What was the first year of Kickstarter like?
There’s more than one “first year”
The first first-year: 2001 — 2002
This is when Perry had the idea for Kickstarter. He was living in New Orleans, wanted to throw a Kruder & Dorfmeister concert during JazzFest, but didn’t have the means to pull it together. This led him to imagine a system where he could propose something like a concert to the public, people could use their credit cards to pledge to it if they liked the idea, and if enough people did the thing would happen.
My first first-year: 2005 — 2006
Perry and I met in the fall of 2005. I was a regular at a restaurant in Brooklyn where he waited tables. Perry had continued to work on the idea for Kickstarter, and eventually he told me about it. We started discussing it over beers and ping-pong.
The idea got steadily more real for me as we shared it with our friends — many of whom were artists we hoped would one day use Kickstarter, and whose feedback we incessantly solicited.
One day we walked to Staples in Soho and bought a whiteboard. That was a moment. Perry used that whiteboard to sketch this early design.
What sticks out from my first year is the discrepancy between our enthusiasm for the idea and everyone else’s. We were constantly talking to people about Kickstarter and getting blank faces in return.
In retrospect this was valuable. Trying to explain something that doesn’t exist yet is a good way to learn what’s interesting about it. It made us understand the “why” of what we were trying to do. The fact that our creative friends got it but the business people we spoke with were baffled by it was a strong sign to us that this was something worth doing.
Charles’ first first-year: 2007 — 2008
Before Kickstarter, Perry had been an artist, day trader, recording engineer, gallerist, and pre-school teacher. I was a rock critic and writer. Ends up these are not the best qualifications to start a website.
In 2007 Perry was introduced to Charles, and things began to take better shape. Charles was a designer. He and Perry worked closely to interpret the ideas into wireframes and sketches. We actually detailed the entire design history of Kickstarter (with lots of early screenshots!) in this post. An example of a design circa 2007:
From 2007 to 2009 momentum was building. Full credit goes to Perry and Charles, who sat in Perry’s apartment in BedStuy everyday talking, sketching, and debating without pay (I still had a day job as a writer). There were many very challenging times. Perry bore the brunt of them but he refused to give up.
Kickstarter’s first public year: 2009 — 2010
Before launching, we gave about 50 of our friends invites to start projects, and five invites to give to their friends, and so on. To date this is still the most marketing we’ve ever done. By our second day people we had never met were launching projects. On our third day Drawing for dollars became the first successfully funded project, at $35.
The team was very small. Perry, me, Charles, Lance Ivy, Andy Baio, and a part-time developer in Texas. Charles was in Chicago, Lance in Walla Walla, and Andy in Portland. Only Perry and I were in NYC. In June everyone came to New York for a visit. There’s an awkward photo somewhere of us standing in front of the New York Public Library by Bryant Park.
In October 2009 we made our first full-time NYC hires: Cassie Marketos to join me on CS, and Fred Benenson to join us for data and engineering. In December 2009 we got our first office, a floor of an old tenement building on the Lower East Side. Perry found it on Craigslist. I remember spending New Year’s Day putting together office chairs. This was our home until just a few weeks ago.
All of us were completely new at this. For Perry this was the culmination of nine years of dogged persistence and thinking. For me it was the culmination of a life spent celebrating art and culture. For Charles it was the culmination of years of working on a variety of creative projects. It was — and still is! — very exciting.
Kickstarter is the kind of thing that seems as natural as air — the structure of the system, how it works and feels, the fact that it exists at all. But it isn’t. It is the product of years of thinking, collaborating, building, and ultimately guessing by a handful of people. It’s been copied so many times now that the original thought doesn’t seem very original. It very much was.
The fact that Kickstarter has become what it is is remarkable. I see all of the site’s success through the lens of these years. It’s been a privilege to be a part of it.