From DonorsChoose To Kickstarter

In the wake of my Return and Ridicule post, I was asked how one goes about finding these services that are ignored and/or ridiculed. And the answer I gave was "if you use them you might realize how powerful they are."

I woke up thinking about that in the context of Kickstarter today. It must be related to the fact that today is the fourth anniversary of Kickstarter's launch. How was it that I was so sure the Kickstarter project would work when it launched back in 2009? Well it was because of what happened on this blog a couple years before that.

The story starts in the fall of 2007. Charles Best, the founder of DonorsChoose emailed me and asked if I would enter AVC into the DonorsChoose Bloggers Challenge. He wanted this community to compete with other tech blogs to see who could raise the most money for teachers and their classrooms. I said yes and we entered, and won, the tech category in 2007. We entered again in 2008 and won again. In the final year of the social media challenge (renamed to encompass more than bloggers) we won the tech category again. This post, which I wrote in November 2009, after our threepeat, shows that the AVC community raised almost $60,000 for teachers and their classrooms in those three October showdowns.

So when Perry Chen came by to talk about Kickstarter in the summer of 2009, my mind was prepared to understand what he and his co-founders were up to. When he explained that artists and other project creators were going to post their projects and get them funded on the Internet, I thought "of course" instead of "that will never work."

And I have Charles and the DonorsChoose team and the AVC community to thank for that. Which I book in the category of "what goes around, comes around".

And I cannot resist reminding everyone that we have a DonorsChoose campaign running on AVC right now, called Good Things Come To Those Who Code. If you have not made a contribution and want to, now is the time. The campaign ends at midnight on Tuesday. Go here if you want to participate.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. JLM

    .An informed and powerful instinct is developed by the entirety of our experiences. It is why we must at times just “follow our gut reaction”.JLM.

    1. William Mougayar

      Interesting we had somehow similar reactions a min apart. I’m sure someone will prove one day there’s a special nerve that wires the gut to the brain.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Been reading about that actually. Mindfulness. Why does a fireman medic know how to do what he does in random situations? It’s interesting to deconstruct the decision making process.

        1. William Mougayar

          True. Any reading recommendations?

        2. JLM

          .Those kind of “trained” and “learned” instincts are the reason why training of so many things — particularly those that are “in the moment” — are so critical.It is the commonality of the principles or environment and the ability to recognize that which is so important to implementing the learned response.Every person in America should have CPR training and be able to do it at the drop of a hat.JLM.

          1. LE

            “Every person in America should have CPR training and be able to do it at the drop of a hat.”Do you really mean “every person” or even “nearly every person”?Not sure I agree with that. Forgetting even for a second the cost and practicality.. The downside is that “every person” starts the CPR and is less qualified perhaps than someone higher up in the knowledge tree standing by who feels that the situation is already being handled. My wife can handle a hospital code (called “calling the code – as in “it’s my code” with the cart and all the equipment) but I can tell you that if she was walking by and someone else had started CPR there is no way she would get involved. (Didn’t ask her this is my speculation).In order for this to happen you would not only have to train people initially but have them continually tested to make sure they knew what they were doing and doing procedure correctly. We don’t even do this with driving lessons and a host of other things with most likely greater morbidity………….

          2. JLM

            .Well, of course, I am not suggesting that “every person” should be trained in CPR. But organizations should and any enterprises which have masses of people assembled.Hell, church ushers should know how to do CPR.It saves lives.As to who is administering CPR, any medical professional should be willing to step in when CPR is being administered by an “amateur”.At its most granular level, CPR is a tactic to preserve life until a skilled medical person arrives — EMS. Give CPR until help arrives. Isn’t that the fundamental strategy?Assistance should be rendered to victims by folks who have the greatest ability and probability of effectively assisting them. If I were giving CPR and a doctor or nurse showed up, I would give way immediately.The issue of recurrent training is perfectly reasonable. Train, master, re-train, re-master.As a pilot, I have to do this constantly.JLM.

