Tag Archives: Kickstarter

Help Launch West St. Paul Reader

I’ve been blogging about West St. Paul since 2014. I’ve shared a lot of interesting things and met a lot of amazing people.

I like to be informed about my community. When you know what’s going on, you feel like you belong.

Now it’s time to take it to another level.

New West St. Paul Site

I’m launching a West St. Paul blog to help busy people know what’s going on. It will be called the West St. Paul Reader, and it will allow me to do a lot more:

  • Hear from new voices.
  • Tell new stories.
  • Build a community to sustain this effort.

I’ve thought about doing this for a while, but I kept resisting it. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. This personal blog is pretty limiting, and a focused site opens up a lot of doors.

Because I can’t do this by myself.

The Experiment

So I’m starting an experiment to launch this blog and see what works.

I’m launching a Kickstarter project to invite people to help make this idea a reality. There are a ton of fun, West St. Paul-centric rewards at various levels:

People often come up and talk to me about the things I write about West St. Paul. I know there’s a lot of interest out there, so let’s see if we can make writing about West St. Paul a more regular and consistent thing.

My goal is to create a dedicated source of info for what’s happening in West St. Paul. I want people to know what’s happening in their community and feel like they belong.

Thanks

I’ll be talking more about this (of course), as the project moves forward. I’ve got 30 days to hit that initial goal of $1,000, and then there are a bunch of stretch goals I’m excited to reach. This project opens the door to so many fun things—honestly, I’m a little giddy to see how it unfolds.

I hope you’ll consider supporting it.

And thank you. Seriously, thank you. There are so many people who have been gracious and encouraging and excited. People talk about how scary it is to chase a dream—to step out and make it happen. I’m a freelancer, so I know that feeling pretty well. But this dream was a new kind of scary. I couldn’t have done it without support.

I’m incredibly grateful. Thank you.

Experiments in Fiction: Fiction Unboxed

If you like to see the bleeding edge of fiction, check out the work of Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt and David Wright.

These guys host the Self-Publishing Podcast and write a lot of books. They follow a serial format—think of a TV series for books. They release individual episodes, collected into a season that makes up each series. And they’ve done a ton of different series.

Platt and Wright have the successful Yesterday’s Gone series, Truant wrote Fat Vampire and Platt and Truant wrote Unicorn Western.

Now I don’t think these guys are perfect. They’re on the bleeding edge, and I think it shows. Yesterday’s Gone is weird. The setup is so bizarre I didn’t get past the first season, but the suspense was pretty great. Fat Vampire is a hilarious concept and I liked the first one, but the sequels fell flat. Unicorn Western is another great concept, but I wasn’t hooked.

That’s just my opinion though. Yesterday’s Gone has nearly 700 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.5 stars. And these guys crank stuff out. Yesterday’s Gone has four seasons out and Unicorn Western has something like nine, and it only started in early 2013.

Now these guys are taking the experiment further and trying to write, edit and publish a novel in 30 days. It’s National Novel Writing Month on steroids. They’re also offering to share the process with the world, thanks to their Fiction Unboxed Kickstarter project.

They’ve got all kinds of rewards (including a free copy of the Scrivener writing software that I highly recommend), but the main idea is that you can see nuts and bolts of how they crank out stories so quickly.

It’s kind of a cool concept. Plus, the project has already met its goal, so it’s going to happen. If you want to support it, jump on board and reap the rewards.

I’m not in love with everything these guys crank out, but they’re out there and doing it. That’s impressive. And it’s worth watching.

Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

Dear People on the Internet,

Do what you say you’re going to do.

Especially when you take people’s money and promise to do something.

(Neglected Kickstarter projects, I’m looking at you.)

Because people are watching. We’re asking questions. We’re gauging your reputation.

Now we can be reasonable. We understand when things don’t work out or stuff falls apart. Sometimes a project doesn’t go the way you think it’s going to go. That’s OK. But don’t just disappear. Tell us what happened. Own it. That strengthens your reputation. We’ll give you some slack.

But when you just drop the ball? When you move on and you’re afraid to talk about it because you know you screwed up? That’s a problem. You’re tanking your reputation and the next time you ask for something, we’re going to say no.

