Wednesday, August 19, 2009

While the Gatekeepers Slept

As a general rule, hot creativity does not thrive in boardrooms but in basements and bedrooms in towns you’ve never heard of. Talent has a way of finding its own way to the top, but it’s never easy. The current squeeze on corporate sponsorship and traditional credit has left organizations and artists without the funding they once enjoyed.

For some ideas to really take flight, funding is the number one obstacle. Good luck pitching your movie to a Hollywood studio executive or getting a top record label to hear your band’s demo. One way forward is to appeal to “the crowd” for funding. It’s not exactly a new idea, but while the gatekeepers are busy smoking their cigars elsewhere, there’s a variation on this to turn your idea into reality.

Enter Kickstarter, a new way to fund ideas and endeavors by way of the crowd. Users submit a pitch for their project, which range from first-time films or albums, to iPhone apps and experimental art projects. Would-be creators use video to pitch their projects; some of which are inspiring, others more superficial and less thought-out.

Together these projects form a kind of marketplace for ideas. There’s no guarantee that your project will get funded, and the money is only released if you raise the full amount you want. This is not an investment we make, it’s a donation with no strings attached.

Crowdsourcing has its ups and downs as a method for collaboration, but I think Kickstarter has found a good approach. Project creators use video to pitch the idea and emotionally connect. Kickstarter also encourages them to offer exclusive updates and other tidbits in exchange for sponsorship, be it an early release of an album, t-shirts, or anything creative.

I was skeptical that people would give money to complete strangers for artistic projects, but looking over the projects, it works surprisingly well. A donation from an Australian helped fund the upcoming album by Allison Weiss, a musician in the US. In fact, in a single day she raised over $2,000 thanks to her savvy pitch and some active online networking. Why did someone give money to a project on the other side of the world? Authenticity, passion, community, and collaboration.

*Note that Kickstarter is open internationally for donations but currently only open to projects in the United States (or with an address there).