Charles Adler’s Kickstarter Start

From time to time, I’ve written about Westporters and their Kickstarter projects.

But I never knew that Kickstarter — the pledge-online website that’s funded over 38,000 creative projects, including Jean Paul Vellotti’s oyster boat restaurant, Gina Rattan’s Fringe Festival play and Nate Fox’s kids’ educational toy — was itself kick-started by a Westporter.

Take a bow, Charles Adler — Staples Class of 1992.

Charles Adler

Charles Adler

According to an interview on the design/technology/pop culture blog Subtraction, in high school he was “fascinated with objects and architecture, both with the result and the journey by which they came to be.”

At Purdue — where he studied mechanical engineering technology — he created fliers for house parties. He discovered the Web, and in 1995 dropped out of school to work as a designer/developer for a Chicago studio.

Charles had always traveled. Now he sought out projects that were technical in nature, large in scale, and often overseas. He also co-founded an online art publication Subsystence.

He started his own firm, but was frustrated by the limits of client-services relationships. He told Subtraction, “The work was judged by clients, not the people who ultimately used the things we made.”

Kickstarter could not be more people-oriented.


But it’s not an entirely new idea. The website notes:

Mozart, Beethoven, Whitman, Twain, and other artists funded works in similar ways — not just with help from large patrons, but by soliciting money from smaller patrons, often called subscribers. In return for their support, these subscribers might have received an early copy or special edition of the work. Kickstarter is an extension of this model, turbocharged by the web.

The initial idea came in the fall of 2005, from Perry Chen and Yancey Strickler. A year later, Perry met Charles through a mutual friend.

The next day, they began working together on a funding platform for creative ideas. After months of collaboration they ended up with wireframes and specifications for the site.

But none of the trio could code. For months, little happened. Charles moved to San Francisco, and took on part-time freelance work.

In the summer of 2008, advisers and developers signed on. The scattered team worked via Skype and email (Charles had moved again, to Chicago), but they were finally building.

On April 28, 2009, Kickstarter launched. Projects trickled in — then came in a flood.

The Kickstarter screenshot for Westporter Jean Paul Vellotti's oyster restaurant project.

The Kickstarter screenshot for Westporter Jean Paul Vellotti’s oyster boat restaurant project.

“Designing Obama” was a landmark. Filmmakers jumped in. Singer-songwriter Allison Weiss funded her album via Kickstarter — in just 1 day. Word spread.

The 52-person for-profit company is now based on the Lower East Side. If a project is successfully funded, Kickstarter gets 5%.

Kickstarter-funded art works have been exhibited at MoMA, the Whitney Biennial, the Kennedy Center, Smithsonian and the American Folk Art Museum.

Roughly 10% of the films accepted by the 2012 Sundance, Tribeca, and South by Southwest film festivals were funded on Kickstarter.

At least 12 projects have launched objects into space.

According to the website, successful projects tied to Westport include an iPhone 5 case; a Twelfth Night production; Frederick Chiu’s recording of “Hymns and Dervishes”; a Paula G Reality CD, and a book on noted architect Frazier Forman Peters.

To which I add a 6th: Charles Adler’s website that, in just 4 years, has raised $548 million from 3.7 million people.

And, according to tech guru Tim O’Reilly, is “the most important tech company since Facebook.”

Or, he adds: “Maybe more important, in the long run.”

3 responses to “Charles Adler’s Kickstarter Start

  1. Jean Paul Vellotti

    Great story Dan. One note however…although many people from this site backed the oyster boat project, it was not funded. With Kickstarter, it’s either all or nothing, so no funds changed hands.

  2. Love to hear stories like this that restore one’s faith in the vision of ambitious Americans that want to give back to their country.

  3. Kathie Bennewitz

    This is so fantastic to learn. Here is another Westport connection., also started with Kickstarter, is the company founded by another young Staples alum, Danny Fein. Committed to promoting literacy, both at home and abroad, the firm creates original “litograph” prints from the text of classic books. WSPAC was given a print of Moby Dick that will hang in the Staples English Dept. soon.