Season 1, Episode 10
Lessons from building Kickstarter with Charles Adler
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About this episode
Charles Adler, co-founder of Kickstarter, shares his learnings on building community and a two-sided platform. In this episode, we discuss how Kickstarter grew organically, while trying to maintain the quality of the projects. Charles also talks about the importance of observing: observing and learning from your users and their behavior. We end on the possibilities that the current and coming economic hard times might give to innovation and the invention of more companies like Kickstarter.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Charles Adler: [00:00:00] There's I think two things as you're building community is listen and engage, right? It is not. And I think there's a fallacy here. This term vision that we kick around a lot. Yes, there is that like, I have a complete kind of image in my mind of what this new project is going to be, but the path. Getting there can completely be meandering that's okay. It doesn't need to be linear. And the only way it gets to some end state, whether it's picture perfect to that vision I had or not right. Is through listening and engaging or observing and engaging. Welcome to two-sided. The marketplace podcast brought to you by Sharetribe.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:00:54] Hi, I'm Sjoerd CMO at Sharetribe. And I'm your host. For this episode, I talked to Charles Adler who was a cofounder of one of the most famous, and I would argue one of the most interesting two sided platform of the last decade Kickstarter. I got introduced to Charles through a listener, actually, Kim Laskowski. So thank you very much, Kim. And I would say that this is a, you know, slowly becoming a real podcast. I use Kickstarter myself and probably some of you as well. So you can imagine I was super excited to talk to Charles. We talk a little bit about the early days of Kickstarter, how they grew organically while at the same time, trying to maintain the quality and more importantly, where Charles calls the vibe of Kickstarter. And Charles also talks about the importance of observing, observing, and learning from your users and their behavior, and then going back and designing to improve more of that. And finally, we talk about the possibilities that the current and coming economic hard times, it actually gives to innovation and possibly the invention companies like Kickstarter. I really enjoyed this one and we went a bit long, but I promise you it is worth it. Now sit back or run or bike or whatever you listen to his podcast and listen to the conversation with Charles Adler. Hi Charles. Welcome to the show.
Charles Adler: [00:02:21] Hey, what's up?
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:02:22] Hey, great. Do you want to join? Of course, I've done some research into who is Charles Adler, but for the people at home listening, could you tell us a little bit about who is Charles Adler?
Charles Adler: [00:02:32] Yeah, totally happy to. So I guess, yes, I would say I am a designer and I say that somewhat hesitant Lee, because I didn't study design. I didn't go to school for design. I actually went to school for mechanical engineering and before that was deeply interested in architecture. And so I had this like mild plan to go study architecture, which. It was a longer story. So originally I started out life wanting to be an architect in, tried to becoming an engineer. And then the internet kind of came along. And this is, you know, 93 to 96 period where I was in university and ended up dropping out of engineering school to pursue a job as a, what they used to call a webmaster, which is really just shorthand for, I've been doing this for a long time. And, you know, I'm probably in this conversation because of Kickstarter. So we'll talk a little bit about Kickstarter, but even prior to that was working on what I would say is like community based projects that supported communities in creative disciplines. So art design technology.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:03:40] And so how did that lead to kickstarted and eventually, like from being a webmaster in the 93 to when does Kickstarter started, was it 2009?
Charles Adler: [00:03:49] Yeah, 2009 and start is always an interesting thing, right? So we launched April 28th of 2009. I remember the date very deeply for the rest of my life. Maybe it's on my tombstone. Anyway, April 28th of 2009 was when Kickstarter launched. But when it started actually as a way, way, way backstory. Predates me predates my other cofounder, UNC, that was 2001 with our third, the cofounder or the first co-founder, which is Perry. And he was living in new Orleans. So, you know, a, you know, all of these stories have a longer life than when first noted them or when tech crunch picked them up. Yeah. The connection for me was just in like how I met Perry and got connected into Kickstarter was. Again, kind of connecting back to this previous life. So prior to Kickstarter, I'd run it, my own design studio, design technology studio, building products for clients. And prior to that, I was at a consultancy for about a decade. So working with much larger clients, basically doing product development, and it was a colleague of mine, a K, a friend of mine, mine that I was working with there that introduced me to Perry. My would be co founder. And the two of them were freshmen college roommates. All right, right. See, you can't really make this up and you can't really plan for any of this. And what I would say is like the connection that I believe Scott who made the introduction had is he, you know, he just knew me. Like we were friends, we'd go out clubbing together. So he kind of knew some of my, I would say, like out of work idiosyncrasies, and also knew that I had been working on a particular project that was about. Empowering creative community, um, through technology, AKA the internet. Um, and it was, you know, something as simple as that, that got him to connect me to Paris.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:05:34] So what was the idea of Kickstarter Dan at the time that Scott made that connection? Like, Oh, like this is something Charles might be interested in.
Charles Adler: [00:05:42] Well, I think, you know, for one, I mean, I will say this, that Kickstarter in 2006, seven, eight, like all the years of we're building it prior to launching is the same that Kickstarter is now. It's like, we were very fortunate in that we didn't do any major your pivots. And so the kernel of the product and the kernel of the idea is always there in a state consistent. What I would say is the connective tissue. Maybe I can describe briefly like what I was building. Yeah.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:06:10] But maybe you can even tell me what you consider is the Colonel of Kickstarter, because I'm not even sure if I'm clear on that.
