When I was at my most depressed I would sometimes cheer myself up through a particular variety of schadenfreude, wherein I would trawl Kickstarter looking for the most embarrassing projects I could find and linking to them on my Facebook page along with a snarky comment about the project. I called this practice "Kickfarter," because farts are hilarious and those projects genuinely stank (like farts, you see). As immature as the process was I have to admit that it did its job, and a good round of Kickfarter always cheered me up. The uptick in my mood only lasted a few minutes, but when you're otherwise spending every moment of the day hating your present, dreading your future, and wondering if you should just end it all, a few minutes of frivolous pleasure is a necessary balm.
As Curt and I discussed the possibility of a website and a podcast we decided that we should each have a recurring segment unique to us that we could bring to the proceedings. I knew I wanted mine to focus on Kickstarter, but the specifics took a while to parse out. At first I thought about reviving Kickfarter, because boy oh boy that particular well will never run dry. On any given day there are a handful of terrible projects posted just to the Games section, let alone the other fourteen major categories. The idea of focusing on the worst that Kickstarter has to offer immediately sat ill with me though, partially because there's too much cynicism online without me adding to the Hate Vortex, but more importantly because I'm no longer the person who needed that small bit of vindictiveness to get through the day.
Things got better for me. A lot better! I can't get into specifics without veering too far from the intent of this article, but I no longer fight a daily urge to end everything, and I no longer take any real joy in schadenfreude. I'm actually embarrassed that I once took any glee on shining a light specifically on bad projects. Those campaigns I chose to highlight may have been cringeworthy, but at least they were earnest; I wasn't fighting corruption, I was simply crapping on someone's dream. So for my recurring contribution to CDPPlays I decided to focus on the best Kickstarter has to offer each week, those projects which burst with promise and excite the imagination. My focus would primarily be on the Games section, as board and video games are what I know best, but I told myself that if Games failed to provide any material there was nothing stopping me from plunging into the many other realms of Kickstarter. There are fifteen categories in total with over 2,000 live projects between them, so there's always something, somewhere worth discussing.
This week I was largely coming up dry on the game front: some Lovecraft dice here, another unique pack of Bicycle playing cards there, all competent but not necessarily setting off that indefinable spark I look for in a project. Out of curiousity (and a hint of desperation) I branched out into the other culdesacs of Kickstarter, taking a while to decide where to explore next. Fashion and Music would be lost on me; Journalism would likewise fail to excite my interest; and I still have a vendetta against Film and Video due to my BFA in film making. But then Food caught my attention! I have a fair understanding of how food works, and could only imagine the scrumptious ideas awaiting me there. So, hoping for something to sink my finger-teeth into, I dove in.
What I found was... troubling.
Scrolling down the Food page for Kickstarter revealed one failed project after another. Projects which hadn't simply failed, but had failed spectacularly. It was like a memorial for some terrible war whose survivors shudder and weep into old age. There were entire rows in which not a single project had raised even 1% of its funding goal. Cook books, cafes, bakeries and every other outlet for eats could be found there in every stripe: vegetarian, vegan, pet friendly, diabetic friendly, organic, high class and low rent, nearly all of them having vied for attention in an area of Kickstarter I'm not sure many people even know exists. I had to scroll down the fourteenth row before I finally found a successfully-funded project: Oddball Hidden Ales - Microbrew Festival Support had, at the time of this writing, raised $351 of its $350 goal, with only nine days remaining. That was the 56th project when listed in order of most recent campaigns, and at the time only one other campaign among those 56 projects has a clear chance of success.
(Note: The project which had a chance of success was Coast, which has since been funded and has supplanted Oddball as the most recently successful project under the heading of Food.)
Returning to games for a moment, I sorted in order of newest projects just as I did with Food, and I didn't need to go far before finding a successful project: Village Attacks, a board game by Grimlord Games, was the third project on the first row and already had a solid green funding bar. It had been approximately two hours since that project went live, and already it had broken its goal of $89,036. Proceeding from Village Attacks I only needed to scroll past eight more projects before finding another successful campaign. Two more followed shortly from that, and scrolling down the page revealed plenty of projects whose teams have reason to celebrate.
