Tag Archives: Kickstarter

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.

David Pogue Kicks “NOVA” Into High Gear

In his books and columns, through his videos and with his talks, David Pogue teaches all of us how to navigate the world. He seems to know everything, about everything.

But the tech and life-hack expert — a longtime Westport resident — is worried. He needs a favor from “06880” readers. David writes:

I love the PBS science show “NOVA,” and not just because I’ve served as its host in 16 episodes.

David Pogue hosting "NOVA." He's standing behind a periodic table "table."

David Pogue hosting “NOVA.” He stands behind a periodic table “table.”

For 2 years “NOVA” has been planning a new, educational, entertaining, 2-hour special called “Beyond The Elements,” which I’ll host. The plan is to ask the public to help fund it, through Kickstarter. This is historic: a public TV show seeking help directly from the public!

(Ordinarily, the government provides about 20 percent of public television’s budget. The rest we have to raise from grants, gifts, foundations, and of course “viewers like you.”)

In the middle of gearing up for this quest, current events suddenly overtook us. Both science and public broadcasting are under political attack. Our leaders have expressed a desire to de-fund both.

These trends break my heart. I truly don’t understand the anti-science movement. When it comes to solving the world’s problems — from dropped cellphone calls and stuttering Netflix, all the way up to climate change, feeding the population and fighting epidemics—science is all we got.

My guess is that rapid advances are tapping into something primal in us: fear of the unknown. We no longer understand our world — our car engines, our televisions, our phones, our medical treatments — and it’s terrifying.

That’s what gets me up in the morning (early!) on “NOVA” shoot days. Once someone takes the time to explain these concepts, they won’t seem unfamiliar — and therefore won’t be frightening.

David Pogue searches for the "super battery" on "NOVA."

On “NOVA,” David Pogue searches for the “super battery.”

Which brings me back to our Kickstarter campaign. The new show is a sequel to one I hosted in 2012 (“Hunting the Elements”), which has been watched over 10 million times. It’s become a teaching tool in thousands of public school classrooms (including Staples)!

I know that many Westporters are concerned about the direction of the country. I truly believe that a contribution toward this “NOVA” campaign is a gesture of support for both science and public broadcasting. If we’re successful, it will send a message that we, the people, can take matters into our own hands.

With Kickstarter, we have 30 days to raise the money. If we reach our goal, then we make the show. If we don’t, no money is collected; it’s as though the whole thing never happened.

The donation is partly tax-deductible. It comes with various “rewards,” ranging from a T-shirt to lunch with me (though I’m not sure if that’s a reward or a punishment).

I hope “06880” readers will pitch in to our campaign, or at least watch the pitch video here.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging…

Jane’s Green’s Cottage — And Cookbook

It’s been quite a month for Jane Green.

Today, her “creaky cottage on the creek” is featured in the New York Times‘ “What I Love” feature of the Real Estate section.

Okay, the paper admits, the “cottage” is really a 4,300-square-foot house with “a couple of decks, a brick terrace and a swimming pool.” But it’s still a warm, lived- and loved-in home. Green and her husband, Ian Warburg, moved in last February, just 4 years after building a house they thought they’d love.

This 1930s home has views of Grays Creek. It needed work. But this winter, she and Ian sat at the kitchen table. “Even though the weather was cold and gloomy, I’d just feel incredibly and happy and peaceful,” Green says.

Jane Green tells the New York Times, "I feel like the house is hugging me when I come home." (Photo/Jane Beiles for NY Times)

Jane Green tells the New York Times, “I feel like the house is hugging me when I come home.” (Photo/Jane Beiles for NY Times)

She recalls her first night in her new home. “Watching the moon reflected on the water made my heart soar. And it makes my heart soar still. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.”

If that sounds as if Green has a way with words, it should. She’s written 17 books of women’s fiction, including The Beach House. Her latest is Summer Secrets.

But today’s Times story — and her new release — are not why I referred earlier to Green’s interesting month.

She’s also involved in a different project: a self-published cookbook.

Some of the creations in Jane Green's new cookbook.

Some of the creations in Jane Green’s new cookbook.

In Good Taste, Good Food, A Good Life, she combines stories from her life, and the food that followed. She describes caring (and cooking for) a friend with breast cancer, as well as her blended family with 6 children.

She also writes about life in her “cottage.”

She’s promoting it through Kickstarter. In an intriguing twist, incentives include a book club Skype chat with herself ($100), and lunch with Green, author Jen Lancaster and comedian Lisa Lampanelli at the Soho House ($1,000).

The campaign runs through Tuesday (July 14). But if you’re interested in Green’s cookbook, you better hurry (and click here). The only way to buy the book is this way. Once Kickstarter closes, sales end.

And Green will be back in her “cottage,” planning her next great project.

(Hat tip: John Karrel and Publishers Weekly)

Jane Green in her kitchen, for a cookbook video shoot.

Jane Green in her kitchen, for a cookbook video shoot.

Hillary Frank’s “Longest Shortest Time”

A while back, Hillary Frank had a rough delivery. Then her episiotomy busted; the Staples graduate had to be re-cut and stitched.

For the first 2 months of her baby’s life, Hillary could not walk, stand, change her diaper or sit in the proper feeding position.

“I felt like I couldn’t be the kind of mother I wanted to be,” Hillary says. “I was desperate to connect with other moms, to hear I wasn’t alone.”

Hillary Frank

Hillary Frank

When she finally left her house, Hillary tried to talk to mothers carrying babies. Sometimes she felt they weren’t being honest about how hard things were. Sometimes she felt that her experience was vastly different from others.

So she turned to her professional life — she’s a radio producer (“This American Life,” “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered”) — and stuck her mic in women’s faces. A microphone, she knows, helps people open up.

She asked deeply personal questions. Nearly everyone cried.

It worked. “I wound up feeling much better,” Hillary says. “And I forged lots of new, deep connections.”

Those interviews and connections led to an intriguing project. Every couple of months, for the past 3 years, Hillary produced a podcast about her struggles in early parenthood.

She calls it “The Longest Shortest Time.” Now she’s ready to make it her full-time job, with a new episode every week.

“Most parenting media today is very divisive,” she says. “Parents are forced to choose one side or another of the most recent parenting trend.”

Her podcast addresses parenting “in all of its complexity.”

Grist for Hillary's podcast.

Grist for Hillary’s podcast.

She has clearly struck a chord. One fan writes, “I am a listener to this podcast; I would like it to be more regular. As a parent, I know how hard it is to find storytelling about being a parent that doesn’t suck.”

“The Longest Shortest Time” has told the story of  a music teacher whose child abhorred lullabies; a woman who was convinced that her colicky infant would turn out to be a jerk, and a war correspondent who juggles motherhood with sniper fire.

There are stories about physical health and mental health, work, gut-wrenching decisions, torturous pain and ecstatic highs.

Hillary even did a podcast on her own mother. It was supposed to provide comic relief, with a description of the prehistoric breast pump used in the 1970s. But then, Hillary says, “I had to go and make her cry about not being able to breastfeed me. Sorry, Mom!”

To make regular podcasts a reality, Hillary has created a Kickstarter fund. She needs $25,000 by October 16. Anyone can donate — you don’t need to be a fan, or a mom. To help, click here.

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.”

Matt Scanlan, Cashmere Tie Mongolia To Westport

The tagline for “06880” is “Where Westport meets the world.”

And that includes Mongolia.

Matt Scanlan is a Westport native. He left Staples after his junior year — he would have graduated in 2006 — and headed to Pomfret School.

Matt Scanlan (left) and Diederik Rijsemus

Matt Scanlan (left) and Diederik Rijsemus

At Dickinson College Matt met Diederik Rijsemus, a “super-resourceful Dutch guy” who traveled to Beijing to study economics. He roamed around Asia, and in Mongolia was taken in by nomadic herders. Diederik saw them live as they had for thousands of years — shearing sheep, living off meat and milk, their lives dependent on the environment and weather.

