Table of Contents:
Kickstart your users from passive to passionate
EVERETTE TAYLOR: When I was 14 years old, I was selling weed. And my mom found out, and she forced me to get a job.
The first interview I had was with this company called Eastern National. They were asking me these basic marketing questions, and it was just second nature to me.
It was like fish and water, man. And marketing is the thing that saved my life. Marketing helped me get this job at Kickstarter, which is rare. You know, most people aren’t CEOs at 33.
I’m shaking things up. Are people going to feel uncomfortable? Absolutely. Good. We need to up the ante. I want to build a juggernaut.
Bob, I survived the streets of Southside Richmond. No CEO job scares me, man. I’m not going to let imposter syndrome, I’m not going to let self-doubt, I’m not going to let haters deter me from what I’m meant to do and for me to help all the people that we can here at Kickstarter.
BOB SAFIAN: That’s Everette Taylor, CEO of Kickstarter, the iconic crowdfunding platform for creative and business projects. As of February 2023, pledges to projects on the site
have exceeded $7 billion.
I’m Bob Safian, former editor of Fast Company, founder of the Flux Group, and host of Masters of Scale: Rapid Response. I wanted to talk to Everette because at just the age of 33, Everette has been tasked with breathing new life into an established platform that has lost some of its shine.
In just four months, he swiftly shifted Kickstarter’s roadmap, recently launching two new product lines to change the way online creators are nurtured.
For many entrepreneurs, marketing can be underappreciated and underleveraged, in the belief or hope that their product will speak for itself.
But Everette is as marketing-centric as they come. His approach to aggressive engagement is one he hopes will elevate Kickstarter from a crowdfunding platform to a powerful cultural hub and tastemaker — a resource that can give opportunity to those who historically face systemic disadvantages in the hunt for success.
SAFIAN: I’m Bob Safian, and I’m here with Everette Taylor, the CEO of Kickstarter. Everette, thanks for joining us.
TAYLOR: Hey, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Everette Taylor on joining Kickstarter as CEO
SAFIAN: You joined Kickstarter as the CEO four months ago. What was it like going to a company that already had such a dedicated legion of users and fans? Did you feel pressure to keep things the same or were you given the green light to spark some change?
TAYLOR: I came into Kickstarter, and the exciting thing is a lot of people already know what Kickstarter is. And so that gives you a huge advantage over companies that aren’t a household name. When I came in, and still to this day, the thing that I’m working on is that the brand didn’t feel popping. It wasn’t popping right now.
For me, it’s about holding on to what really makes Kickstarter special. What makes Kickstarter special is our community, our passionate community of creators and backers. Creators being the people who create the projects, whether it’s film, fashion, tech, games, music, whatever. And then our backers, the people that are backing these projects and seeing them come to life. We are a PBC, a Public Benefit Corporation, so we don’t prioritize profits over impact. For me, I want to make sure that we keep that ethos here that we’re really an impact-driven company, and that we’re here to really make the world a better place.
But at the same time, I’m here to build a business, man. I’m here to grow this thing. And not growth just for the sake of growth. Because a lot of people, they’re growing because they want to get an exit, or they want to make more money, or they want an IPO, or whatever that may be. Kickstarter has been profitable for years. We don’t aim to exit the company. We want to stay private, which gives me a little bit more flexibility in how I run this business. And with that being said, the reason for growth is impact. If we grow this company, we can help bring more incredible, weird, wacky, amazing things to life. To me, that’s why I want to grow this because I want to make a bigger impact in the world and really grow the market that is creative crowdfunding.
SAFIAN: I was kicking around the Kickstarter site, and that phrase — bring a creative project to life — made me think, your new role as a CEO, do you think about that as a creative project?
TAYLOR: Absolutely. I think Kickstarter is the biggest kickstarter in the world, in the sense that Kickstarter has been this thing that has innovated in the crowdfunding space. And I’m constantly inspired by our community and the things that they want to do. We’re consistently crowdfunding, but crowdfunding through the feedback of our audience, not necessarily from a financial standpoint, but people are extremely passionate about Kickstarter. I don’t know if I’ve worked at a company where people have been more passionate, and a lot comes with that because there’s going to be a lot of people that give you shit, but there’s going to be a lot of people that give you praise.
A big part of Kickstarter, what people don’t realize, is community and that ability to communicate directly with your audience and the people that support you. And so Kickstarter to me is that.
Everette Taylor’s vision for Kickstarter
SAFIAN: The site emphasizes three metrics. Projects fueled, the number of projects, the money committed, which is now over 7 billion dollars, which is a nice chunk of money. And the number of pledges. Are those numbers your priorities? Is that the way you are going to gauge your progress toward growth?
