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.

Paste Hearts Kickstarter

And we heart Paste back. Paste Magazine gave Kickstarter a very nice write-up today, focusing on the many music projects that have come through the site as well as the non-music stuff as well:

Although Kickstarter is still an invitation-only website (IE: you won’t be seeing any crazy bag-ladies asking for “project funding” any time soon), the word is beginning to spread among musicians. Among the more oddball projects, like the “Run, Blago, Run!” exhibition, musical projects are popping up every week on Kickstarter: Polyvinyl indie band Volcano, I’m Still Excited!! are looking to vinyl-ize their 2004 debut, a recording engineer is trying to make a New Orleans blues-electronica mash-up, and Allison Weiss needs help making her new E.P. Of course, there’s also Attractive Eighties Women, the project of Paste’s very own Associate Editor Steve LaBate, who successfully raised more than twice their goal amount to fund their next album.

Pledge money on Kickstarter is only collected once the project goal has been reached, so you don’t have to worry about throwing money away for a project that will never be fully funded. The only hard part now is deciding which good cause to help out. We suggest you start by browsing the recommended projects page.

Very generous of them. And Paste, next time you are raising money, come to Kickstarter. You won’t have to build your own infrastructure, you can easily gauge interest, and you can offer excellent incentives. We’d be more than happy to help.

The 60k Day

Nearly $60,000 in pledges was collected and distributed to nine successful projects yesterday, making it Kickstarter’s most successful single day to date. The successful projects included four that raised over $10,000: the incredibly popular (1500% funded!) Polyvinyl warehouse project; a project from a band called Language Room that featured a ton of updates and interaction; and two projects that sent theatre troupes to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, one from Accidental Nostalgia (one of their rewards was having John Hodgman call and sing you a song) and another for The Dawn of Quixote, which managed to pull in over 60% of its funds in the past 48 hours. Impressive stuff.

Other successful projects included a cross-country photographic road trip from three friends (this one got funded mainly via Flickr), a documentary on famed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, a tour from the Georgia-based singer-songwriter Gareth Asher, an iPhone game that marries the internet’s two favorite things: zombies and tower defense games, and a food blog. Quite a bit of variety there.

So what, if any, are the commonalities? There’s really only one: they told people about what they were doing. It sounds silly and it’s something we harp on quite a bit, but it’s so crucial to a project’s success that it towers over the other contributing factors. Some of these projects had great stories, some were pretty straight-forward e-commerce, some were hyper-localized interactions within a micro-network of friends, some were crowed about by Pitchfork and newspapers across the country. But all of them started within an existing network.

The best example is Help Polyvinyl Save 10,000 Records from Destruction, a clever way for the Illinois-based label (home to Of Montreal and Asobi Seksu, most famously, and also home to early Braid records (when we first fell in love with them)) to clear out remnant inventory and maximize their space. The project sought $1,000, and began with a Facebook notice. That was it. Within a day or two, they hit their goal, and things slowly and steadily grew from there, raising a little over $4,000 over the span of three weeks.

Then Pitchfork happened. On June 17, Pitchfork ran a small news item announcing the Polyvinyl sale, and from there things sky-rocketed. (We should mention that Pitchfork’s publisher is one of our investors, and that he had absolutely nothing to do with any of this.) In one day, Polyvinyl raised $8,000, and the project kept growing from there.

You could choose to take the lesson that the key to having a very successful project is to get good press. And you wouldn’t be wrong there. But without that $4,000 foundation that Polyvinyl had hustled to get by sending emails (still the most effective call to action), Twittering, Facebooking, etc., who knows if the Pitchfork story — and its subsequent pick-up by everyone — would have happened.

Same goes for the rest of these projects. It’s not anyone’s idea of fun to go out and ask for money, make yourself vulnerable to your audience and face potential failure, but without those risks, there’s no reward. We’d like to congratulate all of these creators for doing such a fantastic job, and we hope they list more projects soon. Oh, and if you are interested in creating a project, you can always reach us here.

Creator Q&A: Hamburger Eyes' Ray Potes

Ray Potes’ Hamburger Eyes project is the first magazine project to come through Kickstarter, and it has been hugely successful. Potes sought $3,000 to pay for printing and other costs for his photography zine, and he pulled in more than $4,300, allowing the magazine to continue and stretching this issue, its 13th, to a whopping 150 pages.

Before getting into the full Q&A, we wanted to pull out one quote in particular that really illustrates what Kickstarter is all about:

Have you learned/discovered anything from the experience?

Yes definitely. Mostly that I must be doing something right. When you publish something or make anything and put it out there yourself, it’s always hard to say if people get it or not. Does the world appreciate this stuff? Am I blowing it? Wasting my time? And with a site like Kickstarter, you have all the answers right away.