          3. LE

            As to who is administering CPR, any medical professional should be willing to step in when CPR is being administered by an “amateur”.While this is going on how do they know that an amateur is the one performing CPR? That pecking order is not easy to determine. How would you go about creating a protocol whereby an ordinary citizen is doing CPR and except in cases where the EMS arrives (and is properly dressed and identified) someone else interrupts and questions what their knowledge and experience is to determine that they are better suited? Recognizing there are clearly people who have different level of confidence and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better qualified just because they took first action. In hospitals there is a protocol and pecking order clearly defined which takes care of this. On an airplane there is a person (flight attendants) that take care of how this would play out and vet any new participants. But in IRL there isn’t any such thing.

          4. JLM

            .Very complex interaction. Might go something like this?Medical professional: “Hey, I’m a doctor, can I give you a hand.”Amateur/ordinary citizen: “Sure, Doc, it’s all yours. Thanks. I’ve been administering CPR for 5 minutes.”Life is not really all that complicated.JLM.

          5. LE

            Heart attack stats. Meant to put this at the bottom but disqus isn’t working well as usual. :http://www.allheartattack.c…”Life is not really all that complicated.”Probably a fundamental difference in the way we think about things! I see the devil in the details from my years of dealing with people at the bottom level and how humans react differently in the same situation given who they are.Did I ever tell you about the rule we had that the minimum charge amount was $10?So someone bought something for $.50 and the clerk took the credit card and gave them $9.50 out of the register (don’t remember the exact $$ but something like that). I mean who would have thought something like that would happen? And they weren’t trying to game things they just handled it in a way that made sense to them. Not knowing why the minimum was $10. Could they have been trained better? I mean they don’t even do this type of thing well with people who do aircraft maintenance sometimes.So while what you have described as “not really all that complicated” works fine in the case of the example you have listed it doesn’t work very well (imo of course) at all the levels in between “physician” and “5 minutes”.

          6. Donna Brewington White

            Something very similar to this happened to me. When the ambulance and medical technicians arrived I just quietly walked away. I was barely 18. Wasn’t complicated.

          7. Cam MacRae

            I’ve performed CPR a couple of times. When the medics arrived they had us continue while they did higher value tasks like insert lines, administer drugs, set up the defibrillator and manage the airway.I’d never not start CPR because someone who is more qualified might happen along. I hope to god no one feels that way if I drop in front of them.

          8. ShanaC

            This reminds me of my pet peeve about my parents synagogue – never running fire drills

      2. JLM

        .It’s the time difference between Canada and Texas plus I had already had a cup of coffee.JLM.

        1. William Mougayar


    2. Aaron Klein

      I’ve made most of my mistakes not following “first blink.”

      1. JLM

        .Sometimes in life one does not have enough time for a second blink.JLM.

    3. kidmercury


    4. takingpitches

      “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.”

      1. Jim Peterson

        And the informed mind will be much more intuitive…

    5. JamesHRH

      The more you do, the better your instincts get.

    6. BillMcNeely

      I still kick myself over not getting into Bitcoin in Feb 2011.

    7. ShanaC

      Oh yes. You just need to train it to notice.

  2. William Mougayar

    Context and experience combined are a powerful thing. They let you (or anyone) see things that others don’t.

  3. Anne Libby

    Thank you for the opportunity to participate.An investor’s blog community, functional and (mostly) nice? Of course.

  4. Max Yoder

    In this case, a good thing beget your understanding of another good thing.I get excited about that kind of serendipity, but I get really excited when I can trace a good thing back to a its bad-thing catalyst.Nothing ever stays wrong for long.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      You are tapping into one of my beliefs, Max. I hate pain, suffering, mistakes, failure. But most of the best and right decisions and choices I have made have come from a lesson or resolution made from one of these experiences.And then those good decisions become the foundation for greater ones.Still I wish the first part was different. But it goes back to one of Fred’s recent posts and similar lines of thought about milking those experiences for all they are worth which hopefully limits how many are needed.

