Making It On Your Own: Reflections on Kickstarting

I left my job on August 1st of last year. Even wrote a blog post about it; proclaimed that I’d walked away to scratch an itch. Seven months later, I launched a Kickstarter campaign. I didn’t blog about it immediately, partly because I was so busy pushing it forward, I didn’t have time. But now that we’re at the halfway point, I have a few thoughts.

This isn’t a post shilling for the Kickstarter, nor is it a breathless press release about how cool the thing is. This also isn’t a post about making it. That hasn’t happened yet. It’s a post about making it, birthing the thing in the first place, bringing something of your own into the world.

“This is my idea. This is me.”

The Kickstarter video is an interesting beast. At some point, you have to sit in front of a camera and ask people for their support. You can do a project without one, but there’s something about that construct — putting your face and your voice to the thing you want to do — that’s uniquely thrilling, and terrifying.

A freezeframe of Joey against a flat backdrop, hands clasped in a an earnest pose.
And if you call in the next five minutes...

You’ve put in the work; you know you have something of value to offer. You’ve turned ideas into prototypes; tested the prototypes; trashed the prototypes; come up with new ideas. You’ve written and rewritten the code to the point that you’re almost sick of it, but for one saving grace: you know you’re the right person to turn this idea into a thing. You need to make your case. And that means writing a script, recruiting a friend to man the camera, and talking.

If there were ever a moment for uncertainty, this is it. Not just uncertainty about whether you’re putting forth the right ideas, but fear that if you get it wrong, it’s a very public, very personal kind of wrong.

When you’re doing work for a client, you’re looking for their approval. When you’re working on something that’s very intimately you — your vision, your passion — you’re exposing yourself to the world. Will the world approve? Will it disapprove?

Will the world even notice?

The Vision Thing

There’s a line in my notepad: “It was easier when I had the corporate job.”

It’s true. I was good at the corporate job. I was rewarded for being good at it. It’s remarkably easy to buy into the ideals of the people you work for, to let yourself feel motivated and empowered by their vision. You’re not doing work; you’re giving people the power to share, or nurturing the human spirit. Smart people came up with these vision statements in order to give people a sense of purpose; if we feel rewarded, it’s because there’s a system in place to help us feel rewarded.

Not so once you go solo. The vision thing? That’s all you. And it’s on you to convince others to share in that vision. Finding an audience? You. And beyond the vision thing, all of the footwork is also you. Every day I work to try to make this thing succeed. Some days end with validation. Others… not so much. And while I know that I can fulfill all the backer rewards, the personal reward? That’s not guaranteed.

A screenshot of a hypothetical Kickstarter reward titled 'CHANGE THE WORLD'.
Risks and Challenges: World may not change.

It was easier when I had the corporate job. But this is way more interesting.

Communication and Collaboration

Putting it out there is just the beginning, and I’ll be the first to admit that I may not know exactly what I’m doing in terms of finding a wider audience. As soon as I launched, I started getting unsolicited emails from marketers, offering things like “guaranteed press inclusions” and “visibility to niche targeted backers”. Maybe that’s a thing people do these days.

Me, I went to the mailing lists where people used the technology. I asked people for their thoughts; I got honest opinions and feedback that improved the concept. Some people there backed the project.

As the project gained what little bit of steam it has, I got emails from people with questions, people who weren’t convinced. I responded to each one. Some of those people turned into backers. Others shared it with people in their social circles.

Even today, I’m trying to reach out to communities with a focus on online privacy. Reaching out to blogs that might have an interest. Meeting personally, here in New York, with anyone who asks. This past week I took the ferry down to DUMBO to visit The Guardian Project; talked about the tech, learned about their work, and I think I even had a handful of useful ideas to share.

Marketing is a one-way conversation — which is to say, it’s not a conversation at all. For me, coming at this with a collaborative spirit was the only way I felt comfortable doing it.

What Happens Next

An image of a Signet card, which is the size and shape of a credit card, being inserted into USB smart card reader on a MacBook Air.

Nothing comes with a guarantee. The project is 50% over and 43% funded. I have 15 days left to get the message out, make the case, share the vision.

When it comes time to thrust your idea before the world, you’re inevitably not going to be as ready as you’d like. The moment is never 100% right. You’re never going to have all the knowledge you need, all the answers you’d like to have, all the right words in all the right places to convince people to take part.

At no point is it going to be perfect. Still you push forward, knowing that from wherever you are, you can take a step in the right direction.

I’m optimistic. Because no matter what happens in the end, what’s happened so far has been a success.

If you’re curious about the Signet Privacy Card project — and made it to the bottom of this article — you can check it out on Kickstarter here. If you have questions or would like to know more, drop an email or @ me on Twitter.