Charles Adler: [00:06:15] Yeah. Okay. So, you know, basically the kernel of Kickstarter was that there were creative people all over the place with projects that you never get to hear about because they generally die. Right. And in the context of Kickstarter, it was about many of them die because they make no financial sense. Right. Or the person creating them doesn't have the network, presumably doesn't have the network to get them funded. Right. And you know, what I would say is like, in the pitch, like at the time, uh, in the context of time is very important. If you remember 2008 was economically a pretty horrific period, knock, knock we're in a similar one, actually a worst
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:06:55] one, possibly. Yeah.
Charles Adler: [00:06:57] And you know, part of the argument there is like the rich uncle you used to have is no longer rich. And so they can no longer bankroll your project. So go out to your community, right. Or, you know, if you're already somewhat established, you can go out to your fans and get funded right on that, like kind of reflective of that note. There's a great essay by Kevin Kelly, who was the founding editor of wired magazine called a thousand true fans, which basically projects much of the Kickstarter model in some capacity. I mean, it wasn't the inspiration for Kickstarter by any stretch, but. And sort of one of those things we found along the way. Anyway, so the, the, the Colonel the idea for Kickstarter was about supporting people on their creative projects, their art projects, their band project, right. The music project, and enabling their friends and family and fans to fund that first version. One of the thing, and it just kind of grew from there. And I would say that the Colonel connected back to what got me introduced to Perry was, you know, what I was building was a much more low-fi version of that. And arguably missing the financial component. Right? So effectively what I was building before was an online Xen. If you want to call it that kind of hearkening back to my kind of punk rock roots, but it was something that I would release every two months with new artists of different genres that didn't have access to a general public. And the fight that I was in arguably, or the thing that we were trying to get over for folks was I'm not signed to a record label. I don't have an art gallery. That's willing to, you know, do a show for me because I'm not known yet. And so how can these people just get visibility? And to me as somebody who is always just fascinated with technology and the internet now, arguably like the internet, which was this great connecting conduit, how can I create a venue right on the internet that drew eyes to under represented invisible, creative people that I think are doing read stuff. And so that was what I was trying to do. And when I met Perry, sort of our very first conversation over the phone, My sort of historical recollection, to what extent this is true or not. I can't even tell you, but, uh, you know, my emotional kind of memory of that moment was stopping him mid sentence. Yes, he's trying to describe in a long form, not an elevator pitch. What he was trying to build was this thing called Kickstarter and stopping a mid sentence being like I get it like this school, hang out some more and talk in more depth about what it is that you're building.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:09:37] Right. Cool. So in a way that is kind of the, what you described the need. That is also what I would say is indeed Kickstarter that has become since Dan, where you have these on the one side, like if we sort of think about this from a marketplace perspective where you have, like on one side of the platform, you have people who you have a particular skill or thing that they have have. And on the artist side, you have the entire world. On waste. There are perhaps indeed a thousand fans calling back to that essay that you mentioned that are willing to yeah. Pre-fund is totally. Yeah. And that's really clear why that was a good match. So when you joined, was there something like a product already? Was it still being billed and if it was being built, what ended up being sort of the very first version where let's say the first thing got funded.
Charles Adler: [00:10:21] So there, yeah, there was no product at the time. And actually arguably the gap, like why the introduction was made was my whole background is in a discipline that I think may still exist, but I don't know, called information. Architecture translates very easily to the modern word product. Right. And yeah. Perry didn't have that background. Arguably, Perry's more of an artist than a project person, although he's become a very strong product person clearly, and he just needed somebody to collaborate with. So actually the first handshake, the first agreement was like, let's just hang out for a couple of weeks. And there was no like, cool, you're going to come in and become, co-founder like, that's a ridiculous. Right? And so the relationship was a handshake and saying like, Hey, you know, Perry, you know, effectively saying this, if you know, let's spend a couple of weeks together and if at the end of those couple of weeks, I feel like I got what I needed, then I'll cut you a check. We'll figure out what that is. And if not, then we'll figure out how to do something longer. And so clearly I never got the check and we did the laundry. And I think much of that was because is a we're collaborating really well. I innately understood where he was coming from in terms of. When I say I use the word creative critically, because that, I believe that bridges this gap between an artist. And either an entrepreneur or an industrial designer or product developer. Right. So, but at the time it was, you know, deeply just focused on art projects. And so, yeah, I don't know, we hit it off. We collaborated well, and it was clear that what the concept of what we were working on needed a lot of nurturing because it was so unique as a. Potential product.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:12:04] Yeah. And so the first version was sort of targeted towards our projects more. Can you tell us maybe a little bit about what was, I don't know, the first project that got funded or got released. I mean, there's always like last time, for example, I had previously interviewed someone from Florence. It's a service for getting temporary nurses in the UK and their first version was like Google sheets. And like I've heard similar things. So I'm really curious, like I was the Kickstarter's first version.
Charles Adler: [00:12:32] Yeah. So, you know, it's interesting. I was just getting into this discussion with my developer and a collaborator on this new project that I'm working on, which is like, what's the cheapest way to build the thing that we want to build. Like, we don't need to actually build software, which is referenced to your point about Google docs. We didn't do any of that. So whatever say is like we, bill, I would say something more than him MVP, but going back to your earlier question about what was the first. Funded project. And what was the first project that launched? I will say two things, and I think this relates very much to even what I'm doing now. So maybe we can talk about Kickstarter. I can talk briefly about lost arts, just in the neck and isms of getting community and or marketplace going right,
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:13:13] please.
Charles Adler: [00:13:14] So, you know, with Kickstarter, no, that nobody knew who the hell we were. Right. There was no, I mean, there were barely any podcasts, but nobody was going to put Charles Perry or Yancey on a podcast because who the hell are these guys? And what's Kickstarter. I don't know what that is. And so, you know, just like any entrepreneur, you look around you and say, who do I know that has this problem and how do we solve it? And so the first projects were like our friends. Us. I didn't launch one, arguably, but Perry had launched a campaign that did not get funded. Ridiculously poetic did not get blended. And it was just him spray painting the bust of Grace Jones.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:13:54] Oh really? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Like on a
Charles Adler: [00:13:57] tee shirts, tee shirt on a blank tee shirt. Yeah. Like what else? Right. Like, and it didn't get funded. I keep telling me should relaunch that anyway. Um, so it was projects like that, right? It was projects. Like we were all in bedded in the arts community of different sorts. Right. And eight, that was the thing that bonded the three of us as co founders, but also got us to focus on. Almost without distraction like this particular market. And so those are some of the first projects that got launched. The very first project that got funded. I actually don't even know if either of us even know this person. So as I, as much as I go through and talk about the fact that we invited all of her friends, I don't even know who this person was. So it was by somebody named dark pony. So I would argue that pseudonymity is actually kind of awesome. Can get dark, but it's kind of awesome. So dark pony, he, she, they don't know. And dark ponies project was called drawing for dollars, which basically explains. The entirety of the project, dark Tony wanted to raise, I think 15 bucks to draw. The assumption was like, draw three pictures, three backers. I think he's like for $5 you get a drawing. That was it. Right? Like dark punny was frustrated with the fact that, that they would doodle, but never complete a drawing. Yeah. And it felt that the economic pressure would help. Yeah, it would help. And I thought that was like, I don't know. This is so genuinely Kickstarter. It's perfect. It's still perfect. And in foreshadowing, what Kickstarter would become, although we didn't really recognize this time, dark pony raised $35, right. So it was supposed to raise $15 and that speaks to a couple of things. Somebody was generous or a couple of people were generous. They gave more than what was asked of them. And we see that a lot. And the fact that expressed that you could raise more. Cause that was always kind of the design of the product was that you couldn't raise less. So it was all or nothing funding, but you could raise as much as you want. And we've seen that.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:15:59] And so did you, for example, handle money already on the platform then? How did that work?
Charles Adler: [00:16:04] Yes, we did. And that's a very difficult story, frankly. So, well, difficult stories are good drama intention. So yeah, we did, we were using Amazon FPS, which is a flexible payment service is one of the, sort of. Sibling products to AWS. It's kind of part of that suite, if you will. And I actually believe that is no longer approved of theirs. So I think which is also to say, I think we were their biggest customer, which is not a good place to be. And we're now on Stripe.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:16:36] No. I mean, we don't necessarily need to go into like a, what the service would more like I was curious because I could even imagine that they're like, Hey, just mail $5 in an envelope to Perry and send him an email. And you know, he'll like,
Charles Adler: [00:16:51] yeah. So there's a lot of even what you're describing that, as you say it I'm like, no, no, no, we would never do that. So, and what I mean by that is one thing I think was really important. And this is maybe pulls from another part of my design background. So when you could argue like my information architect. Product background is inspired by or driven by my attraction to architecture. But the other side of my kind of traction to design in general is about communication and brand. And as a brand we knew, and this was a lot of conversation that Perry and I were having as we were developing the product was we knew we needed to instill trust because we were a new platform with this new, weird concept, even though it was. There's a lot of rationale as to how it would be familiar, but it was still new. And so I think we needed to build trust there as well as not be an intermediary. And that was very important to us from a business standpoint. So the idea that we would hold the money and escrow it kind of, and give it to somebody else like that wouldn't fit. But what was interesting and I think this is difficult one, but. We had built all these other features, but we not build the transactional piece of it. And we were looking for the easy one was we were looking at PayPal, right? Yeah. Because there was no FPS that we were aware of, but yeah.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:18:06] Stripe or anything. Anything else usable? Yeah, I remember. Yeah.
