Kickstarter and the 1,000 True Fans

In the pantheon of thoughtful approaches to art and fandom, Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans essay stands out. In Kelly’s words:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

We wholly believe in this — Kickstarter is essentially a hub of interactions between creators and their true fans, after all. It removes the barrier between artist and fan (and, more broadly, producer and consumer), creating the possibility for an exchange that’s more fulfilling, efficient, and emotionally resonant than anything mass-production affords us. What mattered more: the quality of In/Rainbows’ music or that Radiohead went directly to true fans (creating new ones in the process) to release it?

It’s a provocative theory that we all want to believe. It sounds so simple, so weirdly doable when all we ever hear is how internet killed the art star and that your iTunes library can and will be held against you in a court of law. There’s no way it could possibly be true, right?

Based on data from the first three months of Kickstarter’s existence, it looks like there’s more than something to it. To date, if a project manages to get to 25% of its funding goal, it has a 94% success rate. Here’s a visual to illustrate that. The X axis represents percentage funded, the Y axis shows the percentage of projects that have reached that level:

We had assumed there would be some threshold where a project’s chances would dramatically increase, but only 25%? How can it be so low?

There are a number of factors at play, including public validation (this video comes to mind) and old-fashioned momentum. But more than that it’s the True Fans: if the groundwork has been laid and a direct relationship has been built, your fans will assure you of that 94% success rate. Here’s Kelly again:

This small circle of diehard fans, which can provide you with a living, is surrounded by concentric circles of Lesser Fans. These folks will not purchase everything you do, and may not seek out direct contact, but they will buy much of what you produce. The processes you develop to feed your True Fans will also nurture Lesser Fans. As you acquire new True Fans, you can also add many more Lesser Fans. If you keep going, you may indeed end up with millions of fans and reach a hit.

If asked — and that’s a big key — True Fans are workhorses. There is a clear motivation to spread the word (not just fandom; social capital, too), and there is no greater pleasure than converting someone to your cause. And so, as Kelly says, True Fans attract Lesser Fans who, if all goes as planned, assimilate into True Fandom. Like the Borg.

And Kelly actually suggests that something like our 25% raised/94% success might occur:

[The number of true fans needed] does not explode, but rises gently and in proportion. Lastly, the actual number may vary depending on the media. Maybe it is 500 True Fans for a painter and 5,000 True Fans for a videomaker. The numbers must surely vary around the world. But in fact the actual number is not critical, because it cannot be determined except by attempting it. Once you are in that mode, the actual number will become evident. That will be the True Fan number that works for you. My formula may be off by an order of magnitude, but even so, its far less than a million.

From the beginning, we’ve encouraged creators to tap into their networks as much as possible: there’s clearly a desire from audiences for greater interaction, more access, a more intimate relationship. Twitter has demonstrated that. And so what Kickstarter does is answer the next part of that question: once you have your 10 or 100 or 1,000 or even 1,000,000 True Fans, what comes next?

You allow them a seat at the table. You invite them to become your patrons. You give them an opportunity to have an impact and it’s not just your story anymore, it’s theirs too. And that’s the kind of success that lasts.

Creator Q&A: 365 Postcards

(Note: That is not a drawing of Christian Bale. We asked.)

We were charmed by Emily Grenader’s 365 Postcards from the second it hit Kickstarter. While the majority of the projects at the time originated from a place of need, Emily’s had more of a sense of whimsy. She wasn’t doing this because she had to, she was doing this because she could.

The proposition is simple: for $5 get a homemade postcard in the mail at some point over the course of the next year. If you pay a little more, you can schedule your postcard’s arrival. The highest tier offered one postcard per day for a month (an option that I very nearly picked, and kinda wish that I had).

It’s hard to quantify what’s so disarming about this project. Is it the simplicity? Is there some aura contained in a postcard, which is essentially a text message sent via post? Whatever it is, we often see eyes light up when we mention 365 Postcards in conversation, a little bit of childlike glee at its modest audacity.

