Cash for Geeks: connects cool ideas with $$$


I wrote an article for Wired about, a site that crowd-funds creative projects using the following principle: If they come, you will build it.

But as often happens at magazines, a lot of material got left on the cutting room floor. Here’s the “director’s cut”, breaking down what I learned about five successful projects:

Put This On

  • What it is: The pilot episode of a web series on men’s style, or as host (and self-described “clothes nerd”) Jesse Thorn puts it, “dressing like a grownup.”
  • How it did: $3983 from 63 backers = 266% of $1500 goal.
  • Why it succeeded: Built-in audience. Thanks to Thorn’s popular podcasts at and co-creator Adam Lisagor‘s 18,000 Twitter followers, the pair had a small army of donors on call that blew past their goal in a couple of days. “Kickstarter isn’t a machine for generating donations that wouldn’t otherwise exist,” says Thorn. “The rules of fundraising still apply.” Their initial pledge drive was so successful that they used Kickstarter to fund Put This On’s entire six-episode season: almost $16,000.

Kill Screen

  • What it is: A highbrow video-gaming magazine that “want[s] to be what early Rolling Stone was to rock n’ roll.”
  • How it did: $5950 from 160 backers = 170% of $3500 goal.
  • Why it succeeded: Editor Jamin Brophy-Warren pitched a finished product rather than a work-in-progress–potential funders could view sample layouts of the first issue online. “We said, ‘If you give us money, you will absolutely get this thing we made,'” he says. “We hit our goal in less than a month.”


  • What it is: An ARG-like fusion of SimCity and the Million Dollar Homepage that aims to create a 1 million square inch mini-community in Detroit by selling one-inch plots to “inchvestors.”
  • How it did: Thousands of dollars and counting, over twelve rounds of funding. (One round holds the current record for “Most overfunded project,” topping 1,000,000% of its one-cent funding goal.)
  • Why it succeeded: By turning the pledging process itself into a kind of game–each round unlocks new “stages” in an unfolding storyline–Jerry Paffendorf was able to hit Round 1’s $1000 goal in two weeks and keep going. “There’s this idea of ‘leveling up,’ World of Warcraft style,” he explains, “except with money instead of experience points.”


  • What it is: An Asteroids-style “brutal arcade game” that creator Mark Essen hopes to port to the Xbox.
  • How it did: $5070 from 29 backers = 101% of $5000 goal.
  • Why it succeeded: Niche critical acclaim. FlyWrench has been shown at gaming conventions and art museums since 2007, so Essen didn’t have to rely on mass appeal or viral awareness. “I didn’t need a whole lot of visibility,” he says, “just visibility to the right people.”

MakerBeam Mini-T

  • What it is: An open-source “erector set for the Internet age” aimed at adult geeks and kids who’ve outgrown Legos.
  • How it did: $17,922 from 132 backers = 179% of $10,000 goal
  • Why it succeeded: A savvy reward scheme. “Open source is all about early access and early influence,” says designer Sam Putman, “We tied alpha and beta testing privileges to our higher pledge amounts, and they ended up being the most popular with donors.”

2 Responses to “Cash for Geeks: connects cool ideas with $$$”

  1. 1 Mike

    KickStarter is a great concept but has it gone awry with power? Do we really need the patronage police? I’ve submitted 3 projects on KickStarter and they’ve all been turned down. You can read about my last one here:

    As a writer yourself I must ask you, “what do you think of my project?”. I’m also very confused about their motivations when they suggest that; The Cosmonaut: A Wide-Grip Stylus for Touch Screens meets their stated criteria; ‘ ideally, our platform is a tool to fund creative output from an experience — not the experience itself.’

  1. 1 Hey! Another Wired mention! « Kill Screen Magazine

%d bloggers like this: