Dreams For Sale

Perry Chen, founder of Kickstarter, a company that helps people achieve their wildest fantasies, reveals what it takes to make a dream come true. And participant Emily Richardson explains how she's going to realize her dream - to sail around the world.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And now it's time for The Next Big Thing, that's our regular feature spotlighting trends or people who everyone will be talking about in the future. Maybe you woke up today with a strange urge to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or maybe you have had a lifelong dream of sending art supplies to a youth group in South Africa.

We all know that dreaming is free, but converting fantasies into reality can be pretty expensive and that's where a new Web site, kickstarter.com can help. The company offers a place online for individuals to raise money for creative projects.

Joining us now to explain how it all works is Perry Chen - he's a co-founder and CEO of Kickstarter - and Emily Richmond, who is a Kickstarter participant. She recently achieved her goal of raising enough money to sail around the world. Welcome to the program.

Mr. PERRY CHEN (Co-founder and CEO of Kickstarter): Hi, thanks for having us.

Ms. EMILY RICHMOND: Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So Perry, just give us a quick take on how Kickstarter works.

Mr. CHEN: Well, Kickstarter, it's a Web site where people can come and raise money for any project. It's really up to you what you want to do, how much money you need and it's not investment. It's not lending. It's something kind of in between patronage and commerce. People can sculpt very interesting propositions for what they'll give people who sponsor them. And Emily, I'm sure can tell you some of the interesting (unintelligible) as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Yeah. I looked at the video that Emily put up on your site. But let me ask you first, as I understand it, people send in money in whatever amounts, but if the person who is asking doesn't raise the full amount, then they get nothing. Is that right?

Mr. CHEN: That's exactly correct.

WERTHEIMER: Now that seems harsh. What happens to that money?

Mr. CHEN: Well, we actually don't collect the money unless the goal is reached.

WERTHEIMER: So you're just basically telling people, you're asking people if they're going to compromise what they want to do they have to do it ahead of time.

Mr. CHEN: Correct. Right. Once you set your goal, you know, that's your goal and you can't change that. And it keeps everything kind of in the open and people know what they're getting involved with. And it, you know, we're so goal oriented and once people can focus on what we're trying to do, you find that people get behind that goal. And again, Emily, another wonderful example for this, how I think in the last day Emily raised half of her money.

WERTHEIMER: For goodness sakes.

Ms. RICHMOND: Pretty close. Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: So Emily, tell us about your project.

Ms. RICHMOND: My project is that I'm sailing around the world this winter. I will be leaving for 24 months in which I'm going to sail probably over 24,000 miles through three different oceans and stop at six different continents along the way.

WERTHEIMER: And what did you tell people was the purpose of this thing? I mean why would people want to give you money?

Ms. RICHMOND: I mean, it's just a dream of mine and initially when you reach out to your friends and family I guess they want to support because they want to see you do what it is what your desire is. You know, they want to see your life fulfilled. From there, it's just been completely interesting. People have been fascinated by it for so many different reasons.

I've gotten emails from people who have the exact same dream, who share the dream of sailing around the world or traveling extensively. I have people who've sent me email saying it sparked something in them that reminded them to also chase their dream. It could be something completely different, but for them it had the same sort of spirit to it.

WERTHEIMER: Now you say that you will send people things in return for pledges. I mean you start quite small. What's the smallest pledge?

Ms. RICHMOND: The smallest pledge I did was a dollar, which was get your name on a boat, on the boat itself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RICHMOND: So like, I'm going to get a giant decal made with everybody's signature.

WERTHEIMER: Uh-huh.

Ms. RICHMOND: From there, the next smallest one, which was I think pretty popular, it was I'm hand making Origami sailboats for people...

WERTHEIMER: And that was how much money?

Ms. RICHMOND: That's five dollars and I'll hand-make you an Origami sailboat so...

WERTHEIMER: Okay, now, let's just hear. We're going to play a little chunk of your video.