We’re looking forward to more projects like Emily’s (we’d put New York Makes a Book in the category of interactive art project, too). We’ve always viewed Kickstarter as an opportunity to flex those creative and passionate muscles that the nine-to-five seems custom built to atrophy.

We sent Emily a few questions about her project, and here are her responses.

Tell us about your project.

I am creating and sending a postcard every day for a year to a backer, friend, or stranger.

How did you decide on your rewards?

I wanted to pay for the physical costs of my project. I did not include my time, but estimated how much I would need for supplies.

How many of your backers do you know personally?

I know 12 out of 53.

How are you going to be updating people as you go along?

I’ve been posting pictures once a week of the cards. [LINK]

Have you learned/discovered anything from the experience?

I was pleased to see that people from all over the world stumbled on my project.

The Comeback Kids: Rvng's Frkwys 12" Project

Frkwys’ Excepter 12” project has been a personal favorite of ours because it combines three things that we love: deluxe vinyl, Excepter (a Brooklyn noise/psych band), and Throbbing Gristle (one of the most legendary industrial bands ever). The project’s first two backers were both Kickstarter staff, and we’ve been eagerly awaiting our copies ever since.

There was only one problem, though: the project seemed like it was headed for failure. In its first six weeks, the project had mustered only about $600 in pledges — far short of its $2400 goal.

But then yesterday happened.

Out of nowhere, the project started gaining traction, getting more and more backers. By the end of the day, the project had surpassed its goal. After six weeks of very little action, how in the world did this project get funded in one measly day?

We emailed Matt, the head of Rvng (the small Brooklyn label doing this release), and asked him what had happened. Here’s his response.

How much money had you raised three days ago?

We were a little over $600 and only 23 days out.

How much money has your project raised now?

We are at $2661 thanks to forty generous backers. Still taking pledges and thinking of offering an MP3 series subscription to the incentives.

Can you tell us what happened in between?
Simply put, we hit up our list of Rvng friends and fiends that have supported the label in the past with purchases through our web site. It’s not a massive list mostly because the same thousand loyalists buy out our limited pressings. A couple bloggers within that base helped champion the message and voila!

How had you funded your records in the past?

RVNG was founded with personal investments. The label is self-sufficient now, we just go out on an ambitious limb from time-to-time and realize we don’t have the proper cash to see a project through. Our eyes are bigger than our bank account.

Anything else you wanna share?
The Kickstarter experience has been interesting. Definitely learned fast it takes your own support base to really make a project take off. I can’t wait to launch another project that doesn’t necessarily promise a tangible trade off. Or at least one ambitious/far out enough that it absolutely depends on fundraising to become real/tangible.

Well done, Rvng! And just for reference, here’s the email they sent to their mailing list:

Rvng Friends & Fiends.

While we’re still amidst the purple haze of the Purple Brain, we’re incredibly excited to announce Rvng’s first original release, the Excepter edition of our new FRKWYS 12” series.

In typical Rvng fashion, add an E and a couple As to those consonants and you’ll see a play on the name of the legendary Folkways record label founded by Moses Asch in the late 40s to document sound and movement in music from around the world.

Our FRKWYS (FREAKWAYS) 12” series pairs contemporary artists and their progenitors by way of remix, reinterpretation, and original collaboration. Like the Folkways releases, each installment in the FRKWYS series lives under a thematic banner (albeit sometimes loose) and explores a different facet of electronic music.

The first release in the series features collaborations from NYC’s industrial pranksters Excepter with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey, JG Thirwell of Foetus and his many alter egos, and Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto. We’ve set the bar pretty high.

Like the Rvng of the Nrds series, the devil is in the detail. We are housing these limited edition 12”s (900 / pressing) in seemingly simple but financially devastating package using classic tip-on style jackets wrapped in black leatherette and overlayed with Frkwys “family portraits”, creating a truly substantial and archival feel.

We thought we’d try something a little different by championing Frkwys through Kickstarter, a fund raising platform for the arts. If you can’t afford the slightly higher 12” retail price offered at the $18.00 pledge (including shipping within the US, prices vary internationally), you can still offer a minimum pledge of $1.00. Pledge $5.00 and you’ll get the 320 kbps mp3s of the 12” + a pin and sticker. Whatever you contribute ensures the record will be released certainly and gloriously.

Here’s the kicker (pun intended?), we’re offering a “one shot only” 100 subscriptions to the series through Kickstarter. This will get you the entire 10 part series + many bonuses along the way at an extremely discounted price. Once the subscriptions are sold and the Kickstarter project complete, we won’t offer them again.

Btw, all 12”s + digital downloads pledged / purchased through Kickstarter will ship August 15th from our Brooklyn offices.

We only have 24 days to hit our goal and we’re just seeing momentum, so please check out our project landing page here:

There’s quite a bit more info about the series, so feel free to spread the word to your blogosphere, friends and family. As always, we appreciate your support dearly.

Chicago Meet-up

Hey Chicago! It’s long overdue, but we’re planning our first soiree this Friday night at the opening of “Run Blago Run,” a Chicago-based Kickstarter project.

If you’re in the area and a fan of Kickstarter, stop by. Join Kickstarter local Charles Adler and others from the community for drinks, good weather, art and idle chit-chat in Chicago’s Wicker Park.

Run, Blago, Run! Gallery
1925 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL

Friday, July 24 at 6:00 pm until whenever

RSVP on Facebook:

Creator Q&A: Chris Schlarb

Though politics somehow turned it into the worst word in the world last week, we’re big subscribers to empathy — especially when it comes to the projects that we love. We want to know who the person is, why they’re on their particular quest, what keeps them going, how we can help. As backers, it’s not so much that we’re looking for the right project as it is the right person. We want to support someone that we like.

Sometimes you get lucky, though, and you get an awesome person and an awesome project in one fell swoop. And that’s certainly the case with We Scream: Voices From The Ice Cream Underground, a project by Chris Schlarb. This was the first time we had knowingly come across Chris, but after learning that his primary occupation was as a musician, his discography revealed a bunch of great records that have graced our iPods: stuff from the Castanets, My Brightest Diamond, Nels Cline, Sufjan Stevens, and I Heart Lung, among many others.

Chris’ involvement with those records was primarily as an engineer and musician — the consummate background guy. (I Heart Lung is his band, but we’re conveniently forgetting that for the sake of good storytelling.) And so it’s even more exciting to see Chris and his wife Adriana step out with We Scream, a short documentary on ice cream truck drivers in Los Angeles. (For a great line about ice cream truck drivers go here.)

The project is whimsical, a playful examination of an odd topic: just what is it really like to drive an ice cream truck all day? The project sought $2,000 and raised it with ease ($2,400), which is fortunate, as the fate of this project depended entirely on how it fared on Kickstarter, as Chris explained to us:

I’ve had the idea for We Scream bouncing around in my brain for years. With all the composing and producing I do it was just something that I have been unable to devote more time to. I told myself, if we don’t raise the money, the project is not worth doing. Thankfully, we raised the money and, perhaps of equal importance, we began to get positive feedback on something that usually exists in a vacuum.

We’re thrilled to have been of service.

Tell us about your project.
We Scream: Voices From The Ice Cream Underground is a documentary film project about ice cream truck drivers and paleteros (pedal cart drivers). Very simply, I wanted to learn more about this profession and its place in our neighborhoods. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard anything describing a day in the life of an ice cream truck driver. That is the short film that I want to make.

How did you decide on your rewards?

I checked out a few of the other Kickstarter projects and tried to set rewards that would encourage a large number of small donations rather than the other way around. Thankfully with this project there won’t be too much in the way of manufacturing and mailing. We will press up a limited edition of DVD’s and everyone else will receive a download of the film in HD or SD quality with a soundtrack.

The larger donation slots were reserved for personal “Thank You’s” at the end of the film, invitations to our film premiere/ice cream social and four executive producer slots.

