Tag Archives: kickstarter

Building Something Bigger: Crowdfunding Solar Power

image credit martin jakobsen via flickr

image credit martin jakobsen via flickr

Crowdfunding campaigns cover a variety of causes: from the quickey multitool, a pocket device that’ll tackle everyday tasks, to saving a classic drive-in theater. There’s a crowdfunding project for everything, and at least one for everyone to support. What these campaigns have in common, is that they envision an innovative product, cause, or service and then find the backers that would love and be proud to support. We are all a part of the Crowd, that’s what makes crowdfunding so powerful. Financing is no longer in the hands of wealthy backers. With backing from a large crowd, even if the individual investments are modest, a project can acquire the startup funding it wouldn’t be able to achieve through other streams. When enough people tune in, and pitch in what funds  they can, the goal can be something huge- like Solar Power.

Blue & Green Tomorrow cites clean energy installations making up 44% of all new electricity generation installations over the course of 2013, compared with investments in renewable energy installations dropping by 14% in the same period. The public is interested, and ready to take advantage of the benefits of solar power, but the funding is falling behind. Crowdfunding has the ability to directly connect those interested in furthering the scope of this renewable resource with those making it a reality. Interested investors can fund individual projects in solar power like solar generators by inergy or the Solartab. To bring solar power to an entire city, the crowd must pull together in a large scaled operation of information and funding.

The city of Portland, Oregon’s Burueau of Planning and Sustainability has introduced one such campaign with ‘Solar Forward.’ Their goal is, “to offer community members a way to engage in the development of new, clean, local renewable energy systems on public buildings like community centers, schools and libraries.” Their site explains that most private dwellings do not make ideal locations for solar panels to be installed. Those wanting to support solar power in Portland can contribute to Solar Forward, so that the city can establish it’s solar network in the most effective configuration. In the long run, Solar Forward hopes to pay back their funders for the portion of the energy savings that their donation produced.

A US startup called Mosaic pairs interested investors with vouched for projects. Founded by Dan Rosen and Billy Parish, Mosaic is a “Kickstarter for solar.” More than $7 million have been raised through the web platform so far. Last month Mosaic opened their platform beyond funding commercial projects, to funding private home projects. With the ‘Mosaic Home Solar Loan‘ program launched in it’s home city of Oakland, California, Mosaic has joined RGS Engery in installing solar to private residences with crowdfunded money. The program treats the installation costs as a loan, for homeowners to pay back with small installments over 20 years.

The goal of crowdfunding isn’t just to raise funds, but to raise a cause. A good campaign compels the crowd to help by speaking up, spreading the word, AND participating in startup financing. Right now, crowdfunding is allowing for the advancement of solar power, globally. The success these campaigns have already seen should be a testament to the effect of support from the Crowd.

Learning From Successful Kickstarter Campaigns

Keyboard with Crowd Funding Button.Kickstarter reports that to date, $903 million has been pledged in support of more than 52 thousand Kickstarter projects. While that’s exciting news, the flip side is that more than 67 thousand projects were unsuccessful. What makes the difference between success and failure can be seen from this sampling of crowdfunding projects.

Make Life Easier for People

Technology is a popular topic in crowdfunding campaigns. From cases for the iPhone to apps for the windows phone, people love technology. Some of the most successful campaigns have been those that make technology a little easier to use.

The Kickstarter campaign for Pressy was in support of a small device that plugs into the speaker jack of an Android phone, with a button that you could program to do different functions. The purpose was to eliminate the multiple steps it might normally take to do something on your phone. You could program Pressy to call your work with one press of the button, or press it twice and bring up the camera app. You could even program it to open a Twitter panel when pressed 3 times.

The original funding goal for Pressy was $40,000. The project received pledges of more than $690,000 and they had more than 28 thousand backers. Several things worked to make this a successful crowdfunding campaign:

They had a killer video - A cheap bear costume and a highly energized team made for an entertaining video introducing Pressy. Videos are to get backers excited about the product and create the sense that they need to be a part of this project. Not only do people want the product, but they want the product to be successful. The video is what starts it all, however, as it sparks the initial excitement.

