There are other crowdfunding sites, such as, Crowdtilt or Pozible, but Kickstarter has made particularly spectacular headlines. According to the site’s official statistics, since its launch in April 2009, more than 76,000 projects have launched, more than 32,000 of those successfully (which raised over $350m). Indeed 15 projects have raised more than $1m.
For many creatives, the site offers a welcome shortcut to success – or at least to attracting enough upfront finance to roll out a project or product. Kickstarter’s basic premise is that creatives or entrepreneurs can launch and market a campaign on the site to attract seed funding. The site keeps its cut of five per cent, assuming the project is successful – if it’s not, no one gets charged. There’s also a payment processing fee for all payments between three and five per cent.
One key restriction is that Kickstarter can be used only to raise money for a creative project with a definite outcome such as an artwork, toy, film, device, app or exhibition – it can’t be used to seed a business (for this check out Seedrs, instead) or for an ongoing service.
The other constraint is location. Starting a Kickstarter campaign requires a UK or US resident with a bank account in the country, and UK citizens can create projects on behalf of a company with a Companies House Number. This is why Kickstarter was inaccessible to most UK-based creatives until it formally launched over here – though some agencies with US offices have tapped the site, such as Mint Digital’s Foldable.me project.
The project creator sets a funding period for backers, who can pledge amounts of money during that time in return for different tiers of rewards. Throughout the campaign, the social platform allows backers and creators to interact and share ideas, and recommend it to other networks.
But those who expect easy riches need to think again. Kickstarter is more than a forum for tapping strangers for dosh, more than a commercial tool for matching supply with demand; it’s a social community and it expects those looking for backing to give something in return.
“Kickstarter resists the image of being on online commerce site or an online mall,” explains Jed Henry, who earlier this year successfully launched Ukiyo-e, a parody art project that combines his passion for Japanese illustration and traditional woodblock printing techniques with modern day obsessions with video game heroes. “It wants to be more about making donations to an artistic endeavour. There is that element of crowd patronage of the arts.”
Art gallery and studio Chicago the Beautiful’s Leo Rosen and Max Goldman agree. They launched their Free Art Machine public art experiment on Kickstarter, which closed on 5 November. The duo raised $28,251, which was way and above their $8,000 goal. “Your intent must be true,” explain Leo and Max. “If you are doing a Kickstarter project solely to make money you are off to a bad start. The best projects are ones of passion and heart.”
This distinction also informs how projects are launched and run on the site. Any aspiring Kickstarter creator needs to understand the social aspects of the site, and the need to build a social network before joining. As Jed puts it, “You bring your own tribe to Kickstarter. Then, if Kickstarter sees there’s a big enough party going on in your yard, they will join your party.” Bringing your own tribe to the party lights the touch paper of an initial funding explosion, which then converts into a steady burn, Jed adds.
Designer and illustrator Matt Stevens reached his funding goal in July, raising more than $40,000, and says that he also had “a decent amount of followers on Twitter which provided a good initial push”, while Chicago the Beautiful leveraged Facebook to get things moving.
David Murray, who runs a T-shirt company, used Kickstarter to help him get back on his feet when all his stock and equipment was stolen, and social media formed a huge part of his campaign’s success. “I cashed in every bit of goodwill I had,” he says.
“I had a lot of friends and fans putting out messages on my behalf, I called on every blog I knew, and got a lot of great, free marketing. Marketing is huge to any project, and I’m thankful to have had so many fans and friends doing the leg work for me.”