The Kickstarter Phenomenon
I don’t live in the world of my parents. Yes, the house I grew up in still stands. Yes, the schools I went to still educate young people. Yes, the bike shop I first worked at still sells, fixes and fits bicycles to an ever-growing community of cyclists. But beyond those rudimentary similarities, my life has none of the surety, consistency or security their lives have enjoyed (and just to be clear, both of my parents are still with us). While there are plenty of people who still enjoy jobs that will pay pensions in their leisure years, I’ve occasionally had to engage each of my parents in conversations about how radically my life doesn’t resemble theirs. This is usually in response to me sharing some sort of garden-variety challenge of daily life. People who care about you never let these moments slide without a, “Well did you consider…?”
And that’s when I mention just how different my life is from what theirs was when they were my age.
I attempted to follow a career track similar to that of my father. I moved to California to go to work for a big publishing company, a place where a great many people spent entire careers writing for the same magazine. Within 90 days of my arrival—I’m not kidding—the publishing world began to implode. All the old rules about magazine publishing were incinerated along with a great many magazines. For the record, the magazine industry dove over the event horizon of former business models years before the music industry got sucker-punched by Sean Parker.
The one important lesson that stayed with me from that time was that your average enthusiast magazine was disinclined to celebrate the truly inventive, what management types love to call “out of the box thinking.” I don’t mind reporting that my most creative ideas were all shot down because I couldn’t justify the “user service.”
It’s easy to rail about the evils in today’s world—Monsanto, Wall Street, the U.S. health care system and … well, there’s plenty we can complain about without ever bringing up the UCI. If you’re a cynical type, the inevitable conclusion is that the world (or at least the U.S.) is going to a land of eternal fire by shopping cart. The reality is more complex. The world is just different.
To wit, I submit Facebook. Forgetting their nearly disastrous IPO, Facebook has had a profound effect on society. It has allowed us to connect more broadly than at any point in history. Sure, much of that connection lacks the depth of a one-on-one conversation with a trusted friend, but the benefit I derived from Facebook during the Deuce’s NICU stay was sustaining. Actually spending time in-person with friends was nearly impossible. Our schedule was too hectic, and the NICU rules regarding visitors ruled out everyone except us and grandparents. Facebook kept us in touch with people we simply couldn’t catch up with otherwise. Facebook takes a lot of knocks. In my view, it’s just a hammer. What you do with it is up to you. You can be a pinhead and break a bunch of windows with a hammer, or you can build a house with one. It’s up to you. Thanks to Facebook, metaphorically speaking, I’ve added an addition to my home.
Which brings me to Kickstarter. When I first heard about it last year, I must admit I didn’t really understand it. The concept seemed only slightly removed from gambling, and as I’ve got as much interest in gambling as I do intravenous drug use, I tuned out more or less instantly. Then I started reading about it. Here’s where I have to admit my initial reaction was as ill-considered as Kin Jung Un’s latest rhetoric.
Kickstarter, if I may say, is genius. If this had existed when I was trying to launch Asphalt I might have managed to publish a dozen or more issues before it got swallowed by its own gravity.
Over the last month or so I’ve become something of a student of Kickstarter. While it is the obvious repository for nearly every ill-conceived get-rich-quick scheme by a dilettante with no experise, it is more properly known as the ultimate expression of the crowd-sourced effort.
Kickstarter is the ultimate elevator pitch. It’s up to you to convince people you’ve got the goods to make cool things happen. It’s not a place that will reward the mundane. You’ve designed the next $39 toaster that might outsell the Sunbeam unit at Walmart? No one cares. Commodities are destined for grave stones in Kickstarter.
How cool is that?
I offer this as a prelude to a coming Kickstarter project of my own. I don’t mind saying it’s one of the more audacious efforts I’ve undertaken, just the sort of thing that would have been shot down—with prejudice—at my former employer.
If there’s one thing we can say about this new world that we live in is that it tends to reward more creative, more inventive ideas. Hey, I gotta celebrate what I can, when I can.