Question the World

Japanese tech guy interviews interesting people.

Qanta Shimizu (PARTY NY) is a Japanese creator who in his late-30’s, moved his entire life to New York. This is his monthly interview essay of chats with a different person each time, and thoughts about the Web, digital, with the world as stage.

#1. Yancey Strickler (Founder & CEO of Kickstarter)
The “Tool” This Ultra Liberal Arts Guy Wanted to Help Making

Kickstarter, the crowdfunding service that took the world by storm, is one of the most exciting “human inventions of the century.”

What tickled this person enough for him to get involved in making something like this? Just what kind of person would want to take part in creating such an exhilarating “place” for endlessly making new things? What would need to happen to that person in order to spark this sort of invention?

To get to the bottom of this, I went for a chat with Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler.


Yancey and Qanta chatting in front of Yancey’s home. Classic residential area of Brooklyn. Living the good life.

This is my new column. Needless to say, the first installment is monumental. It sets the tone for installments to come. My thought was, “I must start off with the person I want to chat with the most.”

Yancey Strickler, age 36. He is co-founder and CEO of Kickstarter, the crowdfunding service that no one would fail to thinking of when he/she wants to make something new.

Generally speaking, he is someone whom we don’t get to meet just everyday. However, I somehow stumbled upon our acquaintance, attended his wedding the other day and drank myself to a blur. From there, Yancey and I became like peas in a pod. So what kind of a person is he? What incited him to co-found Kickstarter?

Yancey Strickler. A friendly 36-year-old. He is an “ultra” liberal arts business person with one or two quirks.

I was on a quest for answers to these questions. So regardless of whether I would be intruding on Yancey’s fresh marital bliss, I invited myself over to his home in Brooklyn for a chat.

Yancey was born in Virginia State, where he remained until graduating from university.

As a young man, he would frequent music festivals in New York. His majors were literature and philosophy.

After graduation, young Yancey went “up” to New York — just as young people in Japan go “up” to Tokyo to make things happen — and started working as a music writer. He wrote for famous music magazine “Pitchfork” (but soon got let go), and edited for music-related websites such as “eMusic.”

During this time, as a writer, Yancey didn’t think he would be able to become as accomplished as “a New York Times critic.” Also, he wasn’t interested in going to industry parties and networking.

Yancey’s home is filled with books and products that various creators have actualized through Kickstarter. Thanks to this “tool,” the world has become more interesting than we could’ve ever imagined.

As I listened to him, I thought, he must be an ultra liberal arts person. I myself am also a literary type. For us, if we dive in too deep, we cannot take things at face value. We are prone to criticize everything.

Going off on a tangent here, but Yancey matter-of-factly says, “I was never interested in tech… I don’t even know when I became aware that Silicon Valley existed.” Maybe I should put it this way: from him, I feel a “cynical” vibe unique to liberal arts individuals.

The world is filled with all sorts of matters, and Yancey probably has a bone to pick with each one of them.

So why did a literary youth end up taking part in developing and operating something like Kickstarter? Of course, there was the encounter with his co-founders. At the same time, he had his own thoughts, too.

To my question of, “When you started Kickstarter, did you want to make a community? Or a service?” He responded clearly, “We just wanted to build a tool that would actually help people make ideas real.”

Now this is interesting. Kickstarter was a “tool” this literary youth helped create after aggravating his literary predilections. As he was being critical of all kinds of things, he crossed paths with a system that crossed beyond the criticisms. Maybe it was the least “suffocating” creation for him? I was also a literary youth, who ultimately turned to programming. For literary youths, systems and structures feel like “effortless things that don’t require much thinking.” Upon his contemplations, what Yancey finally settled on was this simple “tool.”

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding service for people with ideas to raise funds in order to make them a reality. Anyone may show support and receive rewards by investing in projects.

We often hear that the hybrid of the sciences and the arts is epoch-making. However, perhaps the literary types who escaped to the sciences and the sciences types who escaped to the arts are the ones creating the biggest impact.

The “tool” that an ultra literary youth co-created in 2009 has now actualized over 20,000 new creations around the world, and collected half a billion dollars worth of return in 2014. Nowadays, the world can’t function without Kickstarter. It has become “the tool for human kind.”

So, did the creators of this tool make it so they could benefit human kind?

Lastly, I decided to ask Yancey, “Do you love human kind?” To which he answered, “Well… the way I reacted inside me, when you asked me if I loved human kind, my thought was, ‘No, not really’. But I’m a very positive person, I’m a very social person, and I’m an emotional person… I just very much enjoy interaction and conversation… That kind of stimulation, I like very much.” As I’d expected, he gave me a response characteristic of literary youths.

However, nothing is more powerful than defiantly literary types. This is true, no matter where in the world.

Photography : Suzette Lee (PARTY NY)
Translation : Mandy Wang (PARTY)

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