Kickstarter boosts funding — and angst
When Gary Sohmers launched his 30-day Kickstarter campaign, he was optimistic about raising the $22,000 needed to fund his creation: video technology that lets a fan witness a celebrity sign a personalized autograph. But in late March, with 41 hours left and only $830 raised, he was in a different mood.
“You hope all those people you’ve done favors for will think, ‘Gary’s never asked for anything, and now he’s asking for just a dollar, or $10,’ ” said Sohmers, a Hudson-based antiques and collectibles dealer who has appeared as an appraiser on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow.” “That’s the emotional part. It’s not the money — it’s the support you hope to get from friends.”
Well aware that under Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing policy, only projects that hit their goal get any funding, Sohmers’s voice trailed off, and the clock continued its merciless march.
By now the success stories on Kickstarter, the New York-based crowdfunding site for creative projects, are legendary: Fans of the canceled TV show “Veronica Mars” pledged $1 million, half of the goal, in just over four hours to fund a “Veronica Mars” movie (by April 8, the total was at $4.8 million and counting). Singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer raised $1.2 million to fund an album when she was seeking only $100,000. The creators of the Pebble watch, an electronic paper watch that connects with smartphones, raised $10 million — 100 times their goal.
And those are just a few of the headline grabbers. Since the site launched in 2009, backers have pledged $548 million to fund over 38,000 creative projects. Along the way, the crowdfunding concept has become so popular that new sites, such as GoFundMe, regularly pop up, and users are raising money to pay for the entire circle of life, from IVF treatment to memorials.
Whole books focus on successful crowdfunding, and in some circles people aren’t dreaming of writing the great American novel, but of launching a wildly successful Kickstarter project.
Behind the giddiness lie plenty of other emotions: the jealousy struggling creators feel toward those whose projects attract big money. The stress of calculating a project’s budget — go too low and run out of money, aim too high and end up with no money at all. And then there’s the discomfort of hitting up friends and family for what amounts to your own personal walkathon. Kickstarter boasts a 44 percent funding success rate — which means that 56 percent of dreamers end up disappointed.
“People underestimate the amount of psychic energy that goes into a project,” said Don Steinberg, author of “The Kickstarter Handbook.” “It’s a huge logistical thing. It’s almost like you are preparing to open a show.”
And yet, how can a person who’s spent months putting together a Kickstarter package not do the 2013 version of waiting for the phone to ring? It takes months to make the short video Kickstarter recommends, what with research production or other costs, and to calculate the all-important backer incentives. How much does a donor need to give to get a CD? A coproducer credit? An original drawing by the artist?
In Somerville, Sam Feller, a mechanical engineer, is dealing with just such angst. He’s trying to raise $25,000 to manufacture the perfect drinking glass for cookie dunking. It has a wide mouth and a narrow groove on the bottom—and its creation would represent the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “This is a small piece of my soul on display for the world to judge,” Feller said on launch day.
Indeed, to browse the Kickstarter site is to see pieces of lots of souls: A Boston filmmaker wants to make a three-part documentary about herring migration. A Northeastern University law librarian needs $4,653 to mass-produce her homemade (until now) soft-sculpture dragons. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor wants $3,000 to translate a book he co-wrote, “Molecular Cell Biology,” into Vietnamese.
The beauty of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter is that they crowd fund. But, as Chris Michaud, an aspiring creator from Hopkington, points out, “You have to bring your own crowd.” And as a backer of several projects, Michaud is painfully aware that there’s a fine line between keeping supporters informed and engaged with e-mail and Facebook updates, and triggering “Kickstarter exhaustion.”
Now that Michaud has launched a project of his own — MonkeyOh , a whimsical charging dock and stand for iPhones and Android devices — he’s trying to make sure he doesn’t seem over-eager. That concern arose recently, when he thanked a friend within an instant of getting a Kickstarter alert that she had donated. “I saw her the next day, and she said, ‘I have this picture of you sitting in front of your computer watching and waiting,’ ” he recalled.
If it’s any solace to Michaud and other everyman dreamers, even celebrities don’t always instantly reach their goals. With five days to go, “Extreme Realities,” a documentary about climate change narrated by Matt Damon, was still more than $30,000 short of its goal, and there was still one opportunity left to attend a studio session with Damon, in exchange for a $10,000 donation.
Many creators are not just watching their own fund-raising tickers. Like authors checking out a rival’s Amazon ranking, they’re keeping tabs on others’ donations. So who can blame Brighton’s Heather Bloss, the aspiring creator of acrylic cat charms, for envying another artist, Andrew Hussie, and the $2.5 million he’s raised to produce an illustrated, semi-animated story on the Internet, when she was still short of her $2,650 goal? (In a happy turn, she, too exceeded her funding target.)
“My friends [who like his work] are going to hate me for saying this,” said Bloss, “but how did he get that much?”
Meanwhile, if there’s one person more obsessed than Ralph Ranalli of Newton, a former Globe reporter, with his video project, “Beautiful: Teaching Girls Soccer the Boston Breakers Way,” it’s his mother-in-law, Beth Radsken, of Pittsfield. She checks his donation tally five or six times a day and can tell you down to the dollar how much he’s raised.
As of April 8, it was $18,601, of a $35,000 goal. “Sometimes I’m with friends and I think they’re thinking about it,” Radsken said, “but as the conversation goes on, I can tell they’re not. They’re thinking about their nail appointments and grandchildren.”
Or maybe pondering their own Kickstarter projects.