Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a website that helps crowd-source funding for creative projects. So they invite finite enterprises with specific goals that need concrete financial backing. It’s not primarily geared to companies, and it’s also not for charity, it really comes down to supporting the arts, where the performance, the product or the outcome is not expected to generate revenue.

The site forces creatives to articulate their story (first and foremost in a video) and to define their specific funding targets. The public is invited to pledge money to back these projects, and in exchange they are promised some sort of reward connected to the level of funding. For instance, a woman who sailed around the world alone provided those who were contributing money a polaroid from every harbor she stayed in. Or in the case of GoldieBlox (which first got me started on this topic), backers received a combination of magnets, stickers, a copy of the game etc.

So overall, the model falls someplace in between commerce and patronage.

If the financial target is met within the specified time, all of the funds are released; if not, the project is dropped. It’s all or nothing. In the interview with Rocketboom moderator Ella Morton, Kickstarter co-founders Yancey Strickler and Perry Chen explain that people procrastinate unless they have a specific goal to work toward (and don’t I know it!), so forcing people to focus their energies this way helps projects succeed. The tipping point for a project to succeed, they say, is in fact raising about 25% of the funding goal, and once that is reached, 90% of the projects work out.

The successful projects share certain traits: They have a real and passionate story to them, and (on the technical side) they have a good video and interesting rewards going for them. So, for daily good news on the scope of creativity on our planet, check out the Project of the Day.

Charles Ferguson

I watched Inside Job the other day, the Acadamy Award winning 2010 documentary about the 2008 financial meltdown, directed by Charles Ferguson, and had a bit of a meltdown of my own. As the blurb to the posted interview with Ferguson states “the film makes the powerful case that an out-of-control finance industry took advantage of a deregulated atmosphere and purposely sought to get rich at the expense of others.” …”Ferguson crossed the globe to find proof that the financial industry intentionally engaged in unethical behavior. His gripping account of the global recession is sure to evoke feelings of disgust, anger, and concern that this all may happen again unless our regulatory system is changed.” That I can confirm. The thing is that nobody minds if banks get rich, as long as everyone else does ok. But they don’t, clearly, and the banks have become more powerful than ever, through the consolidation after the crisis. And Ferguson shows that unfortunately President Obama hasn’t done much to resolve the real issues. (despite Dodd Frank he gives Obama a C-minus overall).

Charles Ferguson is an impressive guy. After majoring in math at UC at Berkeley, he got a PhD in Political Science at MIT, then did postdoc work at MIT on the intersection of high tech and global policy and  advised federal agencies. He then went on to found Vermeer Technologies, the company that developed FrontPage, which he sold to Microsoft to begin his career as a documentary filmmaker. His first documentary was about the Iraq war. And then came Inside Job.

Nothing about the featured interview and the film is new – I’m a full year behind the loop – but if you, too, didn’t catch the film last year, watch it. And watch this interview. It’s an hour well spent.

“What are you selling?” “Personality”

Comedian Salesman Kenny Brooks: “I’ve got a disease called enthusiasm”. Catching!

Goes into suburbia with his cleaning liquid, deals with bad attitudes, and lays his word wit on his potential customers, playing to their social anxieties (“Don’t laugh too hard cause the neighbors gonna see this black kid scrubbing your windows”).

My favorite one-liners:

  • My mom says, “If it’s darker than me and it don’t pay the bills, it shouldn’t be there.”
  • My mom said, “If you can’t get the whole chicken, at least get the wing.”
  • You get the HBO Special. You know what HBO means? You get to Help a Brother Out.
  • That one bottle lasts longer than my last relationship.
  • You just go back and forth like an argument.
  • You can do cash, checks, or chicken wings.

I tried to collect as many of his one-liners as possible, after the break:

Continue reading “What are you selling?” “Personality”

GoldieBlox: Engineering toys for girls


GoldieBlox is an engineering toy developed for girls by Debbie Sterling. Kept in “girlish” colors and materials, it comes with a storybook telling of heroine Goldie and her friends, and how Goldie gets them through their adventures by engineering solutions. The story is accompanied by a platform where the children can reconstruct her building designs.  Debbie Sterling explains her motives in developing this toy on www.goldieblox.com:

“Engineers are solving some of the biggest challenges our society faces. They are critical to the world economy, earn higher salaries and have greater job security. And they are 89% male. We believe engineers can’t responsibly build our world’s future without the female perspective. GoldieBlox is here to bring the female voice into engineering.”

She has raised the necessary capital to take this toy into production through a funding platform called Kickstarter http://www.kickstarter.com/, which since its launch in 2009 has funded over 30,000 creative projects. Her highly successful pitch? “Our girls need Goldie“. And the great marketing videos starring her “development team” (average age about 5) show that she is just the type of role model a modern girl needs, and really understands her target market. The first of a series of GoldieBlox sets is currently in the pipeline, with several others now lined up to follow.