TAYLOR: I can give you a little bit of what my vision is for Kickstarter. From a retention standpoint, that’s going to be huge for us. A lot of people, when they think about Kickstarter, they think about their friend or their cousin or somebody starting some project that they went and support. But a lot of people are not coming to Kickstarter on a regular basis to engage the niche things that they’re really passionate about. We have a subset of our audience that is using Kickstarter every day or every week and are super passionate about that. But still, this is the importance of building community engagement over an ephemeral destination is what I like to say. For a long time, Kickstarter has been this ephemeral destination where you go, you do your thing, you support somebody, and you might not go back to Kickstarter until you have another friend that is doing a Kickstarter. I really want to change those retention numbers.
You’re coming there because you love to know what is the newest, hottest music coming out. You want to know what are the coolest new films coming out. You want to know what new tech gadgets or fashion brands, whatever your interest may be, you are coming to Kickstarter because you want to know what’s hot and what’s next. That’s really important to me.
Another thing that’s super important to me is inclusivity. The truth of the matter is that the most successful and the most prevalent creators on Kickstarter are white men. And that is a problem to me. I think Kickstarter is a tool and a resource that should be taken advantage of by everyone. We do have all types of diversity on the platform, but I want to increase that inclusivity on the creator side and the backer side. And both of those are important because you have to increase inclusivity on the backer side because people have to see people and things that they’re familiar with. I’m really working hard on creating a more inclusive platform. We’re going to do that through our product. We’re going to do that through our marketing as well as Ford Funds, which is a new program where we’re backing and helping underrepresented creators on the platform by working with different organizations and nonprofits to actually dump money into their projects.
Really it’s all about building more equitable industries across different niches, whether it’s tech (you know how hard it is to get venture capital), film (you know how hard it is to get your film financed), music (more and more musicians are independent and need funding for their project). I want to be able to build a more equitable world where people aren’t dependent on the current construct of some of these industries to do what they love.
And the last thing that I will say is that we’re launching new business lines. In the history of Kickstarter, we’ve only had one business line. We take a percentage off of all of the money that’s raised on the platform. In the first four months of my tenure, I’m launching two new business lines. We’re moving really, really fast.
Is it a product or marketing problem?
SAFIAN: When Kickstarter launched in 2009, the crowdfunding platform was a revelation. There was lots of excitement, and now more than a decade on, as you sort of acknowledge, the shine isn’t quite as bright. And I guess as you’re talking through this business plan, how much is about addressing the product, and how much is about addressing the branding, is just reviving that pizzazz and that attention?
TAYLOR: I think it’s a chicken and an egg problem. Listen, marketing is my thing, man. Marketing is my God-given talent. I can bring people to the water, but I can’t make them drink it if we don’t have the right product. It’s really, really important for me to focus on both sides and make sure that from a product standpoint, the experience that people are going to have is going to be outstanding. I want people to come to Kickstarter and be like, “Whoa, I didn’t realize Kickstarter was X, Y, Z, or I could find so many cool things.”
The marketing is going to be much more targeted to the everyday creative person in the creator economy. I think that’s where it’s going to be the most effective.
For them to see that a lot of the things that they use every day, they may be walking in some Allbirds shoes, they might be on their Peloton bike, they might be watching Issa Rae on HBO and not realizing that she started on Kickstarter. I want to be able to bring that pass and all the incredible things that people are using and doing every day and not realizing that Kickstarter was the thing that kick started those things and brought them into life.
There’s so much from a lifecycle marketing, retention, discovery standpoint, search standpoint. There’s so many improvements that I want to make to the platform, but I also know the marketing and branding side is going to be extremely important too, I’m a Black CEO. I’m 33 years old. So for people to see me at Kickstarter, there’s a new wave of people of color, people who are underrepresented that are seeing Kickstarter in a new way, but I want to make sure that they’re coming to a platform and a product experience where they can be successful and they’re going to enjoy it.
Kickstarter’s new business lines
SAFIAN: It’s a challenge, right? Because you want to create attention, but if you create attention too soon, they’re not going to get the experience that you really want, but you don’t want to waste the opportunity to create attention and bring people in. How did you decide what things you needed to do immediately? What was important to do quickly versus what were the things that, “I got to wait?”
TAYLOR: What was important to do very quickly was bring some fire and energy back to Kickstarter, get us back in the media, get people excited about using the platform again. I joined right before Q4 of 2022, and we ended up having our strongest quarter of the year in Q4 of 2022. And I think there was just a buzz coming back to Kickstarter and really spreading the Gospel. But I also saw during that time that some people still didn’t have the experience that they wanted to because there’s still so many improvements. So, my focus has really been on these two new business lines. The first business line being digital marketing. Coming on Kickstarter, you could be a kid from Iowa who doesn’t really know anybody or has the biggest audience, but if you have an incredible product, you can use digital marketing services à la like an Etsy or whatever to reach new people and really be able to be successful on a platform. Kickstarter has never had that in the past, so we’re going to really be empowering creators of different sizes to be able to reach new audiences through digital marketing services.