      1. Max Yoder

        You and I are on the same page no matter what books we’re reading.

  5. kidmercury

    i just wanted to apologize to all the brooklyn nets fans out there on behalf of chicago. we sorta teased you and let you think for a few minutes that you actually had a chance of winning before nate robinson decided to play for real and put you in your place on national TV. sorry about that.

    1. Tom Labus

      Check with me around Labor Day. Jeeze.

    2. fredwilson

      how about KD stepping up yesterday? Westbrook is a huge loss for the Thunder but maybe KD can carry them the way Melo is carrying the Knicks and the way that Nate is carrying the Bulls

      1. kidmercury

        i am bearish on the one man show, but if anyone can do it it is the pure shooters like KD or melo. if okc can come out of the west it will be a painful matchup against the heat without westbrook. but if its thunder/knicks finals, KD vs melo, that would be a lot of fun

        1. fredwilson

          i am hoping the Bulls can give the Heat a tough time

        2. William Mougayar

          I’m rooting for the Spurs.

      2. William Mougayar

        With Westbrook out, and the Spurs surging, they could surprise the Thunder, and might end-up Spurs vs. Knicks in finals.

        1. fredwilson

          Knicks don’t match up well against the Heat. LeBron can shut down Melo

          1. William Mougayar

  …75% of 2,800 votes favored the Knicks, but I see your point about LeBron/Melo.

    3. jed

      Kid, since you’re the kookologist-in-residence at AVC, I’ve got one for you. There is a theory gaining visibility that sports are in a bubble and the bubble is on the verge of popping. Your thoughts?

      1. kidmercury

        hmm, well i try to avoid using the term “bubble” outside of prices and markets, but i’m assuming the theory is that sports are excessively popular and that a cultural transition is developing……which i agree with. i do think sports are part of how empires distract their domestic population while they go around conquering the rest of the world. adjusted for purchasing power, roman gladiators made more money annually than NBA athletes. they were the distraction used to tranquilize the romans while the government went around destroying the rest of the world. history for when the correction will come, though, i don’t know. i tend to think people will need to experience great poverty before anything changes. i thought 2008 would be it but apparently people still need more. i don’t doubt that the universe will provide them what they need, though i’ve been wrong on timing it thus far. if i had to guess, i’d say by end of 2015. i expect the cultural transition to follow the economic one.

        1. kidmercury

          on the subjects of sports conspiracies, though, i do think certain games are rigged and that the mafia owns certain refs. joe crawford is the most suspicious one. look at this video wtf:…brian tuohy has done some interesting research on this:

          1. LE

            (Non sports guy here).That games are fixed by refs with agendas and/or “mafia” – yes. Individual players – yes. Other individuals who can change outcomes (either alone or in concert with others) – yes.That the league/networks somehow are involved (Tuohy link) impossible. (Unless of course someone wants to redefine what the word “fix” means then of course it’s possible.)

          2. kidmercury

            rigging by refs is something i think is almost inevitable. nfl refs make what, a few hundred grand a year? sports betting is a billion dollar business. the math doesn’t add up. and i just found that the NBA has already been investigating some refs:…some team owners are already intentionally losing, although i don’t consider that rigging.

          3. LE

            Let me ask you this. Not that any amount of fowl play would ever be condoned but do you think the fact that these types of things happen make the game more interesting and ironically more enjoyable?In the same way that people would never say they want to see car crashes and of course NASCAR does everything they can do to prevent car crashes but they do seem to be a fan favorite. Maybe with games people are both really bothered by any cheating – but otoh it certainly gives them something to talk about (I wish I knew enough to get enjoyment out of the video you posted because it’s the type of thing I can see myself getting into.) Hockey fights also come to mind. Maybe the idea is like getting ripped off on a car repair or petty theft they just hope to keep it in check (those refs you refer to) knowing that they can’t ever stamp it out (nor as I figure do they want to).