Charles Adler: [00:18:11] None of that. Like I, yeah, I think Patrick and his brother were probably in middle school or something. I mean, they're so young when they launched Stripe is kind of amazing, but yeah, there was none of that. And so we were looking at PayPal, but with how we were. Designing what we were building. We actually couldn't use PayPal. We would have gone against their terms of service, which one of our competitors who had launched before us was doing, which is super risky because they could have gotten shut down at any given time. And we just didn't want to take on that risk. And so luckily, I mean, it was literally skin of our teeth found out about FPS. We had launched. The same time that they launched. So we got access very early. Somehow. I honestly don't even remember this. This is probably mostly Perry digging and we'd gotten access very early on. And so for that first, going back to your original question, like, yes, we were running transactions properly through FPS and collecting and delivering money, but we weren't taking any fee. Yeah. As in neither was FPS, actually.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:19:15] Yeah, no, I'm just asking him because there's a cool, because now a lot of actually came out of this question. It's more like a, what I've understood from talking to other people who have built things like handling the payment is a really complex thing. That's not something that a lot of people want to take on so early in a project before you have even sort of validated the idea. So, all right. Now I'm going to again go like, well, not necessarily technical, but like sort of marketplace theoretical, because what I've learned from talking to many of the guests and also reading loads of things about it, that there's always this like constraining taking place. And probably people listening are like, Oh yeah, it comes out of question. But like, it sounds to me that like you have these natural constraints where you focused on sort of one category first, like without maybe even knowing it or more like, Oh, we're really now just serving the arts, like the artsy projects first. Can you tell us like how to sort of progress? Because I think I became familiar with Kickstarter maybe around the time of the first pebble, maybe, maybe a little bit earlier. I'm I'm not, I'm not sure. Yeah. Probably one of that batch, like I don't remember, but that seems a very different kind of project already. Like in that I think that's what a lot of people are associated with now. I think we sort of later at shifted more towards tech, but can you talk us a little bit about that sort of evolution? Like, because you're obviously not like geographically constrained because people can just pay anywhere on the net. But like, how did that expand? Because I think that's a very interesting,
Charles Adler: [00:20:30] yeah. I mean, to be honest, it was organic and we've always let that happen organically. And what I mean by that is maybe I can tell a story with respect to, we can talk about product development as well. Like how did pebble get here? And there's this whole genealogy of that goes back to this guy, Creighton Berman. Who's a Chicago industrial designer who put a project up called pinch. Which was the first product on the platform, but you really need to understand, like, look at the project and understand why at that time Creighton and then understand Creighton, put his project on Kickstarter, because I would argue that Creighton is a deeply poetic person and is as a designer and artist and cares about craft. And I think that thread goes all the way. To the pebble team and you know, many of the teams since, and so there's this connective tissue, but I think the other story that I was going to say kind of related to Creighton, same with video games. So video games became a thing and maybe ignorantly on our part. You know, the three of us grew up playing video games. I might've known some folks that went on to build video. Actually, I did, I worked with somebody who was a. Video game designer, but it never really thought or really understood the indie game development world. Right? There's this whole underbelly, this whole sub genre. And what was going on? This is, I want to say 2010. So maybe a year after we had launched. There was a couple of blogs and kind of video series that were going around. I think it was gamma Sutra, which is a big gaming blog and they were starting to talk about Kickstarter. Why? Because game developers also listen to music or buy art or fund community projects. And so. Well, you start to realize is there is this like connective tissue as humans that we have. And we're more than just like the stupid thing that we do during the day. Right. And Kickstarter has the ability to reach everybody effectively in that way. And so. I think an important part, which may be foreshadowing a little bit, but one of the things that still remains, I think, a strong cornerstone to the platform and our push as a company to the community is. You know, we'll do some work to support your project. And there's an index where people can find your project, but you know, the majority of the effort is on you. You've got to be proud of what you're working on. And that's really where that comes from is that motivation of you need to have some skin in the game. And so if you're in a band and you're funding your album, you're going to do what posted on Facebook, posted on Twitter, posted on Instagram, email, your mailing list. And if one of those people also makes a video game or as an industrial designer, they're going to start thinking like, huh, that's kind of dope. I think there's other project that maybe I can use that thing for. And that's literally how it, you know, how it all kind of unfolds.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:23:35] Yeah. I mean, that sounds like perfect storm, like perfect network effect in a way that like, yeah, like your supply is also like, your demands are either way actually in your case, like they overlap a lot. Yeah.
Charles Adler: [00:23:47] Yeah. It was a into the design of the. Platform, frankly.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:23:51] Yeah. And so you figured that out before, you're like, Oh, this is what's gonna, like, you expected that to happen.
Charles Adler: [00:23:56] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that was the, yeah. We hoped that would happen. That was kind of the design, the architecture, if you will, of how projects would become visible. Right. We would do an index, meaning you can go to kickstarter.com/projects and find stuff, right. We knew because we started a, we were looking at how did people discover YouTube videos? It wasn't by going to youtube.com at the time that behavior really wasn't there, it was. And Twitter wasn't even really a thing. Twitter definitely wasn't a thing at that point in time. And so there was no Twitter, there was no Instagram, there were none of these things. And so how were people sharing YouTube videos? Email text message. I aim. If anybody wants to name my space, maybe. Yeah, totally. And so like there's fragments of this stuff happening. And then as Twitter launched and we're watching Twitter, the same behavior kind of gets coalesced. Right. And what I would say is not only Twitter, but things like lbs, which no longer exist, but there was this kind of movement of products coming out or with a similar thesis. And so it seemed viable.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:25:04] Yeah. And so that's of course fantastic. You see that wave come in, you see the expanding, expanding, how did you, I mean, you say that all grew organically. I assume you did some kind of management, right? Yeah. Like hot, because an important part, of course, you've already referred to it earlier that like, Hey, trust is really great important, and that means that especially on the. Let's say to decide where the projects are coming does also need to be trustworthy. How did you handle that? Like at one point, did that become like problematic? And at what point, like, well, could you maybe talk us a little bit through the journey of this like management part? Because I think that's very interesting. This is a problem that a lot of marketplaces places will have, you know, like same thing with Airbnb or any type like that. How did you maintain that supply?
