Do People Hate Kickstarter? (And, How I Supported Free in August)

06 Sep 2011

So, as you might expect, August was a quiet month for my Supporting Free project. My attention was pretty consumed, and I've been re-organizing my finances in preparation for going from steady pay to self-employment again.

BUT! I did do some Free-supporting. I contributed to Christine Haynes' Kickstarter campaign to produce her own line of sewing patterns. I love the pattern book she wrote a couple years back, and I know she'll do great commercial pattern designs.

kickstarter_logo

…And while I'm on the subject of Kickstarter, I've stumbled upon a really interesting vein of resistance to it, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this idea.

When I was at CCE, Tina asked me if I'd read this blog post, which states that Kickstarter allows businesses to portray themselves as charities.

Tibetan Buddhist monk in red robes handing out money in 100 ruppee notes, the donations, to individual lamas, monks and nuns, Tharlam Monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal
Image by Wonderlane, via Flickr

I can't say I agree with that opinion, but I started asking around, and found that, surprisingly, a number of my friends have fairly negative feelings about Kickstarter. These were the most common themes I heard:

  • "Kickstarter too often takes the place of having a solid business and funding plan. It puts money in the hands of people who may not be qualified to use it in a business context."

  • "I have Kickstarter Fatigue! Seemingly everyone I know is always begging over and over for me to support their campaigns."

  • "I donated to so and so's campaign and never got my prize (or it took too long to get my prize."

crowded
Image by linus_art, via Flickr

Wow, who knew?! I actually love Kickstarter. I think it's wonderful that people with dreams now have an alternative means of funding them. I also love that people can use it to fund specific projects rather than fully-fledged businesses. If I had my druthers, I'd eliminate all the donation incentives – I think that packing and shipping hundreds of gifties may siphon off too much time and energy from the main project.

And, I can totally understand the "Kickstarter Fatigue" thing. But that's a factor with "Mass Amateurization." (Clay Shirky's phrase, not mine.) Anytime everyone has access to something, we'll experience more of it than we might like. Heck, we can see the same effect in the vast landscape of Etsy sellers and the way so many of them market to other crafters. It's awesome that so many crafters can go after their dreams of making a living from it, but the downside is lots more marketing within our community.

Giving Hands and Red Pushpin
Image by Artotem, via Flickr

But, all that said, I still think Kickstarter is on the whole a positive force in a new economic/business landscape. What are your thoughts on it? Do you love or hate it? Are you having the fatigue? Have you used it yourself?

Here's one more link from Tina - Kesha Bruce's interesting perspectives on running her $10,000.00 Kickstarter campaign.

Comments

Well, my experience with Kickstarter is extremely limited (funded a whopping one project) so I certainly don't have the fatigue issue. But, I had a good experience. It was a t-shirt/sticker idea that probably wouldn't have been made otherwise. It is taking awhile to get my products, but the creator is keeping in really good touch with everyone as to where she's at with the project, so I haven't been put out by the timeline.


I've always had similar experiences to yours, Terra. I think I've contributed to 4 or 5 projects now, and I always feel good about helping someone I like and want to support. I never have a ton of money to kick in, but I do what I can. It's part of giving back to the community for me.


While I'm sympathetic to people trying to raise money for their projects, I'm not crazy about Kickstarter. What bothers me is that it seems to be based on the idea of microinvestment, but it's actually just a charitable donation with no stake in the business. Yes, there are premiums or prizes, but it's more akin to a public television telethon than any kind of participation in the business.

And, while I realize we have a responsibility to help support free, this is not doing that. None of the quite a few Kickstarter projects I've read and thought about have any intention of offering the result of their efforts for free. The goal is to charge for and sell the resulting book, pattern, video, or whatever.


That's a really interesting take on things. What would stake in a small business look like? Would you want shares?

...And I should clarify why I chose to fund Christine's Kickstarter as part of my "Support Free" ongoing project. Christine produces a lovely blog, http://www.christinehaynes.com/blog/, which brings me a great deal of inspiration at no cost. So my contribution to her Kickstarter was a thank-you for that. I actually chose the no-gifty option when I contributed.