The second piece is pledge management. Throughout the history of Kickstarter, say you raised a bunch of money and you got all these people that want whatever product that you created, and you have to manage all that. You got to manage the shipping, the taxes, all of that stuff. Kickstarter didn’t help anybody with that, and now we are. We’re launching pledge management now that will help creators on the business side of things, which also will create a better experience for the backers because a lot of these creators, they’re inexperienced entrepreneurs. And so these pledge management services are going to help people be able to manage the business side of crowdfunding.
So I’m really excited for both of these things. And I’ve been holding off on that marketing magic. It’s coming. It’s coming. Trust me, it’s coming. But I don’t want to invest in any large scale brand marketing campaigns and things like that until we get all of this in place.
SAFIAN: As you described these new business lines, it sounds basic, almost obvious. Like how could they not have this before? Is that the way you felt when you were coming in and looking at it?
TAYLOR: Yeah, I mean, that’s the great thing about having a new CEO, is that you got a new set of eyes. What I will do is give credit to our COO, Sean Leow, who was already thinking about these things. But I came in here and lit fire to that gasoline, man, and kicked people in the butt, and said, “Let’s go. Let’s make this happen.”
As you know from speaking to a lot of CEOs, a lot of times these ideas are just sitting there. They’re sitting there, and people don’t pursue them. And one of the things about Kickstarter is it’s been the market leader. But what happens with that is that you can become stagnant, and you can become comfortable. And I don’t think Kickstarter has really pushed itself. And so some of the things that are quite obvious, sometimes you just need the right leader to come in and just really make it happen.
Now we’re growing into a real business. It’s not just this crowdfunding platform. We’re going to have more tentacles. I’m coming for everything. I want to build a juggernaut.
SAFIAN: Before the break we heard Kickstarter CEO Everette Taylor explain his strategy for remaking and elevating the business.
Creating inclusivity on the platform
The creator economy has evolved so much since Kickstarter began. Are you looking at YouTube and TikTok and Patreon and how you move yourself into those areas? What is the competitive space?
TAYLOR: I think we have a very unique proposition. When you look at Patreon, Patreon is great for example, if you are a podcaster and you want money coming in on a regular basis, but Patreon isn’t going to help you get off the ground. YouTube is really for content creators and a certain type of creator. The beauty of Kickstarter is that it’s everybody. We don’t limit our creators into what they can bring into the world. We have campaigns where people just need $1,000, $1,500. We have campaigns where people raise millions of dollars. Right?
You don’t have to fit into any particular category, and we actually give you the resources to really get it off the ground. And then you can use Patreon later. You can use YouTube for your content and things like that. But we are the genesis. And no one is going to beat us in that space, especially while I’m CEO.
SAFIAN: As you’re describing this sort of target user community, it’s really broad. For some businesses it’s a little bit off-putting to have it be that broad, that it could really be anyone.
TAYLOR: I watched my own mom work nights cleaning bathrooms, toilets making minimum wage, something that she wasn’t passionate about, because she felt like she couldn’t pursue her dreams. She didn’t have the resources. She didn’t have a Kickstarter. She didn’t have a CEO like myself that wanted to speak to other Black people and underrepresented people to show them that there’s another option here. And I remember talking to my mom and listening to her dreams and the things that she wanted to pursue and that she never felt like she had the opportunity to pursue. And so for me, it’s not just about the big creators.
I could tell you who the ideal Kickstarter creator. The ideal Kickstarter creator is someone who has built their own audience, they’re going to hustle. They’re great communicators. They have maybe already some resources that help them. That’s the ideal Kickstarter creator, because those are the people that are going to be most successful. But those are the people that are set up to be successful in life anyways.
What I’m very passionate about is those people that aren’t set up for success, and to give them a platform that they feel like they truly can be successful. That’s why the backer retention stuff is important. Building community is important. Digital marketing services and pledge management is important. Man, that gets me so … Bob, I want to leave this podcast right now and go into the office and work right now. It gets me so pumped.
SAFIAN: If it were just about dollars, you might spend your time trying to find those whales, find the ones who can most effectively bring in the largest volume for the least work, right?
TAYLOR: Yes. Yes.
SAFIAN: But mission-wise, you want to open the door to a different community and enable people to have and experience an opportunity that otherwise they wouldn’t have.
TAYLOR: Absolutely, and I think we could do both. Trust me, I still want to grow this thing. I think we can get the whales and we can get these bigger creators. And one of the things about my mission for the company right now is to make people realize that this is a repeatable process. Someone raised 42 million dollars for books last year. And best believe, when he comes out with his next books, he’s going to come back to Kickstarter. This is a repeatable process.
So I want the bigger creators to know that, “Hey, this isn’t just a one-time thing.” Now we’re having multi-billion dollar corporations too. But the true North Star for me is the smaller creators.
I’m coming in here, I’m shaking things up. Are people going to feel uncomfortable? Absolutely. Good. Feel uncomfortable. You should. We need to up the ante. I’m here and I’m giving my blood, sweat, and tears to this because I believe in this. This is my life’s work, helping people, giving people resources. I’m not going to let imposter syndrome, I’m not going to let self-doubt, I’m not going to let haters deter me from what I’m meant to do and for me to help all the people that we can here at Kickstarter.
Everette Taylor’s superpower: marketing
SAFIAN: You describe your superpower as being marketing. As a CEO at 33, not everybody thinks about marketing as the way to do that. When and how did you realize that marketing was your superpower?
TAYLOR: I realized that at 14 years old when I was doing things I wasn’t supposed to. Most of the men in my family went to jail, were on drugs or died over the drug game. When I was 14 years old I was selling weed. And my mom found out, and she forced me to get a job. And at 14 in Virginia, you can work with a workers permit.
The first interview I had was with this company called Eastern National, which is a nonprofit, and they had a junior marketing associate role. They were asking me these basic marketing questions, and it was just second nature to me. I didn’t realize that marketing was something that was so easy and instinctual for me. And that was my first job. It was like fish and water, man. I can’t explain it.
And marketing is the thing that saved my life. Marketing, I think, in my opinion, helped me get this job at Kickstarter, which is rare. Most people, one, aren’t CEOs at 33 of bigger companies. Number two, it’s very rare for people to go from CMO to CEO.
But I think Kickstarter in particular had three things that it really needed. One, a lot of marketing help. We needed to get this brand going. Two, product. I have a lot of product experience. And marketing is product to me, and product is marketing. And, three, is someone that was going to change the business culturally, which is also a form of marketing. So, it made me uniquely qualified for this role.
SAFIAN: You had started up some businesses before. So you had run things before you were a CMO at Artsy. Kickstarter is much bigger. Is that daunting?
TAYLOR: Bob, I survived the streets of Southside Richmond. No CEO job scares me, man. This isn’t life or death. I’ve seen real struggle. I’ve been homeless. I’ve seen the streets. I’ve been on the streets. I’ve seen poverty. I’ve seen violence. I’ve seen all of these things.
Being CEO of a big tech company, man, homie, I made it. This is the good life. All the challenges that I’m facing here pale in comparison to real life things. So for me, I don’t feel this fear or this daunting thing. Have I done this job? No, but I became a CMO when I was 25 years old. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I figured it out. And so for me, my career has constantly been me learning and pushing and proving people wrong.
The responsibility to being a Black leader
SAFIAN: There aren’t a lot of black CEOs, there aren’t a lot of young black CEOs, so you will be and are being viewed as a role model in a certain way for a lot of other people. That could be its own pressure for someone in your spot. Do you think about the message that you’re giving just by the things you’re doing, just by being you?
TAYLOR: There’s not a lot of me that’s out there, and I understand that there’s a certain responsibility and weight on my shoulders to be successful. I feel like I’m built for this, and I’m excited to be able to help open up the doors for others.
I’ve seen it, man. People, they’ll see one person have success with a Black CMO, or CTO, or whatever different industry it is, and if that person is successful, people want to repeat that. I want that to happen. I want to have so much success that it blows the door wide open for people of color, underrepresented people to be in these roles.
SAFIAN: When I talk to other Black leaders, it’s like it’s hard enough doing the job and then you have this other job that you have to be doing at the same time.
TAYLOR: People don’t understand that. People don’t understand that. There is an added pressure and added responsibility when you are a Black person in these roles. One, because people tend to doubt you more just being a Black man or Black woman. You’re taught growing up that you got to be X amount of times better than your white peers because you’re always in this position that you have to prove yourself.
I’ve been in positions where I’ve come into companies, and I literally had people that were trying to sabotage me coming into these companies as a young Black executive. So that’s been a challenge for me, but I don’t consider myself a role model. I’m just a hustler baby. But I’m going to lead with kindness and I’m going to work hard.
SAFIAN: Everette this has been great, and I hope maybe you’ll come back on as the journey continues.
TAYLOR: Bob, I’m telling you, I got something special planned. This is really just the beginning for Kickstarter. We’re about to kick some ass, man.
SAFIAN: Thanks man. Thanks for doing this. Really appreciate it.
TAYLOR: Thank you, brother. Take care.