Potato Salad, Death Stars and
The Rebel Alliance
Bob Fine

I’ve been trying to make sense the last few days of the most recent Kickstarter phenomenon of Zack Danger Brown’s “Potato Salad”. At the end of the day, I don’t blame Zack. He posted a fun Kickstarter project that he barely expected to raise his initial goal of $10. He probably didn’t even expect it to be approved, but it did. If you’re not aware, as of this writing, the project is at $47,260 with 5,862 backers. He built a project that went viral on him, and with the majority of pledges at $1, $2 and $3. So, where’s the harm?

screenshot_902This isn’t the first time that projects of a ridiculous nature have gone viral on Kickstarter. I wrote early last year and criticized Kickstarter’s logic in approving two projects. One for building a Death Star, and one for helping to build up the Rebel Alliance in defense against the Death Star. You can read that piece below. My concerns and argument concerning the Potato Salad project are the same as those I raised last year.

We’re at a stage in the crowdfunding industry where the SEC is currently drafting the rules around equity based crowdfunding and getting close to release. Among the concerns the SEC has is to protect the public from suspect projects and to an extent protect the public from the industry as a whole. Why would Kickstarter approve and allow the “Potato Salad” project? It’s not a good indication of the industry having the maturity and responsibility to police itself.

Any projects posted on Kickstarter have to approved before they go live. I’ve known many people with what I deemed to be worthwhile projects been denied to post on Kickstarter. I think the community is owed an explanation from Kickstarter on its reasoning and logic.

Kickstarter’s Lack of Judgment Threatens the Credibility of Crowdfunding
by Bob Fine
February 13, 2013

It’s the rare occasion that I come across something online or read something in the newspaper that shakes me so strongly that I feel compelled to get up off the couch at that instant and do something in retaliation. The last instance I can remember is after having read an article written by Mike Wise of The Washington Post titled “Unmasking the Real Faces of Steroids”. It led me to start an online petition to have Major League Baseball adopt a zero tolerance policy for baseball. This was way back on Dec. 22, 2007.

More than five years later, I have that same compulsion again.

I was browsing Kickstarter, reading up on some backer updates, and then perusing to see what new interesting projects might be active. I’ve been a big fan of Kickstarter since discovering it a couple of years ago. I’ve backed 55 projects myself. I’ve also launched a successful Kickstarter project that played a critical role in the life of The Social Media Monthly. I’m thankful that Kickstarter exists. So, when I just stumbled across two new projects, it made me go: “What the hell are they thinking?!”

I was browsing the Technology projects section of Kickstarter, and one of the more popular projects is the “Kickstarter Open Source Death Star”. Being part of Generation X, I saw the original Star Wars when I was six. Needless to say, it had a profound effect on my personal and cultural tastes growing up. I had all the action figures. I had the playsets. I had the original Kenner Death Star. I still have some remaining pieces of it packed away in a box somewhere.

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So, of course I felt the need to check it out. Who would have the nerve and be in their right mind to try to pull a stunt to fundraise on Kickstarter to build a Death Star? So I clicked on it. It was funny. I thought it was cool, for a minute. It currently has 1732 backers pledging £254,000 toward a £20,000,000 fundraising goal. It has 45 days to go in case you’re interested.

But it gets better. Right alongside the Death Star project, high in popularity, was a response: Crowdfunding Rebel Alliance X-Wing Squadron. This project states in its description that it was created as a direct response to the Death Star, combat it, and be able to defend against it. It currently has 328 backers pledging $303,000 toward an $11,000,000 fundraising goal. It also has 45 days to go in case you’d rather be part of the rebellion.

I like to think I have a sense of humor. It’s all very cheeky. It’s cute. It’s cool. It’s daring. But then I started thinking (always where I get into trouble). When I started my Kickstarter fundraising project, I had to fill out an online form and wait for it to be approved. It was. And I moved forward. But I also know people since who have submitted projects and been rejected. Projects that I thought were more than reasonable compared to other projects I’ve seen. Also as far as I’m aware, Kickstarter does not allow you to fundraise toward a non-profit project. God forbid.

So, did Kickstarter actually approve these projects to be listed? Is it all in the name of good fun and a lark? What actually will happen if the Death Star meets its £20,000,000 fundraising goal? Or the Rebel Alliance raises the $11,000,000 to build an X-Wing Squandron? Will they get the money? Will Kickstarter take it’s 5% cut. Not bad money if it’s there.

But I think Kickstarter is doing a grave disservice to the community at large. It undercuts the credibility of the platform. Even if you know and appreciate that it’s a joke. But it’s probably not a joking matter to those people that felt they had legitimate projects to post and weren’t allowed. All at a time when the Securities and Exchange Commission is trying to define the rules of equity-based crowdfunding. The classic scare case example against crowdfunding is that Grandma puts her life savings into a project without understanding all the risks and loses it all.

If I pledge $10 to build the Death Star, should I expect it to be built? Not if I’m in my right mind. And trust me, I really don’t want the government dictating where and how I would like to invest my money. If I want to give $10 to help build the Death Star, I should be allowed to. But then Kickstarter and the people behind the project should make it clear to all that the Death Star will not be built. Or your credit card will not be charged once the project ends.

Right now, Kickstarter is the de facto name brand and leader in the crowdfunding space. Whether they want to be or not, whether they like it or not, they are the poster child for crowdfunding. And as such, I feel they should be taking more responsibility and respectability in this instance.

Yes, it’s a prank. Yes, it’s funny. But now isn’t the time. And if Kickstarter wants to be respected for the decisions it makes and the criteria it uses to determine what projects are allowed, then I think they should take these down immediately. And if they don’t, well, that’s okay. That’s their prerogative. But then they should let anyone post any project they like.

Bob Fine is the founder and publisher of The Social Media Monthly.