By GREGORY ZELLER //
The Kickstarter crowdfunding platform is a worthy metaphor for humanity itself. Invented by necessity and forever evolving, it’s a vast engine of ingenuity fueled by the most basic human motivators: a desire to improve, or to profit, or both.
It’s also barrels of fun.
Where else can you find “crystal bacon” jewelry, keychain sensors that alert parents when Baby’s diaper is wet and frying pans with sword hilts? More to the point, where else can the inventors of such randomness realistically expect to raise gobs of money?
But raise gobs they do – over $2,000 for the bacon, $12,000 for the keychains and a whopping $46,261 for the frying pans, according to Kickstarter.
Of course, not every would-be entrepreneur who tosses out a cocktail-napkin scribble walks away flush. For every Zack Danger Brown – who famously sought $10 to buy potato salad ingredients and raised $55,000 – there’s a Nicholas Homan, who snagged just $1 to fund a website that proves Corgis, the small herding dogs, are assholes.
Long Island has had its share of hits and misses. But when Long Island projects score on Kickstarter, they tend to score big. Among the top dozen Island-based campaigns, three more than doubled their goal, two more did 4X and one raised more than six times its targeted funding.
All told, Kickstarter has successfully funded over 86,000 projects, with the lion’s share raising between $1,000 and $19,999. And all 12 of Long Island’s dandy dozen eclipse that middle ground.
Island entrepreneurs, it seems, don’t need a state stipend or an angel investment to make a go of it. There’s money to be found on Kickstarter – particularly if you’re a brewer, a documentary filmmaker or a fantasy dungeon dweller.
PROJECT: The Gathering: Reuniting Pioneering Artists of Magic
CAMPAIGN: February-March 2013
This campaign to create an art book featuring more than 35 of the original artists who drew up the playing cards for the classic 1993 fantasy game Magic: The Gathering easily outpaces every other Island-based Kickstarter effort.
The whopping total – besting its target by $117,000, or more than three times what organizers originally sought – funded the one and only product of Northport-based publishing house Full Steam Press.
“The Gathering” is now available in multiple formats, including hardcover, softcover and numbered collector’s editions (a “must-have for anyone that loved the early days of Magic art,” according to the campaign page).
PROJECT: You Are You: A Photobook About Gender Unique Children
CAMPAIGN: April-May 2014
Sag Harbor photographer Lindsay Morris was moved by her experiences at a camp designed to give gender-nonconforming children a chance to express themselves in a judgement-free environment. For six years, while attending the camp with a loved one, she documented what her Kickstarter campaign page calls the camp’s “celebratory atmosphere,” created by “the first generation of children allowed to lead an openly LGBT childhood.”
Determined to turn the images into a documentary art book, Morris teamed with German art-book publisher Kehrer Verlag and set out to raise $35,000. She raised it and then some, using the extra $6,600 or so to fund a traveling exhibition consisting of powerful, large-scale photographs of the campers at play.
Both “You Are You” and the exhibition are important steps toward “raising awareness and continuing the important dialogue regarding gender-nonconforming children taking place in public and the media today,” the artist says on the campaign page.
PROJECT: Lithology Brewing Co. Campaign to Expand Beer Production
CAMPAIGN: March-April 2015
Today’s lesson: Long Islanders like their craft beers. One of the most recent Island-based success stories is also one of four suds-related efforts in the dandy dozen, this one focused on expanding production of several already-popular brews churned out by the Lithology Brewing Co.
The resident of Farmingdale food cooperative A Taste of Long Island is operated by partners with diverse backgrounds combining engineering, business, contracting and other disciplines. They’ve been at the beer thing for two years, and it appears to be working: They’ve earned their federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau license and a fair share of awards, including a Bronze Medal in the New York International Beer Competition.
The Kickstarter campaign funded a new carbonation tank, new fermenters, a refrigerated van (“beer needs to be delivered frosty and fresh,” their campaign page notes) and about $8,000 worth of kegs.
PROJECT: Moustache Brewing Co.
