Yancey Strickler

Yancey Strickler

CEO and Cofounder of Kickstarter

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 28, 2015

Discussion

Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
Hello! Yancey Strickler here, co-founder and CEO of Kickstarter, the world's largest funding community for creative projects. I served as Kickstarter's Head of Community and Head of Communications before becoming CEO. It's an exciting time at Kickstarter — we recently announced our reincorporation as a Benefit Corporation. Benefit Corporations are for-profit companies that are obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders. I'm here to answer questions about Kickstarter, Benefit Corporations, creativity and making, or anything else!
Luís Otávio Ribeiro
Luís Otávio Ribeiro@luisofribeiro · Product, Catarse
Hello Yancey! Thank you for sharing your knowledge! I would like to understand what was the main acquisition channels and actions done by kickstarter during the early days and what has changed if you compare to how you do acquisition nowadays. Did the curated pages had some role in acquisition strategies at some point?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@luisofribeiro There's never been paid acquisition for Kickstarter. It's all been organic growth of the platform within creative communities, and then those artists and communities networking the platform to their worlds. It's really traveled within micro-pockets of the creative community. I remember about four months after we launched I was personally approving every project as it went live. And one day I came across an Indian classical dance project out of Chicago. I remember thinking, "oh this is cool, I've never seen an Indian classical dance project before." A week later and there were four or five of them. At that moment I realized that the platform was being validated community by community. And so then it became clear that we just needed to provide a medium for an authentic expression of people's ideas, and their passion would communicate the rest. Thankfully that has still largely held true.
Evelyn Chin
Evelyn Chin@evelynhchin
Hi Yancey! Where do you hope Kickstarter will be in 10 years?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@evelynhchin This is something very front of mind for me, especially post PBC. We see a future with a more expansive product than we have now. We are thinking constantly about the conditions and environments affecting artists and creators and how we can help them with products or services. Expect to see new things there in the future. But that's always going to be the focus: what's hard about being a creator at this moment? How can we help that? What are other people missing because they're looking for easy ways to monetize "content" and not thinking about how it's created in the first place? That's one of the core guiding insights for us since day 1. Especially for me, coming from the music world, I was surrounded by people talking about how to monetize music in a post-Napster world. But all I could ever think was that monetizing is such a business question. It's not a music question. The real question was how can it be easier for that music to just exist??? Focusing on sales and a content model for arts and culture has so little to do with its actual creation
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
HUGE thanks to @ystrickler for taking the time to chat with us today!
Nishant Arora
Nishant Arora@nshntarora
@ystrickler Firstly, How did your shareholders react when you first told them your plans to reincorporate as a public benefit corporation? How did you guys hack up the first prototype of Kickstarter? How much time did it take? and from where you did you arrange for the initial funds to operate? And lastly, Who came up with the idea of that scissor surprise in the footer? :p
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@nshntarora The shareholders were positive! We had a call with them a month or so back and sent along a big packet of information sharing a ton of background on what a PBC is and how we were approaching it. We've been fortunate to have great support from the beginning and it continued here. The first prototype... a long time in the making. There's an old blog post called "Happy Third Birthday Kickstarter" that shows all the original designs. So the design was set as of October 2005, more or less, but building it took another 3+ years. And credit for the scissors goes to the one and only Sam Cole. Sup Sam
Julie Wood
Julie Wood@juliewood · Kickstarter
@ystrickler @nshntarora ^^ here's that blog post with the early designs: https://www.kickstarter.com/blog...
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Welcome, Yancey! Big fan of Kickstarter and its impact on so many entrepreneurs' lives. What Kickstarter campaign are you most proud of?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@rrhoover It's such a boring answer but it's so hard to choose. But one favorite is the Balloon Mapping Kits. This is where four folks in New Orleans wanted to investigated the Deep Horizon spill but BP was blocking people from going on the beaches. So they had the idea of flying kites over the gulf with cameras attached, and built a map that way. So creative. And fuck BP.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@ystrickler wow, awesome. For reference, here's the campaign.
Melissa Joy Kong