New Five Iron Frenzy

I’ve waited two years for this. In 2011 Five Iron Frenzy launched a Kickstarter project for their comeback, raising a pile of money and ensuring a new album. Today the album officially releases. You should go buy it.

As a Kickstarter backer I’ve been listening to it for a couple weeks. It’s good stuff. Here’s the band talking about the new album:

Five Iron Frenzy was my favorite band as a teenager and it was the end of an era when they called it quits in 2003. Ten years later they’re back and it’s kind of incredible. I don’t think I ever expected Five Iron to get back together. They ended with such finality (out with a bang, not a whimper) it was clear they had seriously thought about it and were ending their career on their own terms. In some ways breaking up the way they did made it easier to put it all back together, assuming the right pieces were there. Five Iron has never been a band that would do some aging comeback tour, and it shows. They’re writing new material, and while it’s different, it’s still very much Five Iron Frenzy.

I’m curious to see how the new digital economy and a decade of difference will change things for Five Iron Frenzy. They don’t have a record company and they’ve all got day jobs. It did take two full years for the Kickstarter project to actually come to be. Will this be a one-off comeback? Or can we expect even more Five Iron in the future? I have no idea, but I can only hope for more.

Continue reading New Five Iron Frenzy

Five Iron Frenzy Returns to Minneapolis

Five Iron Frenzy on stage
My crappy Five Iron photo. See my Storify below for much better pics.

Last night I witnessed the return of Five Iron Frenzy to the stage. The late ’90s/early ’00s ska band played their first show in Minneapolis in nearly 10 years. The band called it quits in 2003 but came back in 2011 thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $200,000 to record a new album. Since then they’ve been touring and recording said album, which is set to release in November.

Five Iron Frenzy was the favorite band of my youth, the soundtrack to my high school and college years. They’re still one of my all-time favorite bands (I say that for the sake of clarification—Petra was another favorite band of my youth; not so much anymore). I reflected on what Five Iron has meant to me before, both before and after their 2003 show in Minneapolis.

I spent my youth rocking out to Five Iron: Singing along in the car, learning to skank at concerts, laughing at their hilarity and feeling anger at injustice right along with them. I went to every concert I could, probably a dozen between Detroit and Minneapolis. I interviewed various members of the band nearly half a dozen times. I wrote a lengthy, self-indulgent article chronicling the band’s history back in 2003, which was mostly a form of personal therapy.

We’ve got some history.

So the concert last night was quite an experience. First off, I don’t go to concerts like I used to. The last concert I went to was U2, and before that I don’t even remember. Probably another U2 concert? We had to get a babysitter. When the opening band started playing I realized I’d forgotten my ear plugs. Needless to say, I was feeling old.
Continue reading Five Iron Frenzy Returns to Minneapolis

The Kickstarter Yo-Yo

The King's YomenOnce upon a time I was a yo-yo master. I was one half of the yo-yo performing duo known as The King’s Yomen. I slung a yo-yo on the corner of Michigan and Pearson in Chicago, a bonafide street performer. I’ve even reflected on how the yo-yo became my salvation from a soul-sucking chapter in high school. Heck, my company even celebrated its five-year anniversary with a yo-yo.

That’s all once upon a time. I still have lots of yo-yo’s. There’s even one sitting on my desk. But I don’t throw a yo-yo on a daily (or hourly) basis like I used to.

But my friend Adam does. He’s the one who taught me how to yo-yo and dragged me on stage as the other half of The King’s Yomen. A couple years ago I saw his face in Walgreens, plastered on a yo-yo and still spinning strong. He’s still at it today, cranking out how to yo-yo videos at YoTricks.com.

This week Adam launched a Kickstarter campaign to create his own yo-yo. Not just some wood yo-yo with his name on it (been there, done that), but a $90 aluminum yo-yo with ball bearings, perfectly balanced and designed for advanced players to do 1A string tricks.

What?

That’s right, you’ve just had a glimpse into the intricate world of yo-yo geekery.

I knew it existed it, I was neck deep in it once upon a time. We had $90 aluminum ball bearing yo-yo’s in my day (Look: Here’s my 15-year-old self playing with one), but they weren’t that good. And we didn’t produce them ourselves.

Now before you dismiss this as being too geeky and not worth your attention: Adam’s Kickstarter campaign has raised $4,700 and counting in less than three days. The geeks shall inherit the earth.

Adam has another 30 days to raise funds, so it’ll be fun to see where this goes. You can get his fancy new yo-yo for $75, but if that’s not quite your speed you can get a beginner yo-yo for $15 (and learn how to use it at YoTricks.com).

Check out their video and see some amazing tricks:

I love Kickstarter. Now I just have to decide how badly I need a $90 yo-yo.

Teaching Technology

I love coming across examples of awesome, geeky things that do good. Here are two perfect examples:

GoldieBlox
With an engineering degree from Stanford, Debbie Sterling was tired of the boys’ club in her field. 89% of engineers are men. Debbie realized a lot of it has to do with the toys we grow up with. Toys that teach spatial relationships, geometry and building are largely targeted to boys. When they do target girls, it’s usually just by making everything pink. Debbie did some research and discovered that while boys like to build and gravitate toward the Legos, girls like to read.

So she created a toy that combines reading and building to encourage girls to develop those engineering skills. She came up with GoldieBlox, an innovative toy where girls build while reading along with a story.

She invested her life-savings developing the project and brought it to Kickstarter to find some backers. She found more than 5,000 willing partners and raised more than $285,000. GoldieBlox is going into production with an expected delivery date of April 2013.

While the Kickstarter project is over, you can still pre-order GoldieBlox.

If you’re not convinced, see what 5-year-old Riley has to say about GolideBlox. You may remember Riley as the girl who went on a rant in the toy aisle about all the pink princesses for girls, racking up more than 4 million views.

DJ Focus
Kelvin Doe is a 15-year-old engineering whiz from Sierra Leone. The kid builds his own FM transmitters and power generators out of garbage. Electricity isn’t reliable in Sierra Leone, so Kelvin built his own battery. He broadcasts the news and music as DJ Focus and makes his own mixers with cardboard and spare parts.

Kelvin became the youngest person ever invited to MIT’s Visiting Practitioner’s Program, and had the chance to visit the U.S. and expand his skills. All sorts of opportunities are opening for him now, though this trip was the first time he’d ever been more than 10 miles from home.

Learn more about Kelvin or just watch the video:

How to Make the Most of Kickstarter

I did a Kickstarter campaign last month to publish a book my daughter and I wrote together (now available!). I think platforms like Kickstarter are awesome, but only if you know how to use them. There are a lot of amazing stories about creative projects being, well, kickstarted with huge piles of funding thanks to Kickstarter. But you don’t hear the stories of all the failed projects that didn’t quite get there.

I’ve done both, a failed project about Como Park and a successful campaign for The Stephanies. Here’s what I learned about Kickstarter:

What’s the Project?
You need to have a clear, simple description of the project you’re going to do. Give us details: Who are you, why are you the person to create this, why is it worth doing, why do you need Kickstarter, etc. I’m shocked at how many people just throw up an idea and expect money to pour in. Doesn’t work that way. Show me what you’re going to do and how you’re going to get there. You should put enough sweat into the project before Kickstarter that I can see it coming to life. I’m investing in an idea. I’m not investing in you coming up with an idea.

Goals
Keep your goal realistic. If you don’t hit your goal you get nothing. But you can always go over your goal. What’s the bare minimum you’d do this project for? That’s your goal. Don’t put in lots of extra cushion room. Keep that goal attainable. The goal for The Stephanies was $300 in 30 days. Easy. Also, keep that time frame short. 30 days should be the max. We hit our goal for The Stephanies in three days.

Rewards
Rewards are huge, but easy to do wrong. Keep the rewards simple and don’t offer too many. Don’t make me choose rewards because one has the format I want and one doesn’t. Also, make sure they’re packed with value—these are your early supporters, willing to back you when no one else will. So treat them like insiders, not donors to milk. It kills me when I see Kickstarter projects I’d love to back but they’re asking $25 for an ebook. Seriously? I promised my backers they were getting the cheapest possible price. Be sure to offer something awesome for $1. My most popular reward was the digital copy for $1. It brought in the least amount of money but the most people (build your audience!). It builds a buzz and lowers the cost of entry. Also offer some cool high-end prizes. Well over half our income came from the $50 and up rewards. This is a way to reward your uber-fans with some cool stuff.

