“This is the Rocky story for our generation,” reads a tagline for a would-be film about a would-be superhero. “Excremento is a superhero that nobody wants to be rescued by. He's literally a piece of crap, which is exactly how we feel when we get shot down for a date, when a potential employer tells us we're just not a good fit or when you get the feeling that one of your friends doesn't really like hanging out with you.”
The superhero film project was listed in early 2012 on Kickstarter, a Web site where entrepreneurs and artists solicit funding for their projects from friends and strangers. But despite its unique premise, the project never received any funding by the March 1, 2012, deadline. “0 backers. $0.00 pledged of $10,000 goal. 0 seconds to go,” reads the final ticker.
“Excremento: The Amazing Fecal Man” is now one of the more than 11,000 failed Kickstarter projects that are preserved on the website Kickended, an archive of failed business dreams that is equal parts funny and tragic. Curated by the Italian artist, designer and researcher Silvio Lorusso, Kickended brings together Kickstarter projects that received exactly $0 in funding before their time limits ran out.
America loves underdogs, and the media often trumpets stories of unlikely success. But if innovative entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are the backbone of America’s new economy, Kickended reveals its soft, squishy underbelly.
In Excremento's case, Gilbert Smith, the superhero's creator, said he used the project to learn how to animate films -- he uploaded a brief animation of Excremento to the Kickstarter site. He wasn't surprised that it didn't succeed. Yet Smith, a content writer who lives in Thoreau, N.M., still isn't soured on the experience; he's launched a new Kickstarter project -- CUT, "an 80'ss slasher-flick inspired comic" -- that is more in earnest.
"It hasn't changed my feelings on crowdfunding at all," he said. "If anything, the experience only confirmed what I suspected about crowdfunding in the first place, that it hasn't really changed how art needs to be developed and promoted, it's only taken some of the risk off of the creator's shoulders."
Since Kickstarter began in 2009, the site has been hugely successful, helping raise more than $1.8 billion for 86,000 creative projects. It has launched commercially successful businesses, and, in the process, reinforced the idea that, with a little luck and ingenuity, any entrepreneur can make it in America. “Even when the story is painful or tragic, to me it makes sense to show it, since it is part of the evolution of crowd-funding and personal entrepreneurship in general,” said Lorusso in an interview via Skype.
Excremento and friends
The projects on Lorusso’s site run the gamut of emotions, from funny and weird to heart-breaking.
Some of the ideas are a little odd, but still passionate -- for example, a proposal to build a 30-foot mushroom forest with a frisbee-golfing course at Burning Man, a weeklong festival held in the Nevada desert. The group already carts several 10- and 3-foot mushrooms made out of rebar, PVC piping, clothing and wire to the festival every year in their trusty van "Preggers," but they want to increase the number of mushrooms in the "forest" and make them bigger.
Another project proposes hand painting your favorite design, scene or sports team on your favorite trophy animal skull. "Unlike a normal mount that hangs on a wall, this mount can be a center piece on your table! You can even take this mount with you to family events, or any social gathering, to show off. These mounts will amaze anyone," the blurb says.
Other projects are heartbreaking in their sincerity – like Daley’s hypoallergenic Doggie Nosh, a startup pet food business “formed out of love for a little 4-lb Yorkie” with a big heart and chronic digestive issues -- or Miss V.I.P., a magazine designed to boost teenage girls’ self-esteem and body positivity.
Amber Schrama, who proposed the magazine "Miss V.I.P.," was disappointed with the results of her foray into Kickstarter but hasn't given up. "At the beginning I was hopeful, but also not expecting to reach the goal. But did not expect to get no backers at all," she said. Schrama says she'll definitely try crowd-funding again after the publication gathers more followers.
This archive of failed start-ups ideas forms an interesting bracket to Kickstarter’s much-publicized success stories.
A “crowd-funding” site, Kickstarter’s model entails collecting lots of small payments from large numbers of funders. In return, the entrepreneur promises to deliver something to his backers, with different rewards given for different funding levels – a digital download of a film for $25, or your name in the credits for $100. Kickstarter projects must reach a funding goal during a specified period, or the money is returned to the backers.
The site is supposed to be a no-lose proposition: If the project is successfully funded, it gets the money, backers get the rewards they were promised, and Kickstarter takes a 5 percent fee. If the project doesn’t reach the funding goal, everyone gets their money back. And even if projects don’t get funding, they can still build valuable followings and attract publicity.
In just five years, Kickstarter has become a huge success. In 2014, more than half a billion dollars was pledged through Kickstarter – about $1,000 a minute. It has given birth to popular products like Cards Against Humanity, the politically incorrect party game, and the Pebble watch, which connects with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Increasingly, the projects are not just things people have invented in their garage, but products that real companies are trying to put into production.
It has also given rise to some very silly success stories. In 2014, a man went on Kickstarter with a joking request to raise $10 to make potato salad for the first time. He ended up with more than $55,000 in funding. In the end, he used the money to throw a potato-themed festival, and donated the proceeds of the party to charity. “This was just the Internet being the Internet,” a Kickstarter spokesperson told The Guardian.
But for every success story, there are more projects that don’t receive press or funding. Kickstarter says that 44 percent of projects on the site reached their funding goals – an impressive figure, but still less than half.
Those figures echo the trends for start-ups in general. As it’s often said, most start-ups don’t succeed. In a study of 2,000 companies that received venture funding between 2004 and 2010, a study by Shikhar Ghosh of Harvard Business School found that 70-80 percent failed to give their investors the projected return. And about 30-40 percent of the start-ups ended up liquidating all assets in the period, meaning investors lost most or all of the money they put into the company.
Projects to make films, funnel cakes and potato salad are not exactly the same thing as start-ups in general. Still, the point remains; the media and the public are eager to embrace the winners, and ignore the losers. But the losers tell us something just as important about the experience of entrepreneurship in America.
Some of these projects are a little idiosyncratic -- not everyone needs a jam-band-themed bobble head, or a personal Geiger counter with GPS in their life. But many are worthy business ideas that just didn’t capture the imagination of the crowd, says Lorusso, the site's founder. “At the beginning I expected to find mostly projects by people who casually tried the platform, but now you can see that Kickended is full of heart-breaking stories, serious projects and also good ideas,” he said.
“And I'm very happy when gems like the "Excremento" are rediscovered,” Lorusso says of the fecal super hero, who ended up unloved in more ways than one. “Maybe they will live a second life.”
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