(Soundbite of Emily Richmond's video)

Ms. RICHMOND: Pledge $125 and I will mail you a coconut. I don't know how it's going to work out, but I know it's going to work. It's definitely possible to deliver a coconut. Like, it's amazing. Like you're going to come home and you're going to go to your mailbox. Like everyone else will be getting like boring bills and you'll be getting like a coconut.

WERTHEIMER: So there you'll be, pull into port in Tahiti or some place and go out and buy a bunch of coconuts and send them off?

Ms. RICHMOND: No, I'm going to chop them down, like climbing trees with a machete…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RICHMOND: …coming straight from me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: And then mail a coconut.

Ms. RICHMOND: Yeah, that's the plan.

WERTHEIMER: Perry, how did you come up with the idea for this?

Mr. CHEN: Well, you know, it's - as somebody who prides himself on being a you know, a creative person, which I think you know, most of us are, you know, it's just a lifetime of banging your head against the wall for your ambitions and there's very little funding for most ideas. And most ideas aren't about generating revenue. And if you're not generating revenue, you've just cut out you know, 99 percent of the possible funding channels.

So, the idea slowly kind of took hold in my mind and I joined forces with a couple of other partners and we brought it to what it is today, which is really just a, you know, it's a way to kind of connect people and to get the things they want done done. But, you know, Emily again is the person example because, you know, you can't just stick your hand out and it's not about donations. It's about finding value for both parties. I mean I gave Emily $15 and I'm getting, is it Polaroid?

Ms. RICHMOND: Polaroid. Yeah.

Mr. CHEN: So Emily's going to take a Polaroid somewhere in the ocean you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHEN: ...and mail it to me and I'm going to have this kind of, you know, the salt air immersed in the Polaroid, and the Polaroid's an artifact too, right? They don't do that anymore. So, you know, and that's worth $15 to me. It's really special. It's not something that's mass produced and it's something I can afford.

WERTHEIMER: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer and we're talking about The Next Big Thing, Kickstarter.com.

Perry, do you make money doing this?

Mr. CHEN: So far, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHEN: So far we've, you know, it's the, your typical startup story. So, you know, we've all been kind of sacrificing our time and our savings to get this idea off the ground. We've been free to date, but we're announcing this week that we're going to start collecting a five percent fee for projects that succeed to cover our expenses and to grow our business and maybe one day to make some money ourselves.

WERTHEIMER: Emily, the sense I have is that the reason this has worked for you is not that you're going to send people coconuts or even Origami little boats, but the notion that people would somehow share this with you.

Ms. RICHMOND: Yeah. I agree completely. I think that's really what it is. It's probably the primary thing that was going through my mind when I was actually creating the incentive levels is how can I create something that makes somebody feel like they're a part of it?

WERTHEIMER: What was the biggest amount of money you got from somebody who was not related to you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RICHMOND: I think 500 came from a stranger completely. Like, kind of I'm a friend now.

WERTHEIMER: That's a pretty big chunk.

Ms. RICHMOND: Yeah. He's emailed me a handful of times. He was a pretty big proponent in passing the word on to his friends also, so I'd say that particular fellow was very helpful.

Mr. CHEN: And that kind of, you know, what Emily said there about him being a big proponent of spreading the word is kind of, you know, it's integral to the process. You know, I think everybody who's creating a project on Kickstarter, the first thing they do is they tell everyone they know and then it has to kind of take a life of its own.

So it's got to be, Linda, as you point out, more than just this proposition, but it's got to be a story that people want to spread and share.

WERTHEIMER: Emily, one last question for you. When do you set sail?

Ms. RICHMOND: I think I'm probably going to leave the first week of January, go home for the holidays, come back and take off.

WERTHEIMER: And where will you go?

Ms. RICHMOND: South first. South.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RICHMOND: I'll head all the way down to Central America, stop in Ecuador, go to Galapagos Islands and then it's going to be west for a very long time.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you both very much.

Mr. CHEN: Thank you.

Ms. RICHMOND: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Perry Chen is the creator and CEO of kickstarter.com. Emily Richmond is a successful Kickstarter. She recently achieved her goal of raising enough money to sail around the world. They were both kind enough to join us from our studios at NPR West.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: That's our program for today. I'm Linda Wertheimer and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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