Kickstarter has always had an informal reputation as a bit of a black box. That’s why I was so intrigued when they announced they were starting a Community Advisory Council. This new body would bring together a diverse group of a dozen creators with the goal of helping Kickstarter address the many challenges that creators face. It was a golden ticket to the closed doors of Kickstarter. I submitted my application, ate a bunch of chocolate, and waited.

My council application detailed the impact Kickstarter has had on my professional ventures (and knick knack collection). Over ten years ago, I ordered my first Kickstarter product, a neat e-paper smartwatch. Since then, I have backed another twenty campaigns and launched two myself. Every single project I backed delivered a great product that I was immensely satisfied with. No less than seven of them are sitting within arms reach on my desk.

My appreciation for the platform deepened when I quit my job and launched my first product in 2019, The RODA Gyroscope. I made so many mistakes during that campaign that it’s hard to fully keep track. But one global pandemic later and we had shipped out over 1,000 gyroscopes—and were getting ready to launch a new campaign for The Author Clock, a timepiece that uses quotes from thousands of books to tell the time.

I was thrilled to be invited to join the Council, where I would be meeting other creators and getting a sneak peek into the inner workings at Kickstarter. My early fears about the Council serving as a rubber stamp or as a PR move were disabused within the first few minutes of our first meeting. Council members were asking tough questions, and Kickstarter staff had brought in high-level management that could directly address our concerns.

It’s staggering to take a step back and review both the depth and breadth covered in these meetings. Each one has had a major theme, involving some of the largest aspects of crowdfunding. The topic of our fourth meeting, which took place earlier this month, was digital marketing. As many creators know, its impact on a campaign can be enormous.

Kickstarter CEO Everette Taylor kicked things off by sharing the company’s current thinking about the use of Artificial Intelligence. In a previous meeting we had a thought provoking conversation about AI, exploring philosophical questions about art, authorship, consent, censorship, and old men yelling at clouds. The takeaway is that as AI evolves, Kickstarter is ready to responsibly evolve with it.

Everette has joined every Council meeting since he started as CEO, and has been approachable and insightful. Before we got to the main agenda, he let us know he had film, arts, and music on his mind. Why have project launches in the Film and Arts categories declined over the years? Several creators on the Council offered their input, including specific routes Kickstarter could take to spark big movement in these categories.

Council members were asking tough questions, and Kickstarter staff had brought in high-level management that could directly address our concerns.

We continued on to the main topic of our meeting—digital marketing. This is an area where I have a lot of strong opinions. Both of my Kickstarter campaigns have used a significant amount of digital marketing to get the word out and find more backers. Entire industries have been built around Kickstarter marketing, and I was very keen to hear what Kickstarter has in store for the future on this front.

Although digital marketing can lead to some very flashy results, it’s worth noting that it’s not the only path to success in crowdfunding. Digital marketing is not an answer, it is just another tool. Some of the other creators on the Council have demonstrated this to great effect, flying past their funding goals without a single dollar spent in digital marketing.

Backers typically arrive at projects in one of four ways:

  • Creators: When creators send out emails, post to social media, or even have in-person events promoting their campaign
  • Kickstarter: When backers discover a project while browsing on Kickstarter’s site or from having received an email from Kickstarter pointing them to it
  • Digital Marketing: When creators take out advertisements, usually on social media, to get their project in front of new people who might be interested
  • Public Relations: When journalists, publications, and content creators talk about a project

I was surprised to hear that out of the twelve Council members, only half had ever used digital marketing. It speaks to the variety of creator backgrounds that Kickstarter considered when forming the Council. There were certain concerns that caused a general weariness of using digital marketing among some members. Some general themes included the cost of hiring an agency, the lackluster results some had seen, how backer data might be used, the capital needed to kick off an ad campaign, and the paradox of having money to spend on ads but not enough money to bring a project to life.

How can a small creator reach a broader audience without putting everything on the line? And how can any change be designed to benefit the most possible campaigns?

These are all valid concerns and some that I have experienced to varying degrees. The sheer risk involved can sometimes be overlooked by people who are not familiar with the process. In an earlier council meeting, I had shared some of the risks I undertook to get The Author Clock’s digital marketing campaign up and running. I remember the shock of some of the council members when I recounted some of my digital marketing experiences—including financial, professional, and even personal commitments. The project went on to raise over a million dollars on Kickstarter, far above our highest expectations, but there was one overwhelming consensus from everyone in the meeting at the end of my story: No one should have to risk this much.

Kickstarter took my story and the stories of the other council members and spent months thinking about them. Then during our most recent meeting, the company laid out some options they were considering that might help others in my position in the future. None of these are set in stone, but there are a few core questions Kickstarter is asking itself during this exploration: How can a small creator reach a broader audience without putting everything on the line? And how can any change be designed to benefit the most possible campaigns? I was excited by the solutions being explored. Everything is on the table, nothing is taken for granted.

Although it may take a bit of time until those solutions are publicly announced and implemented, they show the willingness that Kickstarter has to shake things up in the name of its creators and backers.

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