Over the past 32 days my fiancee and I have been running a Kickstarter project. We were trying to raise funds to build a teaching farm on an abandoned lot in Brownsville, Brooklyn. On Tuesday of this week we reached our goal of $23,000 dollars.
I’ve been writing about Kickstarter as a journalist for a while, but using the service myself really changed my perspective on how the company manages to successfully fund an incredible 43 percent of the projects it features on its site.
For a while I was critical of the fact that Kickstarter continued to curate by hand which projects were approved for funding. While the company has seen some incredible growth, at some point it seemed like they would lose their ability to reach web scale. I imagined they would need to take an open approach similar to Etsy if they really wanted to build their business.
But in chatting with our donors, I came to realize this selectivity creates the power of the Kickstarter brand. We received pledges from Australia to Hawaii and back again. A lot of these people had backed a dozen or more projects on Kickstarter. They had diverse interests across music, film, art and food. What they believed in was Kickstarter, and our project was one way of expressing that.
I had chatted with Cassie Marketos, Kickstarter’s editorial director, before starting the project. I wanted her opinion on how much we should try to raise, given we were doing an urban farm. “That’s not how it works,” she explained. “What matters is the quality of the project and the way it connects with your network.”
My social networks definitely helped. Tweets from people in the New York tech community promoted the project, especially in the first week when we were looking to build momentum. The hundreds of Facebook likes we received allowed us to tap into old classmates, camp buddies and friends of friends of friends. And I was reminded of how powerful a social network Google has on file when I began crawling through my old email contacts and chats to reach out for donations.
But it was the network Kickstarter has built that really put us over the edge. Numerous journalists interested in food and education reached out after finding the project there. And of the 261 backers we have gotten to date, more than one third of our backing came from total strangers. Often, these people had already backed four or more projects on Kickstarter.
I never paid much attention to the site’s slogan, “Fund and Follow Creativity”, but the “Follow” part turned out to be as important as the funding. Seeing the interest in our project from Kickstarter’s power users made me realize that the team there has built a powerful network of backers in large part through their editorial voice and curation, and that this brand wouldn’t last if Kickstarter optimized for scale on the web and lost its human touch.