Charles Adler: [00:25:49] Yeah. So we talked a little bit about the demand piece, right? Like the supply side basically is 90% responsible or 99% responsible for their own demand generating their own demand. And on the supply side, what's interesting. You used the word earlier that I'll come back to, which was constraint and I'll even reference your Florence and Google docs reference. Right. Which is kind of red. So it was. Super hard to get on Kickstarter in 2009, 2010, 2011. Right. We had done some things that didn't work. Maybe I'll talk a little bit about that. So another trick, I would say that was being replicated because Google had done a great job with it with Gmail was the invite a friend mechanism, right? So Google had, or Gmail basically grew because you could turn other people onto this new email client. By inviting them in. Right. So there's like some social capital with that. And so we were like, Oh, it's going to be great. A creator is going to know another creator, like artists know other artists and musicians and other musicians. And so they're going to be like, you got to use this thing. Some of that happened, it didn't really take flight. So what I would say is like, you know, that's just something we learned didn't really fell flat. So that was a way to, what I would say is like to ease into growing the community on the supply side. Or the project side, but the other side, meaning the constraint piece is we just didn't want any random person launching a campaign because to your point, it could deplete trust dramatically. Just one project could completely kill the whole platform. And we won. We were like very conscious and considerate around just the, what I would say is like the vibe. That we wanted to build, right? The community that we wanted to build. And so you either needed to be invited by somebody else invited by us, or if you're just some random person on the street, you needed to know where the alley was. And I'll explain this a little bit more, but you needed to know where the alley was in which door unmarked door was the door to club Kickstarter. So there's a little bit of like punk rock kind of underground techno reference in here. But the point being to literally get on the platform, not knowing anybody who's run a campaign or not knowing one of the founders or one of the employees you needed to go to the FAQ page, that seems pretty illogical, right? You need to go to the FAQ page. And instead of reading the FAQ, you needed to read this crappy little paragraph in the upper right hand corner of the screen and embedded in that paragraph was a. Something to the effect of, if you're interested in running a, launching a campaign, contact us hyperlink to an email. And so it was like really hard. There was a big green start button. Right. It was not just, you know, easy. And then we actually had to respond to your email. And the idea was that you would pitch us what you wanted to fund and, you know, sometimes we ignore them. Yeah. And ultimately that wasn't about being arrogant and wasn't about. You know, being underground or mean it was, um, it was really about quality and we just had a sense of quality, which I guess was subjective with his goal of over time. We would understand what quality meant objectively and which would allow us to not make it so difficult to get on the platform and allow us to do what you can do now, which is. Just go in, sign up and launch your campaign. And the bump to get launched is actually really, really low.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:29:21] Yeah. So, you know, a lot of pointed West at email address, like no longer feasible, like when you ran, when you ran out of interns, So you answered. I was like, why did you do that? Because I think this makes a lot of sense, what you're saying, you know, you keep a high thresholds, you keep quality in that button with the email. I've also heard that story before. I'm going to reference an earlier episode, right? Interviewed Ruthie MRO from Freightos, which was like afraid to book platform. It's like a really complicated. Calculation on the front end. When, when you said book it, see, this is later, really he got an email and then she would actually make all the matches behind the scenes stuff. It makes a lot of sense to me,
Charles Adler: [00:29:58] expensive to build these things. So like, if you can find shortcuts that have human means and all the better.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:30:04] Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. One thing you mentioned that like, yeah. Some projects could deplete the trust. Did you see something like that happen early on where you realized, Oh, this is going to go off. Was there any interesting stories there that you were thought like, Oh, we shouldn't have done this or we saw some signs early on, but we ignored them or I dunno, or that surprisingly came back to life that just sort of taught you about how this could impact trust.
Charles Adler: [00:30:28] Well, okay, so I can, I'll talk about three things in there. One is I'll start on the positive. And then maybe end on the depleting of trust. So I think what you're reflecting on is like, are there projects that taught us something, because I think there's learnings in every one of these steps in much like your reference to Airbnb. Like they've had learnings that they then impart into either the product or the guidelines for using the platform. Right. And so. What's interesting. I think about product development with software, particularly software that is on the internet. Right? So cloud based services is that they're constantly morphing, like constantly and yet still. I mean, it's kind of not necessarily imparted in your question, but we still have this frame of reference that like you built a thing. And that's the thing, right? Like you shipped it, right? Like this Mac book that I'm looking at, like it's kind of done. You can't really do much with it once it's shipped. And so what's fun about that is that every day, I mean, even 10 years plus on. We can learn and change the product or change the guidelines and change something about the community that is in response to behavior positive or negative at see. So I'll go back to it. What was really exciting waiting in the first year, first two years was like, you get these little moments. It's usually, there's a question of like, when did you know. And I was like, well, there's a whole bunch of moments when I knew. And it was about scale, right? So Alison Weiss is a singer song writer. And that was a moment that we knew that we had done something really well. So it wasn't like the summer of 2009. We've been launched for a couple months, if not weeks. And then there was Scott Thomas, who, a couple months later who raised the most money at the time, which was like $87,000, right. Like, Oh my gosh. Right? Yeah. And then there was Scott Wilson who, which kind of expresses this bridge between categories. So Scott Thomas had a publishing. He wrote a book. And Scott Thomas also lived in Chicago. Scott Wilson lived in Chicago. He was an industrial designer, just so happens that Scott Wilson had contracted Scott Thomas at one point in his life as a graphic designer, which is how Scott Wilson found out about Kickstarter and Scott Wilson. A couple of years later, or a year later launches a campaign to fund something called tick talk. Oh, my God. That's a different meaning these days. Anyway, tic talk at the time was a wristband that held the iPod nano to create a proxy to the Apple watch that Apple had not come out with yet. Right. Scott Wilson went on to raise just shy of a million dollars. For the risks
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:33:16] watch