But Mongolia is changing more rapidly than any place on earth. Its average temperature has risen nearly 4 degrees in the past 60 years. Livestock are dying for a host of reasons. In a country almost entirely dependent on the cashmere industry, that’s been devastating.

Diederik enlisted Matt’s help. They created Naadam Cashmere. Named for Mongolia’s largest cultural festival, it’s a clothing company that flips the luxury fashion industry on its head.

Satchel cable from Naadam.

Satchel cable from Naadam.

Naadam buys raw cashmere fibers from Mongolian herders, and manufactures high-end sweaters there. Profits are invested back in the herders — in the form of livestock insurance.

Run by the World Bank, livestock insurance enables herders to be reimbursed for losses — helping them live to the next season. It costs $250 to cover one family for a year. “That’s astronomical by Mongolian standards,” Matt notes.

Their 1st year — as juniors in college — Matt and Diederik turned 100% of their profits back to the herders. That $2,000 helped 8 families.

Naadam — which branched out into cashmere hoodies, hats, scarves and socks — is now a for-profit business. They take 45% margins, to keep the price down.

Naadam made in MongoliaThey sell through high-end stores in New York and Washington, and on consignment with a few boutiques. Westport’s Bill Mitchell has been very helpful behind the scenes, Matt says.

They’ve also created a Kickstarter site, to help fund an e-commerce site that would drive costs even lower. In its first 3 days, it raised $17,000.

Designs — inspired by Matt and Diederik’s friends — are durable but luxuriously soft. Many are limited edition pieces.

Most manufacturers require large minimums, Matt says. But when the Mongolian partners see that Naadam is trying to protect their culture and provide for the future, they do what they can to make special orders.

Yurts, in a Mongolian field.

Yurts, in a Mongolian field.

It’s not easy running a US company working with Mongolian herders and manufacturers, delivering a luxury product that helps an impoverished nation.

But Naadam Cashmere is one way in which one Westporter truly meets the world.

(Click here to purchase Naadam cashmere items through Kickstarter. Click here for a video on “Voices from Mongolia.”)

Oysters Float Jean Paul Vellotti’s Boat

If Jean Paul Vellotti has his way, the Black Duck won’t be the only Westport restaurant literally on the water.

The local resident has his eyes on the Laurel. He calls it “America’s oldest and most historic oyster boat.” It recently retired from active oystering, and Jean Paul hopes to turn it into a floating oyster bar.

Unlike the Duck barge, though, Jean Paul’s 72-foot restaurant will actually move.

The Laurel, today.

The Laurel.

“Believe it or not, there are spots in the Saugatuck deep enough for the Laurel,” he says. “A cocktail hour and farm-to-table dinner on deck by a talented local chef is entirely possible.”

Jean Paul discovered the Laurel 2 years ago. Working in East Norwalk as a photographer  on a Whole Foods ad campaign, he climbed aboard a derelict boat  to get a great shot of his subject.

Back at the office, Jean Paul — who spent 20 years as a photojournalist and editor, with the likes of the New York Times and Ziff Davis — decided to research the old boat.

Laurel builder A.C. Brown

Laurel builder A.C. Brown

He learned the Laurel was built in 1891. For over a century it harvested and transported bivalves, roaming as far as Providence and the Delaware Bay.

Yet, Jean Paul learned to his dismay, the Laurel would soon be demolished.

He vowed to save her.

Jean Paul — whose maritime skills, woodworking talents and love of oystering were all fostered as a youth in East Norwalk — came up with an idea. He would keep the Laurel’s legacy alive, by serving the oysters it once harvested.

That’s even more audacious than it sounds.

The century-old deck is structurally sound. But it leaks badly, and the wood underneath is seriously damaged.

“If we can replace the deck, we’ll give her a whole new life,” Jean Paul says. “We’ll make her the queen of the fleet once more.”

Jean Paul Vellotti, at the helm and with oysters.