Video
Your video is important. Everybody talks about this, but I think it’s over-rated. Do a good job with the video, make it professional and tell your story. But if that’s you sitting in front of the camera, don’t sweat it.

Kickstarter is awesome. If you do it right. Do you have a project needing a kickstart?

The Stephanies is Available

The StephaniesAll the wild frenzy of the U.S. presidential election comes down to today. I’ve been blogging about it almost non-stop lately, but today it’s time to shut up and go vote. And then spend the rest of the day in a state of unnerved distraction, trying not to reload your favorite news site every 10 minutes (oh wait, is that just me?).

So today I’m launching an election distraction: The Stephanies is now available. You can go buy the print version, the digital version or the “color-your-own” version where you (or your kid) can be the illustrator.

The Story
The Stephanies is a short, goofy little story about two girls who are both named Stephanie. Sharing a name causes all kinds of problems and the two girls continually square off:

“My name is Stephanie!”

“No, my name is Stephanie!”

“Grr…” both girls grumbled.

It’s great fun. If you’re into children’s books, think more Robert Munsch than Margaret Wise Brown. This is the book my 6-year-old daughter and I wrote together and then published through a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Good Cause
Proceeds from the original Kickstarter campaign went to Lexi’s college fund, but for the month of November we’re going to share. Half the profits from The Stephanies will go to First Book, an organization that gives kids in need access to books.

Watch Lexi Read
We also put together a fun video of Lexi reading The Stephanies:

Thanks & Please Review
I’d be remiss if I didn’t send out a big thank you to everyone who backed our Kickstarter campaign and made this project possible. Thank you!

I hope you’ll check out the book, give it a review on Amazon and tell your friends. Thanks!

Reframing the Story of Ethiopia

The usual story we hear about Ethiopia is one steeped in poverty and despair. We hear stories of famine and political unrest. That’s the common narrative. It’s unfortunate because stories are powerful. But it’s not the whole story.

There are also Ethiopians doing amazing things. Not just marathon runners, but business leaders, doctors, activists, writers, musicians and more. Flowers of Today, Seeds of Tomorrow is a coffee table book to tell those stories. They’re currently doing a Kickstarter project to fund publishing the book. It’s about 85 percent written, and you can see some of the incredible stories and layouts on the Kickstarter page.

This is an opportunity to reframe the story of Ethiopia.

Doing Good in Ethiopia
I don’t want to contribute to the narrative of despair. I’m wary of providing the kind of international aid that’s merely drops of water on a wildfire. While famine, poverty and despair need to be stopped, I want to address those issues in ways that offer hope and empowerment, not empty charity.

Just last week we celebrated a new well in Ethiopia. I love that the local people in Segalu built their own wall around that well to protect it and are raising their own money to support and maintain that well. I hope this is a project that empowers them, freeing up their time and energy to pursue more productive efforts.

Likewise, I think Flowers of Today, Seeds of Tomorrow is a book that can empower a people. It reframes their story and shifts the focus from nostalgia for the past or despair for the failures of today to a hope in the promise of tomorrow. These are stories of Ethiopian heroes who have overcome that past to find success today.

We need those stories. We need those heroes.

Bring It Home
Four years ago today my son Milo was born in Ethiopia. I wouldn’t see his picture for six weeks and I wouldn’t hold him in my arms for five months. He no longer lives in Ethiopia, but it will always be a part of him, a part of me. These are his stories, and as you can imagine, I have a vested interested in seeing stories of hope and not despair.

Ethiopians, like all of us, are not bound by poverty and famine. They are not limited to political unrest. They have heroes and champions. It’s time for a book that tells those stories. I know my family needs one in our library.

Consider backing this Kickstarter campaign and helping this project come to life. I know it’s a lot of money, but the $50 reward gets you a hardcover version of the book and they’ll donate two softcover Amharic versions to libraries in Ethiopia through Ethiopia Reads. That’s a great way to share these stories with your family and with the people of Ethiopia.

Let’s tell the story of hope.