Category Archives: Crowdfunding

Odds & Sods For Friday, August 23rd

Item The First: Is there some corollary of Murphy’s Law that says that you will see typos and stupid mistakes in emails and blog posts in the first ten seconds after you hit the “Send” or “Publish” buttons? Twice in the last month I’ve told WordPress to send out the emails to everyone to let them know there’s a new post here and a heartbeat later yelled “SHAZBATT!” (or something much like that) and looked for an “Undo” button. (There isn’t one.)

Even worse, I’ve also sent out two email cover letters on job applications with simple, stupid typos in them. This happened after I had read them, re-read them, walked away from them for a while, checked them for a third time, blessed it, and hit “Send”. Of course, doing so instantly labels me as an idiot and is incredibly frustrating. The first rule of job hunting is to avoid typos and look professional at all costs. There are a hundred people battling for each job and it doesn’t take much to kick your resume out of the “review” pile and into the trash. Making your first impression one where the potential employer thinks you’re not big on details and can’t communicate well puts at least two strikes against you immediately.

I like ranting about freakin’ idiots much more than I like being a freakin’ idiot.

On the other hand:

Every Time You Make A Typo

Item The Second: I wrote about Kickstarter and mentioned that in the near future there will be an opportunity for actual equity investment by crowdfunding as opposed to “contributions”. Here’s an article from the Hollywood Reporter talking about how this will effect how television shows and movies are capitalized. It indicates that the new rules for “equity crowdfunding” will be going into effect near the end of September for “accredited investors” (those individuals with a net worth of over $1M and over $200K per year income) and sometime in 2014 for “unaccredited investors” (those with a net worth of less than $1M but more than $100K) with limitations on how much one can invest.

Item The Third: Speaking of errors I’ve made, on August 18th I posted some pictures of what I thought was the California state capitol in Sacramento. I was posting quickly (on the road in Virginia) and looking at tiny thumbnails, not the best of conditions. Even at the time I had little alarm bells going off in my head, but didn’t listen to them because I was in a rush and working with more limited resources than I usually have. About ten minutes after posting I saw the full-sized pictures and realized that it wasn’t Sacramento.

No one has yet guessed correctly, so it’s time to just say that it’s the Colorado state capitol building in Denver.

Under the category of “Not Really An Error, More Of An Update”, on August 17th I posted a bunch of pictures I took from the plane travelling from LAX to DFW. The caption for the tenth image down says, “I think this one might be St Johns, but I would have to check a sectional to be sure.” Well, I checked the sectional and Google Earth (34°24’56.45″ N 103°13’09.42″ W) to be sure and it’s not St Johns Industrial Airpark in Arizona, but Cannon AFB in New Mexico, just to the west of Clovis, NM.

Item The Fourth: That spider web that so fascinated me is still there, and growing. Not only is that original, fishing-line-like thread there, but a much bigger web is being anchored to it, all intact despite days and days of the breezes whipping around the branches from the two trees that it’s strung between. I haven’t seen the spider yet, but if it’s sized like its web, I expect it to be the size of a squirrel. Anyone know where someone can get a fifty-gallon drum of DDT? (Asking for a friend.)

Item The Fifth: Peter Piper picked a peck of pretty little purple pink polka dotted people pepper upper pills. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pretty little purple pink polka dotted people pepper upper pills, how many pecks of pretty little purple pink polka dotted people pepper upper pills did Peter Piper pick?

My friend Kevin McNamara taught me that in high school. Forty years later it rolls off the tongue, but to save my life I can’t remember where I left my iPad an hour ago.

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Filed under Crowdfunding, Flying, Freakin' Idiots!, Odds & Sods, Photography, Travel

Why Can’t Someone Use Kickstarter To…

Now that we’ve gotten a primer on what crowdfunding is, and particularly Kickstarter, I’ve got a suggestion for the game designers out there who are looking for a good project to put together.

Outpost 01

Outpost was a Sierra simulation game for PCs that came out in 1994. I loved it! I played it for hours and hours on end!

In the game scenario, Earth was about to be destroyed by an incoming asteroid. You had the limited resources to build one colony starship. Your decisions and tradeoffs were critical.

You had to start sending out probes to find a place to go. Should you send a lot of probes with less information back from each or a few probes with better data? You had to figure out what to spend your limited money and launch mass on. Should you take more colonists with a much thinner margin on life support, or a smaller group with better resources to handle disasters? Bring a comm satellite, or more food? Bring a nuclear power plant, or solar panels and more seeds?

Once you picked your destination and left the doomed Earth behind, you had to start building your colony. Now you had to juggle where you put your resources. Keep your colony small to conserve energy and materials and the crowded quarters would make the colonists ready to revolt. Build a spacious colony with recreational facilities and you would die when you ran out of energy, food, water, air, or some other vital resource.

Outpost 02

Should you build factories or farms? If you didn’t have factories to build mining robots and diggers, you would run out of resources and you wouldn’t be able to build underground. But if you didn’t have enough farms, you would start losing colonists to starvation.

When you got to your destination and started your colony (assuming you hadn’t picked a star with no planets – oops, you’re dead!) you got an AI to help you along. Until I found an old enough computer on which to re-install the program to get these images, I had forgotten just how amazingly cool it was to hit that button and hear this sexy, sultry, female voice say, “Yes, Commander? How may I be of assistance?” She had Siri beat by almost twenty years!

Outpost 03

If you lost enough colonists you wouldn’t have enough workers to keep the colony going. But if your colony was healthy and growing you needed to allocate resources for additional space and life support. And remember, you need your colony growing and having kids because sooner or later the original colonists are going to start dying of old age no matter how great a job you were doing as colony commander.

Outpost 04

If you found that the farms were going well, the factories were turning out mining robots and supplies to keep your colonists happy, the mining robots were bringing in ore, and the happy colonists were having kids, then you had even more problems to solve. Did you remember to build warehouses for that food and ore? Reservoirs for the water? Oops, it gets destroyed or lost and you wasted all of the resources you used to create those goods. Did you remember to build schools for the kids? Oops, they grew up unable to run the colony you built for them.

Outpost 05

At some point. if you had figured out those puzzles, you needed to start building labs and doing research. You left Earth with the best technology of the day, but there are problems here that Earth never faced. You needed to start getting smarter (all while maintaining the survival balancing act) and juggling the needs for research in engineering, materials science, biology, sociology, physics, medicine, and just about every other field.

Outpost 06

Outpost was just fun to play, a bit like that other popular city-building simulation game in the ways that you had to juggle resources. But Outpost was off in the hostile far reaches of outer space with the fate of humanity riding in the balance, not just some nameless, faceless Sims.

Outpost 07

The graphics were great (for the day) and I really loved the 3-D nature of it where you had to learn to build certain things on the surface (farm domes for example) and other things deep underground (living quarters). You had to make good choices at the beginning  in order to give your colony what it needed for a chance to survive at all. I had a great time playing different games with different starting conditions and initial tradeoffs, just to see what would happen.

Outpost 08

The ultimate goal of Outpost was to first get your colony self-sufficient and then to start spreading out. In theory you could start a second colony, to keep your eggs from all being in one basket if something happened to yours. Or if you learned enough you could start terraforming your new planet so that it wasn’t quite as hostile. Or if you got enough research done, you could build a new starship and send a group off to another planet to start a second colony.

Outpost 09

The real world interfered with all of that however. Some of the later aspects of the game were never finished when the game was rushed to market, so it was impossible to actually “win”. A lot of items that were supposed to happen later in the game (advanced research opportunities, advanced factories, multiple colonies, terraforming, building the second starship) just never got coded.

So with my wistful longing ringing in your ears, let’s get back to why I gave everyone the capsule tour of Kickstarter and crowdfunding yesterday. (Didn’t you just know that I would get back to that sooner or later?)

I mentioned that my friends Corey and Lori Cole were game designers at Sierra way back when. They’ve now got a great new project that got funded on Kickstarter to make a new game that has the look, feel, and style of those old strategy games. I backed their project and I’m excited about it, but it got me thinking.

Why can’t someone make a new and improved version of Outpost using a Kickstarter funding project to get it off the ground?

Not only could it be as much fun and as complex as Outpost was in 1994, but it could be twenty years of progress better! Better graphics. A better user interface. More reality based simulation modeling. More variables. More interactions. Internet connections to have your colony trade with colonies created by other fans of the game. And all of the missing elements at the end of the game could be finally done and done right!

New wondrous and amazing options could be added. For example, instead of all of the destination planets being various levels of rocky and hostile (Moon-like or Mars-like) you could have water planets, ice planets, gas giants, and even marginally habitable planets with critters. Probably critters who didn’t like you moving in. Think of the possibilities!

We could save humanity from the incoming asteroid and colonize the stars!! It would be GLORIOUS!!!

Um, yeah. So, why couldn’t someone do that? I would so much totally back that project. In a heartbeat. Big time!

I’ll be waiting here for it, anxiously. (Playing a twenty year old game on a small fifteen year old laptop when I would really like to be playing it on an XBox 360 hooked up to a 80″ LED flatscreen and able to actually win!)

Thanks.

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What Is This “Kickstarter” Thing?

Kickstarter is one of the oldest and best known of the new “crowdfunding” sites, where folks with bright ideas and projects in need of funding and capitalization can go and attempt to raise money from hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands of contributors and supporters. There are dozens and dozens of other crowdfunding sites besides Kickstarter – Indiegogo, Pozible, Bolstr, and Fundable among others.

Prior to crowdfunding, if you were an entrepreneur with an idea for a new product or an artist with an idea for a new project, you went to look for venture capital, angel investors, you borrowed money from your parents, you got a fourth mortgage on your house, and so on. Whatever it took to get the cash you needed to get your company or project started.

With the internet, it’s now possible to ask for a little bit of money from each of a lot of people instead of a lot of money from just a few people. Some of your supporters will be friends and relatives, but many of them will be total strangers. You get your funding from the crowd by convincing them that you have a really great idea. “Crowdfunding!”

In return, you offer your supporters the promise of something in return for their contribution. Generally you offer a menu of options, where $1 or $5 gets you something trivial and $1,000 gets you something huge, with lots of options in between.

It’s easiest to demonstrate this by looking at an example – take a peek at the Hero-U Kickstarter project which funded last November. This project was put together by Corey Cole and his wife Lori, both of whom are friends of mine from when I first got into science fiction fandom in the late 1970’s. Corey and Lori have worked for years designing some legendary games and wanted to create an old-style, turn based, role playing game for today’s personal computers.

In order to do this (pay artists, programmers, designers, write the user manuals, etc) they came up with a business plan where they needed $400,000 in funding. The put together their proposal, made a video about their project, and ran their Kickstarter campaign for 32 days late last year. The got $409,150 pledged, exceeding their goal, so their project was successfully funded.

Looking at the column on the right side of their Kickstarter page you can see the menu of available “rewards”. $5 gets you listed as a Friend of the project on the web site, a token contribution. $20 gets you a downloaded copy of the game when it comes out. $35 gets you a copy of the game, a copy of the sound track, and a PDF copy of the art book. And so on up the ladder until $1,000 gets a character in the game with your name and likeness and $2,500 gets all of that and a visit to the studio to hang out with Corey and Lori.

Just about anything can get funded by a crowdfunding project these days, and different sites have different rules and support different types of projects. Kickstarter is for “creative” projects, so there are lots of small films, books, plays, games, inventions, art pieces, and so on there. (Browse the site at will, some of this stuff is just freakin’ amazing!) Other sites are for scientific or technical projects, while others are for charitable projects.

Kickstarter (or any of the other sites) do not create the projects, nor do they own them when they get funded. They’re just glorified middle men who give some structure to the process, give a platform for the creators to tell people about their projects and why potential supporters should be as passionate about them as they are, and facilitate the payment and collection process. (Yes, they take a small cut when projects fund.)

Too good to be true? Well, there are thorns in with the roses.

Some sites (including Kickstarter) require you to meet or exceed your goal by your deadline (typically 30 days or less) or you don’t get a penny. Others (such as Indiegogo) will pay on a partially funded project. And no matter where you go, a successful campaign is a hell of a lot of time and effort, good marketing, networking, and hundreds and hundreds of hours laying the groundwork prior to your campaign.

These are NOT a source of “free money”. You don’t just roll out of bed one day and sign up and have people send in cash.

As a contributor or supporter, you MUST realize up front that nothing is guaranteed. Let’s say your cousin or friend from college has a really neat idea. You pledge $1,000, spread the word about how great it is, get a lot of your friends in also kick in a few bucks. Your cousin or friend gets funded – but then they screw up badly or just take the money and run. You have no recourse or way to get your money back.

At the other extreme, if the project is for some kind of invention and you help get them off the ground (usually in return for getting one of the first of the new gizmos) and the project owners become multi-bazillionaires, you will NOT be getting a share of their profits. You’ll just get whatever you were promised for your pledge.

You are not an investor in a company – you are making a charitable donation to a project in return for a promise of some kind of reward. This is how this kind of fundraising gets around a ton of securities and exchange regulations and very complex laws concerning investing.

There is a movement toward allowing this “equity crowdfunding” for commercial and corporate investing on a very limited basis. The law has actually been changed by Congress to allow this (the JOBS Act of 2012), but the regulations from the Securities and Exchange Commission are taking a long time to be drafted and changed.

Once those changes finally happen you’ll be able to go raise up to a million dollars in investment equity to start a bakery, or to buy a handful of trucks for a delivery service, or to buy an office building as an investment, or whatever. The process and the requirements will be somewhere out there between the incredibly complex procedures for doing an IPO and the relatively easy procedures for doing something like Kickstarter. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the SEC to get this done any time soon.

But “equity crowdfunding” is the commercial big brother of crowdfunding that’s off on the horizon. For now, crowdfunding is a relatively simple process that has given birth to some amazing things. It’s a really good way for you to get involved with some outstanding creative projects and to help see them come to fruition.

Check out some of the campaigns going on now at the different sites and look at some of the best of the older projects. Here are some of my favorites:

So, that’s what Kickstarter is!

Did I mention why I wanted you to know?

(Correction – in the fifth paragraph, I originally referred to Corey Coles’ wife as “Lisa”. Her name is Lori. I have sisters named Lisa, Lynn, and Lori, and my sister Lori’s married name is “Coles”, so it doesn’t take much of a brain fart to get it mixed up.)

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