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Inside Kickstarter

How do you ask for help?

A client and friend of mine is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign [update: it’s now live!], and today I would like to take you inside that process — that process of asking for help — and inside the Kickstarter company itself. We were able to take a tour of their headquarters, which was amazing (lots of photos below).

My friend is Sarah Towle (creator of Time Traveler Tours & Tales) who is developing a new book/app/tour that tells the story of the making of Michelangelo’s David. The StoryApp Tour not only tells the story, but is an interactive tour through Florence. You can literally walk around the city, guided by the StoryApp, and learn about history.

She has partnered with author Mary Hoffman for this project, which is titled, In the Footsteps of Giants.

This is the first thing that should be mentioned about Sarah and her process for creating meaningful work — she believes in the power of involving others, and in building a team.

Every week, I am on a team call with her and these amazing folks:

  • Emma Dryden, who has edited nearly five hundred books for children and young readers.
  • Deb Shapiro, who has created publicity and marketing campaigns for publishers such as Houghton Mifflin, Henry Holt & Company, Simon & Schuster and Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Caitlin Hoffman, Administrative Assistant & Community Manager

But that is definitely not all! For the Kickstarter campaign alone, Sarah has many other partners who are hosting the launch event, spreading the word, donating, creating content, and helping out in some way. In her regular non-Kickstarter work, her partners include the writers she works with, the developers who create her apps, and so many others.

Before I really share anything about how Kickstarter works, I want to highlight how Sarah has invested in the most crucial element of what it means to create work that matters to others: She is a part of, and works to develop, a community of people who are passionate about stories and history.

Too often, people start with an idea, and jump right to ideas on how to fund it. But Sarah has spent years not just crafting her work, but investing in others.

When Sarah first began reaching out to others to seek advice about running a Kickstarter campaign, they all said the same thing: This is a full-time job for at least three months. Let me repeat that:

Full time job. For three months.

What have we found in our experience? This is absolutely true. Sarah has worked tirelessly not just going through our strategy, but navigating setbacks, managing partnerships, and ensuring the rest of of work (and family) keeps on ticking through it all.

She has been crafting a case study on various elements of the process so far:

There is a lot to be excited about here. Sarah is passionate about her work, has partnered with wonderful creators, and is taking action on a bold vision.

That said, there is a lot I am nervous about as well. (Sarah, this is where you should stop reading!) For one, we don’t know if all of this will really work! That is the problem with having a bold vision — it means you are navigating through some risky situations, which by their very nature, can feel harrowing.

I have been interviewing a wide range of creative professionals for my book, and see this theme again and again: risk is an inherent part of marrying one’s craft to their career.

Sarah’s Kickstarter launches next week (sign up for Sarah’s newsletter to stay up to date), and there is so much that is still being finalized. It’s exciting… and it’s terrifying!

Which is what I find is exactly the place you want to be as a creator, on that edge between excited and terrified. Because otherwise, you likely aren’t doing enough to push your work into the world.

One of the biggest surprises of all of this is how amazing Kickstarter, the company, has been during this entire process. Not just their tools and service — but their people! (Do you see a theme in this post?)

Sarah reached out to Kickstarter Publishing Community Manager Margot Atwell, who has been an amazing resource in helping to guide the campaign. And how cool is this? Margo competes in and teaches roller derby, and is working on her own book on the history of the sport.

A few weeks back as we were preparing for next week’s launch, the idea came up — “Could we actually visit Kickstarter?” Sarah reached out to Margot, who welcomed us into their amazing facility. Okay, let’s take a tour.

Emma Dryden, Deb Shapiro, Sarah Towle, and me as we embark on our journey from Union Square in Manhattan to Kickstarter HQ in Brooklyn:
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Sarah and Deb talking strategy on our long walk through Brooklyn:
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Things you pass while venturing through Brooklyn:
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But we also passed the amazing WORD bookstore!
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When you first walk into Kickstarter HQ, you look down upon their large communal kitchen:
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Around the area is another eating area (I love a company this focused on food!!!), which I was told was designed to re-create the diner where the Kickstarter founders first hatched the idea for the company.
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They have a gallery which showcases Kickstarter projects!
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Each exhibit features the process the creator went through in turning their idea into reality, with the help of Kickstarter. Here is a headphone designer:
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I completely forget what this was a design for:
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We were like kids in a candy store as we toured their facility. It was like Willy Wonka’s factory for supporting creators turning their ideas into reality:
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Okay, back to their kitchen (cool, right?!):
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The bike room:
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The enormous room where their employees have their desks:
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I loved the natural light and the sense of space. Here is the other side:
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This is where my mind was blown. They have a library. An actual library:
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Margot shows the team the shelf of books funded through Kickstarter:
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Another look at the library. Did I mention they have a library? They do:
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While this seems mildly like a hallway from The Shining, it is actually their grouping of private offices, which counterbalances the largely communal workspaces that take up the rest of the building:
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One of the adorable private rooms:
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The big feature of their offices is not what is inside, but what is outside. An incredible atrium floods every room with natural light and a view of nature:
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And their impressive rooftop garden:
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How incredible is this view from the garden down through the atrium into their offices?!
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At the bottom you can see the large room where the main cluster of desks is located:
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I can’t lie, we were pretty giddy:
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A view across the rooftops of Brooklyn:
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We sat on their rooftop deck with Margo and discussed how to improve the campaign to help encourage success:
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Something that jumped out at me was the huge variety of work areas that Kickstarter provides its employees. Traditional desks, standing desks, couches, communal tables, small group tables, inside, outside, lounge chairs, benches, etc. Every nook and cranny of this place had a different type of space that their employees could choose to work for the day:
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One last shot of the atrium:
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Sarah, Emma and Deb preparing to venture back out into Brooklyn:
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What I take from this experience is exactly that — the experience itself. The StoryApp Tour that Sarah is building is a wonderful focus, as is her mission to “turn history on” to young people by making stories from history accessible and fun. While I have no idea what next week will bring, I can say that Sarah and her team have embraced this experience in every detail.

Thank you, Sarah, for inviting me into this adventure.

In your own work, how do you involve others in asking for help?
Thanks.
-Dan

  • Sarah Towle

    Wow! Thanks so much for the mega Shout Out, Dan! We had a great time at Kickstarter, didn’t we? Even more fun pulling this campaign together. Your contribution to its success has been priceless! Best and More!!!

  • What a great piece, Dan. Love Kickstarter’s office…if you’ve got to work in one, that’s the way to go. Thanks for introducing us to Sarah and her project. I’m a huge history nut, so this is right up my alley!

    • Thank you so much Debra!

    • Sarah Towle

      Hey Debra! Sorry I’m only just seeing this now. I’ve been consumed by the campaign!

      Thanks so much for your enthusiasm! Do you write histories too?