          4. kidmercury

            sometimes i feel like the refs are trying to extend a series or keep a game close which is fun. that is just a hunch, of course i don’t know for sure. but still, i would prefer 100% integrity. for me the most fun is the competitive spirit of sports and that is diminished severely by ref rigging.

        2. jed

          Sports are a market, no? The main value of sports comes from television contracts. Netflix and Aereo are making Eff You moves. When the value of the contracts collapses, the game changes. It’ll be fun to watch. As usual, I’m cheering for chaos. (The college sports bubble will collapse for similar and different reasons. All moves are made based on the idea that value of TV contracts only goes up — classic bubble behavior. But also, the NCAA will lose the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit and will probably cease to exist as an entity in 5 years. Both because of the loss of the lawsuit and because the football powers of the SEC will soon opt out of the NCAA to start their own unregulated league.)

  6. falicon

    Awesome backstory. This is exactly why I think so many are hopeful to work with you and USV at some point down the road.BTW – I think because of a sim. experience/history you and Albert are also two of the only ones so far to really *understand* the potential of…still got a few years I think before others will eventually get there too…but then again that is the fun part of the journey. πŸ™‚

    1. ShanaC

      Leaking something here….

      1. falicon

        Ha! I wish but nah – just meant that they both have it installed/use it and from that I believe they *get* the value and potential of site and conversation search as a whole. So far it doesn’t have enough overall traction or product-market fit and I haven’t done a good job of getting a team together to help it get it there yet…until I can get over those hurdles it’s not really an investable thing.

        1. ShanaC

          Well, email me if you want help….

  7. LE

    So when Perry Chen came by to talk about Kickstarter in the summer of 2009, my mind was prepared to understand what he and his co-founders were up to. When he explained that artists and other project creators were going to post their projects and get them funded on the Internet, I thought “of course” instead of “that will never work.”I’m wondering to what extent the person pitching an idea can overcome someone’s lack of insight by using proper narrative and analogies to something that they do have a feel for or interest in. By first taking the time to find out what resonates with them and building the pitch that way.

    1. JLM

      .Every investment pitch — successful ones — has to be a “story”.You have to figure out your pitch and then how to put it into a storytelling format.Everyone pays attention to a good story. Weave one together and then tell it convincingly.JLM.

      1. William Mougayar

        Selling a dream is much easier than selling reality.

        1. JLM

          .Selling a vision is easier than selling the bloody first steps of any endeavor which will do combat with the marketplace.The first casualty of contact with the enemy is always the plan.JLM.

        2. Donna Brewington White

          I’m not sure about this. I think it has a lot to do with the story that is being told and how it is told. A story about reality can be even more powerful because reality is powerful depending on how it is viewed. But what is really powerful is a story that combines both dream and reality.

          1. William Mougayar

            But we say “Dream Big” vs. “Get Real”.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        This is true of recruiting too. I won’t dare try to recruit without knowing (and/or developing) the story behind the company, and if possible, even the job being filled.

    2. William Mougayar

      Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Young entrepreneurs are fearless about past history because they often don’t know it. It can be a good thing πŸ™‚

      1. LE

        Boy do I ever agree with that. When you get older and you know more you end up having all these things that you know should try and prevent that were never an issue before. (Works with traveling as well as you get older (except for Phil Sugar who always has only a carry on) you end up taking more and more until maybe you hit rock bottom and think “do I really need to take benadry and that many shirts?”.This is the same with many things. Fred wants to root his phone and is oblivious to the dangers of doing so (for him may not be the case for everyone). When you know what can happen it definitely changes your behavior and the way you look at things.