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Yancey, it is such a delight to have you here! Was there a particular moment in the growth of Kickstarter where you saw user growth take off? What factors/projects/strategic decisions do you attribute to the community's growth?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@melissajoykong The growth has always been pretty consistently gradual. We've never aimed for hockey stick moments, and have been fortunate to not have too many of them. But the big moment would be Feb 9, 2012, when Double Fine Adventure and Elevation Bock both crossed $1 million in funding within five hours of each other. They were the first to cross $1 mil. That set off a firestorm that culminated with the first Pebble project three months later. It went from 0 $1 mil+ projects to more than a dozen in the span of weeks. That brought a huge influx of projects, traffic, and attention that we had mixed feelings about. We had been concentrating on growing the platform in a measured way, thinking longterm, and now we were suddenly the internet's new lottery ticket. That required a lot of thought and consideration to navigate, and ultimately that culminated in the "Kickstarter is not a store" announcement that October.
Melissa Joy Kong
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
What is the most challenging decision you've ever had to make as CEO of Kickstarter?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@melissajoykong The most challenging decision you have to make is a new, unprecedented one, and it's amazing how quickly that learning + challenge can fade into the background. So there have probably been 20 most challenging decisions and now I can't remember what any of them are. In general the hard parts for me are when your principles are put to the test in new and unexpected ways. So all along we've stated we believe in X but now Y happens in such a way that you can't even tell what X is anymore so what do you do? Every company faces these tests regularly. In our history we've seen about one big public crisis per year, and it's always along these lines. This is where the PBC charter is so helpful, because it clearly commits us to certain convictions and principles and makes us VERY accountable to them. So now I have a North Star in some ways to guide and shape my thinking. But these things will keep coming up. They always do. Whether it's letting someone go, making a tough decision about the product, or having to stand true to your convictions, experiencing these things is a sign of growth. Patience and wisdom are key :)
Melissa Joy Kong
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
If you had to build Kickstarter from the ground up all over again... (1) What would you do differently? (2) What decision would you have made faster?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@melissajoykong I don't know that there's that much I would do differently. I don't look back and see any major regrets. I see plenty of mistakes, but I don't think we'd be the organization we are without them.
Dennis Passway
Dennis Passway@dennispassway · I make things.
Thanks for being here Yancey! In another question I saw that you got much knowledge in books. What are the top 3 books that helped Kickstarter to get where it is today?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@dennispassway I mentioned these elsewhere, but I love Founders at Work and Not for Bread Alone
Yann Bertrand
Yann Bertrand@_yannbertrand · Pokémon Master
For you, what makes Kickstarter better than other crowdfunding platforms?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@mryannooo Brand, scale, and reputation. We're miles beyond anyone else on all of those fronts.
Amer Bin Breik
Amer Bin Breik@amerf1 · Startup
How did you get to your first user? Thanks
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@amerf1 I think Perry was our first user... So co-found a company with them?
Mike Coutermarsh
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
@ystrickler Hi Yancey! I've heard really good things about Kickstarter's engineering team. Could you share a bit on how it's structured? How has it changed as the company has grown? What's worked well for Kickstarter?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@mscccc We have an extraordinary engineering team, and one with very little turnover. It's lead by a great VP of Engineering in James Turnbull (ex-Venmo and Docker who has also backed 1600 Kickstarter projects) and our architect in Lance Ivy, who was the man who first built the platform and has been with us for 7 years now. It's a very mature, solid team that is very creatively driven. We're always hiring, so if you wanna check us out please hit us up!
Geoffrey Weg
Geoffrey Weg@geoffreyweg · Betaworks, TechStars, White House
Hey Yancey! Kickstarter has gotten slack in the past when some of its projects have go on to become valuable businesses (e.g. Oculus Rift), leaving their earliest Kickstarter backers with no equity. How do you view this dilemma? More generally, what are your thoughts on the evolving equity crowdfunding legislation? Do think Kickstarter would ever enable creators to offer equity to backers?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@geoffreyweg I think it's incredibly important and core to our platform that creators always maintain full creative control and ownership of their work. Artists and creators need to be empowered to make the right decisions for their work, and we will never make the same demands that investors and traditional funders do on artists. That's not who we are. So in the case of Oculus, clearly that was their right. And I have every confidence that as they considered their future this made the most sense to them for how they could achieve that vision. As for crowdinvesting, we have no interest. The reason why so many Kickstarter projects succeed is that people are just backing them whether or not they like them, not because of potential financial return. Replacing that enthusiasm with a desire for financial upside is going to create a lot of bad situations. The avg exit for the investor of a successful company is something like 7 years — are backers really going to wait that long? I spoke with one of the heads of the big European crowdinvesting sites, and he reported a lot of big issues along these lines. So, like most financial deregulation, expect a lot of short-term victories that end up being very problematic for everyone else involved in the long run.
