.)

Earl’s project also featured what is probably our single best reward so far:

Earl originally made just one of these available and, not surprisingly, it was one of the first rewards to go. So he upped it to ten, and after those sold out he realized he was either going to be making a whole lotta gumbo, or he should organize a get-together of some kind.

Last week Earl invited those ten backers to his New Orleans studio for some gumbo and some music, and this morning he posted a recap. Here are some pics:

And the legendary gumbo, of course:

People came from as far away as Houston and Atlanta for the get-together. Absolutely incredible. Check out the whole post here, and we highly recommend adding Earl’s project updates to your RSS reader as well (just add that link and you’re set). His project is a great one.

New Features: Media Editing and Info Requests

We’ve released another bundle of fixes and updates, with two notable changes for project creators.

Media editing.  You can now replace your project’s photo or video at any time by going to “Edit Project” from the Dashboard. Previously, creators could only edit images/video before a project launched.

Collecting backer information.  Many projects require collecting some additional information from backers — shipping addresses, email, shirt size, and so on.  In the past, this was done manually (and painfully) with a mass email.

Now, once your project’s successful, you can create a survey to collect the information you need from backers to fulfill their rewards.  After filling out the form (see below) and sending the request, backers will get an email notice that they need to fill out some info to get their rewards.

As they fill out their info, you’ll see their changes updated in the Backer Report.  All the information can be downloaded as a CSV spreadsheet, suitable for Microsoft Excel and Google Spreadsheets.

For popular projects with hundreds of backers, this makes fulfilling rewards much more palatable. Let us know what you think or how it can be improved.

Closing Soon

Three of Kickstarter’s most prominent music projects end this week, so this is your last chance to get an 8-bit tribute to Miles Davis, an exclusive 7-inch from one of indie rock’s biggest up-and-coming bands, and an EP turned LP from a prolific Georgia-based singer-songwriter. All three projects boast great rewards and have had — not coincidentally — a lot of success. Let’s take a look at them.

Kind of Bloop: An 8-Bit Tribute to Miles Davis was commissioned by Kickstarter’s own Andy Baio, and brings together five prominent 8-bit musicians (using the NES and Gameboy to make videogame-inspired music) to cover Miles Davis’ classic Kind of Blue. Having raised nearly $7,000 (with a goal of $2,000), the project has been enormously successful thanks to the novelty of the project as well as Andy’s thoughtful promotion, including tons of project updates and interaction on the project page. There have been requests for a vinyl version of the record, so there’s a chance we might see a Vinyl of Bloop project at some point, too.

The Rural Alberta Advantage’s 7-inch project has also been very successful — one of their rewards was a private concert for $3,000 and it sold fast. The whole story behind this band is amazing. The blog Hit Singularity had a good piece a few weeks back called How a Buzz Band Became a Buzz Band and it does a good job of detailing what went on, but I’ll give you the 30-second version.

About two years ago Rural Alberta Advantage (or RAA) recorded and self-financed an album called Hometowns that was self-released and then immediately ignored. Then in October of last year, someone from the Metacritic forums brought the band to my attention, and I signed them that same day to a record label I was running. We quickly reissued their album digitally and gave it some promotion and suddenly it was an indie hit.

The next six months brought them several sold-out NYC shows, a gig at SXSW opening for Grizzly Bear in a massive, beautiful church, and then an offer from the beloved record label Saddle Creek to be a part of their roster. So, in six short months, they went from the position where almost every band is — dreams bigger than their prospects — to being poised right now to become indie rock’s next big crossover band.

The Kickstarter project is the finishing touch on this part of their career. This 7-inch will be the stuff of eBay auctions before the year is out. Just you wait.

Last but definitely not least we have the delightful Allison Weiss. Allison’s project was to release a new EP, and after she reached her $2,000 funding goal in a matter of hours, she smartly offered her supporters a new goal, promising a full-length album over the initial EP.