  8. Matt A. Myers

    “When he explained that artists and other project creators were going to post their projects and get them funded on the Internet, I thought “of course” instead of “that will never work.””So really it’s being confident / trusting in what you believe, in what you believe will work / think should or could exist, which will be obvious to you.And then I suppose the business side of the decision is determining if there is competition that already exists and whether the visionary has a more refined or better vision or enough differentiation – and then of course taking into account branding, etc. before deciding if to invest or not.I always love storytelling time, it’s one of the best ways to learn about holistic patterns.

    1. Richard

      This is an example of the power of good vibrational energy. The reason why Fred said “of course” is that giving is part of his being, so naturally the answer was “of course”.

    2. William Mougayar

      Happy birthday Matt. Is it the big 30? Get off AVC & enjoy!!

      1. Matt A. Myers

        Thanks William! Yup – Three Zero. I was outside 80% of yesterday! Had birthday celebrations on Friday which were very lovely and fun. πŸ™‚

    3. ShanaC

      Why are you here – go enjoy your birthday weekendAnd yes, if you don’t trust your core, generally fail

  9. JamesHRH

    How many people ridiculed the idea of bloggers raising money?My guess is people thought you would raise 60 bucks, not 60K.

  10. Guest

    Iteresting story. is this the answer to my question? πŸ™‚

  11. Donna Brewington White

    So much of what I am reading in a book titled “The Rare Find” by George Anders about recruiting and hiring brings to mind what I read at AVC about investing.Anders is saying in a nutshell (and I am only halfway through the book) that the “war for talent” will not be won by always competing for the same people that everyone else is trying to hire but by becoming more creative and strategic in finding those people that other companies miss — the rare finds. Sometimes it is something as simple as changing the geography of where you are searching (for instance Facebook through an online puzzle uncovering a genius programmer tucked away in Maine that MFST and Google would never have found — during the days when it was difficult for FB to compete with these shops), other times valuing experiences that others may not recognize as relevant, and so on.One of the recent things I read was an illustration of how bringing our personal experiences and lessons learned into the assessment process can provide an advantage. This story about DonorsChoose and Kickstarter reminds me of this.On a side note, this book is making me wonder about how startups select the Head of Recruiting when they get to the point of needing this role and how a different approach to this role might change the game. Often this role seems to be just an extension of the company’s groupthink and maybe even the industry’s. Maybe the person in charge of recruiting needs to be thinking more like certain VCs and zagging where others zig.

    1. ShanaC

      There was an incredibly good article about big data’s involvement in that regard today, if only because traditional signaling for talent is failed.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Do you mean the NYT article featuring Gild?Some very interesting products developing around the use of algorithms for sourcing and the big data element allows for a much more complex and broader set of criteria and scope to be used for sourcing. But this is still task focused which in itself is still extremely welcome.But it doesn’t (as far as I can tell) address the need for what Anders describes as “a new ethos” that leads “to epic talent discoveries in unexpected places.”Big data can only solve problems that have been defined. Defining the problem is where the real disruption lies.Although that sourcing story that found the kid-developer was pretty cool. That touches to some extent on what I believe is the thesis of this book and it will be interesting to see how this trend continues to emerge.

        1. ShanaC

          Yes, that one. Recruitment has a huge big data problem in that jobs are often poorly defined in the first place

  12. ShanaC

    So I feel very lucky today. My boyfriend’s comic would not have been finished (today!!!) without Kickstarter. And I would not have discovered my favorite charity without this blog. So I have a lot to be thankful for today involving this site.

  13. Donna Brewington White

    I wonder if anyone actually clicks on the link? Do these spambots keep coming back because they get hits or are they just stupid?Mods feel free to delete this comment when/if you delete the spam.

  14. kidmercury

    a lot of spambots are just experiments….developers will test a bunch of stuff to see what works, to learn more about the defense of various spam blocking technologies. it could also be competitors…..that is something i find unfortunate, though i think it is bound to be occurring in some niches.