Have you ever tried your hand at crowdfunding? You build a network of supporters and ask them to support you in whatever campaign you’re trying to raise money for. Sometimes your ideas will get funding, sometimes they won’t. If you don’t get funding, then you figure out what went wrong and either try again or shelve your project.
What you cannot count on is how the internet is changing commerce. Since people behave differently online than in real life, you don’t know what will work and what won’t.
Enter Fidget Cube, a minorly useful toy for people like me who are restless and can’t sit still. The toy is being sold on Kickstarter for $19 and will retail for $25. For the record, Heroes of History is $20 plus shipping for $25. So for $25 you can learn something about history and world cultures, or you can buy a cube that, as a heavy fidgeter, isn’t something that would seriously add value to my life.
The reason I bring this up is that I don’t think even the creators expected their joke to go viral. yet this is largely how a lot of crowdfunding works, for the same reason someone’s potato salad prank netted more than $50,000. To quote the genius behind the potato salad prank:
“What began as a joke between Zack Brown and his friends blew up into an international story, became the fourth most-viewed Kickstarter page ever and, ultimately, led to Brown ending the campaign $55,492 richer. “The potato salad Kickstarter being more popular than ‘Reading Rainbow’ and Oculus Rift, to me, makes no sense,” Brown says. “How did potato salad get more page views than ‘Reading Rainbow’? I have no idea.”
Well, since people don’t really read anymore, that’s not hard to surmise.
The better question is: How does a cube, while certainly a funny idea, actually get people who are allegedly poor to put down $20 for what amounts to worry dice with a switch and a glider?
One of comments on the blog gave a reasonable answer:
People just love to jump on bandwagons… it’s not about helping at all but doing what everyone else is doing, so they appear to be part of the popular crowd. It’s simple psychology, really.
To be fair, the video itself is funny and well done, and I know the creators were doing this as a joke. I don’t blame them, and in fact I admire their ability to come up with a half-hazard idea and still walk away with a lot of money. Interestingly enough, this is the brothers’ fifth Kickstarter, and easily their most successful one.
The point here is more about what gets funding on Kickstarter, or which goes viral: The problem with trying to build a brand is how stories like this impact us:
a. People see a fidget cube or potato salad campaign go viral, then get the idea that they can go viral too if only they’re just as funny or clever. They cut out the hard work part and immediately try to come up with something funny.
b. People see a fidget cube or potato salad campaign go viral, then get the idea they are idiots for building their fanbases slowly while some guys just throw something up and it happens to go viral. They try to emulate the successful creators but end up disappointed they cannot duplicate the randomness of these creators, and waste time chasing the gold instead of building their brand.
c. people see a fidget cube or potato salad go viral and look at their ideas, some of which might be legitimately innovative or helpful to people, and wonder why they didn’t just do that instead. This causes distraction away from the main goal in order to try to capture some of the viral magic.
d. People see a fidget cube or potato salad campaign go viral, and simply give up on society because they can’t figure out why people won’t donate $5 to education or helping people with cancer, but will spend $25 on a joke.
“Next innovation for Kickstarter: A stick that goes in a hole! We gonna call it Stikole! Helps you fidget and feel better about yourself.”
The problem I have with campaigns like these is they expose three beliefs of free enterprise capitalism that are not true on the internet:
a. people with great ideas can make lots of money if their ideas are sound and executed. This is otherwise known as the “cream rises to the top theory”. The potato salad should have show this up! I suspect a lot of what becomes popular on the internet is by total random chance.
b. The marketplace is in your control- that is, your products or services are totally dictated by needs of the marketplace, rather than random events or fortunate circumstances.
c. There is no such thing as luck- wealthy people make their own luck.
Again, give the Fidget brothers their due- the video is well-made and entertaining and I get that this was supposed to be a funny joke. Yet how more than 105,000 people can decide THIS is the “innovative” product this world needs, when there are inventions that are more useful to your lives but which maybe don’t entertain you get little to no attention or money. And yes, 46 million Americans are using food stamps just to make ends meet.
The truth is, there are things you can do to increase your chances of a successful crowdfunding campaign. Trying to go viral is not one of them. You just have no idea what will work and what won’t on the internet. That’s why no one is entirely sure why some social media accounts become famous and others, doing the same thing, don’t. All I can recommend is, try not to bank on going viral and yes, it’s okay to focus on growing your base slowly!