Kickstarter’s Yancey Strickler On Fear, Faith, & Farm Life On First Contact

TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014 - Day 1

Laurie Segall, former CNN Senior Tech Correspondent and Silicon Valley’s go-to reporter, hosts First Contact, sitting down with the people who make the technology that is changing what it means to be human. With her decade’s worth of credibility and contacts in the tech world, Laurie is able to have genuine, frank conversations with tech giants, underground hackers, and innovators who aren’t well-known yet but are working on projects that could fundamentally change the future. On this episode, she has a fascinating and inspiring conversation with Yancey Strickler, the co-founder and former CEO of Kickstarter, on how he got involved with Kickstarter, when he knew it was time to leave, and what’s next on the horizon.

Yancey’s love for punk rock and anti-establishment background seems to have formed the values for Kickstarter, the first crowdsourcing platform that allowed people to bring their ideas straight to the market instead of having to break into a studio or soundstage. The things that get funded are the hits, Yancey says, “and most ideas are not going to be hits. They just want to exist, and there was no economy for that sort of thing.” If people had a tool to float their ideas for projects out to their friends and family for funding, it could be a gamechanger for so many artists. So they had a simple idea: create the platform, take 5% of whatever they raise, and take zero ownership in the idea. Many projects that got their start on Kickstarter have made more money than the company has, Yancey tells us, and “I think that’s a great sign of success.” 

But that success put a lot of pressure on Yancey and the other founders to stay true to those values. Plenty of people, from investors to employees, wondered why Kickstarter wasn’t aggressively pursuing big money, and other crowdsourcing platforms were hot on their heels, outspending Kickstarter at every turn. Staying the course in the face of so many detractors had its cost: one day, Yancey just couldn’t go to work. “I remember the moment so clearly...I was looking at the doorknob, and I couldn’t make my arm move...my body was telling me, this isn’t working for you.” He thought after he left the company that he’d “go to sleep for three months,” but to his surprise, “I had more energy than I had had in years...it was freeing.” 

They talk about what he’s doing with that energy, how he didn’t fit in as a kid (“I’m going to have to call my therapist after this,” he jokes), what leadership really looks like, what he learned from his waterbed-salesman dad, and much more on this episode of First Contact.

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