Yesterday, Kickstarter CEO Kevin Strickler announced significant changes to the popular crowdfunding platform that are intended to recast the role of their Community Managers. Once the changes are rolled out systemwide, community managers will have more emphasis placed on their role as helpers. A new “launch now” feature appears to be an effort to dispel the appearance of community managers serving as some form of regulator, determining whether or not a project can be launched.
Kickstarter CEO Kevin Strickler
(Photo by Rex Hammock, SmallBusines.com, Sept. 16, 2012)
“‘Launch now’ will allow those who want to launch a project to do so without having to work with community managers,” said Strickler. The project approval process will depend on “an algorithm incorporating thousands of data points to check whether a project is ready to launch — things like the project’s description, rewards, funding goal, and whether the creator has previously launched a project.”
Translation Get mad at the algorithm, not the community manager; and if your project isn’t approved by that non-human algorithm, a friendly human community manager is there to help you figure out the math.
Additionally, Kickstarter retooled what some users perceived (and Strickler agreed) as a constantly growing list of rules for using the site.
Why the changes?
I have no doubt that Strickler and those who run Kickstarter are geniune in their stated desire to improve the service for both creators and backers. He and his team have deep experience in the economics, ehtos and mores of online communities and social networking. However, the move also indicates Kickstarter may be feeling the pinch from companies and platforms that are growing, to some degree, by focusing on how much easier they are to deal with than Kickstarter. For the leaders of any social-powered platform, especially ones that have received so much media love as Kickstarter, not being “liked,” is a tough blow. However, “not being liked” is the reality of any success in a competitive marketplace.
While Kickstarter was not the first internet reward-based crowdfunding marketplace, as we’ve noted previously, it has hosted most of the highest profile projects and has reached a point in pop-culture where the term “Kickstarter” has become synonymous with the type of marketplace it hosts. It has reached that point of awareness where it has “gone meta,” a self-reverential internet slang phrase that means, roughly, something is so hip, it becomes the subject of Portlandia parodies and is referred to in New Yorker cartoons.
Kickstarter is today in that enviable, but precarious, startup position: They are clearly the market leader, but their long term leadership requires them to scale rapidly and continuously. The numbers of backers they have who are actively seeking projects to back are what provides Kickstarter with the type of leverage any any potential project launcher much seriously consider first when looking at crowdfunding options. Indeed, such a critical mass of potential backers is enough to make most project creators put up with any level of hassle to use Kickstarter. However, unless Kickstarter provides backers a steady stream of projects to consider, the backers will start expanding their search to other platforms.
Previously on Kickstarter
For those reading this who may not be familiar with Kickstarter, I’m amazed you’ve made it this far. But here’s some background: Rather than newer forms of crowdfunding that seek equity in exchange for ownership, Kickstarter is a “reward-based” marketplace that enables creators to seek funds for a project in exchange for incentives or premiums the creator dreams up. At first, projects were artistic and creative endeavors. Over time, the platform began to serve inventors and a wide range of “makers” who are seeking funds to get a concept off the ground. The reward can be the actual product produced by the creator, or a wide range of tiered rewards that may include special recognition, access or mementos of their involvement.
The creation of such a new marketplace model required Kickstarter to draw from various pre-existing models, ranging from the need for reputational management tools liie eBay pioneered or the requirement of a specific set of sales resources that, at times, seem based on infomercials and TV shopping channels.
The result, if successful, provides pre-funding for the development of a new product without the creator having to take on debt or give up equity. For the backer, the reason for participating can range from wanting to be an early owner of a product to merely liking the concept and wanting to support it. Running a project isn’t easy, however. And for every big-time success, there are many projects that don’t get funded.
Balancing the need to prevent the platform from being used by scammers with the need to attract a steady stream of projects, led the company to institute rules and practices that, in turn, have led those who have had projects rejected — or who felt the rules heavy-handed — to move their projects to a swarm of Kickstarter wannabees.
To underscore Kickstarter’s signaling to potential users that Kickstarter is taking a far less heavy-handed approach in project approval, Strickler also unveiled what he called, “dramatically simplified rules for Kickstarter projects” that are based on “three basic principles”:
- Projects must create something to share with others.
- Projects must be honest and clearly presented.
- Projects cannot fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items.
Strickler said these three rules “highlight exactly what Kickstarter’s all about: making things, sharing them with others, and being honest with the people helping you do it.”
Have you ever funded a project with Kickstarter? Use comments below to share your experience.