Of The Crowd: Q&A W/ Kickstarter's Daniella Jaeger

As part of our package on the rise and impact of the crowdfunding movement, I had a chat with Kickstarter's Community staffer Daniella Jaeger about what it's like to work for an industry leader and start-up at the same time, and what prospective creators can do to make their projects stand out.

Malcolm: How did you get started working at Kickstarter? What attracted you to the start-up?

Daniella: I moved to New York and was looking for a job and came across a posting for a Community position at Kickstarter. By the time I applied the position was filled but I went into the office to chat. I thought the site was cool though I hadn't totally wrapped my head around it yet. After talking to Yancey and Perry about it, though, I fell in love. (Not with Yancey and Perry with Kickstarter. Though all three are easy candidates for falling in love.) I had been looking to join a small team, but Kickstarter quickly became much more than a cool startup. It felt incredibly special, a project with a beautiful mission and a very interesting group of people behind it. So I sent them ideas and applied for another job a few months later and eventually they let me on, in the spring of 2010.

I like to think of crowd-funding is part of a whole wave of social entrepreneurship, how do you think Kickstarter's mission differs from the average tech start-up?

Kickstarter’s focus is on creative projects. It’s a blend of patronage and commerce, a place for musicians, filmmakers, artists, writers, designers, et al to reach out to their fans and community for support with their projects. Creators maintain full ownership and creative control of their work; Kickstarter gives them the tools and social space to build an audience around their ideas and bring them to life.

I know working at a start-up means there are no average days, but tell me a little about what you do at Kickstarter.

Yes every month feels different, it's wild. Our team's organized between Community and Product. Product does development and design, Community handles curation, editorial, customer support, and outreach, among other things. My role has morphed into a kind of community product manager: collaborating on new features, writing site copy, overseeing customer service, and contributing to curation and editorial. Nearly everyone on the Community team started out getting their hands dirty in the same way: reviewing project proposals and providing support. Understanding where projects come from and how users interact with the site provides a really good foundation.

You must see a lot of interesting and thoughtful projects succeed and fail to meet their fundraising goals. What're some things users can do to help distinguish their proposal?

There are amazing things going on all the time. I've backed 170 projects and wish I could back hundreds more right now. Projects don't need to be flashy, they just need to have personality—soul. A strong project has a clear focus, and making a personal connection is key, which is why a video is essential. The value of video cannot be overstated! And then, inspired rewards. Offer cool things at fair prices, so people will back them.

Kickstarter has also been used of late as a fundraising platform for causes (like, for instance, The Occupy Wall Street Journal) that aren't trying to make consumer products per se. How does this fit with Kickstarter's current and future plans?

When people traditionally think fundraising they think of charities and causes, but Kickstarter allows neither of these things. We've built something very different that's focused on people pursuing creative passions and having fun doing it, and those include things like public art, journalism, documentaries, and performance. It's not our intention to divorce art from message, nor from emotion. But we are dedicated to a site that's completely devoted to creativity.

Sites like Kickstarter are based on a certain amount of trust -- the customer believes they will receive a product that doesn't even exist yet sometime in the future. Why are people willing to put that kind of trust in the Kickstarter community?

Backing a project on Kickstarter is a combination of commerce and patronage. Often you're not just buying a product, you're joining someone on their creative project, getting a window into their thoughts and process. Most projects get their initial momentum from the creator's network of friends, fans, and immediate communities. That direct relationship between creator and backer makes for pretty powerful motivation to see a project through. But ultimately, it's part of every creator's job to earn a backer's trust, especially backers who don't personally know them. And a lot of creators do a wonderful job of it. They tell a compelling story, they're passionate about their work, they're transparent with their backers, and they want to share what they ultimately create.

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Other entries in Crowdfunding Nation, Shareable's week-long series on crowdfunding:

Features:

How-tos:

Blog posts:

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