The Positives of Potato Salad

9 July 2014 | 25 Comments

photo-mainA few days ago I wrote a 99% negative post about the infamous Potato Salad Kickstarter project. I almost didn’t write the post at all because I’d much rather spread positivity than negativity, but I was genuinely concerned about the impact that project will have on new project creators. I still am.

The conversation in the comments and elsewhere really challenged me in a good way. Some people agreed with me; others disagreed; others completely missed the point. But as I replied to the comments, I eventually stumbled upon why the project really touched a nerve for me:

Maybe I shouldn’t care so much. If a new creator thinks that Kickstarter is easy money, it’s mostly just their loss. They’ll learn right away that no one cares about their project and that Potato Salad is an anomaly. I guess I care because I was fortunate to discover Kickstarter through a really awesome project, and I learned a lot from that project that I later applied to my campaigns. It set a benchmark for me. I write this blog to help other project creators so they can have a solid benchmark as well. So to have Potato Salad be the benchmark for thousands of people? It just makes me a little sad for those creators that they couldn’t have the benchmark I did.

I appreciate all of the people who participated in the conversation in a civil way for helping me get to the heart of why the project bothered me.

However, in having that conversation, something else started to bother me more and more: The fact that I had written a 99% negative post about, well, about anything. That’s not me. That’s not what I want this blog to be.

So when TheFlyingSheep mentioned on Twitter that someone could write an entry about the positives of this project, I decided to step up and face off against myself. Well, kinda. I still agree with the original post. But I think some positives will come out of Potato Salad as well. Here are some of them:

  1. It’s funny. That’s the one positive I mentioned in the original post, so I’ll reiterate it here. The project made me chuckle. Laughter is good for your health, so I’m now a little healthier than PPS (“pre-Potato Salad”).
  2. It builds community. Something cool happens when anything goes viral. People come together and feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. I love that about Kickstarter, and I’m glad to see it happening with Potato Salad.
  3. It exemplifies how a Kickstarter project can blossom during the campaign. Regardless of Zach’s original intentions (or lack thereof), he’s taken this miracle of a project and run with it. That’s at least one positive thing that new project creaters can learn from this campaign.
  4. It brings new backers to Kickstarter. As Nicholas Yu wisely pointed out in the comments, Kickstarter has done studies in the past about how mega-projects bring a lot of new backers to the platform. You would think that would be good for everyone, and thanks to Kickstarter’s data, you would be right. In this study about Double Fine Adventure, Kickstarter found that 22% of the new backers went on to back other projects. UPDATE: Kickstarter released some post-Potato Salad data that showed that it brought far fewer new backers to Kickstarter than expected (but a lot of traffic, meaning that people went to Kickstarter via the project, got a [presumably jaded] impression of Kickstarter, and then left without backing anything).
  5. It encourages creativity and innovation. As Richard Bliss wisely noted in the comments and JR Honeycutt discussed on this video, Potato Salad could usher in a whole new era of creativity on Kickstarter. I’m not talking about the copycat projects, but rather people stretching the boundaries of what can bring joy to people on Kickstarter.
  6. It might inspire Kickstarter to fix a few things. Some people have said that Potato Salad will encourage Kickstarter to redefine (again) what a project can be. Maybe that will happen. I don’t know if it should happen, but it could. Obviously they don’t want a site filled with potato salads or a site where it’s really hard for a new backer to tell the distinguish the jokes from the rest. Or maybe they’ll create a new category of joke projects. I really liked @blightygamer’s idea of creating a whole new category for joke projects, but requiring that the funds go to charity. That might be a stretch for Kickstarter (which doesn’t allow charity projects), but I like the concept. Also, I’m guessing that Kickstarter will start to lock the accounts of anyone who makes giant pledges just to temporarily inflate a project’s funding and then cancels their pledge a few minutes later.
  7. It will help all of us creators stop comparing our projects to other projects. One of the things I learned when I ran the Viticulture campaign is that comparing your project to any other project isn’t healthy. It leads to a lot of unhealthy emotions that don’t help you or your backers–it leads us to start thinking about who “deserves” success and who doesn’t. That’s not a good way to live.
  8. Zach Brown will finally learn how to make potato salad. This is the most important. Making potato salad is a risky endeavor, and Zach mitigated that risk by putting the project on Kickstarter. Thanks to the successful funding, he’s finally going to be able to make his first potato salad.

