For the most part, I’m just amused. I’m honestly amused, with a smug grin and all. An average guy starts a Kickstarter to make potato salad setting $10 as a fundraising goal, and within a few days he gets a donated pledge in the tens of thousands of dollars. I’m looking at it right now and it went down to about $46,000. Zack Danger Brown simply says in the description, “I’m making potato salad.” He doesn’t sound too confident since in the “Risks and Challenges” section, he simply states, “It might not be that good. It’s my first potato salad.” That’s all it took for thousands of backers to donate to Brown’s Kickstarter.
Yep. I’m definitely amused.
Now, I’ve read some tweets and comments about this lamenting how something like this could receive so much fundraising while there are so many other actually innovative and creative projects that often fail to raise enough funds. People in the non-profit industry are upset that a guy saying he’ll make potato salad can get so much money in donation while charity projects and organizations that desperately need money are rarely so fortunate. Never mind that Kickstarter doesn’t do charity; it just seems unfair.
I don’t know; I’m honestly not that bothered by this one-time phenomenon.
That’s all it really is, a one-time phenomenon. There are now so many other people trying to replicate this success. From cookies to pizza to pasta salad, many boasting that it’ll be better than potato salad, other people are trying to cash in the way Zack Brown did. Some of those folks are getting some pledges, but it’s pretty clear at this point that they won’t make the news for raising tens of thousands of dollars. The joke has been made and we all laughed this once. It’s no longer classy for other people to make the same joke.
As a graduate student majoring in social work, the lesson I take from this event is that people appeal to simple honesty. Zack Brown simply wrote that he wanted to make potato salad and that he would need $10 to do so. He warned that this was the first time he was making potato salad. It’s hard to find any higher sort of expectations on the Kickstarter page. When he started receiving a lot of money, he played along by adding some comical stretch goals, and that only encouraged even more people to give money. There were to wild promises, no marketing talk, heck, not even a YouTube video explaining why it was a good idea to pledge and invest. It’s like Brown didn’t care whether people gave money or not, and the people responded to this apathetic presentation by chuckling and donating some money.
In a way, this was a pushback to all the negative news stories about Kickstarter gone bad, in which a highly anticipated project received millions of dollars in crowd funding but failed to deliver properly. When some Kickstarter-funded projects did arrive, there wasn’t much of a fanfare, like what happened with Ouya. What made even bigger news was the story of Facebook buying Oculus Rift. That was a project that thousands of people pledged a lot of money into, and so seeing a giant social media company buy it off with millions of dollars added to the disillusionment of Kickstarter. It’s not that people have lost faith in Kickstarter, but I think they found in this potato salad stunt an opportunity to make an amusing point about the current state of Kickstarter culture.
I say kudos to Zack Brown for giving us a chuckle, and as long as he makes a potato salad and does all the things he said he’d do as outlined in his stretch goals, I say he should do with the money whatever he wants to do with it. He got on a TV news show the other day and said in the interview that he would like to do some good with the money, and I think that’s pretty cool, but if that “something good” for him turns out to be a sports car or pay off his student loans or whatever, I think that’s fine too. Kickstarter is many things but it is absolutely not a fundraising tool for charity or non-profits, and most backers pledged money knowing that’s the case, so again, kudos to Zack Brown.
The lesson here is that honesty and transparency matters in fundraising. I feel like many people are starting to feel like there isn’t enough of that in all of these crowd-funding and fundraising campaigns. Instead of all the promises about how the money that gets donated will revolutionize the world, most people at first just want to know basically what’s going on, and what exactly will be done with the money. The potato salad Kickstarter provided exactly that. Here was a guy who needed $10 to make potato salad, and it was going to be his potato salad. Is he actually going to use tens of thousands of dollars to make potato salad? Will any of the backers actually get potato salad? Who knows? And most likely not, but ultimately, the important thing is that his project felt authentic.
I think one bad thing to come out of this is that it’s had the effect of increasing distrust of fundraising, especially crowd funding. Hopefully all the copycats quit soon, but in the meantime, it’s now even harder to distinguish between awesome projects we should invest into and donate to, and fundraising scams that might as well be a cash blackhole. The irony I suppose is that as people found appealing the authenticity of the potato salad Kickstarter, it’s now even harder to determine which is authentic and which is not.