Charles Adler: [00:33:16] for the wristwatch tick tock thing. And so there's this really interesting. Somebody needs to do it, this genius of projects and categories, but yeah. Yeah, the point being is like, there's all these moments of learning and these moments of reflection in these moments where you realize it's working King and could work better. And then I would say that there's the other end of your spectrum? The is, you know, where do you, things not go so well. And how do you learn from those. And there's always going to be those right. And, you know, I guess, I mean, some of these are very public and my memory's a little foggy with some of these. I've been out of the company for a couple of years now, but, you know, I guess what I would say is that most of the issues that we've run into, I think, speak to community and in some cases it's about. Information, like, what do you share about your project at the time of launch? And then what do you add to it later that allows us to better understand what you're building. Right. And so what I mean by that is, you know, you go to launch your campaign. You say one thing, it looks pretty innocent. And then over time you realize like, Oh, this could be a pretty bad thing. And what's been interesting. I would say this, I think this is frankly another facet about the internet that is beautiful. Is the internet is just a way for people to connect. And sometimes that is connecting with companies and calling them out when something. Looks distrustful or unsavory or wrong. Yeah. And so there've been a number of cases where we've been turned on to things that at the launch look really good, innocent, and passed our test, whatever that was at the time, uh, that the internet goes like, Hey, you're wrong. Like this seems pretty dangerous in some way. Uh, and there've been a couple of cases where that's happened, where we shut projects down or have had to change guidelines. By virtue of that learning. So
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:35:09] then it's a good being of course, about having a community on that one side, which is sort of like a self-regulating power at some point where like, those things organically got surfaced. Yeah. I mean, I wasn't looking for dirt. Like, don't get me wrong. It's like, I know for a fact that you didn't come out with the, like, you'd never come out of the perfect version out of the gate. So there's all these like small incremental things that you did, you learn to make it better. And now, well, we've also sort of, I mean, that sort of also answers my earlier questions. Like how do you maintain quality? But maybe we could expand a little bit on that still. Like, so posts, they hit an email address and this sort of big community, like, how did you do that in between? Like, did you have some kind of community manager, just, how did you maintain quality while you were scaling?
Charles Adler: [00:35:51] Generally most projects created discussion. So when it was just the email address that you had to get to from. The FAQ page, you know, there is a small group of people that were kind of conversing about each project and it was so early on that those, the response back to those folks was generally also filled with guidance. Right? And so, you know, a, there was discussion within a team called the community community team at Kickstarter, some projects. Scaled up to conversations with Perry and me and the whole company, which at that time was maybe like 12 people, like super small. Right. And some of those projects created a fierce amount. Right. Debate. Should we shouldn't we should, we shouldn't. We should. We shouldn't we right. And so I'll give you an example that I think frankly at this point is pretty innocent, but there was a, somebody wanted to fund their wedding and what they had proposed for their wedding was actually kind of dope. Like it was super creative and super fun. And you could argue like, Culturally totally belongs on Kickstarter. The concern was that what it's going to generate is a whole bunch of people using Kickstarter for their wedding, which is not interesting to us, right. Was not what we wanted. And so a lot of it was what I would say is what are some of these projects create as optics? Because at the end of the day, like people are going to water things down, right? So meaning a couple wants to do their wedding. They happen to. You know, get an email or see some article about, look at this creative couple, doing their cookie wedding in this way. Right. And all they see is money wedding and they don't, they completely scope over. The fact that they've actually put creative energy and artistic energy into whatever their wedding was supposed to be.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:37:38] Yeah. It's like the thing minus a what'd you said the vibe, right?
Charles Adler: [00:37:43] Yep. And so we were really trying to protect against that. You know, I'd say that, that those were some of those discussions. Once we were at a point where we could effectively afford a team to then build tools internally, like curation effectively and actually a tool that you could actually just go and launch your. Campaign that then, you know, at that point, still a system in place it's just more mechanical, so to speak, but it's, you know, and now, you know, I think going back to that subjective to objective there's certain categories that generally speaking, we don't really have too much pre oversight on. Whereas there's some categories that we still keep an eye on because. Just the players involved, could change the temperature of the water.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:38:28] Yeah. Yeah. That's really cool to hear because indeed, like, it will be difficult to translate something like that into a process where like, Oh yeah, this flies in this flies out, it feels that there's a lot of, like, I like this idea of like demonstrate with water and a five. It makes a lot of sense.
Charles Adler: [00:38:42] If I can make this one comment. I was speaking at a conference a couple of years ago and the gentleman before me was from GitHub. If anyone's familiar with GitHub and. He closed with a statement that just struck me so hard and it was such an innocent statement. And I should maybe state the audience audience was a global group of executives, which is to say they didn't write code and they didn't use fake mamma or Photoshop and they didn't design and they use spreadsheets perhaps. And it's not a criticism, just a statement. And his closing remark was that the internet is handmade. The internet is handmade, which is there are actual humans who write code. It is not an automated process. None of it is. They build things that create automated processes, but there are always people behind them, which then gets into the whole narrative around bias. We can talk about that at another podcast, I guess, but what struck me about that? And I think it goes back to your comment. Is there are people behind the scenes, Airbnb? Uber Kickstarter Etsy, like all of these places, Twitter, right. That genuinely care and are constantly reflecting on the behaviors on their platforms and either debating change or making change. And so all of these products that we frankly take for granted many times, which I am a victim of too. There are people back there that, and many, many, many, many, many people that are responsible for those products and
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:40:19] yeah. Yeah. That's a nice fog. Like I really like that idea, especially in indeed, like a lot of the companies you mentioned actually have some kind of very strongly creative. Person at the beginning, like for sure, B and BS, especially for example. So coming back to the supply and demand thing, did you ever create any thing that made that incentive? Just a little bit better for people to start projects who had previously only been a backer because I mean, it grows organically. Maybe you never had to actually fire it up, but did you do something around that? Because that would make sense to me.