In the months since Allison’s project has launched, she has posted a video interviewing the backer who put her project over its goal, did a live, all-request web video concert, has been running an album title contest with backers, posted updates from the studio, and — still not stopping! — has just launched a promotion she’s calling “The Final Countdown,” complete with a cover of the Europe song. No matter the amount they pledged, her backers have gotten their money’s worth.

All three of these projects end this weekend, and all are worth jumping on. A bit later in the week we’ll check in with some new projects worthy of your pledges, too.

Chicago Meetup Recap

Friday night marked our first ever Chicago meetup, which we held as part of Ray Noland’s opening night for the “Run, Blago Run Show”.

Ray hosted a private get together for project Backers, a thank you for supporting the ambitions of an artist. It was also a great time to meet Ray, view the works of art, and pick up the rewards for those that supported the project. An added bonus was to simply meet others who backed the project locally, and celebrate our collective efforts to see this project come to life.

A number of Kickstarter members were in attendence, so thanks to Kit Geary (his project: Prints on a Wall), James VanOsdol (his project: Chicago Rocked!), Eric Reagan, Nick Disabato, Clayton Brown (good projects on the way), and many others (Sorry if you’re missed, but you’re not forgotten. Drop a note in the comments if you attended!).

(Project creator James VanOsdol (Chicago Rocked!) on left chatting it up with Nick Disabato sporting the WNUR T)

(Rob Hamilton & his wife Pam at the meetup)

The show officially opened its doors to the public at 6pm and quickly filled the space with project Backers, friends, passersby, and even a nice community of Kickstarters running their own projects or looking to launch shortly. With a rotation of DJs manning the turntables, some great organic goods to nosh on, and of course some booze, the show was kicked off in style, and we were extremely grateful of Mr. CRO’s hospitality in letting us innagurate our Chicago pressence at the opening of his weekend show.


(The lovely spread by Courtney Maran. Thanks Courntey!)

Thanks to everyone who came out, introduced yourself, gave us feedback on Kickstarter, and of course simply enjoyed the evening, the art, and the warm Chicago air.

Check out more photos from our Flickr pool, and add your own.

Kickstarting Locally

Rivington and Norfolk is the heart of NYC’s Lower East Side, a block that includes everything from art galleries to bars to restaurants to tenement housing to luxury condos, the ongoing clash between the neighborhood of old and the LES of now pretty well aggregated. Like the rest of NYC, the block is ever-changing, and two of its newest additions arrived via Kickstarter.

The first is called Wedding Chapel, a pop-up wedding chapel where anyone can get married, re-married or fake-married for only $200 (here’s the original Kickstarter project). Several couples have already been married there (we posted pics of the first wedding earlier), including a fake wedding between a New York Magazine reporter and comedian Michael Showalter (The State, Stella, Michael & Michael Have Issues) that you can watch here, or you can watch my own unedited iPhone camera version here:

Ben Smyth, the owner of the Grand Opening space where Wedding Chapel resides, used Kickstarter to test whether his idea of a pop-up hitching post in NYC was worth doing. Three grand, some nice press, and a handful of weddings later, he has his answer. And for his backers, the results have been just as sweet. There’s a plaque listing all of the pledgers in Wedding Chapel, and Ben has kept backers in the loop with several video project updates.

Walk south on Norfolk St. about thirty yards and you’ll walk straight into Tiny’s Sandwich Shop, a LES institution for the past nine years. One of the very first Kickstarter projects was from a NY-based artist named Mike Brown, who wanted to paint a mural on Tiny’s interior walls — he called it LostLES. Mike worked hard to raise the $5,000 he needed, and he was paid off with a strong surge in the final 48 hours to close the gap.

The mural itself is awesome. I finally saw it for the first time this past week (having forgotten about it despite being a backer!) and took some pics:

Very impressive. Mike kept supporters updated via the project’s updates and its Facebook fan page, including an excellent making-of set.

It’s not often that you see the stuff we do on the internet cross into our everyday lives, but we’re big fans whenever it does. For us Kickstarter New Yorkers, this has been especially cool. (Can’t forget Chicago with Run Blago Run either.)

In the future Kickstarter will add features to make it easier to find local projects. It’s encouraging to see them already happening on their own.