March 28, 2014

The Tao of Crowdfunding. ~ Josh Baylin


When I was 17, I first read the Tao Te Ching, over and over again at the Park School in Baltimore, Maryland.

I couldn’t understand how something so vague was so precise. That something which was intended to be of minimal value somehow underscored everything. And so began a life that when confused, excited, disappointed, or scared, I could turn to the Tao, and extract helpful nuggets for each situation.

The last few weeks of my life have been turned upside down with a crowdfunding campaign and I wanted to write about how Taoism and crowdfunding were related.

Crowdfunding’s darling is Kickstarter. So some say they “don’t get” crowdfunding but may understand Kickstarter.  It has facilitated the successful funding of tens of thousands of projects reaching one billion dollars raised and has become a great democratizing force in capital attraction.

Have a great idea?

Have the ability to execute?

Turn to the “crowd” to fund your passions.

The “crowd” will determine and vote with dollars as to whether or not you succeed or fail in your efforts. At this point about 45% of Kickstarter projects succeed, so the odds are actually not in your favor, though that’s a far better chance than you had in “B.K. Times”—that’s “Before Kickstarter.”

And so, some people (Including my new company Velocity Kick) try to mechanize pieces of crowdfunding to increase the probability of success. Perhaps the best example of this to date is Tim Ferris’ Hacking Kickstarter article.

But sometimes, and especially when we read elephant journal, we think about how crowdfunding isn’t just about money.

It’s about community. It’s about the world. It’s about engagement. And therefore, I selected a few passages from the Tao, which apply quite nicely to crowdfunding and its ethos. For those that don’t know, the Tao is a series of 81 verses which are not intended to be gospel, or law, or scripture, but rather a guide. These passages are taken from the S. Mitchell translation, of which I find most approachable.

The Tao is called the Great Mother: empty yet inexhaustible, it gives birth to infinite worlds.

Crowdfunding’s resources are in a sense nothing because without even one participant they are zero. For project managers who have launched campaigns, “filling up” the empty is the toughest task on the first day, or in the first week.

And yet on the other end of the spectrum, they are unlimited as they are the resources of all. 58 Kickstarter campaigns have raised more than one million dollars. They include game consoles, non-profits and 3D-sensors.

It’s not often I get to speak about “infinite worlds,” but the Pebble watch, ran a 14 million dollar campaign on Kickstarter and has just launched its own applications store.

From nothing to its own product ecosystem, seems like infinite worlds to me.

The Tao doesn’t take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil.

Many will point to crowdfunding’s failures as its weak spots. They’ll point to projects not delivered on time and poor communications with project managers.

But last I checked, sound financial institutions have multi-trillion dollar fraud, where nobody is held accountable.  Instead we call that a mortgage crisis or “rigging the Libor interest rate.”

Think of the products the world would not have been exposed if it weren’t for Kickstarter. Creative projects like documentaries, comic books, films and so on.

Like all things in the world, crowdfunding too will produce both, quality and less than quality, results. In fact, it’d be overly manufactured and unnatural if it didn’t produce varying results.

If you are a pattern for the world, the Tao will be strong inside you and there will be nothing you can’t do.

What’s beautiful about crowdfunding is that, as a process, it is a series of patterns that entrepreneurs, makers and project creators should follow.

How can I communicate what I’m doing to the right audiences?

Why do they care about what I’m doing?

What have I done to demonstrate I care about them?

Whether in business or in life, connecting with people and getting them to care about what we care about, and taking an interest in their interests is a fundamental and valuable action that’s worth repeating.

It’s a valuable pattern that empowers us all as connectors and raises the possibility that we all may be crowdfunders at some point.


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Editorial Assistant: Brenna Fischer / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: shawncampbell/Flickr Creative Commons

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Josh Baylin