Tag Archives: Charles Adler

Charles Adler Gets His Degree

The last time “06880” checked in with Charles Adler, the 1992 Staples High School grad was a co-founder of Kickstarter.

Since 2009, 6.4 million users have used the online platform to pledge over $2 billion, funding more than 75,000 creative projects in areas ranging from film, music and stage to comics, journalism, video games, technology and food.

Adler left Kickstarter in 2013. Five years later — still in his early 40s — he’s the recipient of an honorary degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

That’s impressive.

Even more impressive is that this is his only college degree.

That’s right: Adler is a college dropout.

He left Purdue University — where he was studying mechanical engineering — to co-found Subsystence (an online music, photography, art, poetry and fiction site), and the design and technology studio Source ID.

Then came Kickstarter — and Forbes’ designation of Adler as one of the 12 Most Disruptive Figures in Business.

Since 2013, Adler created and developed Lost Arts, an interdisciplinary laboratory, workshop, atelier, incubator, school and playground occupying 25,000 square feet on Chicago’s Goose Island.

Now comes the honorary degree from IIT — a doctorate, no less — in recognition of Adler’s “outstanding contributions to the field of design.”

Charles Adler, with his honorary degree.

Growing up in Westport more than 25 years ago, Adler recalls, he was interested in architecture — and passionate about electronic music, punk rock, skateboarding and cycling.

College was not right for him. He tried a second time — because he needed an undergrad degree before entering a graduate design program that interested him — but again he dropped out.

So, parents of Westport students who may not be taking a traditional path during or after Staples: Don’t worry.

Your kid too might one day earn an honorary degree, even if he or she lacks a college diploma.

They just might need a kick start.

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.”