Jean Paul Vellotti, at the helm and with oysters.

The Laurel will offer a raw bar, soups and more. It will be fun; the prices, reasonable. “We can get oysters cheap,” Jean Paul notes.

It will float up the Saugatuck as far as the Bridge Street Bridge. It will head to Southport, Norwalk, Port Jefferson, Northport, and Great Peconic Bay. It’s even been invited to Pier 19, site of South Street Seaport.

But Jean Paul hopes that Westport will be the Laurel’s home.

He’ contacted Larry Bradley. The Planning and Zoning director said his authority extends only to the mean high water line.

Jean Paul also talked to the health department, fire marshal, even the Coast Guard. All said “go ahead!”

The next logical step: head to the bank.

“It’s tough for even a regular restaurant to get a loan,” Jean Paul says. “And this is a floating restaurant.”

So to kickstart his project, Jean Paul turned to Kickstarter. The funding website offers a variety of rewards, in return for pledges.

The Laurel, at Cove Marina.

The Laurel, at Cove Marina.

Donate $5, and you’ll receive an oyster and clams on the house.

$35 gets you a 5×7 picture frame made from reclaimed deck planks. For $250, your name will be engraved on a new plank.

There are plenty of other options, including $10,000 or more. The goal is $65,000. The deadline: April 21.

If Jean Paul gets his money by May, the decks can be repaired by the end of June.

The Laurel could float up the Saugatuck in July and August.

In September, it would head to a very cool event, one town away.

That one’s a natural: the Norwalk Oyster Festival.

(Click here for more information, or to make a pledge on Kickstarter.)

(If your browser doesn’t link directly to YouTube, click here.)

A House Of Cards

Among the many difficult classes at MIT:  toy design.


“It seems silly,” admits Nate Fox, a 2008 Staples grad now majoring in mechanical engineering.

Nate Fox pitches his idea.

“But toy product design involves really interesting challenges.  Toys have to be dirt cheap to make.  They have to be safe and functional.  And they have to work, look good, and be fun to play with.”

I’m exhausted just thinking about toys.

In Nate’s toy design class, students did lots of brainstorming.  They plastered Post-It notes all over the place.

Voilà!  A new toy idea was born.

Nate and an MIT friend, Michael Lo — who grew up in Stamford but competed for the Saugatuck Rowing Club — took the simple idea of card houses, and made it marketable.

Little kids love building houses of cards.  The problem, of course, is that they fall down with spectacular regularity.

Cardigo allows kids to express your innovation using common household objects.  A small plastic clip holds cards together, enabling construction of large, complex structures out of index, business playing cards — or anything else that fits into the clip.

A Cardigo castle

Nate and Mike’s clip enables cards to be used to construct castles, hats, abstract shapes — you name it, kids can build it.

It’s a lighter, more flexible Lego.  Of course, it’s nowhere near as popular as Legos — at least, not yet.

To help reach Lego territory, Nate and Mike turned to Kickstarter.  The innovative website links people with an idea — for a toy, a movie, a non-profit foundation, whatever — and folks who want to fund it.

The site shows how much is needed (in Cardigo’s case, $18,000 for custom molds, manufacturing costs and legal work, among others).  Various donation levels earn different rewards (special Cardigo cards, sponsor t-shirts, etc.).  A deadline is set; pledges are collected only if the entire goal is reached.

Nate and Mike also sell their product directly, through the Kickstarter site.

So far, they’re over 10 percent there.

Their project “really encourages out-of-the-box thinking,” Nate says, in full funding-seeking mode.  He’s gained experience in that aspect of toy-making, having already pitched to the MIT community, toy blogs, “mom” blogs, and online design communities.

“Making card houses can be tedious and frustrating,” he notes.  “This makes it easy and fun.  It’s great for kids who are very tactile, and like to build things.  It’s very educational, very spatial.”

Like their target market, Nate and Mike use their hands as well as their brains.

Leave it to a pair of MIT engineers to make money off a house of cards.