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Kickstart it

Blake J. Graham | Monday, March 19, 2012

A large group of people can be a tremendous source of money and encouragement. At least, that is what internet startup Kickstarter is trying to prove. Described as a way to fund creative projects, Kickstarter is an online hub for people who have really ambitious ideas, but very little financial backing. Users of the site post descriptions of their projects alongside short videos as a means to pitch their idea. They set a target monetary goal and a time limit to reach it and they’re off. People who visit the site can fund projects in exchange for tiered give-backs from the creators. But here’s the catch: If the project reaches the goal in the allotted time, the creator gets the money. If not, nobody spends a dime.

The “crowdfunding” platform launched in 2008 (originally as Kickstartr – the internet has an affinity for recklessly abandoning vowels) promising creative individuals a way to get their projects off the ground without losing ownership in them. Unlike other avenues of fundraising, the project creator gives up no equity or share in the project. Instead they give away offers related to a specific project. Donate $50 to help the production of a musician’s album and you might get a signed copy of the vinyl LP with your name on the packaging as a benefactor. The tiers are up to the project creator himself and in many cases definitely worth more than the donation.

While the site has been growing for quite some time, it has only been in the last couple months that they have featured some break-out hits. On Feb. 9, the project for an iPhone dock called the Elevation Dock was the first to be pledged a million dollars. Later on the same day, a project for a computer game development firm called Double Fine Productions also broke the million-dollar mark. The amazing thing: Double Fine had been listed less than 24 hours. When the project term for Double Fine eventually closed, it had over three million dollars pledged. At the current rate of growth, Kickstarter is looking to pull in over $150 million in funding for creative projects in the year 2012.

That’s $150 million of the average internet user’s hard-earned cash.

And the people receiving the money? Also just regular users of the internet. There’s really no promise that a creator will be able to pull through and complete their project just because they have the cash. Or if their first album will be good. Or their book on experimental cooking useful. There’s just a whole lot of faith in the abilities of those who are willing to share their ideas online. And the community of crowd-funders love it. People interact, discuss and share excitement around specific projects. When people ask me where I got a t-shirt and I tell them Kickstarter, they get excited because they know their idea could come off the ground as well.

Only 44 percent of the ideas end up getting funded, but most of those ideas wouldn’t even have been shared in the first place. Kickstarter is full of optimistic people who believe they can make a difference to improve the world or simply have a story they need to share. Every time I talk to someone who has been kickstarted and I see those funding figures go up, I believe them.

Blake J. Graham is a freshman. He can be reached on Twitter @BlakeGraham or at bgraham2@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.