New York, NY (December 18th, 2014)
The NoPhone was featured in the Style section of The New York Times today and please do not read it on your phone.
Read below or click here for the full article.
Crowd-Funding Gets Wacky
Like many of the best and worst ideas, this one came about during a few quiet minutes of relaxation after work.
Earlier this fall, Jaime Meline, an independent musician with a loyal grass-roots following, was preparing to release his group’s just-completed album. He said he had just smoked a joint and began to imagine ways to engage his fans. On a lark, he sent an email to them offering all kinds of purposefully ludicrous revenue-generating extras.
For instance, he and his bandmate, Michael Render, would accompany a child to a classroom show-and-tell for $25,000.
Or for a cool $40,000, Mr. Meline wrote, the band would remake its new album rapping over nothing but cat sounds.
It was meant as a joke. But a fan named Sly Jones took matters into his own hands and started a crowdfunding campaign on the platformKickstarter.com to try to raise money for the cat record.
Within 41 days, the project had surpassed its goal. Visitors eventually pledged more than $65,000.
“It didn’t occur to me how powerful a cat and the Internet are together,” said Mr. Meline, better known as the rapper El-P, one half of the political rap duo Run the Jewels. Thanks to crowdfunding, his musical oeuvre has now expanded to include the album “Meow the Jewels.” It’s “a seminal stupid record,” said Mr. Meline, who will end up donating about $50,000 to charity, according to Mr. Jones.
Welcome to Warped Kickstarter, where some pretty absurd ideas are getting rewarded with tens of thousands of dollars. The crowdfunding site, on which creators and entrepreneurs appeal to the Internet public to help fund various projects in exchange for special contributors-only perks, has always been a home to seemingly silly ventures. For instance, more than $67,000 was raised in 2011 to fund a RoboCop statue in Detroit.
But in the last year, Kickstarter’s comical quotient has surged.
In February, Noboru Bitoy, a Chicago-based art student, proposed the creation of a video rating the tastiness of a Chipotle chicken burrito. The project’s page lists $1,050 in contributions from 258 backers — 210 of whom gave $1 and were rewarded with a PDF of the rating graphic.
Mr. Bitoy created a scale that ranged from “No: I don’t like this burrito at all” to “Wow!: Best burrito ever.” For his graph, he ate a burrito that earned the designation, “Yum! I think this burrito is very good.”
“I didn’t have a million-dollar idea, so I figured why not set the bar a little lower?” Mr. Bitoy said.
Also last winter, the Kickstarter community was given the opportunity to get behind a coloring book called, “Why Is Daddy Sad on Sunday: A Coloring Book Depicting the Most Disappointing Moments in Cleveland Sports.” The project’s creator, Scott O’Brien, set a goal of raising $2,000. He raised almost $24,000.
The idea came to Mr. O’Brien while he was stuck in traffic in Los Angeles, listening to the latest travails of the Cleveland Browns on sports radio. The team had just fired its coach and its general manager.
He thought a project that broadly focused on the failings of Cleveland professional sports teams would have longevity. “It seemed like every couple of years this cycle repeated,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Whimsical projects pop up on other crowdfunding sites as well. For example, on Indiegogo, a main competitor to Kickstarter, an inventor in 2012 raised $577,636 to back the making of a toy gun rigged to kill insects with salt.
This subversive use of a popular tech platform recalls a phenomenon known as “Weird Twitter,” in which early adopters used inside humor to subtly mock the site’s corporate and mainstream users.
Inane projects are the flavor of the day, says Mike McGregor, a Kickstarter spokesman. In the past, he said, projects proposed by famous people or those that generated six-figure contributions captured the attention of the media and regular visitors to the website. Now the spotlight is on the silly. “This year it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, people are doing really wacky things,' ” he said.
But a recent change to Kickstarter’s policies has given even more fuel to jokesters. In June, the platform introduced a “launch now” feature that amends the site’s previously more complicated vetting process.
One result is projects like Potato Salad, arguably the most notable entry in the Warped Kickstarter pantheon.
After joking with friends, a computer programmer from Ohio named Zack Brown created a campaign that asked for contributions to help raise $10 for a homemade batch of potato salad. Nearly 2,100 people were driven to pledge $1. In return, Mr. Brown promised, “You will get a ‘thank you’ posted to our website and I will say your name out loud while making the potato salad.”
The campaign raised more than $55,000.
“By the end of the first day, I had more people I didn’t know giving than people I did know,” Mr. Brown said.
In September, Mr. Brown held a potato salad festival for the people of Columbus, Ohio, sponsored by Hellmann’s and Hampton Creek. He says he is paying the rest of the money he made to a local charity, the Columbus Foundation.
Kickstarter took to the company blog to address Mr. Brown’s success, adding an aside that was perhaps meant to direct attention to Kickstarter’s more serious endeavors. “It’s funny to think that more people have seen the potato salad project than Oculus Rift, but hey, the Internet is a crazy place,” the post read. (The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that raised money on Kickstarter. Facebook acquired the company that makes it earlier this year for $2 billion.)
While the funny ideas galvanize the enthusiasm of dollar-funders who would like to help further the joke, an excess of frivolity can divert focus from what crowdfunding sites have asserted as their core mission: to help entrepreneurial people overcome financial start-up barriers. Too many joke projects — even those that ultimately result in money going to charity — can “muddy the waters,” said Bill Pescatello, a partner at Lightbank, a venture capital firm that has invested in a funding site dedicated to charitable causes.
Some creators draw distinctions between jokes and satire. Consider theNoPhone, a plastic block formed in the slim rectangular shape of a smartphone. Van Gould, one of the product’s creators, said the initial intent was to offer “social commentary on our own addiction.”
He and his friends listed the NoPhone on Kickstarter, calling it a “surrogate to any smart mobile device, enabling you to always have a rectangle of smooth, cold plastic to clutch without forgoing any potential engagement with your direct environment.”
The NoPhone’s Kickstarter page elaborates on the product’s function: “Does it have a camera? No. Is it Bluetooth compatible? No. Does it make calls? No. Is it toilet bowl resistant? Yes.”
Over a 15-day period, the NoPhone creators raised more than $18,000.
The product is set to ship to its 915 backers before Christmas.