We could not have put it better. It’s often so hard to understand the true value of your own work, and KSR can serve as gut-check of sorts, all while avoiding the politics of “market research” and with no worry of creative compromise or the myriad over pitfalls that come with trying to breathe life into a vision, sending it out into the world.

You can scroll down for an excellent mini-doc on the work that Potes and his Hamburger Eyes photographers have undertaken, but first let’s hear some more from Ray about his project experience.

Tell us about your project.

Hamburger Eyes
is a magazine we’ve been doing for about eight years now. Due to economics, it’s getting harder and harder to sell ads. We thought we would try out Kickstarter to help pay for our 13th issue.

How did you decide on your rewards?

The rewards system worked out great because the people who made pledges actually get sent the magazine when it’s done. So they get to see and feel their dollars at work.

How many of your backers do you know personally?

I only knew a handful of them. It’s amazing and I had no idea really that this many strangers would be into our stuff.

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

I sent out messages of the progress, but I feel I could’ve taken more advantage of video updates.

Have you learned/discovered anything from the experience?

Yes definitely. Mostly that I must be doing something right. When you publish something or make anything and put it out there yourself, it’s always hard to say if people get it or not. Does the world appreciate this stuff? Am I blowing it? Wasting my time? And with a site like Kickstarter, you have all the answers right away.

What was unanticipated about the experience?

The whole thing was unanticipated. I really didn’t think we could make our goal because we had a short deadline! But we made way over our goal. Ridiculous. Mind-blowing.

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

I planned my dates poorly, so there was a stress factor of making deadlines. But it all worked out perfectly!!

Hamburger Eyes from Nick Fogarty on Vimeo.

The Top Five Kickstarter Project Updates (So Far)

Because we view every project as its own story — sometimes self-contained, sometimes a single moment in a larger, passionate pursuit — we encourage creators to give their audience access to the creative process via project updates. You can see these via the “updates” tab on any project page:

We think of these as the behind the scenes DVD features, only supplied real-time and with audience feedback. How can you beat that?

There have been some fantastic project updates so far, and in what we’re sure will become a regular feature, we’d like to share our favorites to date.

#5 Behind the “We Scream” scenes. Maybe it’s how much we love ice cream or how jealous we are of project creator Chris Schlarb’s Asthmatic Kitty background, but we’ve enjoyed following along, learning more about regional ice cream trucks, their filmmaking process and even getting an early peak at some high-quality footage. We can’t wait to see what else they have in store.

#4 April Smith debuts a new song. Project creators have the option to make their updates available to just their backers, or to everyone. April Smith, a NYC-based musician who has already raised over half of her $10,000 goal in just a handful of weeks, offered her backers a friendly mini-goal: if the project crossed the 50% threshold by this past Saturday, she would post a new song exclusively for them. They hit the goal with ease, and so April posted a video of her sitting on her kitchen floor, dog at her side, playing the new tune. An awesome example of someone taking full advantage of their audience and goal.

#3 Emily’s postcard updates. We love everything about Emily’s project. She’s doing a cross-country trip and wanted to send some homemade postcards along the way as a whimsical art project. Each week she posts images of the seven postcards she has sent out (photos taken as they are dropped into a mailbox for added fun), and as a backer of the project, we’ve been following along, hoping a certain postcard might be ours and just enjoying the sheer amount of work she is doing. Here are a couple of the images:

#2 Shannon Powell joins Electronola for a session. Earl Scioneaux has been the most consistently in-depth project updater so far, which isn’t all that surprising considering the quality of his homemade pitch video and his creative rewards, which include inviting people to his house for some homemade gumbo. In this project update, Earl has the legendary New Orleans drummer Shannon Powell (Preservation Hall Band) into his studio to lay down some tracks that Earl will then sample and mutate into new compositions. It’s an incredibly nuanced and informative look at the recording process.

A close second-place from Earl: when he plays Joe Lastie, another legendary NOLA drummer, dubstep, eliciting a very pleased reaction and a nice moment of old meets new. Highly recommended. Watch it.

#1 Allison Weiss Skypes with the backer who helped her reach her goal. If you’ve been following Kickstarter at all, you’ve most likely heard of Allison Weiss, the young Georgia-based singer who has shown us all how it’s done. With prodigious gifts at promotion and creative engagement, Allison has become the benchmark for the Kickstarter community, from her pitch video to the language of her project to the rewards.

The community would also be wise to follow along with Allison’s project updates. So far she has: taken requests for a show, solicited album title ideas and votes for favorites, posted consistent updates — both video and text — from the studio and on and on. She’s a powerhouse.

Our favorite, though, was when Allison made a Skype call to the person who pushed her over the $2,000 goal: an Australian woman named Jacquie Tran. The conversation is ridiculously endearing, as we watch Allison wrap her brain around the time zone difference and the Aussie accent and Jacquie confess that she’s a recent fan who isn’t sure she deserves the honor. Everything about it is sweetly authentic, and everything that makes Kickstarter special.