Here, for reference, is Debbie Sterling’s blurb on Kickstarter:

Debbie is the creative force behind GoldieBlox. She studied engineering at Stanford (Product Design, ’05) and has made it her mission in life to tackle the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math.
Debbie writes and illustrates Goldie’s stories, taking inspiration from her grandmother, one of the first female cartoonists and creator of “Mr. Magoo”.
Prior to founding GoldieBlox, Debbie served as the Marketing Director of Lori Bonn, a national jewelry company. There, she learned the ins and outs of bringing a product to market: from overseas manufacturing to sales/marketing to product fulfillment.
For the past 7 years, Debbie has also served as a brand strategy consultant for a wide variety of organizations including Microsoft, T-Mobile, Organic Valley and the New York Knicks. She gets the power of branding, every step of the way.
Debbie got her first taste of social impact work in 2008, when she spent 6 months volunteering at a grassroots nonprofit in rural India. This experience helped pave the way to finding her true passion: inspiring the next generation of female engineers.
goldieblox.com

Toy dealers here in Germany should sit up and notice. Germany prides itself as the land of engineers and toy design, but not since Playmobil in the 70s has anyone come up with anything with this kind of potential. And even Playmobil doesn’t require much in the way of building skills or imagination. Lego is still the king of building tools, but most of their toys relating to engineering seem to be made for boys. There is nothing really creative in their current product line to excite a girl.

GoldieBlox should be great for children, boys or girls, who want to learn English. The combination of listening to a story being read out and then being able to work hands-on is ideal. I’ve ordered a few sets, but of course ordering individual sets is not economical.

Debbie Sterling’s pitch at SOCAP12 is an excellent model for elevator pitches, by the way! (Link to video)

Teacher colleague Gabrielle Jones has just started up a blog and shared a lesson on Social Commerce.

I’m considering using the GoldieBlox story in the Business English book I’m working on for Cornelsen, but don’t know whether the creative start-up angle is relevant for the Deutsche Mittelstand we’re producing the book for.

GoldieBlox is a play on words, Goldie Locks being the main character in the English fairytale, The Story of the Three Bears, which is relatively unknown in Germany.

Ha-Joon Chang

Ha-Joon Chang, Professor of Political Economy of Development at the University of Cambridge, explains economics very clearly and simply. In his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, he argues these 23 tenets:

  1. There is really no such thing as a free market.
  2. Companies should not be run in the interest of their owners.
  3. Most people in rich countries get paid more than they should.
  4. The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet.
  5. Assume the worst about people, and you get the worst.
  6. Greater macroeconomic stability has not made the world economy more stable.
  7. Free-market policies rarely make poor countries richer.
  8. Capital has a nationality.
  9. We do not live in a post-industrial age.
  10. The US does not have the highest living standard in the world.
  11. Africa is not destined for under-development.
  12. Government can pick winners.
  13. Making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer.
  14. US managers are over-priced.
  15. People in poor countries are more entrepreneurial than people in rich countries.
  16. We are not smart enough to leave things to the market.
  17. More education in itself is not going to make a country richer.
  18. What is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for the US.
  19. Despite the fall of Communism, we are still living in planned economies.
  20. Equality of opportunities is unequal.
  21. Big government makes people more, not less, open to changes.
  22. Financial markets need to become less, not more, efficient.
  23. Good economic policy does not require good economists.

My key takeaway:

Maximizing shareholder value is the root of the problem of western style capitalism: with dispersed ownership, individual shareholders don’t have the incentive to commit to the long-term success of the company. Floating shareholders are running companies in the name of shareholder maximization. There is no investment in R&D and training and machinery, because results in 5 or 10 years are not interesting. Today, over 60% of corporate profit are given out as dividends, as compared to 35 to 45 percent in the 1970s. Companies have less cash to invest, and that is not being used for appropriate long-term development.


Anita Roddick: Commerce with a Conscience

“Start with quality and truth”. Dame Anita Roddick (1942 – 2007), founder of The Body Shop, was an activist and a businesswoman. Her cosmetics company helped establish ethical consumerism, being one of the first to prohibit the use of animals and to promote fair trade. She gave this talk (just under 50 minutes) at the British Library Business & IP Centre as the keynote speaker of Enterprise Week 2006 (15 November 2006).





Presenting science to your peers

I gave a morning workshop yesterday on scientific presentations to students of Geoscience and updated my approach a little. It now includes the concept of creating storytelling cycles of tension and resolution (situation, complication, resolution, example), as explained by presentation guru Andrew Abela, whose book, Advanced Presentations by Design, I have just ordered. Also see his excellent Extreme Presentation Method website, which showcases his thought-provoking, well-structured approach.