Ooh, I like this idea that the investors (at least, at a certain level) have some stake and input. 
I certainly wouldn't want it for my whole BUSINESS (otherwise, I'd get investors the usual way, or go public with stock sales)...but for a specific project, it'd be useful.

For example, if I Kickstarted a wacky idea I have (travel and have coffee with smart crafty businesses, share the conversations via podcast and pictures of studio + written notes via private blog), the high levels of donations would be on a Board of Advisers that would help me pick the subjects (via application, maybe?) and...I'm not sure, but I'd figure out some way for them to be a part of the process, even if they were just who I turned to for advice/encouragement. 


I like that. I'd not thought of looking to fund local projects.


I'm a little bitter about Kickstarter, but that's only because I am waiting for it to be available in Canada to Canadians.  Seeing projects in Canada but requiring an American business partner is just a tease. (sigh)


Thanks for this post!
I have been thinking of launching a Kickstarter and have been wondering about the fatigue issue.
My brother just had a very successful Kickstarter project- and that has inspired me to give it a shot. 
I personally think Kickstarter is fantastic. :)


What community is your brother in? Maybe we're hitting some Kickstarter fatigue in the creative community because we have such a high ratio of producers to consumers. There are more of us wanting to produce income than to spend it, I believe.


He's a paper crafter. He was very successful in that he was 300%+ funded, but he was not asking for very much money. :) 
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/595678607/paper-craft-warrior-mouse-...

My project would involve a bigger dollar amount, but still, nothing huge.
And it would be similar in reward structure- basically a pre-order. 


When not online, I don't even know anyone who knows of Kickstarter, so no fatigue here.  I think there are valid concerns, but I can't help wonder how much of a negativity has a twinge of jealousy in it? As in "I had to do it all myself & they get Kickstarter?" It seems to me that some of the areas of concern would be solved by donors themselves.  Things that seem lame/shady don't get donations & get started, right?


That's an interesting point, Elizabeth. I've been thinking along similar lines - I think that, as a general rule, money matters tend to have strong emotions tied to them. So many of us feel money as a scarcity, and as a result we have perhaps more negative reactions to Kickstarter's fairly direct conversations around funding. And I think what what Allison shared about funding SeamedUp relates here, too: business funding is hard. We live in a pretty bootstrap-oriented age, especially where web-based projects are concerned.


Excellent post(and thanks for the link to Kesha's post as well). Kickstarter is a great "critical mass" tool. Somethings need some scale to be worth doing and Kickstarter is pretty good for that


Very interested to hear people's take on Kickstarter.  I almost always give a little bit to my friends if they are trying to put together some project which might be hard to find funding for in other ways.  So I've chipped in for party planning, parades, self published books, band recording sessions.   I don't have any hard and fast rules for how I donate but it's usually to someone I know and for something outside of their usual income earning areas.  

A few weeks back I had a business approach me directly for a prize donation for a project they were working on and I said "yes" but it was a bit reluctantly.  These were folks I'd only met once and briefly and in a professional context.  The sent an impersonal ask letter for the prize donation, didn't link back to my sites or send any type of thank-you.  A quick tweet or note of kudos via facebook would have made me feel better about the donation end of things.

Also, these folks were asking help for a project which was being run through their company, a place with real desks and chairs and where I assume the employees are getting some type of income.  The project wasn't outside their normal scope of work and it seems to me the operational costs for them would have been the same as any other job their company would normally take on.  Being self employed, I only make money when I sell something directly either through writing or craft sales.  For me to donate work to their project I was taking a hit of the profits I would have made off the prize if I'd sold it myself and the time it cost me to make the object.  If I donate an object from my business I look at it as a marketing opportunity.  In this case it was an opportunity lost.  If I donate money it's more personal and I'm not hoping for reciprocity or publicly acknowledged thanks. 


I'm personally a big fan of Kickstarter.  I tend to focus on projects created in my community and I like that I have an extremely easy way to help others while keeping my money in the local economy.  I've backed about 15 projects and I will continue to back more.


I think kickstarter is a really great idea and I think it's very useful for people who are launching some product as a way to do a presale, but from my experience it actually feels like I'm being forced to beg people for money all the time, which I don't like. Despite my hesitations, I decided to use Kickstarter for my business because I was looking for a relatively small sum of money to help me work on a project that I otherwise would not be able to do. And since I am a soloprenuer and don't have a ton of time to write up huge business plans and look for angel investors, I found this to be the best option.

I take my business very seriously and I love the idea of allowing people to support me financially through pledges and I'm incredibly thankful for those who do. I agree with you about the prizes. Like I said, it makes sense for someone who is raising money for product production but not so much for other projects (like mine).

I've heard that there are some new business funding sites that treat the projects more like a business investment. Like kiva but for local businesses. I would love to try that out in the future.

Britta
www.myqueenbquilts.com
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/851079052/nice-shirt-america
@brittaj3:twitter 


Looks like you're close to your funding goal, Britta - and I just kicked in a little. I love grand plans like this one, and the idea is really fun. I hope your campaign succeeds!


I've given my support to a few crafty Kickstarter campaigns and at least one non-crafty (30 Mosques in 30 Days). Part of it is about putting my money where my mouth is, and part of it is knowing how hard it can be to keep a small business in operation (even in economic "good times").


The business/project distinction is interesting. I wonder how many Kickstarters are stand-alone projects vs hopeful businesses. Projects are much more tempting to support. 


Thank you Diane! I really appreciate how much you support small businesses and crafters. 


Thanks so much for that link. MaryBeth! That's a wonderful analysis, and I was not surprised to see Rob Walker's byline. I really liked his distinction (and, apparently, Kickstarter's) that the site helps fund "creative projects" rather than businesses. Perhaps our creative community feels a little twisted up over Kickstarter because for us, these two things are so often the same thing.


I guess technically this does fit the project criteria but somehow it doesn't seem like it's really in the spirit of Kickstarter. (At least as I understand it.) This one just feels like people with enormous exposure taking advantage of a fan base for financial gain.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding it, but I don't think they are offering a limited edition recording. It is a first pressing and they will continue to market and sell as many as they can.

You are absolutely right, exposure does not equal wealth. But, I'd still be pretty confident in assuming that Neil Gaiman and Amanda Parker could cobble together the original $20K they were looking for and didn't need a Kickstarter. And now that they've raised closer to $90K, how glizty are those cd's and posters going to be?

Backing up a little, I guess I am generalizing about Kickstarter from a very specific example. That's not fair. (It does make me question their screening criteria, but that's a different discussion.) The concept of getting interesting projects funded is a great one and I'm trying to keep an open mind about it. I hope that the reality of Kickstarter's success and popularity doesn't ultimately require such compromise of its original intention that it becomes unrecognizable.


Interestingly enough - I do not have a kickstarter campaign going because they do NOT support websites of any kind... My company (seamedup.com ~ a ravelry for quilters and sewers) joined IndieGoGo which is another version of the 'raise money for the little people' framework.

I do have a business degree, several in fact. I also have a business plan. A 5 year plan, a 3 year plan, and a tomorrow's to-do list to get there.

And yes, we could have gotten funding from a traditional source. But guess what? They aren't really lending very much these days... Even to those with fantastic credit scores and solid plans... It's a tough climate for everyone. And while I have heard at least 4 million times that the economic recovery will depend on entrepreneurs - the lenders aren't quite there yet.

So where do we go? We seek out alternative funding. And so - I am about 30 odd days in to a funding campaign (want to help! www.seamedup.com ~ click on find us ~ click on IndieGoGo! ha!) without  much luck. (Read: everyone is asking everyone for money when none of us have any! and I guess the idea that if everyone who read the campaign gave a dollar we would be there by know is a pipe dream...)

We are not going to give up though, the personal credit cards will step in. Our family's debt ratio will increase. Our stress levels too. But that is what it takes to BE an entrepreneur - the guts to jump.

So what do you say? Grab your suit and jump with me. It's more fun with friends...

And Diane - thanks again for another provocative post!


Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Allison. I wonder how much your funding struggles stem from our current collective assumption that websites "just happen" and should always be free. It's not an easy thing at all to get a deep-service site off the ground, unless you have a star programmer at your disposal who's willing to work mostly for free initially (which is, I believe, how Ravelry came to be).

I wonder how long it will take before the general public can see the true value of online content and services? 


