“He said, ‘Have you ever thought that a baby butterfly is a caterpillar, so there’s actually no such thing?’” Hines says, her face distorted with disdain for the emailer. “I said, ‘Why would you even ask me that? You should have something better to do than pick on a baby butterfly.’”
Hines worries about the campaign, but she doesn’t quite know how to drive traffic to her Kickstarter page. Her best idea was to pay $50 for business cards featuring the butterfly and to stick them in car windows in busy parking lots. So far, it hasn’t worked, but she has plenty of cards left for further distribution, and she’s hoping for the best.
To show me the possibilities, she picks up a laptop from the couch and pulls up someone else’s campaign on the Kickstarter site. It’s for a children’s book titled What Makes a Baby, a project that was successfully funded in March of this year.
“Look at this! They got $65,516, which means it was 689 percent funded! They asked for $9500.”
She pulls up another one. This project is also a children’s book, and it, too, exceeded its original goal. By a lot. The Wollstonecraft campaign made 2293 percent of its $4000 goal.
Although the slow start of her campaign has caused Hines to question whether asking for $20,000 was too ambitious, she says, “After I saw [these campaigns], I thought, Maybe I’m not crazy.”
Today, she has her fingers crossed that Kickstarter will provide the magic, putting $20,000 in her pocket.
A week from now, Hines will cancel her campaign, three days short of its deadline, with only $55 pledged. And in three weeks, she’ll write me an email: “I canceled my project on Kickstarter, because I was not getting any backers. I plan to put it up again in the next week or so, lowering the goal to $5000.”
“Kickstarter is not a magical source of money.”
While crowd-funding sites are popping up all over the place, Kickstarter seems to be a favorite among creative types in San Diego. At the time of this writing, there are 269 San Diego projects on the site, although that number changes as projects go up and come down.
Two months ago, the only thing I knew about Kickstarter was that, somehow, it was responsible for the sudden emergence of the San Diego Public Market on National Avenue. I found myself enthralled by their big numbers — $150,000 in 30 days? 158 percent of their $92,244 project goal? It did look like magic. After a bit of research, I realized that my “knowledge” was built on a major misconception: that Kickstarter was responsible for the success of the campaign.
(Another misconception: that the San Diego Public Market’s emergence was sudden. A closer look at the market’s campaign page reveals that “Dale Steele has been chasing public properties and pitching politicians about a public market here for more than ten years.”)
At Kickstarter School, a section on the website that breaks down the how-to for fundraising on their site, one paragraph reads: “Kickstarter is not a magical source of money. Funding comes from a variety of sources — your audience, your friends and family, your broader social networks, and, if your project does well, strangers from around the web. It’s up to you to build that momentum for your project. [italics mine]”
Some project creators nonetheless blame Kickstarter for the failure of their projects.
On September 13, 2012, Mitch Wallis launched a campaign to raise $150,000 to open a vegan co-op on El Cajon Boulevard at the I-15. Although he estimates that the whole project will take about $650,000 to get under way, he chose his Kickstarter funding goal based on the amount that the San Diego Public Market had generated less than a month prior.
In his six-minute video plea, Wallis wears his hair in a floppy, curly ponytail. His black T-shirt reads “VEGAN.” Wallis appeals to potential backers with a hand-drawn map that shows the convenient location of the future co-op, with brief appearances by his green builder and the owner of the alternative-fuel station next door. The video compelled 36 backers to pledge $100 or more, and seven of those pledged upwards of $500. But by the time I catch up with him via email, approximately two and a half weeks after the launch, his campaign has generated only about $10,000.
When I ask why he thinks his campaign hasn’t taken off the way some others do, he responds, “Kickstarter has not supported our campaign. They have not highlighted us to their base of contributors. They seem to be focused mostly on artsy and whimsical products, and not on projects that can directly and drastically improve individual and community well-being.”
Another section of Kickstarter School, dedicated to how to promote projects, does give specific information on how to use social networks to generate interest in your project, but it assumes prior knowledge on how to make that work.
Wallis admits that his social-media plans didn’t turn out the way he had hoped.
“Our plan was to align with organizations that share a common vision and have those organizations announce our campaign to their membership,” he writes. “This has proven to be problematic, and has not worked out very well so far, in terms of finding organizations willing to do this.”
Given the timing of Wallis’s launch and the similarity of the scope and budget of both projects, he’d hoped to find potential backers among those already excited by the success of the San Diego Public Market. That strategy may have backfired.
During their campaign for the public market, Catt White and Dale Steele used every avenue available to drum up backing. They had an advantage in that they didn’t have to build a support network from scratch.
“Dale and I already had well-developed networks, and my farmers’-market management business maintains a very active social-media presence, so we had a head start,” White wrote in another email. “On the nuts-and-bolts side, everyone is overloaded with information nowadays, so to keep any endeavor at the top of people’s minds requires an organized effort to get the word out and keep the updates coming. We updated our message almost daily. That reminded people to support us, and made it easy for them to spread the word about the opportunity to support the project and how the campaign was progressing.”