ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Life in the Miasma of Fundraising —

A little over two weeks ago, I decided to use Kickstarter to fund a relatively radical idea – stand back after ten years, stop doing the crushing day job I had that was way too much health-endangering and painful, and focus on the things I truly loved, things I knew people had benefited from over the years. Ask people to contribute towards a sabbatical, while I rebooted myself into a full-time computer historian.

I got a kickstarter invite by reaching out to a friend network on twitter and having one step forward and give one to me, which was probably a good sign for the project. I then put together a pitch, listing out a portion of my completed and ongoing projects I’d done, and saying, basically: let me do this full time for a while, and boost me making a career change into doing this full time. I came up with a number, $25,000, which I knew was guaranteed to last me four months plus. I came up with a funding timeline that I thought made sense, 32 days, and I put together some rewards, i.e. things you might get from me for donating certain amounts. I then set it out there, clicking on the button to start the pledge drive.

I mentioned it on this weblog, and in my twitter stream, and my facebook page, and generally let people know about it.

Within a few days, I had nine thousand in pledges. Nine thousand!

This all felt very good.

I thought I’d talk about things now, roughly at the halfway mark of the fund drive, and address some of the ups and downs associated with this.

OK, obviously when you set up a project that comes off at a first glance as “fund my vacation”, some people flip out. The general flip-out responses are:

  • Must be nice.
  • Someone do that for me next.
  • I did a number of quick calculations and here is why this is terrible.
  • Here’s a better way to spend that money.
  • Here’s my assessment of jason’s financial situation and life, unhindered by having any direct information.
  • Jason sent me an awful e-mail once and here we go with the punchy-facey.
  • Everything Jason is doing, archive.org is doing better.

Now, obviously not everyone thinks these things, because right now I’m at 207 backers and counting. People have donated amounts from $5-$1337 dollars. (Seriously. Actually, two people did.) People have written me about how they’re happy to help me, and many have wished well either way, no matter how it plays out.

In fact, in many ways, it’s like having a rewind of folks I’ve talked to for many years – old co-workers, folks I met at hacker conventions, people who I’ve interviewed for my documentaries, people who I’ve seen in the comments field of this weblog or other locations.

But I do know that it’s inevitable that someone who comes in and glances at all this will think I’m doing some sort of pass the hat, asking for something for nothing, and man wouldn’t that be nice. From this, I’ve had a lot of people come up with speculative essays postulating on my financial position, intentions, and intelligence. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, but I would be if I said it was hurting a lot. I’ve taken a lot of arrows in my time, and I’m generally able to yank them out with no problem; or hang a little colorful flag on them.

This whole thing is, after all, a show of vulnerability – I am saying I want to do something and that I need help, and that’s a lot different of an impression one usually wants to make. Ideally, you say “here’s the latest thing, and no need to ask where it came from and how it was pulled off”. That’s natural showmanship. To lift the curtain, to bring money into things, well, that kind of drives some people nuts, and they want to ‘fix it’, up to and including insulting the person to somehow improve the situation. I knew I was doing this, to some extent, but I didn’t know I was doing it quite as much as I am.

There’s actual products here, in this fundraiser. People get DVD-ROMs with my website’s contents, or a hard drive with all my website’s contents. They get a newsletter/weekly mailing explaining what I’m up to and giving them links to what I’ve finished off. There’s at least some trade going on – the money isn’t going into a black hole and is accounted for.

Kickstarter has a dashboard that lets you see who’s donating, new messages being posted, and so on. It can become dangerously addictive, especially when the next few months of your life are riding on things. You feel better when pledges come in, feel worried if there’s no pledges for a while. As I’ve had that thing sitting around, I’ve tried to distance myself from checking on it too much and relying on e-mails letting me know of new donations.

A wall hit in after the first couple of weeks, and pledges stopped. This would be expected – I’d hit the limits of what my direct reach was capable of. ┬áSo, I decided that perhaps I’d try to show people what I was about, what I was working on, and have some fun. Hence the Scottathon was born. I intended to be on the air for 6 hours, and show off some of what I was working on and what I’d collected, and go from there.

Here are links to the recorded halves of the telethon. I stopped it after 5 hours mostly because I’d been up since 4am hauling crates of magazines into storage and was starting to get dangerously loopy – I ended up being sick the next day and a half, so not entirely positive on that side. But donations picked up again, and Jeff Atwood of codinghorror wrote a glowing review of me, and drove many more folks towards the site.

It has been very educational of me to see what the responses have been to see people who I’ve never met but who know my work to be willing to pitch a few bucks my way. It’s really propped me up emotionally and excited me about the idea, the dream of doing this full-time for a while. The onus is on me to produce from this whole thing a bunch of stuff that will make people go “wow, that was worth it”. It’s a challenge I can get behind.

More on this adventure as it continues.


Categorised as: jason his own self

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12 Comments

  1. Certainly, there are varying motivations behind each of your pledgers. But I wonder if any of the backers are like me: I pledged because you’re doing the kind of stuff I would love to do if I had more time, only you’re doing it better than I could. Vicarious thrill, I guess.

    Here’s hoping you meet your goal.

  2. ladyada says:

    good luck, jason!
    this reminds me (slightly) of the kottke.org ‘micropatron’ in which he asked his readers to fund his blogging. http://kottke.org/05/02/kottke-micropatron i recall that when it was over, he was ambivalent about the whole thing.
    i hope that at the end of the year you post up, with your opinion whether you think it was worth it

  3. deepgeek says:

    Hi, Jason,

    Your work is a pleasure to use, and so it is a pleasure for me to support.

    Even your fundraiser helped me, I found two new podcasts on computer history from the reccommendations of my fellow scottathon viewers, as well getting answers from your regarding two questions:grants, and url shorteners. Further, my wife began to understand why I was supporting you.

    I consider myself a man of the people, so if you get this, it means we don’t have to get funding from big corporations or big universities, or even organizations like “corporations for public broadcasting.” All we need are worthy projects and people who want to see them keep going.

    BTW, I count your projects as worthy. I guess you figured that out by know.

    I know you did not love “long tail” that much, but I think computer history is niche enough to qualify. Perhaps if your “niche” and “indy” enough, perhaps this is the only funding model available.

    All my best,

    Deepgeek

  4. Trevor says:

    I’m very proud to be a backer. BBS redefined the documentary genre for me, and documentaries aren’t even the main thing you do. But if you use some of the sabbatical time to work on Get Lamp, that’d be swell.

  5. Dave says:

    Hi Jason,

    I donated some money because I know you have been doing this out of love for a long time. It takes a lot of passion to produce what you have AND have a full time job (at megacorp no less). You certainly aren’t doing it for the money and I think that’s very commendable.

    Hope it all works out,
    Dave

  6. l.m.orchard says:

    Screw the naysayers.

    If they don’t like it, they don’t have to fund you. In fact, they could start their own fundraisers to put money to work in the ways they think are better – if anyone agrees enough to put their wallets behind it.

    Of course one thing I have to say: The “products” you’re offering are kind of sneaky trojans, you know? By sending out copies of your archive, you’re actually replicating your archival agenda and getting us to pay for the privilege. Well played, sir, well played: Best off-site backup plan, evar.

    If anything, *that* should be the main complaint about your schemes! Now, you’ll excuse me while I clear up some hard drive space…

  7. Tyler says:

    UStream.tv’s player doesn’t work very well for me. Is it possible you could post a downloadable version of the telethon segments so I can watch it without Flash?

  8. I am still about half through watching the recordings, but I think at least a semi-regular video Jason podcast would be a lot of fun, at least while the fundraiser runs. At least fun for me to watch, and as Jason claims he loves to talk… :)

  9. Weew, what happened? I am checking again today and see that you are at 91% ?? Great!

  10. Chris says:

    I’m a big fan of documentary films, especially those that have some connection to my own personal experience. Like Cringely’s “Triumph of the Nerds”, Jason’s BBS Documentary brought me back to a special place and time in my life that I had almost forgotten about, and for that I’ll forever be grateful.

    To echo some of the other posters here, Jason is doing something that I wish that I had the time, talent and drive to do myself. I don’t really have any of those, but I know a guy that does, and with five minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, I’ll be sending him one more pledge so that he can continue his work.

  11. Niklas says:

    I hope nobody takes you up on the hard drive/DVD-ROM reward thing — ISOs should be enough for anyone, and sending out hard drives seems like a waste of monetary and planetary resources.

    $100 pledged, knowing that it’ll help a good cause. Keep up the good work!

  12. 100% Yeahhh! Congratulations man!