Diaspora Co-Founder Helps Startups Keep Kickstarter Backers Happy
Few people know as much about the joys and stresses of a successful Kickstarter campaign as Max Salzberg. He was one of the four co-founders behind Diaspora, an open social network that raised $200,000 on Kickstarter in 2010 to take on Facebook, making it the biggest crowdfunding success at the time.
Afterwards, however, Salzberg and his team struggled to actually build the service. By the time they released a beta version in late 2011, Google had already come out with Google+, stealing much of Diaspora’s thunder. Over the summer, the founders decided to hand over control of Diaspora to the community and started working on a photo remixing tool called Makr.io.
Now, Salzberg has switched gears again and is launching a new project called Backerkit that is intended to help those launching Kickstarter campaigns keep their backers happy — something the Diaspora team certainly struggled with at times.
Backerkit gives startups a simpler way to manage the process of sending out rewards to those who backed their project on Kickstarter. Startups can quickly invite all their backers to create accounts on Backerkit, which serves as a direct line of communication between the company and the backer after the campaign has come to an end. Those funding the campaign can use the service to update their shipping information and rewards preferences, message the startup and keep track of the company’s progress towards sending their reward. Meanwhile, startups can use the service to track their backers’ preferences in real-time and organize all that personal information to minimize the headache of dealing with vendors and fulfillment centers for rewards.
Salzberg says he came up with the idea after the New York Times published an article in September about the struggles entrepreneurs go through after successfully raising money on crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Many people focus on the fundraising process, but the fulfillment process that comes afterwards is arguably more difficult.
“For Diaspora, we were really the first big Kickstarter project and there were so many snafus. We were sort of the windshield for Kickstarter,” Salzberg told Mashable. He decided to apply what he’d learned from his experience on Kickstarter to help other successful campaigns. “Kickstarter is super optimized to help you raise money, but they just kind of give you a list of people who donate and that’s it. There’s so many more niceties to it.”
Salzberg worked on building Backerkit for about a month along with Rosanna Yau, Diaspora’s designer. The duo decided to release the tool now in part because of a series of articles in CNNMoney this week about how the majority of top funded Kickstarter projects fail to meet their deadlines, which once again renewed debates about the pitfalls of the crowdfunding model.
Salzberg isn’t the only one thinking about tools to better manage Kickstarter campaigns. Soma, a water filter company, recently put out a free Kickstarter dashboard to give startups a way to track sales data and social mentions for their projects in one place. Kickstarter, for its part, provides some sales and traffic metrics for campaigns as well, but Salzberg is mainly focusing on helping popular Kickstarter projects after the campaign is over.
Backerkit is currently in beta and Salzberg plans to hand pick a select few projects initially as the tool gets off the ground, before opening it up to more companies. He says he might even consider launching a Kickstarter to help fund Backerkit as it evolves, though he admits it “might be a little meta.”
We chatted with Salzberg about what he learned from his own Kickstarter campaign, whether he is still involved with either of his two previous companies and how he feels about Diaspora now.
Q&A With Max Salzberg, co-founder of Diaspora
Why did you decide to launch this tool?
Kickstarter is super optimized to help you raise money, but they just kind of give you a list of people who donate and that’s it. There’s so many more niceties to it. What happened with us and what happens with a lot of projects is they go on Kickstarter because they are just three guys who want to make a thing, but are not really prepared to provide customer service. It’s not that they don’t want to. Kickstarter has totally innovated in how to make money, but the execution part is kind of the same. I really believe in Kickstarter. It changed my life for the better. It’s been the craziest roller coaster of my life as a result.
Are you still involved with Diaspora at all, or have you moved on completely?
Day to day, I’m doing more administration stuff. Obviously, we manage donations. I’m trying to take a hands-off approach. Because we started bringing in people, other people have a vision for what they want for it, and to some degree that’s different than what Dan [Grippi, co-founder of Diaspora] and I were thinking. Rather than just be a jerk and be like, ‘I don’t agree with that,’ it’s better to be like, ‘That’s cool, you want it to be like that, I’m okay with that.’ I’m still there and every once in a while, they’ll say, ‘How is this implemented?’ It’s an advisory role. They can never take from me. I’m always the founder.
Looking back on things now, how do you feel about the way things turned out with Diaspora?
Diaspora was just supposed to be a dumb project that I put on my resume for the summer. It’s still the biggest open source social networking community in the world. I’m really proud of it. I really thought it was going to be something that I would make with my friends in a cabin over pizza.
What’s the status of Makr.io right now? Are you still actively involved with that project?
There’s a bunch of crazy people who use it who are different than the Diaspora crazy people. We kind of got to the point where we had the idea for Backerkit and were like, ‘What do we do?’ I’m a social kind of guy and like the idea of working on something that is a little more tangible and solves more discreet problems for people. It still exists. We could have made it more complicated or changed it, but we think it’s fun the way it is. It’s kind of simple and a little weird. It is what it is. It’s out there.
Based on your experience running the Diaspora campaign on Kickstarter, what advice would you give to others crowdfunding a project on the service?
The thing that I guess is the most imporant for a project’s success is just a matter of having that really honest enthusiasm, just really wanting to do something for the sake of doing it. That’s what made Diaspora so successful and resonate with people. We wanted nothing more than to build it and people gave us the chance. It certainly wasnt the perfect road but I don’t think I would trade it for anything else.
Images courtesy of Max Salzberg and Backerkit