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Kickstarter almost funded

It’s very humbling to look at this graph of funding over the last few days for the OpenStreetMap Stats Kickstarter:

I had expected the whole thing to fail, now it looks like it’ll succeed. I was asked once in a job interview about how much failure I’ve recently had. The idea was that if you’re not failing you’re not really trying – if everything is a success then you can’t be pushing the envelope.

I figured asking for $1k for a statistics site that’s relevant to a minority of a minority in the world was going to be too much to ask for. In the grand scheme of things it’s not a whole lot of cash, but still. And yet, here we are.

Speaking of failure, “failure” itself is the wrong way to model how these things work. Scott Adams has called it “having a system” instead of “goals”. Other people have called it “failing forward”. Either way – the basic idea is that whatever happens you want to win. Adams wrote a whole book about this:

In this case, if the Kickstarter fails then I can shut the project down. This for me is a clear win. I get more time and one less distraction. I don’t have to pay for the hosting any more. I also learn that tiny kickstarters aren’t going to work and not to bother trying them again in a similar context.

On the other hand, if it succeeds that’s great too. I can dedicate the time to fix the site, the hosting is paid for and it proves that there are people out there who care about it.

Setting up situations like this can be enormously beneficial – where you win either way. But, it’s still hard since my lizard brain wants to avoid anything that looks like failure and being judged by those who see it in that way.

There are plenty of smart, educated people out there who think Amazon’s lack of profit is a “failure” for example. I think it’s beautiful. For a start, the definition of “profit” is “we have no idea what to do with the money so we’ll give it to you”. Amazon isn’t running out of ideas worth funding. Second, if they spend all the notional profit then they don’t have to pay tax on it and get some percentage advantage via that. Reinvesting in this way for a few decades leads to some spectacular growth.

This all leads to an idea that’s almost too tantalizing to verbalize: Maybe it’s possible to live by doing Kickstarter after Kickstarter? The idea is insanely fun and the implications profound. If it’s possible to raise $1k in a week then that would lead to a $52k/year revenue, supposing you had 52 great ideas. Perhaps more likely are $10k kickstarters every 2-4 weeks, or $100k kickstarters every month or two. With some number of them failing, plus costs, it should still be possible to live using this method.

How Alex Mahrou from CH2M got MapClub shut down

MapClub's funding curve

MapClub’s funding curve

Kickstarter notified us yesterday that they were shutting MapClub down, and of course wouldn’t share why. This is despite the funding being successful and 15 people signing up. Fair enough, it’s their baby and their rules.

Well now we know why – Alex Mahrou’s long, angry and sarcastic investigative piece on why people shouldn’t do things that he disagrees with.

There are two primary failures in the piece. The biggest by far, is that he starts out by describing Ryan Holiday’s excellent books on stoicism, not taking things personally and not trying to control the things you can’t change. From there, he leaps in to a 54 page detailed blog post about trying to change other people and being angry about them doing something he dislikes… thus missing the entire point of the books. (which really are excellent by the way).

Another book that might help Alex is The Fish that Ate the Whale, which is all about not following rules that other people set you.

Anyhow, problem number two was missing the dry humor in the kickstarter about Peter, James and I being “luminaries”. More accurate descriptions may be “drunkards” or “skeptics” perhaps. It’s entertaining to see something thrown in there as a self-deprecating joke being taken so far, because I don’t think any of us take ourselves that seriously.

CH2M’s website mentions that they are “turning challenge into opportunity” which no doubt Alex focuses on day-to-day. The challenge of getting your random idea kickstarter shut down of course is the opportunity to fund it in other ways, without kickstarter’s 5-10% cut.

One of the more memorable stories in The Fish that Ate the Whale is about exactly this. When Zemurray couldn’t build a bridge to his banana plantations because his competitors had got the government to ban bridges, he built two piers and put a barge between them instead.

So, thanks Alex for your positive contributions to the world. Good luck banning more bridges, I’m off to build more piers.

The algorithm and the failing kickstarter

I launched a kickstarter yesterday and it’s not doing well.

Here’s my basic algorithm:

  1. Try random things at zero cost
  2. Find the ones that work
  3. Scale those

We really can’t predict what will work or not which is why speed is so important – the more things you try the better since you’ll hopefully find something that will work. Boyd talks about this in his OODA loop. You observe your situation, orient yourself, decide what to do and then act upon it. Then go back to the start. He posits that if you can do this quicker than your opponent then you’ll win.

So let’s observe the situation.  This kickstarter raised about $600 in day one, with a fairly huge amount of publicity amongst map people.

Let’s orient given prior knowledge. The last two kickstarters did $1,600 in day one. They raised just under $15k and $10k total. It’s not super likely this one will reach $5k given the curve and what little we’ve had today (day two).

So it’s decision and action time. I’m pretty sure that:

  1. The prices on the kickstarter are too high
  2. The print images aren’t compelling enough

The prices are easy to drop and simplify. I’m thinking of just having one print at $40 or so since that’s the median price for this kickstarter and the last poster one.