Ross Currie
Ross Currie@rossdcurrie · Founder, Brutal TearDowns
These are always on in the middle of the night for me, but I'll try leaving a few questions anyway! Q1: Earlier this year you guys released some pretty powerful tools for project creators (Google Analytics, better shipping pricing structure, Spotlight)... what's next for creators? Q2: Any chance you'll ever open up your API for third party developers to build apps around your ecosystem? Q3: A more personal request - I run my projects from Australia and have to fund in AUD when both my manufacturere and 90% of my backers are in the US. Can I please run my projects in USD? On the front-end my backers are discouraged by perceived higher prices, and on the back-end I'm getting reamed on forex conversions. Stripe lets me charge in USD!
Vocal Visual
Vocal Visual@vocalvisualco · Curating Solutions, Vocal Visual
@ystrickler how much of your time and resources has been spent dealing with the legalities and infrastructure of Kickstarter. The business of operating this business?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@vocalvisualco Thankfully the legalities and infrastructure is not too big, and when it is it's more along the lines of creative opportunities like this one. As an org scales the infrastructure tends to get handed off to the experts. My partner Perry handled that during the first few years of the biz, but thankfully more skilled people than us took it over :)
Matthew Hefferon
Matthew Hefferon@matthewhefferon · founder @pitchdeck
@ystrickler Love the Kickstarter platform. I've used it twice :) I wanted to ask about the early days... how did you acquire not only your first 100 users but the first 100 people to did a Kickstarter project? Did you have any issues with people not trusting the platform at first? Thanks
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@matt_hefferon We started very simply: we gave 30 of our artists friends invitations to start projects. At the time the site was invite only, and we further granted each of them 5 invites to give to their friends. It snowballed from there. It helps to actually exist in the community/ecosystem you hope to support
Eric Willis
Eric Willis@erictwillis · Working on something new
@ystrickler Hello Yancey. Thanks for doing this AMA. What's the most immediate way that reincorporating as a Benefits Corporation impacts Kickstarter? Have other startup founders reached out to you supporting/considering a change for their startup.
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@erictwillis Most immediate impact was during the lead-up to announcing, as we audited ourselves operationally and spiritually to ensure we were ready to take on this challenge. We're also already working on building out how we will measure our impact. But I guess the first tangible result will be early next year when we donate 5% of our after-tax profits from 2015 to organizations giving arts and music education and orgs fighting inequality. That's a check we'll be thrilled to sign!
Sterling Jones
Sterling Jones@itsmesterling · Initiator, Teen Made
@ystrickler What is the most beneficial thing you did as a Teen that prepared you to launch kickstarter? I'm a teenager currently working on project to help get teens started in the business world www.teenmade.com (Just got my kickstarter Accepted today)
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@itsmesterling Congrats on the upcoming project, Sterling. Far and away it's reading. That's the thing I've done more in my life than anything else. I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur nor had any goal of doing so, but things turned out differently than I imagined. But just getting into the habit of reading morning, noon, and night helped prepare me for everything that came after. And by reading I mean books specifically. I have a theory that any idea that can be explained in a tweet or a blog post is not one worth thinking about. Ideas need space to breathe and be considered.
Sterling Jones
Sterling Jones@itsmesterling · Initiator, Teen Made
@ystrickler @itsmesterling Any kinda reading in particular. . . Or just a little bit of everything.
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@itsmesterling Books! Just lots of books. For me it started with Hardy Boys and went from there. Reading Catch-22 was a turning point for me getting into more "mature"/nuanced reading
Anders Kitson
Anders Kitson@kitsondev · developer
What books would you say is essential ( one or more ), to building a viable and successful startup today?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@kitsondev Probably the most instructive for us as we were building Kickstarter was "Founders at Work." The survey of so many different stories was very helpful. It provides the perfect mix of romanticizing the shlep and being very honest about the many downers of working on a project for which there is a small chance of success. That was very helpful. The book that was most powerful for me when I became the CEO last year was "Not for Bread Alone" by Konosuke Matsushita. I'm used to seeing the press of today's zeitgeist, where business is all about huge success, hyper aggression, and being faster than the other guy. This is VERY MUCH not who I am as a person, and I found those expectations very challenging. Did I need to conform to succeed? But Matsushita wrote that book in his 80s reflecting on 50+ years running a big organization. And his message is simple: business is about patience, integrity, and reflection. That gave me such a huge confidence boost and enabled me to still be myself and have this job.
Anders Kitson
Anders Kitson@kitsondev · developer
@ystrickler What is a good book you'd recommend non business/startup releated?
Yancey Strickler
Yancey Strickler@ystrickler · Writer and Kickstarter cofounder
@kitsondev White Noise by Don Delillo! The Cliffs by Bertrand Russell! The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin!