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What Potato Salad Teaches Us About Crowdfunding

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Forbes | Kevin Harrington | July 18, 2014

potato salad 2 300x218 - What Potato Salad Teaches Us About CrowdfundingWhen someone says “danger,” the first thing I think about is usually not potato salad.

But that may change.  A Kickstarter member known as Zach “Danger” Brown started a campaign with the stated goal of “Basically I’m just making potato salad.  I haven’t decided what kind yet.”

His goal?  10 dollars.  His current total?  Get ready . . .

Nearly $50,000.

The total was actually up over $70k before Kickstarter staff removed several $10k pledges that didn’t meet their verification standards (this is a new, recent form of crowdfunding spam where backers pledge an enormous sum of money with no plan on following through.  But that’s beside the point).

The point here is that someone has managed to raise enough money to buy a very nice automobile—in cash—by posting a few sentences about potato salad on Kickstarter.

Cue the predictable media firestorm . . .

View:  A $50,000 potato salad could eat crowdfunding

Responses from media outlets and online commentators run the gamut.  Many are pleasantly amused at the droll approach Brown took to his campaign, and wish him the best with his slightly-problematic pledge goals.  How exactly is he going to get that bite of potato salad to all 1043 backers at the $3 level, anyway?

Others, however, are fairly outraged.  They claim that the success of the potato salad campaign marks a blatant misuse of Kickstarter’s platform, and that Brown’s success is making a mockery of the whole thing.  I think they need to grow a sense of humor, myself—and besides, people will spend their money where they choose to.  No one tricked or manipulated any of his donors into anything.

But no matter how you look at it, the potato salad campaign is a success.  Brown’s funding page on Facebook has more than three hundred thousand shares, he’s a celebrity on Reddit, and he recently appeared on “Good Morning America.”  And it’s hard to argue with fifty thousand dollars.

When it comes to your business, there are two big things to take away from this potato salad extravaganza.

First, people are willing to give to something that they believe in.  And with the propagation of easily-accessible, widely-visible crowdsourcing platforms, it’s really easy to get your project in front of people who believe in it.

And second, how you present your offer it more important than ever.  It might even be more important than the offer itself.

Want proof?  Consider the failures.

Infographic:   11 essential ingredients every crowdfunding campaign needs

For each project like Zach “Danger” Brown’s potato salad, there are hundreds of projects that go nowhere.  Many of them are devoted to responsible social causes—feeding the poor, paying for medical bills, curing diseases at home and abroad, etc.

This has been the biggest source of backlash since Brown’s campaign went viral.  What kind of world do we live in where potato salad can raise nearly $50k while someone’s cancer treatments can’t even get $20?

Answer?  The real one.

People are self-interested.  They want to know what’s in it for them.  And they’re so desensitized to the suffering of others by mass media that if they didn’t shrug off yet another story of a cancer patient struggling to pay their bills, society would cease to function.  If you have no more compelling reason for people to donate to your crowdfunding campaign than “I need the money,” then you might as well be begging on the street.

“But Kevin,” you might say, “what possible benefit could Brown’s project have for people?  It’s just potato salad!”

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