Q&A

Charlie Rose Talks to Kickstarter's Yancey Strickler


“There’s a long history to this. For his translation of Homer's Iliad, Alexander Pope funded it by getting money from 700 people”

Photograph by Steve Jennings/Getty Images

“There’s a long history to this. For his translation of Homer's Iliad, Alexander Pope funded it by getting money from 700 people”

Five years into this, what kinds of projects are attracting the most crowdfunding?
The most money’s gone to films and games, though music albums have been made more than any other sort of art form. There have been about 500 restaurants created through Kickstarter. So the variety has been off the charts. The NASA scientists who put the Curiosity rover on Mars are raising money to create a publicly controlled telescope. The ways Kickstarter can be used are pretty much limitless. One that I particularly love is a project called Trash Dance, a ballet that happened in Austin featuring sanitation workers and garbage trucks.
 
For those who support a project, the only payoff is psychic rather than equity?
There is no financial upside to these things. It’s not an investment. If I support you in making your documentary, I get a copy when it’s done or maybe my name’s in the credits. So for something like Veronica Mars [which opened in theaters on March 14], backers of that got to be extras in scenes or even have a speaking role, things like that.
 
And the site’s thriving?
The site continues to grow. A million dollars a day moves through the system. One of the ways we’re growing is we’re expanding to more countries. Right now we’re primarily in the English-speaking world, and that will be changing. We also see growth based on the projects that come in. Neil Young launched a project [on March 11] to make, basically, an MP3 player. It’s called the Pono, and it’s a very high-quality audiophile music player. Neil Young using Kickstarter is going to open this up to a bunch of people who maybe didn’t think about it before.
 
The site just hit $1 billion in pledges. How significant is this milestone?
It’s certainly a big number. It shows that a lot of people around the world care about bringing things to life, care about creative things. This happened, mind you, over the past five years, during great economic distress. At the same time we’re being told that money should only be used for very utilitarian things, and arts budgets have typically been cut. But you see the public stepping up and supporting the creation of often idiosyncratic or quixotic things.
 
So what now? You sell it? Take it public?Just expand it and see how big it can get?
The latter of those options. From the very beginning we decided—my co-founders and I—that we would never sell, never go public. We viewed Kickstarter as a public trust. This is a place of opportunity for anyone to make their thing happen, and it’s our job to be the stewards of it and to honor it. We were looking at growing this into a living, breathing cultural institution that’s there to represent the interests of everybody. And we think the best way to do that is to be a privately held, independently controlled organization—and that’s exactly what we are.
 
Was Kickstarter, which has been widely copied, hard to conceive and design?
Any great idea, once you see it, seems natural. Like, “Why wasn’t that there before?” First you have violent resistance, and then you just acquiesce, and you’re like, “Anyone could have thought of that.” And there’s a long history to this. For his translation of Homer’s Iliad, Alexander Pope funded it by getting money from 700 people so he could translate 16,000 lines of Greek poetry. The Medici system and the patronage system were very similar. But they sort of went dormant for about 100 years as we had movie studios and giant corporations subsidizing art.
 
Tell me about the Oscar-nominated film The Square.
It’s a documentary by a woman named Jehane Noujaim about the 2011 revolution in Egypt. They raised over $100,000 through Kickstarter a little over a year ago. I got to see that project happen, as did all the backers. That was incredible. That’s a historic document we’ll all be grateful for 50 years from now.

Watch Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV weeknights at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET.

Emmy Award-winning journalist Charlie Rose is the host of Charlie Rose, the nightly PBS program.

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