They kept in touch with backers - A Huffington Post article notes that you need to connect with your backers and stay connected. The Pressy team did that by making frequent update notes on their campaign page as well as on their own website. They posted updates regarding the progress of the project, which let backers in on their production timeline.

Get the Word Out

Crowdfunding is integrated with the online social experience. To be successful in Kickstarter, you must be successful with social networking. David Wolfe headed the campaign for Oliver’s Athletic Clothing, a startup in California, according to it’s Kickstarter. Their initial target was $10 thousand. They raised more than $270 thousand from 3,307 backers.

Wolfe was interviewed by CrowdCrux, and stated that one of the key reasons for success was getting connected with their social network. The company created a photo marketing campaign and sent it out to all of their social media sites. They began doing this before the Kickstarter campaign launched. This creates anticipation in the social networking circles. A strong social network gives crowdfunding projects their initial boost to success.

Tell a Story

When a crowdfunding project sponsor tells a good story about why they are passionate about their product or project, people get interested, and want to become involved. Jake Bronstein is passionate about the reliability of consumer products, and about his 10-Year Hoodie. His project write up on Kickstarter conveys his desire to buck the established belief that clothing quickly wears out. His hooded sweatshirt is made to last and he guarantees that.

The project goal was $50 thousand. He made more than $1 million with 9,226 backers. Reading the backer comments, you can tell that people clicked with Jake’s message. When the campaign story is compelling to people, they want to get involved. Some may pledge to get the product. Others may pledge just a few dollars because they want to see the project become successful. That’s the nature of crowdfunding.

Veronica Mars: Crowdfunding By Numbers

148376421_25e281e28d_oLet’s talk a little about crowdfunding history.  It was made last week and was enormously gratifying if you were a television nerd of my ilk. Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fan of the almost eight-years-gone high school noir Veronica Mars.  Now – after a prolonged hiatus, show creator, Rob Thomas, and the original cast have banded together to realize the dream of a Veronica Mars feature length film ten years after the show started. Yes, I donated to that campaign first thing that morning and yes, I was glad when (before the close of the day) I could celebrate knowing that it was going to be made as it crossed the $2 Million goal in 11 hours.

Now, as happy as I am to see this happen, there have been numerous goodhearted harrumphs from several corners (including from fans): “if only I could crowdsource my student debt away” or “we had to sweat for sixty days for our nonprofit to get a measly 5k” and finally “all that money is just headed back to Warner Bros? Have we ruined the power of crowdsourcing?”

As Malcolm Gladwell can tell you, success is not just about hard work and it’s also not just about luck – it’s a confluence of especially-calibrated circumstances (some that people can control or contribute to and some that they can’t).

So let’s consider this:

-The average cost for an episode of television is about $1.5 Million. If Veronica Mars was near this budget at 64 episodes, that’s a $96 Million investment in building that audience. Over three years of hours and hours of labor to make a forty-five minute teen drama possible 64 times. At no point was reaching their Kickstarter goal “free money.” Warner Bros. invested $96 Million in making that happen almost ten years ago.
-According to Wikipedia, in its first season, Veronica Mars garnered an average of 2.5 million viewers per episode. 22 episodes. That’s a platform that reached 55 million people in its first season. But that doesn’t mean that every show would command that kind of response. I challenge someone to get a Desperate Housewives movie together. The viewer base may be large enough, but they’re not fanatics. 
-Veronica Mars’ target audience was a teenaged one. Now that audience is grown and some of them have grown their careers, as well. The average income of a 25 to 34 year old is just over $50,000/year. That makes room for a disposable income – with the majority of backers donating just $35.

Any group that can boast they’ve spent nearly $100 Million reaching an audience of nearly 60 Million reflects a lot of work and will likely be capable of moving mountains on Kickstarter. But it does require an extra secret sauce of fanatic evangelists (everyone predicts that Joss Whedon will empower his audience next, but he’s already smacked down that claim). Let’s just remember that the $2 Million wasn’t “easy money” nor is it ever going to be “inevitable money.”