That's interesting - I don't think Kickstarter is very well known in the UK
and I think I've only read about it from your blog and perhaps a few
other tweeters. I supported a project to make Terry Pratchett's "Troll
Bridge" into a film and they've started shooting in New Zealand and send
me regular updates. I've urged friends to use it to get started with
projects but there is this (british?) unease with asking people for
money. I see it as investment rather than charity though. Hmmm,
definitely food for thought.  


Ooh, I very much love Kickstarter...I think it holds the possibility of a lot of BIG thinking and dreaming for people would otherwise stay *small*. Perhaps non-businesses get tired of hearing about everyone's projects, but that seems to me like an issue of what you're paying attention to. I tend to ignore the ones I'm uninterested and follow with bated breath the ones I'm excited about. 
But like you mentioned, I'm only interested in funding PROJECTS, not businesses. 


What if Kickstarter evolved into more of a microfinance funding model? Instead of charity-izing business projects, what if the pledges were actually micro-loans that had to be paid back after an established amount of time?

The microfinance industry is booming in underdeveloped nations (with great controversy recently from one microfinance lender who just went public), and the popularity of IDA (Individual Development Accounts) is mounting, but I think microfinance could be just as applicable in a Kickstarter-like model.

Doing so increases accountability of the project owner, elevates donors to micro-investors (and amplifies their vested interest), and is more in line with a traditional business plan. Instead of relatively free seed money, project/business owners must think about how they can fulfill their commitment to their investor to pay them back (and plan the business/venture accordingly so that it will produce profits that benefit the owner).

And then you don't have to spend 60 hours bagging and packaging and shipping a million little bonus gifts.


We used to make microloans through Prosper.com but I think a number of states, including Texas where I live, changed their laws so that Prosper and others like them couldn't operate here. So, unfortunately Kickstarter is the only online option we have to support people in small ways like this. I would love to do some more microloans though. It's such a great idea. Today I actually donated to my first kickstarter campaign. The "prize" was essentially a pre-order of their merchandise which seemed reasonable to me.


Yes! This is much more interesting and rewarding. As relates to the "charitable donations" end of things, many of these projects wouldn't actually qualify for tax deduction, making it much more of a business transaction than an actual donation.


I don't love kickstarter. Mostly for the reasons that smallerbox mentioned. 

But I also wonder if kickstarter is the way a business should want to represent themselves. Do they want to be perceived as an organization that needs to ask for donations rather than one that has the resources to create and bring their products to market? What kind of message is that sending to their customers?

Particularly in the world or crafts, it's hard to be taken seriously.  Lorna's Laces post today shows how they have to fight the perception that their work isn't legitimate. I'm not sure that kickstarter doesn't reinforce that perception. 


This is such a fascinating discussion.
The first time I came across Kickstarter I felt really excited. I loved the idea of being able to contribute to interesting projects that might have struggled to convince investors in a traditional venture capital market.
And I also must say that I actually love the gifty bit of it. I take the point about creating, packaging and mailing out the rewards potentially detracting from the biz side of things but I think they're important in terms of giving people a tangible stake in the project.

I know it's not as though you have an equitable (ie with financial returns) stake, but for me, at least, it's a little reminder of a project I believed in , was one of the first on board with, and something I hope goes on to bigger and better things.

For example, I've contributed (for me a LOT of money but in the grand scheme of life not much) to a stop-motion /animated film. Because I was totally carried away by the passion of the director. And the story spoke to me on a visceral level. And I look forward to getting my little claymation model that was used in the film as my reward. I'll treasure it.

The micro-financing model is interesting and I think if you did do things on a loans basis it might remove some of the, shall we say, less-thought-through projects but it also, for me at least, takes away some tiny bit of the magic.
Maybe I'm just a sucker - but the four projects I've contributed to I am REALLY excited about and really believe in. So maybe there is just a need to be discerning in that sense - follow your instinct.
Look, at the end of the day, if every project I've contributed to fell over and I didn't get my reward and not only that but also the project didn't get one in whatever form "getting done" would take, I would still not regret my contributions. Because they've been made with passion but with a modicum of caution.
I'll let you know if I'm let down. But I don't think I will be.