The Games section is not wanting for failed campaigns of course: between those successes I mentioned above there are many projects which have failed to gain traction for one reason or another. But the Food section proves particularly stressful, as it seems like a campaign centered around eats is, on a mathematical basis, practically guaranteed to fail. There are as many quality projects here as there are in the sections for Games, Film, or anywhere else on the site, but the public interest is overwhelmingly vacuous.
However! Not all is lost. Not content to merely skim the Foods section and lose myself to despair I began a deeper evaluation of successful and failed projects alike, and several patterns emerged which I believe will serve anyone looking to kickstart an idea related to food..
The most important lesson I learned is that the nature of food doesn't lend itself as well to the crowd funding model as do the end products of other categories. Many Food projects aim to open physical locations, restaurants and the like, which automatically limits the potential customer base who may be willing to help back the campaign. It will be hard for me to claim the free appetizer I'm owed as a backer reward when your restaurant is located in San Francisco but I'm holed up in Seattle. Film, comics, games, journalism, these all can take advantage of digital distribution and can be consumed anywhere in the world, greatly increasing the potential number of backers willing to fund your project. Until you can download a steak, turning to Kickstarter for your seed money may be quixotic.
Those Food projects which had succeeded in securing funding, or had a good chance of reaching their goal, had a tendency to be bottled, boxed, or otherwise packaged products that can be delivered to your doorstep. Much like digital media these projects are uninhibited by geography and can be consumed by anyone, anywhere, which drastically increases number of potential backers. Take for instance Vitox Drinking, a fermented drink of apple cider vinegar and fruit, which has raised $717 of a $500 goal: each drink comes enclosed in a glass bottle, perfect for shipping around the country. Or Alaska Bug Bites, whose goal is to provide dehydrated fruit to an Alaskan market; though focused on a specific geographical region, the final product can be distributed and enjoyed to any location without even giving much care to the packaging. Finally, we have Coast cricket protein bars and Avail Bar, also made with cricket protein: both are easily shipped and they each tap into a specific, underserved niche. Bonus for them.
Oddball Hidden Ales proves an exception to this rule, but it also illustrates another important aspect of successful food campaigns: modest goals. OHA, Vitox Drinking, Alaska Bug Bites, Coast and Avail are the only current campaigns which have succeeded in raising their funds or are on track to succeed, and their goals are $350, $500, $2,000, $15,000 and $10,000 respectively. They reach for Des Moines instead of the moon, but they are far more likely to reach their destination given the limited interest in Food. When campaigns elsewhere on the site set a goal of $2,000,000 and reach it two and a half times over, fifteen grand is a modest request (though in light of the frequent failure of Food campaigns, even asking for that comparatively small amount seems risky). You may prove one of the few to capture the public mindshare and absolutely demolish your goal, but it's better to realize you're fishing from a shallow pool and set your expectations accordingly.
That last line may sound harsh or disparaging, but it's meant to be nothing but straightforward critique. Dreams need to be tempered with a bit of pragmatism if they are to succeed, and I want more people achieve their dreams in this terrible world. I know from personal experience how it feels to put yourself out there and be met with nothing but apathy. These are bakers and chefs and restauraters who want to share their passion with the world, only to discover that no one cares about their passion. The sting is all the greater when all the world can see that you raised 0% of your goal, failing to net even a tenner from a friend. Adding a touch of utilitarianism to their hopes may go a long way toward making their dream palatable to the masses.
If you have a food project, don't despair. Just consider if Kickstarter is right for you. Can Cletus in Moose Snout, BC enjoy your product without dropping hundreds of dollars on hotel and air fare? Do you need the backing of a few thousand individuals, or would several dozen suffice? And does your product contain cricket protein? Because that seems to be a hot new trend you may want to jump on.
Disclaimer: I have personally backed the Coast bars mentioned above. I have not made contact with any member of that campaign, nor have I made contact with any person associated with any other campaign here mentioned.