In its first four-and-a-half hours, the Kickstarter campaign raised $1 million dollars and in less than twelve hours, it raised more than $2 million. The highest-funded Kickstarter film project apart from this one raised less than $600,000. This is a landmark and will certainly be reviewed for some time to come. This may change the model of audience testing, production launch, and more. Maybe both negatively and positively. That’s largely dependent on what projects continue to emerge. And with the Veronica Mars campaign set to close on April 12 and the numbers still increasing, I remind everyone that the story isn’t quite concluded yet either.

What do you think the Veronica Mars campaign will mean for film and television? What else can small groups do to be successful?

First Kickstarter Film to Win an Academy Award

inocente-1In the vital and exciting mood of SXSW and the invigorating artistic spirit that thrives there, I’d like to share the film that won best documentary short subject: Inocente. It was one of the first films whose successful Kickstarter campaign led to an Academy Award.

The film opens with a shot of the film’s subject, Inocente, her boldly illustrated eyes that have been highlighted with make-up and paint and they lead with a short introduction from the artist we will spend the rest of the movie with:

Dear people of the world… I’m not just a girl, I’m a girl who likes to jump in puddles and likes flowers. Just because I’m homeless doesn’t mean that I don’t have a life.

The film shares the story of Inocente a homeless youth in San Diego as she creates art for a gallery show sponsored by A.R.T.S. (an art workshop for at risk youth). Now, admittedly, with subject matter like that there’s no way that the heart strings were going to remain un-tugged, but it is an uncommon film in that with such difficult themes, the film is never sensational or dramatic, but is instead intimate and personal and feels very authentic. It is not surprising to me that it scooped an Oscar.

Granted, the Kickstarter campaign asked for a modest sum of money to type up the loose ends of filming (creating HDCam tapes, Digibeta tapes, Blu-rays, and DVDs in the correct formats for TV and community film screenings) and was therefore not a film that covered every expense with crowdfunding, but perhaps with its success that might be something that we see in the future. It was also partially a product of Shine Global, which is “a 501(c)3 non-profit film production company dedicated to making films and other media aimed at raising awareness, inspiring action, and promoting change” making it particularly well-suited for Kickstarter. The filmmakers themselves are seasoned in the business (and have previously been nominated for awards), so it’s not so much an underdog story as much as it is a story about the changing collaborative process in the world of indie film.

I think anyone who watches the film will be glad that they succeeded. You can rent or download the film on iTunes.

What other things make the Inocente film a great candidate for a crowd venture? How is the face of independent film shifting with these new possibilities?

Emojis are Now in the Library of Congress

whale_largeThe Library of Congress has now included a crowdsourced and crowdfunded project, the results of which are called Emoji Dick. Originally launched as a publishing project on Kickstarter, Emoji Dick sought funds to translate Melville’s Moby Dick into Japanese emoji Icons using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk workforce. It worked in two stages:

1)     Every sentence was translated three times for five cents each

2)     Every sentence had the translations voted on for two cents a vote to identify the best one.

It took just over 1,000 hours to convert Melville’s classic and now Benenson, the New Yorker that originally dreamed up the idea, is selling the real world publication for as much as $200 (for the hardcover). Quite a price tag for something that cost just over $3,500 in Kickstarter funds to create with the help of 800 other people! The quotes that Benenson is using to promote the book are interesting (and amusing) choices, ranging between:

“…[Emoji Dick] highlights the innovative ways in which the labor pool of bored internet users is being tapped to complete complex tasks.”

-Telegraph UK

OR

“That’s astoundingly useless.”

-Alex M, BoingBoing.net Commenter

Because Emoji Dick really does highlight both of these facets in the field of crowdsourcing: the vastness of possibilities presented by a working and engaged crowd… as well as the apparent frivolity that those efforts are often directed toward.

In any case, it will be interesting to track what fruits Benenson reaps from this novelty project and what other books might follow Emoij Dick into the Library of Congress.

Also – for a laugh, you can find a list of Emoji book titles here.

What other emoji works would you like to see? What’s the most frivolous crowdsourced task ever assigned in your opinion?

Crowdfunding Comics

With crowdfunding platforms proliferating in every industry (from publishing to aerospace), it is no surprise that the comic book industry would launch their own crowdfunding platofrm. This month, iVerse Media introduces Comics Accelerator, which is a new comics-focused crowdfunding site with some key differences from Kickstarter (and other similar crowdfunding options).

Sure, Comics Accelerator takes a fee for processing donations and simplifying the process (5%), but it caps that fee at $2,500 so that projects that take in a remarkable amount of money still retain a significant portion of their donations. That would have helped Rich Burlew who launched a campaign on Kickstarter to create a graphic novel about his role-playing stick figure characters called The Order of the Stick, which raised over $1 million.

They also let project creators access those funds before the funding of their project is complete, unlike many platforms which wait for the funding cycle to complete before the money is available. It also offers digital delivery methods for donor rewards (so that e-comics can incentivize donors).

Of course, crowdsourcing and comics are often pairing up. Amazon Studios is making a surprising leap, however, on their crowdsourcing site. While Amazon Studios is mostly concerned with creating films, they are considering adapting one of their more promising screenplays into a graphic novel. The graphic novel will launch later this summer and the screenplay will continue to be groomed for Hollywood in the coming months.

Comics Accelerator was announced at Comic-Con last week and launches next Monday, July 23rd.

What do you think about the crowdfunding of comic books? What is good about launching a story in multiple mediums?

Our Fictional Characters in the Real Crowdfunding World

Maybe you’re big into The Hunger Games books in all of its juvenile dark appeal or maybe you identify with the trials and tribulations that face the Grantham and Crawley families on the BBC’s Downton Abbey. Some of us are so invested in the fictional characters that we’ve grown to love, we’ve found ways to participate in their world through the medium of crowdsourcing.

Most recently I came across a crowdfunding campaign that is a valentine to some of our favorite comic strip heroes: Calvin and Hobbes. This is a passion project by enthusiasts of the cartoon and is more of an examination of the phenomenon generated by the newspaper comic strip than it is a straightforward history of the comic strip’s evolution or even a biography of Bill Watterson… even though the film is entitled Dear Mr. Watterson. Another interesting facet of this campaign is that it is a two-part, long-term project. It started back in 2007 and in 2010 launched a Kickstarter campaign that earned the team 25,000 enabling them to get interviews with more than 20 comic strip heavies. Now, to finish, they need to earn another $50,000 by July 14th for the crucial finishing touches and it’s already passed the halfway point. It seems that not every project needs to be supported all at once, but instead can sometimes move in phases.

Of course there are also humorous and satirical ways that people can reach into the fictional world. Consider Toronto humorist Avery Edison – obviously a fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones who sympathizes with Daenerys Targaryen’s claim to the throne of Westeros and has created a faux Kickstarter campaign image that should help her raise the army that she needs. With a goal of $50,000, she pledges to not kill your family and to let you look at her dragons if you support her. That’s how used to crowdfunding our audiences are becoming – it’s how we’re beginning to think about our fictional worlds. If only Daenarys had access to Kickstarter.

What other ways have we supported or satirized our fictional characters through crowdsourcing? What does it mean that we’re even applying crowdsourcing to our fictional worlds?

Keeping Our Schools Running with Crowdsourcing

Even as our country continues to manage its way out of some tough economic times, everyone continues to be effected and find new ways to solve old problems. Including students who are facing budget cuts and coping with the complications in interesting ways.

This spring the Los Angeles Unified School District (2nd largest school district in the nation) launched the My Bright Idea Challenge asking their community to suggest ways that district could save money and run more resourcefully. Winning ideas were selected and each winning contributor received a trophy and the ability to choose how $3,000 of the LAUSD budget to go towards a school of their choosing. The ideas included reducing paper documents by implementing technology that allowed for online signatures from parents or a 5k fundraiser while also receiving numerous other suggestions that LAUSD can now implement in the coming years.

