Struggling poets, untested engineers, journalist’s with ambition over their pay grade: they all have one thing in common, they need money and they need it fast.
Getting money fast used to mean throwing their idea into the mess of studios, publishers and venture capitalists that made up the spinal cord of creative funding. Navigating nepotism, politics and trends to hunt for the golden ticket that would see their idea granted the dollar bills it needed to propel it into reality.
It was in April of 2009 that a small group in Brooklyn set out to change that.
Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler pulled the ripcord on a website called Kickstarter. Their vision was to assist starving artists and inventors by drawing support from the very communities they served, using the crowdfunding model to implant the cash needed to catalyse previously stalled ideas.
“A greater diversity of funding means more ideas are going to get funded,” says Justin Kazmark, a spokesperson for Kickstarter based from the company’s Brooklyn office. “Not just more ideas but more imaginative, more ambitious and more colourful ideas have a chance to come to life.”
The crowd funding model is simple. Creators pitch their ideas to the public, typically through a third-party such as Kickstarter. As oppose to seeking funding from a single source, the idea is to gain hype and the resulting micro-donations that come from that hype.
“It helps you rally support around your idea so it’s just as much about finding community and building a community of support than it is about funding,” says Kazmark.
Initially the crowd funding market was tight, Kickstarter’s emphasis on the arts and creators helped it outlast competitors, however. Five years later, the company claims to have outpaced 1 billion dollars in money pledged to creative projects and Kickstarter projects have garnered support from over 5.7-million backers in 224 countries. Those numbers are made more impressive by the fact that for the first three years of operations the site limited itself to American projects only.
It was not until September of last year in fact that Kickstarter began accepting projects by Canadian creators. It was then that the site, which had already expanded into the United Kingdom the year before, hopped the border to Canada.
“Canada has a really vibrant culture and an entrepreneurial culture,” says Kazmark. “Because there was interest and backers in Canada we decided to launch there as soon as we could.”
365 days after launch the site has propped up a multitude of Canadian content, everything from Penticton, BC poet Shane Koyczan‘s third book of poetry—which became the highest funded poetry project on Kickstarter’s history—to the Vancouver Observer’s Tar Sands Reporting Project, all the way to the film adaptation of prairie classic Corner Gas.
“When we started out we we’re trying to get venture-capital money,” says Ali Zahid the Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of Vanhawks, a Toronto startup that pioneered a new way to mould carbon fibre into cheaper, lighter goods. “It’s very hard to actually convince someone you don’t even know that your product is going to work.”
Vanhawks turned to Kickstarter to seek funding for their connected carbon-funded bicycle. Which, along with being featherweight and inexpensive provides its rider with performance tracking, security sensors and interactive feedback.
“My religion was Kickstarter for three months,” says Zahid. “I used to wake up to it, go to sleep to it, it was my home page.”
In the end, through Kickstarter the project brought in over 800-thousand dollars from 802 backers, flinging Vanhawks to 820 per cent of their funding goal.
“Basically, crowd funding is there to do some validation of the market before you spend a lot of money doing a project,” says Leor Grebler the CEO of Unified Computer Intelligence Company. “It provides a community of people who will give you feedback and will be your champions, they want to see you succeed, they want to see whatever you’re doing come to life.”
Grebler’s Toronto-based company took to Kickstarter two years ago, seeking funding for UBI, short for the Ubiquitous Computer, a voice-activated computer interface for the home that allows users to search the internet, check emails, and stay up-to-date without putting down their newspaper.
Given that Kickstarter was not open to Canadian projects the UBI Team secured an American partner to transfer their funding so that they could benefit from Kickstarter’s tendency to drive traffic.
“It was a lot of additional work to get things started,” says Grebler. “So having Kickstarter here is less of a barrier for people.”
Kazmark notes that the best is yet to come, with a year passed the full-development of a “Kickstarter culture” can flourish, with successfully funded projects entering production, store shelves, and peoples homes.
“Our mission is not changing, our mission is going to continue,” says Kazmark. “We’re just going to try to be more available to more people, we’re going to try and make it easier and we’re probably going to come up to Canada more often.”
Dylan Freeman-Grist is a staff writer for Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.