What happens when we think about Kickstarter and IndieGoGo as fan communities rather than just marketplaces? Funders and founders still congregate in an exchange of money for projects, but a simple qualification introduces us to the superfans who make crowdfunding unique and may stitch the whole thing together.
Crowdfunding sells the fan experience. Find a founder. Tap into their project. Pay into their vision. Interact. Follow their progress. Spread their story. But it’s a speculative fan experience. Each project could generate fans, but they don’t necessarily begin with fans. When you invest in something, you become a fan. If enough invest, it shows you were right.
Speculative fans are fans of crowdfunding, first, and the project’s mission, second. Some of these fans rise to the level of superfans. They derive their superlative not from their expertise or project-specific enthusiasm, but the number and extent to which they back projects. It’s not the fan; it’s the size of their portfolio. They’re the superfans of the creative process. They fund and follow creativity, and they’re unique to the crowdfunding world.
Does crowdfunding work because of these superfans? What would happen of you took the model to a community based around an existing passion and expertise?
Most fan experiences are organized around an established practice or institution that already has fans. Football fans pursue live games, ESPN, NFL.com, Deadspin. Gadget fans end up on engadget. Comic book fans go to Comic-Con. These forums congregate and engage those with an existing passion.
The Twilight series sparked online forums, unbated enthusiasm, and the creative efforts of many. Some have gone so far as to write full-blown fan-fiction for the similarly obsessed, and one notable example made the leap to become a publishing phenomenon of its own: EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.
But Kickstarter and IndieGoGo differ. They’re speculative. The founders are generally obscure. The portals draw projects that may not otherwise be funded. They’re organized around delivering a story to facilitate financing, and it’s the financing itself that validates the fandom. These don’t start with an existing passion. They start with a potential passion, and they market it.
No one expected the success Amanda Palmer would have on Kickstarter The former member of the Dresden Dolls had worked with Ben Folds to produce an album, and it was a failure. She found it easier to sell t-shirts to her twitter-followers than make money from record sales. But Palmer raised almost $1.2 million dollars to produce and tour a new album from more than twenty-four thousand funders on Kickstarter.
Sticknfind started with a perhaps aggressive $70k goal on IndieGoGo. The Bluetooth sensor-set for finding your lost keys closed its fundraising with almost one million dollars in funding for the as yet commercially unavailable devices and app.
Kickstarter frames the experience as a way to fund and follow creativity. But there’s something more primitive at work. It’s a contest. These projects passed a threshold on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. They passed the threshold to validity and answered the question, were these projects fan-worthy? Yes, indeed, Detroit needs a sculpture of RoboCop.
A unique clique of individuals has emerged in the crowdfunding ecosystem — the super-backers that Jeremy Schwartz’s Backerbase is targeting. They regularly fund campaigns. Some have gone so far as to fund hundreds of them. They’re real people, and they’re not just employees of Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. Look at their profiles. They have funded everything from video games to hot-sauce to trail-maps. Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and the rewards-based crowdfunding portals are uniquely suited to help these individuals browse and fund creativity.
Super-backers are among the phenomena that make crowdfunding sites unique. They’re a response to the contest. They’re hooked on the contest. Unlike a traditional fan site that congregates a passionate community through information, conversation, or a creative response to the focus of their passion, super-backers speculate. They pick and choose and flock to projects, so when the casual backer arrives, they can see they’re not alone. They’re perhaps the leaders whose presence tips casual visitors from browsers to funders.
If super-backers are critical and unique to crowdfunding portals, why are they treated no differently than any other user? Their portfolios of funded-projects would benefit from tools to better manage their relationships with founders and track their progress. What would happen if someone optimized the experience for them? Would they be drawn away from the current platforms? Would their unabated demand begin to draw projects away from the current platforms?