CAMPAIGN: April-May 2012
Founders Matthew and Lauri Spitz enjoy experimentation – way more than they were enjoying what was being poured at Long Island’s local bars, which according to their Kickstarter campaign page couldn’t match the craft beers on tap in New York City.
They started brewing their own beer at home way back in 2005 and slowly built a following through a local homebrewer’s club and through various beer-related efforts: Lauri founded the Long Island Chapter of women’s educational craft-beer group Girls’ Pint Out and is secretary of Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts, where Matthew is head of the brewing committee.
Their successful Kickstarter campaign helped them move in 2014 from the Riverhead Farmers Market to their own licensed microbrewery, which has subsequently grown from five barrels to 19. Today, they’re serving more than Mojito Pale Ale and White Russian Stout: Not only have the Spitzes introduced their first bottled beer (the Scandinavian-inspired Snügg), but their brand now adorns glasses, hats, shirts, hoodies, coasters, a custom “beer tasting journal” and, of course, growlers.
PROJECT: Condzella Hops
CAMPAIGN: February-March 2013
While most Kickstarter campaigns look to promote a single business or project, John Condzella conceived a campaign that would promote a regional industry. Naturally, it involves beer.
To support not only his own Condzella Hops but other North Fork hops growers, the farmer owner turned to Kickstarter for help purchasing and shipping a Wolf WHE 140 Hopfen Pflückmaschine harvester from Germany. The machine, Condzella noted, would drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to harvest the 1,000 hops plants lining one acre of his Wading River farm, and do the same for other regional hops enterprises.
Recalling the glory days of New York State hops production – when the Empire State was responsible for 80 percent of the nation’s hops supply, according to Condzella’s campaign page – and a very short hops-harvesting window that can make or break the regional industry, the campaign rolled to victory. Now the Wolf is helping multiple farms harvest crops in a fraction of the time, a boon not only for the farmers but the regional craft-brew scene, which includes three microbreweries just in Riverhead Town, where Condzella’s farm is located.
In aiding multiple bottom lines, Condzella may have generated some Kickstarter karma: On April 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Condzella Hops was one of 19 early-stage agricultural businesses across the state selected to share $610,000 in state grants, out of more than 100 applicants. Condzella’s enterprise, one of two Suffolk County agribusinesses partaking of the New Farmers Grant Fund, received $17,009.
PROJECT: Hunter’s Guild Card Game
CAMPAIGN: April-May 2013
Long Island artist and designer Robb De Nicola knows his way around fantasy realms, including project work for “Star Wars” overlords Lucasfilm Ltd. He also knows fashion; in addition to owning game company Epic Scale Games, producer of Hunter’s Guild: The Vampire Forest, he owns and operates Retro Cuties, a producer of retro vintage dresses and other women’s clothing.
When he decided to self-produce his own sword-and-sorcery card game under the Epic Scale label, he turned to Kickstarter for economic support – and found the audience for undead bloodsuckers was alive and well. With a 20-sided die, characters ranging from dwarfs and vampires to skeleton guards and ghost knights and all manners of shields and bladed weapons, Hunter’s Guild is familiar fare for “Dungeons & Dragons” fans.
But the real wizardry turned out to be De Nicola’s magical ability to generate the coin of the realm. In just one month, his Kickstarter campaign nearly tripled his $12,000 target goal, allowing the entrepreneur to cover artwork, printing and shipping costs – and to venture into “stretch goal mode,” offering juicier rewards for pledges greater than $30, including upgraded die and additional playing cards, like the super-powerful Lion’s Mane Sword.
PROJECT: Montauk Surf Museum
CAMPAIGN: October-November 2014
When it opens this summer, the Montauk Surf Museum – occupying a 1,000-square-foot, circa-1896 brick structure that was once the Montauk Lighthouse’s generator room – will acknowledge both the past and the present.
Curator Russell Drumm cited two thoughts behind the effort, officially known as the Ocean’s Institute at the Montauk Lighthouse Museum. The first was to expand on the Lighthouse Museum, a notion shared by Drumm and the museum’s Board of Directors. The second was to acknowledge the changing nature of Montauk, which was once a fishing village exclusively but now is both a fishing community and a bastion of modern surfing culture.