How many of your backers do you know personally?I would say that just under two-thirds of the backers are people my wife and I know personally. The other one-third I have never had any previous contact with at all. Two of the four executive producers (who pledged the most) were people I had never been in touch with before.

There is a parallel to playing music and touring: you are always thankful that friends and family come out to see you perform but when people outside that circle begin to support you, it adds a bit of electricity.

How are you going to be updating people as you go along?
I wanted to keep the update process free for anyone to see, not just backers. As we progress, we will be posting video, music and photos from the film. So far we have posted updates with photos and specific anecdotes about the process. This is my first directorial project and I am really learning about the ice cream underground as I go. I am just trying to communicate as much of that as possible.

Have you learned/discovered anything from the experience?

Definitely. The entire project is a learning process. I taught myself Final Cut in a few hours just to put the trailer together. Kickstarter was the perfect impetus to get this idea up and out. Once my wife and I shot the first few hours of footage and uploaded the trailer we started getting feedback immediately. Everything from subtitle suggestions (which we will be implementing) to aspect ratio schooling. You can literally see us learning as we go.

What was unanticipated about the experience?
I was surprised by the sincere enthusiasm for the project. I’ve had the idea for We Scream bouncing around in my brain for years. With all the composing and producing I do it was just something that I have been unable to devote more time to. I told myself, if we don’t raise the money, the project is not worth doing. Thankfully, we raised the money and, perhaps of equal importance, we began to get positive feedback on something that usually exists in a vacuum.

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

I wouldn’t change anything. So far it has been a little dream come true.

Kickstarter's New CTO: Andy Baio

It is our distinct pleasure to announce that Andy Baio has joined Kickstarter as our Chief Technology Officer. Andy runs the highly respected, and previously cofounded Upcoming, which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005. Andy has built a sterling reputation as an excellent journalist, an outspoken advocate for openness in web technology, and an influential thinker.

Andy announced the move on Waxy, and here’s some of what he had to say:

Since our launch ten weeks ago, over $250,000 has been pledged to make everything from books, magazines, albums (and album reissues), plays, films, art projects, zombie iPhone apps, and more. (Not to mention, my own Kind of Bloop album.) And keep in mind, the site’s still invite-only!

Getting people to give you money is tricky, but I think we’ve hit on a formula for success:

  • All-or-nothing. Projects are only successful if they reach the fundraising goal by the deadline, otherwise nobody pays. This limits risk for both backers and project creators, who don’t have to worry about committing money and time to a failed project.
  • Rewards. We strongly emphasize the importance of crafting good rewards, which makes Kickstarter more like commerce than altruism. We support multiple tiers of rewards from $1 to $10,000, limits for each, and tools for creators to contact each tier group independently.
  • Publishing. A simple and powerful reward is access to exclusive updates during a project’s funding and development, creating a powerful connection between the audience and project. As a result, we offer publishing tools for public or private updates, including hosted media and update notifications.

Obviously we are thrilled by the addition of Andy to the team (he has served on our board over the past year), as well as the values that he brings: openness, transparency and a history of consumer advocacy. We look forward to growing Kickstarter together.

Rock on!

Kickstarter Is For Lovers

It’s always wedding season somewhere. That’s what we always say. And so imagine our delight at the latest project update from Wedding Chapel, the Kickstarter project that funded a pop-up matrimonial hot-spot in New York’s Lower East Side: someone actually got married there!

Sandra and Josh (above) got hitched for reals this past Sunday in the inaugural ceremony, and the digs look nice!

We’ll be attending our first ceremony this evening (a fake wedding, alas), and if you’d like to setup your own matrimonial match, there’s more info here.

Congrats to Wedding Chapel, its backers and of course Sandra and Josh! Does this count as crowd-sourced love? We say so!

