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Crowdfunding and the Politics of Potato Salad

By now, after a gloriously long 4th of July weekend of near-perfect weather, you’ve probably heard about the Potato Salad Kickstarter campaign launched last week: one man, with a simple dream of making potato salad, asking the Kickstarter community for micro-donations ($1 – $50) towards his starchy goal of making potato salad. The campaign goal? Ten bucks (which would barely buy you two cappuccinos at Starbucks).  What he’s offering investors in return is just as simple as his goal (and just as oddly compelling):

     —  $1 Donation – You will get a ‘thank you’ posted to our website and I will say your name out loud while making the potato salad.
     —  $2 (or more) – Receive a photo of me making the potato salad, a ‘thank you’ posted to our website and I will say your name out loud while making the potato salad.
     —  Highest donation $50 – Receive a recipe book with potato salad recipes inspired by each country where we have a backer along with a bite of the potato salad, a photo of me making the potato salad, a ‘thank you’ posted to our website and I will say your name out loud while making the potato salad. The recipe book will have a dedication page with the name of each of our backers.

Our potato salad-loving, crowdfunding whiz (Zack Danger Brown) raised 200x his intended crowdfunding goal (to date, his campaign has raised $8,029 – his goal was $10). Congrats to Zach.

Paul Link wrote a response in Pando Daily lamenting the irony at being upstaged by potatoes. His own Kickstarter campaign (which he calls “modest”), while still going strong, hasn’t come close to reaching its goal, nor has it seemed to strike the nerve right nerve that the Potato Salad campaign has to ensure success.

Link’s response was a bit tongue-in-cheek and clearly without judgement (though I don’t doubt he’s feeling a twinge of envy).  But to anyone else who may be wondering what, how and why this campaign gained the financial backing it has and mainstream media press that will likely increase in the coming days, here’s the gist of it:

Zack Danger Brown
Zack Danger Brown
  1. Timing is everything. What a lot of media outlets so far failed to mention in reporting on the success of Zach’s campaign was probably the one thing that contributed to it’s success more than anything. He asked for help making potato salad during the 4th of July holiday (prime time for potato salad dishes taking center stage (second only to charred meat) at barbecues across America). It’s worth noting that, during a holiday weekend that was (even as far as the weather is concerned) was damn-near perfect, people are giddy and generous. Had this campaign been launched during February, I don’t doubt the results would’ve been the same.
  2. Keep it simple.  “I’m making potato salad.”  This was the first sentence of Zack’s pitch and the point at which he won me over.  Dear Zack, I can’t help you figure out your life, find the woman of your dreams or ensure that your kids aren’t going to grow up to be assholes, but I can give you a buck to make potato salad and be mildly entertained by the outcome (yes, it really is that simple).
  3. Keep it real: “I don’t know what kind.”  Here, Zack clearly has an understanding of the politics of potato salad. Yes, there is such a thing. Everyone makes it differently and everyone swears theirs is the best. I’ve met people who won’t even touch other people’s potato salad because they believe all other potato salad to be intolerably inferior to theirs. The women in my family debate about “who will make the potato salad ” for each cookout and who makes the best potato salad as if they were world leaders voting on policies that will affect international economic stability. Zack admitting that he, too, is overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of making this deceptively simple dish automatically makes you like him.  Liking and trusting someone is a must when investing in them.  With his candid admission of uncertainty, Zack identifies a pain point that anyone who loves potato salad understands. Clearly, this isn’t just potato salad, it’s a journey (and a hilarious one at that).
  4. You don’t need to have a brilliant idea, you just need to resonate emotionally.  At the end of the day, Zack’s pitch resonated because it stirred up emotions and fond memories. Potato Salad is as much a part of our childhood food memories as peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and hot dogs. The very mention of potato salad brings to mind immediately my grandmother, my aunts and my mother peeling potatoes, comparing recipes, proudly proclaiming their potato salad to be the best. No, this isn’t a startup with a long-term business plan. It’s a combination of emotion and nostalgia. And it worked. By the way, if there’s ever a peanut-butter and jelly crowdfunding campaign, count me in (PB&J fueled my entire childhood).
  5. Balls to the wall. Paul link launched a self-professed “modest” campaign. But, while Zack’s campaign was simple, and his funding goal of ten bucks was certainly modest, the audacity of asking people for money for something as seemingly ridiculous as making potato salad is anything but modest. Perhaps this was a silly dare by friends, or a challenge to himself to do something ridiculous and to put himself “out there.” Whatever the cause or the reason, this crowdfunding campaign is anything but modest (and it is certainly unapologetic).

What’s next for Zach? A cross-country potato salad summer tour, interviews, Meetup groups, press interviews? Or maybe he’ll simply make his goal, make a decent potato salad, delivery what he promised to donors, and move on to the next ridiculous, yet completely attainable, feel-good goal. No matter what he does with this or how far he takes it, there are a few valuable lessons in entrepreneurship and marketing that Zack has no doubt learned and is clearly teaching us all.

steve wozniak

The Wisdom of Woz: Innovation ain’t no bear hug….

From his memoir iWoz, Steve Wozniak offers this bit of advice to future innovators:

“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me — they’re shy and they live in their heads.  They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee.  I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee.  If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artists, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take.  That advice is: Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.”


Digital Media Minds Catch a Virus at our NY Viral Media Event

Last week turned out to be a good one with Served Fresh Media relaunching New York Viral Media Meetup (@nyviralmedia) at a  sold out event full of digital media minds looking for insights into the latest viral media tricks and trends. With a great and giving panel of viral media thought-leaders and an eager crowd hungry for discussion on this hot media top, “Catching a Virus: Brands and People Monetizing Viral Media in Real Time” turned out to be a great event.

Take a look at this Storify for links, photos and details: