Op-Ed: CEO On Ten Years Of Kickstarter
Kickstarter's Aziz Hasan reflects on the crowdfunding site's journey since launch in 2009, highlighting its continued evolution of service and dedication to supporting authentic creativity
Kickstarter began with a simple but potent mission: to help bring creative projects to life. For Kickstarter’s tenth birthday, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on both the past decade and the next.
Our first 10 years have proven that our platform is a powerful tool for creative people. We’ve seen 16 million backers pledge $4 billion in funding to 160,000 projects across 22 different countries. But creative work still faces enormous challenges, from pervasive funding cuts to the sense across industries and fields that profit matters above all else. We have so much more to do, both as a company and as a society.
Now more than ever, we know we need creative work in the world.
Looking back over Kickstarter’s past decade, there’s a lot to celebrate: People from all over the world have come together to fund the things (plays, books, films, albums and more) that they want to experience — things that were risky, things that were wild and weird, things that may never have otherwise had the chance to exist. Tens of thousands of creators have built meaningful, direct relationships with their audiences. They have exchanged advice and mentorship; they have stayed up late together to watch a project’s funding tick over the finish line. Most importantly, they have been able to protect their creative independence — because raising funds on Kickstarter means nobody else gets to tell you how to make your work.
Together they have proven, unequivocally, that creative work is essential. Not because it might turn a profit, not because it can sell a product, and certainly not because it happens to align with any other traditional metric of return on investment.
Creative work matters because it is our best weapon in the battle against a devastatingly boring and ultimately destructive culture of sameness. We live in a world that is eager to give more money to already huge corporations, to smooth over difference for the sake of ease and familiarity, and to endlessly maximize profit and growth.
A world that optimizes for profit will optimize away from chance, beauty, dissent, free expression and diversity. We need those things to survive. Yet we continue to face a tremendous number of challenges in making independent creative work.
Artists still struggle to make ends meet. Study after study reveals that the people who make creative work are often juggling day jobs with night gigs, or squeezing in studio time between freelance jobs. An artist’s notoriety is still often conflated with financial success, when one rarely equals the other. There is a lingering stigma that art isn’t “real work.”
Then there’s the notion that if you find your passion, everything will click into place. This picture of creative work makes it seem easy, when in reality it requires money, hard work, discipline and, often, a community of supporters.
Meanwhile, public sources of money have been dwindling. We’ve witnessed a quiet but significant decline in public funding for the arts. Ten years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency in the United States, had a budget of $184 million, adjusted for inflation. Today, that number has dipped to $155 million.
Some industries, like film, have seen an influx of funding, but access is often conditional (on market potential and giving up creative control) and for the privileged (you have to know someone to get anywhere).
This is just the beginning.
These are only a few of the challenges that have worsened over the past decade. They’re just a part of what we’re contending with as we look ahead to the next 10 years. We’ve accomplished a lot since 2009, but we also recognize that we still have a lot to do — creative work needs more support. At Kickstarter, that means we have a responsibility to evolve our service, strengthen our dedication, and increase our impact.
The good news is we have an advantage in this struggle. Being a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) helps to legally protect our ability to make the right choices for the creators and backers we serve — regardless of the potential impact on our profits. That, in turn, protects our ability to focus on our mission, instilled from the very beginning by our cofounders Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler and Charles Adler: helping creative projects come to life. It’s part of the reason we’ve been able to remain so fiercely dedicated to that mission, and it’s why we’re able to look to the future with optimism.
We have the ability and the will to optimize for beauty, chance, dissent, free expression and diversity. We know that what we’ve built is vital — and so is what we still have to create. Every moment presents an opportunity for us to put action toward our mission and our service.
We’re in this for the long haul because we believe the world will be better for it — and we’re glad to be in it with you.
This post originally appeared in Kickstarter Magazine.
Lead image: stock photos from Jacob Lund/Shutterstock