This is so well-said, TB. I wholly agree that the passion factor is a big part of why I contribute to Kickstarter campaigns.


Do Neil Gaiman and Amanda Parker really need a kickstarter to have a concert? This is one of the things that make me crazy about it. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/amandapalmer/an-evening-with-neil-ga...

I guess in its inception, I like the idea of Kickstarter but I'm not sure it is still serving its initial goals.


It looks to me like this Kickstarter is actually being used to produce a recording of the concert for people who can't get to the limited number of live dates. I can see the logic here - ticket sales will hopefully cover producing the tour itself, but making a recording would require additional money. If I were a big fan of these artists, I'd be all over the opportunity to get what will essentially be a limited-edition recording.

I'm also feeling this, and I offer it just as an observation – not to argue with you. I think it's easy to assume that anyone we see in the mainstream media must be doing great financially. But no matter how much exposure an artist has, that is no guarantee that he or she is rolling in money. We just assume that exposure = wealth.


I love kickstarter! I love it because it is such an easy way for me to support my friends and their awesome projects. I have never done a lot of giving in the past, although I've wanted to. It's just such a great way for an average person like me to feel like I am making a difference and helping make people's dreams come true - for such a small amount of money. I usually choose the lower priced options like $15 or $20. I love that it's easy and doesn't cost much yet it really does add up!


Does anyone here know if there are specific business/legal issues with the traditional model of getting investors? Would that make it more difficult for small businesses/ventures?


I like Kickstarter overall, and I've contributed to a couple of interesting sounding projects. However, the other day a question came up on my Twitter list, specifically referring to Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer's Kickstarter project and I've been wondering about it ever since. What happens when a Kickstarter project collects more money than its goal? Is the money beyond the goal sent back to investors? Is it kept by the organizers? Is it right to keep collecting past the time when the goal has been met? I don't really know the answers to those questions, but my personal feeling is that it might be better if a Kickstarter campaign automatically closed when the goal number was met.


This is an excellent question, Kristen. Makes me think of the Diaspora Kickstarter, which raised over $200,000.00 on a $10,000.00 goal: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/196017994/diaspora-the-personally-co...

I've contributed to Kickstarters that reached their funding goals early and then continued to ask for more money for the duration of the campaign. Of course, more money is never a bad thing, but when this happens, it does make me wonder how well the original campaign goal was designed, if reaching it isn't satisfactory. I rather like your idea of closing campaigns as soon as the funding goals are met. If nothing else, it may encourage better campaign-goal design.


I *ADORE* Kickstarter! I have yet to use it myself, but it is HUGE in the dance world - well in the arts world in general. Dance is one of the most cost prohibitive art forms out there - I could go on and on about that topic - and choreographers need money to launch projects. Where am I more likely to secure funding? Government grants (gone), State Arts Agencies (mostly gone), a random patron that's just going to give me $15,000 (likely not)? Kickstarter makes it possible for a far reaching network to support artists for as little as a $1. And that microfunding COUNTS.

So yeah, I'm for it.


Awesome, Sarah! Many thanks for sharing your perspective from the dance world. That's an important perspective on grant and agency funding dwindling.


Hi Diane! I'm just now seeing this whole blog post (I'm WAY behind on my blog reading!). I can say as a Kickstarter participant I absolutely came across some people who didn't like the concept at all. I think it's awesome, though I never pitched myself as a charity. That isn't right. Most everyone on there is a small business working for profit. So pitching yourself as charity is not right. But I do think micro-philanthropy like this is pretty amazing. For those that want to help but don't have much money, it allows them to do so. And for those that have more to give, they can. Kickstarter is specifically for creative projects, and many creatives aren't good candidates for bank loans, even with sound minds and business plans in hand, like me. And while I'd love to have family loan me money, they can't fully fund a project on this scale either. I'm forever grateful for everyone that helped me reach my goal! I'm now working hard on the project and will have my new patterns on shelves in time for holiday shopping :)


I'm so glad you shared your experience here, Christine - thank you! I saw your progress update this morning, and I'm really excited that you decided to have some custom fabrics printed by Spoonflower to make your sample garments from!


What about the 5% Kickstarter takes from the money?


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