I think that’s it. Hopefully this post balances the scales a bit–I certainly feel better after writing it! And if you disagree with these points and want to talk about why Potato Salad is bad for Kickstarter, I know a great place for you to comment about that. :)

Leave a Comment

25 Comments on “The Positives of Potato Salad

  1. Great article Jamey! I have been watching this campaign and it will be interesting to see the outcome. Yes, Zach Brown has made this whole thing look easy(when we know it’s lots of hard work!)…….My 11 year old daughter and her friend overheard me talking about it and have put together a campaign for a new product! They said if “this dude can make $50,000 for potato salad, we can make a million for our idea!”

    So I guess the good news is that Potato Salad has brought new awareness to crowdfunding. My hope is that these people take a hard look at the platform and understand what it truly is and how it can benefit creators and the impact it can have on local economies.

    How amazing is it that we are blessed to live in a time where people around the world can come together to make dreams become a reality? Even #potatomadness……

    1. Ellen: I like the idea that Potato Salad might inspire more people to try out Kickstarter to follow their dream. Kickstarters generally don’t do well when the motivation is monetary and the idea is still in the concept stage, but as you said, hopefully people will take a closer look at the platform to realize what it is and how it works.

  2. Just looked at all the copycat “projects” and I think I’m seeing the problem with it ha ha. Although I don’t think that was Zach’s intentions it does make Kickstarter look like a joke when 400 + potato salad type projects are on there. Hopefully Kickstarter doesn’t get a reputation as the “Potato Salad Thing”

  3. Jamey, awesome article. This suits you much more than the negative potato salad one for sure. This is the kind of inspiring and thoughtful writing I’ve come to expect from you.

    Well done.

  4. I really appreciate this follow-up post. I’ve tried writing some added insights, but the truth is, you’ve pretty much covered all that I would want to say.

    I do think, though, that this project does have value as a learning tool for new creators. It’s an anomaly, that’s true, but it’s not random. There are reasons that people are backing this project, and so therefore, if a creator can get to the root of why this project was successful (was it community; was it because it was a joke; was it due to its simplicity; was it because it was only a $1; was it because the funding goal was only $10; was it because the project was launched at the same time that everyone is enjoying potato salads at an annual cookout), there are lessons that could benefit a new creator. In my opinion, the silliness and simplicity of this KS along with it being from a creator with no prior backer pool makes it a little easier to sift out those reasons. (And I’m still convinced that Zach is doing this as a research project on crowdfunding or some other social subject)

    Also, loved the idea of locking accounts for the pledge/cancel issue. If the cancel policy got totally removed, it would probably do more harm than good to Kickstarter, because people would be very cautious about the projects they back. But locking an account for either a gratuitous amount of cancellations or the cancellation of a gratuitous amount seems a fair way to handle this issue.

  5. Thanks for this post, Jamey. I was a little concerned you had gone so negative with the first post, and so I am glad you have steered the conversation back towards the positive aspects of the campaign, which is what I think this blog is all about.

    1. Good point. I’m also curious how he’ll feel about having to recite (at this writing) 6194 names while making the potato salad. At one name per second, that’s an hour and 43 minutes of reciting names while preparing food.

  6. Great post. Kudos for challenging yourself. I love #8. Indeed, he will. He’s going to possibly also learn that even if you vaguely phrase tiers, you still might wish you phrased differently. LOL, wonder if he’ll use backerkit.

