Kickstarter backed Peloton, Oculus, but what next? A new CEO has ideas

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Everette Taylor, CEO of Kickstarter and former senior executive at online art marketplace Artsy, attends the Destinee Ross-Sutton x FREVO x Khari Turner Exhibit on September 8, 2021 at Frevo in New York City.

Patrick McMullan | Patrick McMullan | Getty Images

In this weekly series, CNBC takes a look at the companies that made the inaugural Disruptor 50 list 10 years later.

Kickstarter — the crowdfunding platform that has served as a launchpad for brands like Peloton, Oculus and Allbirds — has a lot of work to do to continue being a leader in the creative space, according to Everette Taylor, the new CEO of the society.

“Kickstarter came along and really created crowdfunding as we know it,” Taylor said in a recent interview with CNBC. “And now it’s like, what’s the new frontier?”

With Kickstarter, creatives can take their project ideas forward by finding backers to support them financially. The platform takes what they call an “all or nothing” funding approach, which means that creators must be fully funded by the deadline they set for their goal to receive money.

Some of Kickstarter’s most funded campaigns haven’t turned out to be ultimate success stories. This includes Pebble Watches, a smartwatch brand that has raised over $20 million on the platform but struggling as a businessand Coolest Cooler, a cooler company that made more than $13 million, but did not follow on the success of his fundraising.

But Kickstarter’s core creative fundraising power remains intact today. Author Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter Campaign to self-publish four novels made headlines in March for becoming the highest-funded project of all time, raising more than $41 million from more than 185,000 backers to date.

Since Kickstarter’s inception in 2009, the platform’s backers have pledged nearly $7 billion to more than 228,000 projects. More than 21 million backers have supported projects, with a third supporting two or more products. The company appeared on CNBC’s inaugural Disruptor 50 list in 2013 and again in 2014.

Taylor, who served as CMO of online art marketplace Artsy before joining the company in September, said he was looking to steer Kickstarter in an innovative new direction, with a focus on opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to find creative success.

“It is the duty of the market leader to continue to innovate and drive the category and the industry forward,” Taylor said. “I think Kickstarter, being recognized as disruptive before, I think we now have a bigger duty to really innovate the crowdfunding industry and grow the crowdfunding industry.”

The company has also evolved from its startup roots in how it seeks to tap into the creative community. In 2015, Kickstarter became a charitable corporation, joining companies such as Ben & Jerry’s in the niche of for-profit companies committed to making a positive impact on employees, the environment and society, by more shareholders.

Yancey Strickler, co-founder and former CEO of Kickstarter, said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in 2019 that he doesn’t anticipate the company going public.

“A place like Kickstarter is important — a place where someone like the founders of Peloton can come up with an idea and just take a chance,” Strickler told CNBC. “It’s so open, and that space needs to be preserved.”

Taylor agrees, saying he wants to make sure Kickstarter stays aligned with its mission and community and that the IPO would focus on appeasement of shareholders.

“One of the things that I find beautiful about Kickstarter is that we have such a talented team that could be anywhere in the world, but they decide to be on Kickstarter because they understand the importance of our mission and the work we do,” Taylor said. “I never want to do anything that would conflict with or damage or harm that mission.”

In fact, the company’s relationship with its employees has become one of its biggest headlines in recent years. Kickstarter employees formed a union, Kickstarter United, in February 2020, making it one of the first tech companies to unionize. The union came after a controversy over one of the company’s campaigns — a satirical comic strip titled “Always Punch Nazis” — got Kickstarter employees wanting more input into company decisions. The controversy surrounding the union caught the attention of many creators and supporters using the platform, who began to speak out in favor of unionization.

Aziz Hasan, CEO during the union campaign, denied in a press release that any employee dismissal was tied to union involvement, but he pushed back against unionization.

“The union framework is inherently contradictory,” Hasan said in a statement. “This dynamic does not reflect who we are as a company, how we interact, how we make decisions or where we need to go. We believe that in many ways this would set us back, and that the U.S. against them binary already has.”

Kickstarter United won its first collective bargaining agreement in June 2022, which included wage benchmarking based on national averages, a guaranteed minimum annual wage increase of 3% to reflect the cost of living, and an annual equity review salary.

“This contract will improve the lives of our members, make Kickstarter a fairer place to work, and help raise standards in the tech industry,” Kickstarter United said in a statement. statement posted on its website shortly after signing the contract. “We fought hard for a contract that puts safety and well-being first amid rising inflation, uncertainty and burnout.”

Hassan left as CEO in March 2022 after syndicate missteps and the botched rollout of a blockchain-based decentralized effort for the crowdfunding firm.

In a change of tone from previous leadership, Taylor said he supports Kickstarter United and the collective bargaining agreement and is retiring blockchain.

“I want to make sure that [employees] feel heard, feel seen, and feel like they have a fair and caring workplace,” Taylor said. “I support their desires and what they want, and I don’t see [the union] as contradictory or something that is a place of conflict. I see it as a group of people with expectations for the workplace in which they spend a good part of their time.”

Backlash of users has been intense after announcing in December 2021 that it was exploring possibilities on the blockchain and decentralizing the platform could make fundraising easier for creators. Critics have expressed concerns about the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies, which require significant amounts of electricity to operate. In answerKickstarter promised not to move its website to the new platform until testing and said the research would take place on Celo, a carbon-negative blockchain platform.

Taylor said the main company currently has no plans to move to blockchain and is not currently invested in Web3. “Blockchain and Web3 could potentially be useful, and if they come up with solutions that we think are actually going to be a big, positive contribution, then we can consider it,” Taylor said. “It’s still a long way off. Right now, we’re extremely focused on the core business of Kickstarter.”

Although the platform saw a 35% drop in new projects at the start of the pandemic and lost about 39% of its workforce in 2020 due to a combination of buyouts and layoffs, Taylor said the company immediately rebounded, registering a 30% increase in business. over the past two years, and 2020 and 2021 have been the best business years in the company’s history. He also started flying a four-day work week in March and works in an entirely remote environment, which Taylor says has been successful in increasing productivity rates.

As Kickstarter’s first black CEO, Taylor said his focus is on reaching out to marginalized communities of creatives and breaking down any barriers they might face. He cited initiatives like Forward Funds, a Kickstarter program that connects creators with charities that have similar missions.

“I want people to go on Kickstarter and see someone who looks like them,” Taylor said. “I want people to go to Kickstarter every day and see something that really interests them, whatever niche they’re interested in. I want to make sure that we continue to grow this industry and are able to reflect the diversity that exists in the world.”

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