Charles Adler: [00:40:49] So, yeah. No, I think that's a great question, which is, you know, getting that flywheel to go a little bit faster on the supply side. Yeah. So in a way that it actually kind of goes back to the Gmail comment, like, so why didn't they invite a friend thing, not work? Well, I may know somebody that is working on an album, but how often are you working on an album? Like you release an album every couple of years, if you're really prolific, maybe once a year, if you're Cray, Cray, then maybe a couple of times a year, or if you're really modern and you like reborn with SoundCloud, you don't even understand what the concept of an album is, I guess, but. Anyway, you know, these projects don't happen all the time. And so, you know, I would argue, that's why that feature probably did not work how that then relates to your question around getting that flywheel going. We had come up with an initiative. I think we called it small projects, and I think there's a new term for it now. Cause small projects to sounds infantiles doesn't sound really great, but basically, you know, a lot what we realized and it's understandable as a lot of people saw. Launching a Kickstarter campaign is hyper stressful. They're Magnum. This is the one time I have to go ask the general public. Right. Which is not true or fair to yourself. Right. Okay. And so what we wanted to do is basically lower the bar. Like, yo, just come up with something goofy, like go back to Harry's, you know, spray painting Grace Jones on a tee shirt. Like that's totally cool. Right. And so if we can lower the bar. We have the potential, and this was really the motivation was we have the potential to increase creativity, like increase your creativity. Not everything needs to be some massive thing that you're going to fund for hundreds of thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars. And so that's actually been super valuable and super fun to watch like people coming up with kind of almost nonsensical projects. So if you look at the lineage of their campaigns yeah. So, you know, effectively, it's just a way to. It's almost like, you know, if you think about painting or drawing, if you ever take a painting class, which I have not done since middle school, frankly, but if you go to take a painting class, you generally have to do something very, very, just draw. Right. And usually the first, you know, the sort of foundational classes is to like, you just draw, like you got to get into the rhythm of it's like wrist work. You just need to get in the rhythm of, and flexibility is almost like a dexterity thing. Same with photography. Like just go out and shoot. Like, you're never going to take a great photograph your first time. And so, in a way, what I would argue is it was just about like decreasing the big perceptive barrier in giving people permission to create something super small, like a weekend project, something that you would literally fund in five days, like super small. And it had to be like less than a thousand bucks. And so that's been actually really, really fruitful.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:43:36] Yeah. Oh, that's cool to hear, because I remembered that at one point there was this whole ancillary industry about like, Hey, we can help you make your kickstart and like, Oh, you already need like, whatever, 50,000 to shoot a video for your Kickstarter campaign. And so it felt like it was becoming extremely professionally, like, yeah. Wow. Like where do I get the funding to start my campaign? Like, and same thing, for example, now, are you familiar with product hunt?
Charles Adler: [00:44:00] Yeah. Yeah, of course. Yeah.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:44:01] So like there's the same thing, right? Like that used to be just, Hey, just drop the link of your project there and then hope we get some votes. And now there's like all these guys, like how to launch on product hunt. So it's really cool. Like, I like that idea that, because I never, until you now told me this, I never realized that debt actually has some potential detrimental effect on the supply side coming in. And if you somehow were able to lower that again and indeed sort of like get the next generation of a project.
Charles Adler: [00:44:25] Totally. I mean, I think what we're talking about is perception, right? And you're playing with. Perception for the benefit of the audience, frankly, I actually didn't know that about product hunt, but what you're describing about product hunt is an exact replica of what was happening and has happened on Kickstarter. You could look at eBay. There are, I mean, I remember when there were brick and mortar businesses, it's a corrosion joke, I guess, but when we were still developing kickstart, I was living in Brooklyn at the time I remember on Flatbush Avenue, there was a store that baffled me. And it was a store where you go in and bring in your stuff and they will post it on eBay and sell it for you. And I was like, WTF, what is that? That's crazy. You know, that also speaks to the EBA being a super healthy business because another business can basically benefit off of them. And so, you know, I think the last thing, I guess I'll say to that is just that I think anything that we can do to simplify lower that perceptive barrier, because it is just a perception. I mean, there is. You know, people will talk up, you need this whole like promotional campaign you need, you know, spend $10,000 or whatever the number is on a video, go back and look at the video from pebble one. It was horrible in the most beautiful way. Right? And I say that affectionately not critically because the bar, it doesn't have, have to be that high. It doesn't take a lot of production value. It just takes a lot of heart and a lot of honesty.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:45:52] Yeah. So I have two more questions. First one would be, you said you came from a background of trying to connect creative people with the internet and bring these things together. And now you've done that through Kickstarter. How do you see that? And I think like now, if you look around, like, there's a lot of these things like this community thinks is really going strong. Now there's this thing like sub stack. I don't know if you're familiar with that where all these newsletter, which has kind of, that's like the same thing where you're like, they just provide a way for. Writers, let's say to connect to their audience. Do you have any thoughts about where this is going? Do you see, and are you even working on something like this?