As for the images, I’m working on continent-wide instead of city images. I’ve fixed some of the drawing issues. The thickness of the lines drops as log10() and I’ve changed that to log() which is nicer. I’m also working on aliasing and changing the color from “just black” amongst other things. Here’s an image of all the roads going to london:

foo

There’s a bunch of work to be done here, but it gets the point across. My guess is that continent images like this will be more compelling.

The interesting question is how to get feedback. Asking the existing backers makes partial sense since they committed money but on the other hand, we need to figure out why people who didn’t back it didn’t back it. Feedback welcome of course.

Part of the reason for this whole thing is that the printer I bought for the last project is dead and needs to be replaced. This isn’t compelling in and of itself. Remember the “try random things” part of the algorithm? Well in a sense, yes, random things need to be tried since we can’t predict very well the chance of success. But, there are a couple of things to consider.

If we have two ideas A and B we may as well go for the bigger one. The reason for that is that it has more ways to succeed. A bigger idea may contain some element of a successful idea. A smaller idea has a lower chance of success and a lower overall level of dollars to attract. The cost remains the same: zero. This is because that’s what I’m going to spend since zero means the maximum number of ideas to be tried. Anything above zero restricts the number of ideas.

Second is opportunity cost. Picking the smaller idea costs the potential gain of a bigger idea. Doing a $5k kickstarter is the same as doing a $50k kickstarter with a 10% chance of success. But the $50k idea has a higher potential payoff and the same cost (zero) with a higher number of sub ideas that might spark some following.

There’s also just less competition. Doing anything commercial with OSM right now is hard because there are irrationally funded startups doing everything for free and owning the whole space. Competing with free is hard. At the other end of the spectrum I really love Thing Explainer simply because out of the billion books published this past year, it’s so unique. It’s not another tween vampire romance. Doing unique and big things is the way to go.

Is the cost really zero to do a kickstarter? No. It costs my time and so on, but it’s about as low as you can go.

Back to failure. The typical valley thing is to embrace and love failure. But that’s really just a way of avoiding it the same as treating failure as bad. The secret is to know failure sucks and push through it as a process, not to pretend it’s good or bad. It just is.

I tested a bunch of ideas last year and most of them failed. Nobody remembers any of them. Anyone remember Fake Mayor? That wasn’t even a failure, that sold for actual money. Anyway. I have a bunch of data on the ideas that succeeded and really I should have done one of those as my next kickstarter, or one of the other really big ideas I have laying around. Next time. (And, next time might mean next week at this rate).

(As an aside, I want to do a book about how to test and build ideas for super cheap using the internet, I think it’d be interesting).

So. The plan is to either pivot this kickstarter, kill it or restart it with simplified rewards in the next 24 or 48 hours. What do you think?

(It should be noted that some semi-pivoting by putting the above image on the kickstarter and so on is simple and free so I’ll do that in any case, but it’s not really a full pivot).

New Kickstarter: Every Road

Untitled.001

I have a new kickstarter live now: Every Road! Every Road is a unique poster print of every road leading away from your house (or any other point). Above you see the bay area, driving away from the Ferry Building at the NE of San Francisco. Here’s the same thing driving away from a point in the Sunset:

Untitled.006

The roads get thinner as you go and lead to a tree-like structure. Each print is totally unique to you. Here’s driving away from Buckingham Palace in London:

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Here’s walking everywhere from Wall Street in Manhattan. Notice most route on Manhattan end up walking North and branch out across each side:

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Here’s the same thing, but driving:

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Notice how it leads to a totally different map because driving leads to quicker routes along the edge of Manhattan and then driving inward to each point. As opposed to walking, where your maximum speed doesn’t change depending on what road you’re walking on.

The data of course comes from OpenStreetMap, more details are at the Every Road kickstarter!

The Book of OpenStreetMap Kickstarter

book

I’ve launched a kickstarter for The Book of OSM. From the kickstarter:

I’ve been noodling a long time about how to structure and write a book about OSM. I never wanted to write a book about how to use the project, there are many now available of those in any case. I’m more interested in the stories and the people. How the project got going, the twists and turns, the ‘ah-ha’ moments and so on.

The blocker for me was figuring out how to give a voice to the community. I may have started the project but without thousands of other people it wouldn’t be where it is today. A friend showed me a book of interviews with designers and that solved the problem. So to give that voice, why not interview a number of key people?

What will be in the book

The book will be split roughly as 25% history (which may be in interview form) and 75% interviews with key people through the projects history, with those numbers subject to some change.

  • Your name, as a type of producer (see rewards)
  • The story of the project, from the early days to today
  • Discussion of why some technical decisions were made (usually for a non-technical reason)
  • What things that worked, what things that didn’t
  • Interviews with 15-25 key project members, including a favorite map for each of them and where possible, a picture of them

What won’t be in the book

Anything that will easily obsolete or get out of date won’t be in the book. That means:

  • How to map things and use the software today
  • How to use the website today
  • Deep technical, licensing or tagging discussions (as much fun as those things are)

Sadly it also isn’t physically possible to list every single project contributor.

What might be in the book

A number of companies have been involved in OSM over the years, and their contributions have been both interesting and extremely interesting. I need feedback to figure out how to tell those stories in an unbiased and open way, which just might not be possible.

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