What is Kickstarter?
Kickstarter is the largest US crowdfunding platform, empowering artists and engineers to raise funds from ‘crowds’ of individuals. Since 2009, Kickstarter has helped raise more than $250 million for more than 24,000 projects.
“A place where artists and engineers can connect with the people in direct peer-to-peer relationships who aren’t just buying entertainment, they’re helping make dreams a reality.”
Getting your project funded
Anyone who is above 18, a citizen of the U.S. and qualifies for Amazon Payments can start a project.
To be successful in raising funds, projects should have realistic and well-defined scopes and budgets. Project starters should engage with the community of backers, answer questions and provide updates on progress.
Paul Hildebrandt, whose project “Fight For Space – Space Program & NASA Documentary” was successful in raising funds, included an HD trailer, video footage from the National Space Symposium, list of interviewees in his project page.
He also posted frequent updates to thank backers and motivate others to support the project:
“We are on day 4 and have raised over $12,000 out of our $65,000 goal… Thank you all for your support, it is because of bold people like you who are willing to support a project such as this one that we will be able to tell this story and educate, inspire, and motivate the public about how beneficial space exploration really is. Continue to Fight for Space and we can all make a difference.”
To be successful, projects must also set a funding goal and a funding deadline. Starters can refer to Kickstarter Stats and an analysis of 10,000 successful projects across different categories to decide on an appropriate goal. While the limit for funding deadlines is 60 days, Kickstarter recommends a shorter duration:
“Statistically, projects lasting 30 days or less have our highest success rates. A Kickstarter project takes a lot of work to run, and shorter projects set a tone of confidence and help motivate your backers to join the party. Longer durations incite less urgency, encourage procrastination, and tend to fizzle out.”
In addition, projects must offer rewards to their backers. Meaningful and reasonable rewards increase the chances of the project meeting the funding goal.
Paul Hildebrandt offered twelve different types of rewards, catering to pledges from $10 to $10,000. An example reward:
“Pledge $75 or more – Behind The Scenes Pack: All of the above, PLUS: A behind the scenes documentary made about the making of this film. We go over equipment, scripting, research, and many aspects of how to produce an independent documentary film. BONUS: A Fight For Space T-Shirt.”
Roughly 44% of Kickstarter projects are successful in meeting their funding goal.
Strictly for creative projects
Kickstarter is strictly for creative projects and does not allow funding for causes, charities or ‘fund-my-life’ projects. Projects must fall under specific categories, including film, music and design, and must have a tangible end product (such as a music album).
As a result, Kickstarter has received accolades from the media for creating a successful alternative funding source for artists in a down economy.
Patricia Cohen, New York Times, writes about the hardship faced by the art industry:
“In the last year alone, money troubles have pushed the New Mexico Symphony to close, New York City Opera to slash its budget by two-thirds and the State of Kansas to eliminate all public financing for the arts.”
James Reed, Boston Globe, describes a similar situation in the music industry:
“As the music industry’s financial resources continue to crumble, more independent musicians are turning to fans to directly finance work that might not otherwise get done.”
Rub Lerner, president of non-profit Creative Capital calls crowdfunding “mass microphilantrophy.”
Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing describes Kickstarter as a way for artists “to make fine art without galleries or grand committees or gazillionaires.”
‘All or nothing’ funding
A project must meet its funding goal by a set deadline in order to receive any funds. Kickstarter believes this “protects everyone involved,” as projects with insufficient budgets are less likely to succeed. Once the goal has been met, the project receives all the money pledged, even if it is in excess of the goal.
Peter Chen, Co-Founder of Kickstarter, explains that the guidelines aim to shape the project proposals:
“Once you add constraints, that’s what happens. We want that to happen. ‘Kickstarter project’ has some specificity to it, just like a tweet.”
Notable projects funded on Kickstarter
Two Academy-Award-nominated documentaries, art projects exhibited in the Museum of Modern Arts, an iPod Nano watch, and 10% of films submitted to Sundance got their start on Kickstarter.