Charles Adler: [00:46:26] Yes. What I would say is I'm working on something new, right? That is oriented around, um, community and creative community and arguably it's focused on creative process. So like how do you build tools that support creative process, right? That movement from idea to object. And, you know, I think what's, maybe there's a piece of somebody kind of coming around 360 degrees, like crazily starting another company again, or what I would more truthfully say is building another product to hopefully build another company. And his time is such an interesting part of the equation. And what I mean by that is it's been a decade since I've been in this position. Again, it was a decade ago, longer than that, that we were building Kickstarter. And as I said earlier, like there was no Twitter. Twitter was just text-based at the time, actually. Yeah. When it launched and we were in development, Ruby on rails was barely a thing. Right. And I don't even, I think Foursquare might've been around. And so what I would say is all of those things from the past inform the future. Right. So you could not have tic talk without Instagram. You can not have Instagram without flicker, if anybody remembers flicker, right. You could not have Slack without flicker because Stewart founded both of those things.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:47:56] Right? Yeah.
Charles Adler: [00:47:57] And ironically, I am, I'm fascinated by this with Stewart Butterfield. You could have neither of those things. If Stewart wasn't obsessed with video games, because arguably he was trying to build video games and instead built these two other products. He's like an edge case of education. Yeah.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:48:13] But I'm not a great example of what you said earlier. Like, Hey, somewhere underneath this machine, there's people making things.
Charles Adler: [00:48:19] Yeah, for sure. And so I guess, you know, what I would say is like, time is interesting because I now get to, if I was building this new thing that I'm working on called lost arts is if I was building this in the same way that I was building Kickstarter, it's not so much that it wouldn't work. It's just not relevant anymore. Right. And that is not. Taking the best advantage of all the new tools and all the new, all the new research and or insight that has come since then. So there's that. And then I guess the question is like, where is this all going? It's a loaded question because I will say that because we're in another one of these very deeply pivotal moments, which is not only economic, but behavioral. What I mean by that is economic meaning of millions of people losing their jobs, like fact right. Similar to Oh eight. But on top of that, millions of people are dying and new behaviors are being built. Like I have a mask over here. Right. I wash my hands 17 times a day. We're all becoming how we Mendell. There's a joke in there. Right. Which is OCD. And like, don't touch me. And so I think somewhere in there will inform arguably this wave of innovation and arguably maybe more. So the next wave of innovation. Right. Which I just find fascinating.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:49:36] Yeah. Yeah, no, I think there was like, if you also look at like a whole stray of the companies you've mentioned were founded exactly in that same period, like Oh eight or just after. So, so what's the monitor of innovation. Like what's the, there's a saying there, like something, but something about things being limited,
Charles Adler: [00:49:54] I guess what I would say and where that reflection comes from in terms of time, is that, you know, in my heart, I'm a designer. And I think the heart of design is observation, right? And so Kickstarter comes from observation. Perry's observation, my observation, Yancey's observation, observation through experience. And what I'm working on now is built on the observation and experience that I've had pre Kickstarter during Kickstarter and post Kickstarter and all of the things in our market of. Software technology that has come since that.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:50:29] All right. Cool. Very last question. Any advice you would have for an aspiring marketplace entrepreneur based on your experience that you would have done differently when you were like, Oh man, if you're considering doing this, I would think
Charles Adler: [00:50:42] I would never give that advice per se. Although I've probably given that advice before. I think it would go back to that last statement I made, which was about observation because I'm in this moment right now, literally. Right. So. I have a few people, 25 people that are so testing out this early, early alpha that I've built. And if you were to look at it at face value, it's not a lot of activity, so it's not very successful, but I knew with what we've built, it wouldn't be successful. I've got to keep reminding myself of that. So going back to the observation thing, there's I think two things as you're building community is listen and engage. Right. It is not. And I think there's a fallacy here. This term vision that we kick around a lot. Yes, there is that like, I have a complete kind of image in my mind of what this new project is going to be, but the path getting there can completely be meandering that's okay. It doesn't need to be linear. And the only way it gets to some end state, whether it's picture perfect to that vision I had or not. Right. Is through listening and engaging or observing and engaging. So I'm watching what people are doing or not doing, and then engaging them to better understand what is it that you're trying to do and how do I make that better? And so I think that is critically important. And I think that goes back to all the stories I've told about Kickstarter as well, which is, you know, we're responding constantly to the ecosystem of projects and the people behind them.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:52:12] Alright, let's end on that. That's great advice. Thanks very much, Charles, any less bugs by the way, is there anything you want people to do? Check out, look up.
Charles Adler: [00:52:22] Yeah, I guess, you know, if you're interested in this new thing that I'm working on called lost arts, which is effectively a tool about creative process, supporting you through creative process and community, you can go check out lost arts.co or Los T a R T s.co. Where there's nothing to do, but sign up for an email to get notified when we're going to launch.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:52:45] All right. Great. Thanks very much for being on the show. I really appreciate the time and insights. Thank you. Yeah. Thanks for having me. It's been super fun. Thank you for listening to two sided the marketplace podcast. If you enjoyed today's show, don't forget to subscribe. If you listen on iTunes, we'd also love for you to rate and give us a review. If you got inspired to build your own marketplace, go visit www dot dot com. It's the fastest way to build a. Successful online marketplace business until next time.
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