Or how about collegiate education where students with great ideas for research and study no longer have the opportunity to apply to their universities for funding? A group of graduate students setting out on a scientific Alaskan expedition to study predators and other wildlife as part of their studies started a Kickstarter campaign asking for $10,000 to enable them to cover the costs of travel, housing, equipment and analyses as they research everything from bald eagles to wild bears. Just yesterday, that group of researchers met their $10,000 goal and will be traveling to Alaska in the coming months and reporting on their research as it unfolds.

That’s innovation on the part of school districts, students, and the community that supports them.

What other ways can crowdsourcing help our children looking to learn? How can we make our schools more sustainable?

What We Can Learn From Amanda Palmer

If you’re a part of my family, then you are familiar with the musician Amanda Palmer – whose musical artistry has long-inspired my musician brother. But, in case you’re not, Amanda Palmer is an American performer who was originally known as the lead singer, pianist, and composer of the duo The Dresden Dolls. She has since started a solo career, and is also one half of the duo Evelyn Evelyn.

Palmer originally left her label four years ago due to controversy over her music video. After the release of her music video for the song “Leeds United,” Palmer posted in her blog that her label had wanted to pull particular shots from the video that exposed her stomach, because “…they thought I looked fat.” She then worked long and hard to leave the label, but continued work on a new album and new project, but without the benefit of a label’s financial support.

And because of the opportunities offered by crowdfunding, Palmer and her new project – The Grand Theft Orchestra turned to Kickstarter to raise the money for the recording, packaging, and promotion of their multi-genre new album. They set the goal of $100,000 and met that goal within hours of launching the page and ended up with a final total of almost $1.2m. An unprecedented musical success.

Palmer has long been heralded for her internet savvy in engaging her fans and audience and one of the reasons why Palmer is so beloved and so well supported is how she manages to make all of her fans feel a personal connection to both her and her work. For example, of the 25,000 backers of the project, 34 of them pledged more than $5,000, which entitles them to a private house party with her. She also uses a directness in her communications that feels candid and consistent. She’s always updating her blog, site, Twitter, and more and because of that she always has a captive audience waiting to hear what she’s going to say next.

She also launched a few more modest test projects (also exceeding their goals) so that she could apply learnings from those projects to this much more ambitious one.

So now we have an incredible collection of art, killer videos, and a great tour to look forward to as a result of one of the most successful music and art endeavors thus far launched on Kickstarter.

What do you think of Amanda Palmer’s success on Kickstarter? What else do we have to learn from her?

Not Another Fundraiser

Not another fundraiser, kid. I can’t take it. I’m all out of room for festive Christmas wrapping paper, I absolutely cannot justify buying more candy and further violating my diet, please don’t ask me to select one of the humbled and well-meaning neighborhood guys at an auction. I’m done.

Thank god there are crowdfunding opportunities that are now helping to properly sponsor the work of under-compensated educators and school staff. I am so glad that I recently found DonorsChoose.org. It’s an online charity that allows public school teachers to post project requests – whether it’s new uniforms for the marching band or an updated OS for the school computers. Donors can then browse those projects and give to the ones that speak to them (and they can give a lot or a little – whatever makes sense – not whatever box of chocolates is least offensive). If a project reaches its fundraising goal, then DonorsChoose delivers the materials to the school and updates donors with pictures, thank you letters, and reports of how the money was spent.

It’s a great tool for educators, but it’s not the only one. The winner of 2011’s Hackathon whose challenge was to build new internet and mobile prototypes in 48 hours was a group that developed Somesha. Somesha is a web and mobile app allows patrons to sponsor kids in the classroom around the globe through verified charities. A crowdfunding solution for education through a crowdsourced contest. How about that?

Which is not to say that educators and partner programs can’t continue to use sites like Kickstarter. For example, a product called SkyLight has the capability to connect any smartphone to any microscope and upgrade even the oldest, saddest chemistry tool in the classroom into a multi-media device. It is a device specifically intended for those in the far flung corners of the earth and for students in the classroom. And it just got fully funded this month!

How else can crowdfunding help public education? What are some of your favorite projects?