About a year and a half ago, I was working at a boutique documentary production company. We were housed in a lofty Soho space, owned by a bigger company, and I used to chat with our office mates–now some of my dearest friends–in the kitchen. One day, a producer at the company was cooking his lunch and told me about a documentary he had been making for years about WFMU, the lovably weird, formatless, and commercial-free radio station based in New Jersey. As someone completely music obsessed, I asked him to keep me in the loop on progress and funding (as that is the type of producer I was being cultivated to be—one that raises money for filmmakers).
A week later he cornered me in the kitchen and asked, “What do you know about Kickstarter?”
“Hmmm. Kickstarter…it’s a new thing on the Internet, right?” I said.
“Yes, it’s actually a way to raise money on the Internet,” he said.
Completely ignorant, but also always up for a challenge and creative collaboration, we launched our Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2012. Little did we know that the “crowd” would be so eager to fund our passion project. By the last day of the 30-day campaign, we surpassed our goal by more than 150%, raising over $80,000. I then ran a campaign for another documentary and again we exceeded our goal, this time reaching some 1,000 backers from around the world. That money allowed us to finish the film, and we went on to the Tribeca Film Festival. The rest is history. Filmmakers started approaching me to raise money for their films, and an article was written about me where I was dubbed "The Crowdsourceress.” By the end of 2013, I had raised a quarter of a million dollars for six successful campaigns including indie films, tech startups, and a theater production fronted by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Now into 2014, I just finished running a campaign for Oscar and Emmy-nominated filmmakers. I have been invited by the Knight Foundation to offer crowdfunding expertise to artists around the country. And, about a week ago, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for Neil Young. The project is raising money for Young's audio player, which promises the best possible listening experience in digital music. We reached our $800,000 goal in less than a day, and then broke $2 million in two days. Today, we are over $4.3 million, with around 13,000 backers and still 26 days remaining. The PonoMusic fundraising effort–our very own PonoMusic revolution—is one of the most successful in Kickstarter’s history.
Having begun my efforts working in the "indie" side of things—and now producing a campaign of this massive scale—exemplifies where we are today in the world of financing the arts. The movement towards crowdfunding as an alternative means for funding has been both impressive and transformative for both sides of the spectrum— from the starving artist to people like Zach Braff, Spike Lee, and Neil Young. The crowdfunding economy has tripled in the last three years, and now equity crowdfunding may be opened to the crowd, not just accredited investors.
On Big Think, I will be offering my expertise and sharing stories about my experiences. Have a question or your own personal story to share about navigating this Brave New World? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.