“When I came here 50 years ago, this was just a fishing village,” Drumm said. “That’s really changed.”
The museum will focus heavily on “the science behind surfing,” he added, with several references to meteorology and oceanography.
“We’re using surfing as a way of getting into this information,” the curator said. “But it’s also a surfing museum, and it will represent local surfing history and surfing history in general.”
While the museum’s Kickstarter campaign easily topped its $25,000 goal, Drumm and other museum supporters aren’t done generating capital. Among the planned efforts: a “major fundraiser” on July 25, Drumm said, celebrating the 49th anniversary of the classic Bruce Brown surfing documentary “The Endless Summer.” The event will feature a screening of the film and a “founding member drive,” according to Drumm.
Planned bells and whistles include a website featuring a virtual museum tour and a mobile app that will serve as a digital guide for museum visitors. Such efforts won’t be cheap, but so far, raising funds for the Montauk Surf Museum hasn’t proven too difficult.
“Montauk started out as a fishing village, but now it’s very much a fishing and a surfing community,” Drumm noted. “This is really resonating with this local community and beyond.”
PROJECT: Tibet’s End
CAMPAIGN: April-May 2014
Documentary filmmaker Blake Kerr of Sag Harbor has “already defied death,” according to his Kickstarter campaign page. The advisor to the Dalai Lama and renowned human rights activist went undercover in Tibet, a desolate region in the shadows of the Himalayas in Northeast Asia, to shoot the hidden-camera footage for “Tibet’s End: Sterilization in the Land of Snows,” and was detained by Chinese authorities while smuggling the footage out of the country (he made it, with the film).
But those adventures were nothing, he tells Kickstarter investors, compared to the “biggest challenge” of all: condensing the wealth of horrifying footage he obtained to include only the most incisive material in “Tibet’s End,” which focuses on China’s “genocidal family-planning practices” and other regional human rights issues.
Another challenge, also overcome: raising the funds to edit and produce the film. Kerr’s Kickstarter campaign was a success, and while the documentarian is still soliciting donations at www.tibetsend.com, his blistering indictment of Chinese policy is now in post-production.
PROJECT: Legendary Realms Terrain
CAMPAIGN: January-March 2013
Kickstarter success became a vital business lesson for Rich Parla, owner of the West Babylon company Legendary Realms Terrain and the Plainview gaming/comic shop Legendary Realms Games.
Parla’s startup was looking to manufacture 3D resin terrains for roleplaying, tabletop and board games such as “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Pathfinder.” The idea was simple: Why just imagine a haunted forest or spooky castle when you can actually see it?
Turns out, people liked the idea. Lots of them. Legendary Realms went absolutely nutty on Kickstarter, annihilating its modest $4,000 goal with a haul well over $25,000.
For Parla, the unanticipated score – percentage-wise, the all-time most successful Long Island Kickstarter project – was a mixed blessing. Legendary Realms does all of its own artwork, with an in-house sculptor and a deal with Missouri mold-maker Hirstats, and Parla’s eight-person team was completely unprepared for the product demand following the Kickstarter jackpot.
“We were completely overwhelmed,” Parla said. “We learned the hard way about scaling manufacturing. We were set up to do the $4,000, but when we hit $25,000, it was more than six times what we were expecting, and we didn’t have the molds ready to mass-produce in those quantities.”
It took Legendary Realms “over a year” to catch up, he added. Company principals had to lay out some of their own money to purchase extra resin and retune critical production processes.
“There was a lot of trial and error,” Parla said. “But it was the best money we ever spent. Now, we know so much more about our industry, our customers and our capabilities.”
Finally out in front of customer demand, Legendary Realms now sells individual scale models through the Plainview shop and also sells its products wholesale to larger distributors. Para’s team is considering expanding its product line to include science fiction-based terrains, which might require another Kickstarter campaign – but first, Parla noted, he and his partners will do everything they can “to make sure what happened last time doesn’t happen again.”
