Kickstarter and other crowdfunding services like IndieGogo and GoFundMe have become the new face of peer-to-peer philanthropy and support for the arts; but surprisingly, they have also turned into the new face of funding for a small business renaissance. Over the past five years, Kickstarter backers have provided half a billion dollars in funding for hardware projects, including Pebble, the high-flying smart watch pioneer, and Oculus Rift, acquired by Facebook for $2.2 billion. Kickstarter teaches us so much about the economy of the future—in many ways, it is the closest thing we have to the “attention economy” outlined by science-fiction writer Cory Doctorow in his prescient 2003 novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. In a future where all material wants are taken care of by technology, what will people do? Compete to do things that others find awesome, and fund with an imagined future currency that tracks the value of attention.
— Tim O’Reilly
There are three main umbrellas under which money changes hands: investment, philanthropy, commerce. We have something in common with all three: investment, because you are putting money up front; philanthropy, because you feel you are doing a good thing; and commerce, because you get something back for your money. But we are also distinct from each of those. It is kind of a fourth category. It is very small in relation to the big picture but it is different.
The communal production of art is not that crazy a thought. We have just been lured to sleep by the mass media, and the enormity of cultural production in the last 80 years. There were 700 [subscribers who financed Alexander Pope’s translation of The Iliad] and they enabled him to spend five years translating 16,000 lines of Greek. And then they got their names in the first edition.
I like the idea that it is a singular tool. That it can be used by Spike Lee, and also someone whose favorite film-maker is Spike Lee, feels very right to me.
The aim is to have a sense of purpose but not feel the need to control it much beyond that. This is a canvas that everyone can plug into. Seeking control can be a dangerous thing on the web.
From the very beginning we decided—my co-founders and I—that we would never sell, never go public. We viewed Kickstarter as a public trust. This is a place of opportunity for anyone to make their thing happen, and it’s our job to be the stewards of it and to honor it. We were looking at growing this into a living, breathing cultural institution that’s there to represent the interests of everybody. And we think the best way to do that is to be a privately held, independently controlled organization—and that’s exactly what we are.
Yancey is co-founder and CEO of Kickstarter. Yancey served as Kickstarter’s head of community and head of communications before becoming CEO. Prior to Kickstarter, Yancey was a music journalist whose writing appeared in The Village Voice, New York magazine, Pitchfork, and other publications.
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