Thousands of projects are currently in the process of going live, with thousands more still in the funding stage.
2013 will see an influx of creative projects from lesser known artists, as well we more well-known creators such as musician Amanda Palmer, authors Neal Stephenson and Seth Godin, actor Whoopi Goldberg and animator John Kricfalusi.
What drives project starters and backers?
Project starters come to Kickstarter to give life to their creative ideas.
Backers come for a variety of reasons: to support friends, give back to the community, or commission creation of cool products they’d like to own. Xavier Barnes describes the latter quite succinctly on Kickstarter’s Facebook page:
“Kickstarter, making great sh*t possible on a daily basis.”
For other backers, it’s about making a difference. Matt Christenson, a backer of the Fight for Space documentary says,
“I’m a senior at a university and I make $7,000 a year. I donated $25 to this, and if I can donate-then everyone can. And should. Being a science major only emphasizes the responsibility I feel for the future of our nation.”
For some, it’s about contributing to a personal dream come true. Chris De Laet, a backer of the same documentary shares,
“I kicked in $40, but if I had it I’d kick in $10k. It’s an important story. People need to know why NASA isn’t just “another government waste project”. I lived in Cape Canaveral when I was growing up and Space Exploration was as important to me as breathing. I STILL own over-1000 page press packet that NASA gave out when they introduced the Space Shuttle. I haven’t forgotten what exploration used to mean. I hope this project reminds everyone.”
Beyond funding – community
Kickstarter sees the platform as more than just a way to raise money. It also connects starters with their audience, helps promote their work, and in some cases helps them improve their work. Most successful starters feel the same way.
“Backers are generally in it not only for the product but to see you succeed, it seems. It’s great to feel so much positivity vs. the typical snarky and hater mentality you often see on the blogs. I think that if the right story, solution and design were presented on this platform, and the creator had open dialog via the blog during development, it could fuel some solutions that could have a positive social impact.”
Kickstarter takes a 5% cut of the money raised, and Amazon Payments, the payment platform, takes an additional 3%-5%. While some say this is too high, most argue that the value provided justifies the cut.
A comment on blog Mr Tea Cup sums it up:
“The cost of capital through Kickstarter is far less than traditional funding sources. And while Kickstarter may not be your version of a perfect business, and I agree it can be improved upon, I think they have done an invaluable service to the nascent sharing economy by demonstrating that collective decision-making about project funding can work.”
Exponential rise in dollars pledged
While most successful Kickstarter projects receive less than $10,000, a few crossed the six- and seven-digit mark in 2012. In March 2012, Double Fine Adventure raised $1 million in under 24 hours.
Post funding – the work has just begun
Critics point out that there is a lack of accountability of projects once they are funded. Online publication Charlottesville News & Arts shares an example:
“Last year, the would-be creators of video-recording glasses earned a whopping $343,415, meeting their goal, but the backers have yet to receive finished products, and many fear the creators have abandoned the project altogether. Who’s to stop them? No one, it seems. Kickstarter can’t take legal action, and since the average donation is small, few backers have a big enough stake to sue the project’s creators.”
Critics also point out that the money raised is an investment, not a ‘gift.’ Once they are funded, artists have to prove their business mettle in delivering the product and rewards to their backers.
Legal and tax implications?
As the amounts raised cross six digits, and Kickstarter plans its UK launch, industry watchers are pointing out the need for laws to safeguard backers, and to clarify the tax status of the funding. Starters also need to consider investing some of the funds in hiring legal and financial specialists to keep their projects on the right track.
Crowdfunding beyond Kickstarter
Kickstarter is just one platform in the crowdsourcing industry. Others include Indiegogo which caters to more diverse projects including ‘fund-my-health,’ and is less restrictive regarding ‘all or nothing funding’. Overseas, zeczec.com caters to Taiwanese crowds.
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