“We’re going to be smarter this time around,” he said. “We’re going to account for overages appropriately. We want to get the trial-and-error out of the way.”
PROJECT: The Profile Archive: Artists on Their Art in Their Own Words
CAMPAIGN: August-September 2013
Sophie Chahinian is not your average real estate agent. With a master’s degree in contemporary art from the University of Manchester, England, and further art studies at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, she has a particular eye for visual arts – and a unique appreciation of artists.
Her documentary film series, “The Profile Archive,” visits some of the world’s most prominent artists in their personal studios, giving them a chance to discuss their vision, inspirations, education and more. Each interview is no more than seven minutes, but aims to be informative and entertaining – and each, according to Chahinian, costs as much as $5,000 to produce.
“I just have to do what I can with what I’ve got,” she said. “Everybody I work with has different rates and different levels of interest in the project, so I’m able to convince some people to work for very little, because they like the project and want to help. I’m always very grateful, especially to my editor and camera operators.”
To fund the video profiles, the full-time agent in Douglas Elliman’s East Hampton office turned to Kickstarter. Though there were times during her one-month campaign when she wasn’t sure she’d reach her goal, she remained confident.
“It was an awful lot of work,” Chahinian said. “But if I didn’t think it would succeed, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”
She’s already spent the $25,050 her campaign raised, with www.theprofilearchive.com showcasing five artist interviews and a sixth video tracing Los Angeles art history. Now she’s in fundraising mode again: East Hampton public-access station LTV often runs a collection of three Chahinian profiles and invites viewers to make tax-deductible donations to The Profile Archive to fund new ones.
“They have a really great facility at LTV,” Chahinian said. “If we can find people to make contributions specific to my project, we’ll definitely do some more.”
PROJECT: Southold Farm & Cellar
CAMPAIGN: February-March 2013
Subtitled “Bring Weird Grapes to the North Fork,” this project made no secret of its intentions: With the world drowning in wines made from Merlot and Chardonnay grapes, the Southold Farm & Cellar would bring variety to Long Island wine country.
Husband-and-wife partners Regan and Carey Meador left New York City in 2011 to be part of that up-and-coming vino movement; in 2012, they purchased a 23-acre parcel from a holding company with a number of California wineries in its portfolio. Their original plan was to work seven of the 23 acres and they got right to it, but to get weird – one acre of relatively rare Teroldego grapes – they sought Kickstarter support.
Their plan to “foster even more diversity in the wine world,” as stated on their campaign page, would cost about $15,000 an acre, so that’s what their campaign targeted. They did much better than that, allowing them to accelerate their varietal plans and their distribution efforts.
Southold Farm & Cellar wines are now featured at the North Fork Table and Inn in Southold and the Frisky Oyster in Greenport, as well as New York City’s Gramercy Tavern, Kilo Wine Bar and Eleven Madison Park, among other restaurants and wine shops throughout NYC and Brooklyn. The Southold winery’s wares have also spread to the West Coast, featured at California’s Coeur Wine Company.
PROJECT: Destination Unknown Beer Company
CAMPAIGN: March-April 2015
Another recent Kickstarter winner – the fourth of LI’s dandy dozen to focus on beer, including Condzella Hops – looked to give a home to an existing, and winning, product line.
The brainchild of partners Chris Candiano and Brad Finn, two avid home-brewers who spent years fine-tuning their recipes, Destination Unknown Brewing Company found its destination in November 2014: A Bay Shore space they occupied while obtaining their New York State license.
After moving in, they launched their Kickstarter campaign and offered supporters various donation rewards, including etching their name on a Destination Unknown interior wall, T-shirts, branded pint glasses and empty growlers, and membership in the company’s Growler of the Month club.
The incentives worked (one $500 donor even received a free Happy Hour for himself and five friends). Candiano and Finn easily bested their $20,000 goal, and used their Kickstarter windfall purchased new fermenters, kegs and glassware. They also put the finishing touches on their tasting room, the partners’ biggest post-Kickstarter expenditure: new barstools, state-of-the-art lines running beer from their cold box to their eight taps, and of course several television screens, so visitors can catch the big game.