Interview by Jenisha Watts
It's usually said that to make something happen all you need is a dollar and a dream. But what if all you have is the dream? If you talk to Yancey Strickler, he'll tell you to turn to Kickstarter. A year ago, he co-founded the social fundraising company, which has already generated millions to aid independent artists in developing their projects. One user posted an idea for a device called the TikTok+LunaTik Multi-Touch Watch Kit which could turn the new iPod Nano into a watch using two wristbands; the idea went on to earn over $786,806 through the site. Then there was the group that was committed to keeping classical music open to the public. They only needed $11,000 and went on to receive $68,000 from online support. But it takes more than just a great idea to be successful on Kickstarter. We caught up with Strickler to talk about the importance of thinking creatively, why you should never approach Kickstarter from a business mindset, and what the music industry can learn from the start-up's business model.
Complex: Let's get straight into it. What's your pitch for why Complex readers should be involved with Kickstarter?
Yancey Strickler: Kickstarter is an amazing way to turn your artistic dreams into reality. It's a way to work directly with your community and to build a little economy around your work and make the thing you always wanted to make. We are focused solely on creative projects. If you are an artist of any kind, this is a great reason for you to use Kickstarter. The opportunities of working with your audience is very filling—the relationships are very real.
Complex: What have been some of your favorite projects and why did they work?
Yancey Strickler: I like projects that involve bringing the backers into the process. A really good one was this woman painting a giant mural of a crowd—for $30 you got to be one of the people in the crowd. The comic projects are really cool. We have a lot of documentary films and a lot of people making records.
Complex: On that note, a lot of musical artists who are popular now made their music independently. How can musicians best benefit from using Kickstarter?
Yancey Strickler: The music industry has really been focused on how you monetize content after it's made—how you sell things—to try to make as much money as possible. Our perspective is that people need to make the records in the first place. The other [stuff] is a question for the music industry, not for artists. I don't think artists really care about piracy that much, they just want people to hear their music. We want to make it possible for artists to make the type of records they want and to do things that they want to do without giving up all the rights of their work or having to compromise their vision for someone else's desires.
Complex: So ownership is king?
Yancey Strickler: Absolutely. I think it's a very strange thing that we all just agreed to these terms, that for the privilege of my work to exist in the world, I have to give up my ownership. And that's a really important part of Kickstarter. I love the fact that, no matter where you are in the food chain, whether you're a huge star or young and just starting out, you're able to own your own thing—to control how you distribute it and where it goes. That shouldn't be the privilege of the elite, that's something that everyone should have the opportunity to do. I think that's been vital to our success and to our future.
Complex: So you wanted Kickstarter to have an "anybody can join" feel, not exclusively for netizens?
Yancey Strickler: Yes, we just wanted anybody to use it. From the very beginning we thought, "we don't know where this could go," and we just wanted to work with the idea. The purpose of Kickstarter is to help more artists exist in the world in whatever form that takes; we want to be open to whatever direction that goes, while staying pure to the spirit of why we started this thing.
Complex: Speaking of being exclusive, any thoughts on how people of color have a harder time securing funding for various start-ups?
Yancey Strickler: We're starting to reach a point where we're all entrepreneurs, and I think that's important. Because a lot of these traditional systems are either starting to break down or just not easing as well into what the world is now. Its created a lot of space for anybody to make something for themselves, and I think that those opportunities are going to grow in all kinds of ways. For the last four or five years, that's really been restricted to the geeky start-up tech world, but I think that's starting to change because of the recession and the way the world is changing. It's not only easier but it's also more urgent for everyone to build their own thing and the opportunities there are very real, so I think those demographics will change over time.
Complex: Can you dish out some advice to future users looking to raise funds for a project?
Yancey Strickler: You've got to be true to yourself. You want to present yourself as to who you are. A lot of times people are backing the person behind the project just as much as the project itself. They see someone's video and they're like, "I trust them, I can see they're passionate and good at what they do." It's all about communicating back and offering people good things in exchange. If you come here thinking about "how can I get as much money as possible while giving up as little as possible," that's the wrong way to go. I think [you'll do well] if you come in not thinking about this as some kind of business arrangement, but thinking about it as "what's the ideal way for me to share my work, and what's the ideal way for me to get people involved?" If you approach it honestly and thoughtfully, anybody can do this. For every single project that's succeeded on Kickstarter, that's exactly what they've done: approached it honestly and openly and were vocal about what they were doing. You do those things, you have a very good shot at success.
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