Yancey Strickler grew up in rural Virginia and moved to New York around a decade ago. He made a career as a music writer and editor, contributing to esteemed publications like Pitchfork, Spin, and Village Voice. He started an indie label at Emusic a few years ago, but in 2009 launched his latest venture, Kickstarter.com – a site that helps people fund and follow creative projects. In advance of his appearance at the YAIC conference later this year, we tracked him down for a chat…
Your background is mostly in music, right?
Yeah, I was a working music journalist for around 10 years.
What kind of music did you cover?
It was pretty broad but rooted in the indie world mostly.
Can you describe Kickstarter in a nutshell?
Kickstarter is something that both myself and my business partner wanted to exist, so we decided to make it. It was launched around a year ago but was several years in the making. It’s basically a socially acceptable platform for people to ask for funds for creative projects.
Your definition of “creative projects” seems pretty broad, what does it include?
Yes, it has always been broad. A lot of musicians were interested from the beginning, but we were also keen to feature the kinds of industries that never get institutional support, like film, music and publishing. If someone wants to make some weird art project, for example, why not? We felt like the only ideas deemed valuable by traditional funding sources were the ones that make money – but 99% of ideas are not about that. So we wanted to help provide these other kinds of projects with the means to be realised.
What was the first Kickstarter project?
One of the founders, Perry, wanted to raise money to make a stencilled tee shirt. But from that point on literally all the other applicants have been people we didn’t know. People just found us. From the second day it was a success, we were getting everything from people wanting to build an iPhone App to Wikipedia. We didn’t even have a launch as such, just switched the system on, and it seemed to work.
What’s your biggest success so far?
The Diaspora campaign raised $200,000. They only pitched for $10K, but it hit the front page of the New York Times and raised $150K after that. The reason really was that it was a kind of anti-Facebook petition so it raised a lot of attention.
What kinds of factors dictate whether a project will be successful or not?
The success rate is 52% and is largely due to things like utilising Twitter and Facebook from the offset. All that time we’ve spent building up these friendship networks now has a good utility in the sense that you can begin fundraising and promoting your creative mission to friends and family easily. All the successful campaigns have started with this core group, which is sometimes enough to fund the whole venture. After, it can get to a critical mass and reach people outside that core group. The big thing is the rewards that participants must offer to funders. We don’t want it to be about donating as that’s more about guilt than fun. We encourage it to be a very humanising process, for people to just be who they are in life and realise their ideas.
What does this successful funding process say about people or human nature in general?
I think it suggests that it you make people feel comfortable and ask for money in a frictionless way they are more inclined to do it.
Kickstarter has grown fast. How many projects are now on the site?
We now have 5,000 launched projects on our site and average around 300 a week. It’s been picking up very dramatically. In the first month there was $60,000 in pledges – at one year we had $1.5 million. It’s awesome. The team and I feel good about answering a need that was obviously there.
What will you talk about at YAIC?
I don’t know yet, but I enjoy talking about how people can determine their own economy. On Kickstarter.com, you get to say how much things cost and define what success is, which is very refreshing for artists who have always been beholden by the marketplace. When people get the opportunity to define these things it’s very liberating, and we get excited when people take advantage of that.