    I’ve changed my stance I think. I may become a backer so I can jump in on the comments and support silliness. After all, I made and funded a card game based on a food fight! As of yet, there’s no potato salad card. But who knows… it totally fits my game (the condition cards like moldy and rotten may fit the mailed product), maybe custom GenCon cards are in order.

  7. You nailed #7 on the head. I had read several threads full of online grumblings from other project creators (those with failed campaigns tended to be the most vociferous) regarding the Potato Salad Kickstarter. In the end, each project will succeed or fail on its own merits. Let’s not hate on a guy trying to make a potato salad and bring a smile to people’s faces. If anything, his success will help lead to other projects’ success based on the data that we’ve seen.

    As always, great post, Jamey.

  8. I find it entertaining and I love a good goof just like anyone else. But when you’re in the middle of your own Kickstarter and you believe in your idea pretty strongly… it can be a real buzz-kill to see something like this go viral and earn this guy endless cash. It’s a funny world we live in.

  9. I didn’t really care at all about the potato KS. I don’t even like potato salad. The only thing that annoys me is all the darn copycats. As someone who likes to cook, I frequently browse the food category. Now is near impossible to browse without having to wade through 50 other people trying to knock off the potato salad guy. I feel bad for the other, legitimate people in the food category that will be losing out on exposure due to the glut of crappy bandwagon riders.

    1. Tony: That’s a great point. I don’t run into the food category all that often, but you make a good point that the copycats are really diluting that category right now. I’m curious how/if Kickstarter will respond to that. I’ve requested an interview with Kickstarter about it but haven’t heard back from them yet.

  10. Just wait until the veil is lifted and we all learn that potato salad has been his favorite food for years and has made it hundreds of times. Can you imagine the fallout?

    I did see a story where the project creator said he was going to find a way to do something positive with the money (though he did mention that KS terms does not allow him to just give it to charity) so hopefully that happens.

  11. If Kickstarter closes the back/cancel loophole I’ll be really, really happy.

    If Kickstarter campaigns were a game, this is the conversation I’d have with the designer (assume that dollars pledged are victory points, but you only win if you have the most at the end of the game, not during the middle):

    Me: “So, I need to collect victory points as quickly as possible, right?”

    Designer: “No, you just have to have the most at the end.”

    Me: “But, people choose where they put their victory points, and I have to convince them to put them with me, right?”

    Designer: “Yes, that’s correct.”

    Me: “How do people choose where to put their victory points?”

    Designer: “People look for players they think are playing really well, that have great videos, great art, great projects, and who look like they’re having fun playing the game.”

    Me: “Do they also like to bet on the players who look like they’re going to win?”

    Designer: “Yes, people tend to feel more comfortable giving away their victory points if it looks like a player is competitive, and already has a high score. Also, the game is designed so that players with the highest scores are seen by the most people.”

    Me: “So you’re saying that I could just ask a couple players to give me ALL of their victory points for a few days, just to make it look like I’m winning and get the game to show me off the most? And this would make more and more people come give me their victory points?”

    Designer: “Yes, that’s a legal play in the game, and we’ve observed that people do tend to support winning players more frequently.”

    Me: “And there’s no penalty for that?

    Designer: “No, there’s no penalty.”

    Me: *Takes a note, wins the game handily by asking a small group of players to get me to the top of leaderboard right away, then cancels their commitment right at the end to make sure they keep their victory points if they want them back.

    1. JR: Yeah, I’m guessing Kickstarter doesn’t want people to game the system, and it might be time for them to put more measures into place to prevent that from happening.

  12. I do think essentially everyone knows Potato Salad is a “goof” project and that is why it went viral. It is a “look at what kind of strange new world we now have” types of news article. It is also a feel good idea, no one is getting slammed.

    1. Don: I know that and you know that…at some point I’d love to have Zach own up to that. In all the media appearances I’ve seen him participate in, he’s stuck with the story that he genuinely just wanted to make potato salad and wanted to raise the money to do so.

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