Creator Q&A: Language Room

There’s a Steve Martin quote that has been running through my mind the past couple of days, and it’s particularly applicable when it comes to Language Room, an Austin band who sought $10,000 to buy a RV so they could tour without “killing each other,” to quote the band itself. Steve Martin was talking about the art of comedy, and he said that it’s not the idea, it’s the commitment to the idea that matters.

It’s really true. Every now and then we’ll have someone ask how they can protect themselves from someone else stealing their idea, and the answer is that you can’t, but it’s irrelevant. It’s rarely the idea itself that matters, it’s the execution of it, the devotion to it, the myopic commitment to its realization. People have been institutionalized for less, but it’s often what it takes.

Which brings us back to Language Room. Over the course of their project, the band posted 25 project updates, the vast majority being exclusive to their backers. They have embraced the backer-only functionality more than any other project currently running, and it’s seemed to work well for them, especially as many of their updates are informal and spontaneous. You really get a feel for their lives as both musicians and people, and you can feel their story developing in front of you, from the claustrophobia of the road to a video of their mom playing an impromptu piano recital.

There’s a Flickerstick quality to their story. (And +5 music nerd points if you got the reference.) And as you read our Q&A with the band below, you’ll be quickly struck by the same thing that nicely surprised us: they started out as total skeptics that Kickstarter would ever work for them. They just didn’t see how it could possibly happen. Ten large later, they have a different story to share. Here it is:

Tell us about your project.
I’m in a band here in Austin and all we’ve ever wanted to do is tour 
extensively and work our butts off to become a self-sustaining band. To 
this point we’ve never been able to stay out on the road longer than a 
couple weeks because four guys in a 4-Runner will kill each other if contained 
longer than that. We needed an RV. A friend of mine forwarded me a link to 
Kickstarter and I checked out the FAQ thinking, “What’s the catch?” I saw 
no catch and only amazing, goal-oriented people working to connect with 
those who wanted to help others. It was amazing. After my project idea was 
approved I was honestly still very skeptical but willing to try anything 
because that is what you do in an indie band, anything and everything. 
Well, it worked! I never would have thought we would have raised $10,000 on 
pledges in just over 3 weeks but we did and everyone who found the site for 
the first time raved about it to us. Great idea!

How did you decide on your rewards?

I looked at a couple other projects and the rewards they were offering and 
decided to try a few that pertained to our goal (the RV/copy of our album), 
a few funny ones (a rap by our drummer) and a few only we could offer 
(writing a song). I tried to keep it pretty simple but made sure people 
would feel it might be worth going to the next level of support for the 
higher incentive.

How many of your backers do you know personally?

I would guess about 1/2, give or take a couple. This number might actually 
be high though. It feels like there is a Kickstarter community that surfs 
the site looking for good causes to support. One guy in San Diego pledged 
$1000 to send us over our goal so that we would go out and play for him and 
his son. No idea who he is but we’re best friends now! :)

How are you going to be updating people as you go along?

I’m going to keep posting updates on our Kickstarter profile as long as I 
can. It’s so easy to do that it was fun for me. I usually do all the 
updating on all our sites for video, pics and things and it’s a pain dealing 
with formats and things but these guys got it down.

Have you learned/discovered anything from the experience?

I’ve learned that we really can do anything if we set our minds to it. I 
know it sounds cliche but if someone would have told me we would raise over 
$10,000 in less than four weeks I would have laughed but we did it. It has 
been so great to find such a wonderful community of people who are honestly 
and whole-heartedly working towards their goals and a surrounding community 
who want to help and be a part of those goals. I can’t wait to support 
another project myself now just to give back a little.

What was unanticipated about the experience?
The ease of use of the web site. It literally felt like everything I 
needed to get this goal reached and to contact my backers was right there at 
my fingertips. From charts to formatted emails I could customize for each 
level of backing to email notifications of new backers, comments and 
correspondence. It was just so well set up and easy to use.

What, if anything, would you change about your project?
I might have made each incentive level independent of the ones below it 
instead of including everything beneath each of the higher ones. It’s 
just a bit daunting now to combine them all and figure out what to send who, 
etc. That’s it.