How to game KickStarter

KickStarter‘s cool but I feel like I see too many projects hit their funding numbers at the last minute of the pledge window. Call me a cynic, but after thinking about this on the train one morning, I devised this scheme for getting “free” money for your project.

  1. Start your project the old-fashioned way: gather up the cash you’ll need to cover it.
  2. Get your project listed on KickStarter. Set the tipping point to match the amount of cash you have on hand.
  3. During the KickStarter pledge period, play by their rules and try to raise as much money as you can.
  4. At the last hour of the pledge period, check your numbers. If the project’s funding level is between 10% and 100% of the tipping point, take your own cash and pledge the remainder to tip the project.
  5. You’ll take home whatever amount you’ve raised, even if it would’ve normally been below the tipping point.

The only case where this isn’t effective is if a project fails to raise at least 10% of the tipping point: KickStarter takes a 5% commission and Amazon payments amount to 3-5% of payments, so the first 10% of real pledges are needed to cover those commissions. But beyond that, any already-funded project is on a risk-free gravy train.

This means that if you’re going to embark on an artistic endeavor and have enough cash on hand to finance it, there’s no reason not to try to get it listed on KickStarter to offset some portion of the cost. If enough KickStarter projects shift to this model, the spirit of the site goes from a collection Cinderella barn-raising stories to cases of “I’m going to do this anyway, anyone feel like chipping in?”

…which makes me wonder if there’s a business case for facilitating the latter from the outset, rather than waiting for the inevitable (or fighting it).

So sayeth Ms. Gags

I used to walk down the street like I was a fucking star. I want people to walk around delusional about how great they can be – and then to fight so hard for it every day that the lie becomes the truth.

All that ever holds somebody back, I think, is fear. For a minute I had fear. I went into the [dressing] room and shot my fear in the face.

— Lady Gaga

Neurological definition of “flow”

From this Newsweek article (about halfway through):

During improvisation, the highly trained music majors used their brains in a way the nonmusicians could not: they deactivated their right-temporoparietal junction. Normally, the r-TPJ reads incoming stimuli, sorting the stream for relevance. By turning that off, the musicians blocked out all distraction. They hit an extra gear of concentration, allowing them to work with the notes and create music spontaneously.

Sounds like flow, no?

And more:

  • The definition of creativity is “production of something original and useful.”
  • The mental process of creative thinking is “alternating between divergent and convergent thinking.”

The article gets a lot better in the latter half, including a sketch of a problem-solving process:

  1. Fact-finding. Understand what’s going on. This is a perpetual process, but becomes targeted as you enter a project.
  2. Problem-finding. Defining all of the challenges to be overcome.
  3. Idea-finding. Now that you understand the space and the challenges, brainstorm.
  4. Solution-finding. The editorial phase where each idea is judged (and criteria for judgement are defined).
  5. Testing implementations. (It gets a little fuzzy here.)

I think action can be woven into more of these phases, from idea-finding onwards.

The secret to success is many inexpensive failures

This is a video of Frans Johansson’s presentation at the 99% Conference, titled “The Secret Truth About Executing Great Ideas”. I have his book, The Medici Effect, sitting on my nightstand, next in line. He makes some great points here about what I’d call disposable decisions, or “strong beliefs, loosely held.”


  • Most successful innovators win with volume. Picasso created 20,000 works of art, most of which suck.
  • Only use the minimum amount of resources required to test, so you can pivot.
  • The purpose of a strategy is to convince yourself that it could work, not to come up with a correct answer or a final decision. It’s only successful insofar as it empowers actions.
  • “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” – Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines
  • The likelihood that your initial plan is wrong is nearly 100%. You manage this by taking the smallest executable steps.
  • Props to Behance for sharing their conference speakers online.

Coolest fish in the world

I have no good reason for discovering this (actually, I was checking to see if the United States can compare to India’s trifecta of awesome national symbols: tiger, peacock, and lotus), but I came across an image of a Leafy Sea Dragon on Wikipedia.

Holy cow! Check out the photos, they’ll blow you away.

But it gets better: there’s also a Weedy Sea Dragon.

These are real fish! Now I have no excuse for not living in Australia.

Good design is more than a new shirt

As part of my 2008 goal of getting out of admin work and back into more creative endeavors, I recently subscribed to the Designers In House mailing list. The signal-to-noise ratio is pretty bad and I decided to unsubscribe when I recently saw someone post advice to designers looking to get ahead in the world. The author suggested that

[Creative] Directors do not wear band shirts, ripped jeans and Chuck Taylors. If you are looking to move up in the industry, dress for where you want to be, not where you are.

Apparently, a great way for a young designer to get ahead is to get some pleated chinos and a collared shirt.

This argument makes a flawed assumption regarding the universality of “directors” and other senior managers’ dress code. It would be more accurate to say that *most* companies’ directors don’t dress like this. Some do, though. Frankly, I’d rather work for and become a manager who doesn’t wear a monkey suit just because ties are status quo amongst big shots.

This advice is symbolic of a general career philosophy that I was surprised to read on a design mailing list. Sure, if you’re wearing ripped jeans because you’re too lazy to update your wardrobe you’re displaying a certain lazy attitude towards perception and branding. If that’s the case, you should consider making a project of your closet and update your sartorial selection.

But if you actually want to wear ripped jeans and believe they make the world (and your ass) a better place, you should do it con gusto. If a designer’s only creative thinking is how to be more like the goon in the corner office, it’s hard to imagine that any good creative work is going to follow. And that’s just good stuff – forget about “outstanding,” creativity, which is nonconformist by definition.

I recently read a nice summary of the conformist instinct from Seth Godin: someone who works all day so he can buy stuff at night.

Where’s the passion? Where’s the joy?

When your career path is pointing to a shopping spree at Banana Republic, it’s time to skip the makeover and find an environment that rewards fun, innovation, and creative strength. So my 2008 resolution is to take dress codes and any other soul-killing, conformist, consumer instincts and ef them up the effer, as my lovely wife likes to say.

Nonconformity, innovation, and hard work lead to bigger and better things in one’s career than mimicking your boss. All of the best designers and programmers I’ve ever met were the most likely to don cons and a zep shirt.

Save Internet radio

This is a PSA, of sorts: Internet radio is in trouble, and now is a good time to speak up.

To get involved, check out

If you love good things like Pandora or even the somewhat lame, you might be surprised to hear that on March 2, 2007, The Copyright Royalty Board announced that Internet radio stations’ royalty payments for streaming music will increase significantly between now and 2010.

Update: CNN Money recently posted a review of this situation, focusing on NPR’s involvement in petitioning the CRB to reconsider their decision.

Broadcast Law Blog provides a helpful writeup here. Check it out and get learned. Or, check out Pandora founder Tim Westergren’s succinct explanation:

It’s an utterly ridiculous ruling that renders any form of internet radio non-economic.

There is more at stake than your Pandora playlists here: Internet radio facilitates discovery of new and distinctive music like Dubconscious, a reggae/dub jam band out of Athens, GA. It facilitates long-tail distribution, breaking the Top 40 format’s stranglehold on creativity.

How to help

  1. Add your name to a petition
  2. Write your Representative
  3. Contact your Congressperson
  4. For more information, check out, which includes these additional links: