Kickstarter Has Handled the First Part of the Hype Cycle Admirably. Now Comes the Tricky Part.

By Sarah Lacy , written on September 4, 2012

From The News Desk

Kickstarter is notoriously press shy. This interview with Om Malik is one of the rare glimpses inside the company I've seen. A search on Google News turns up mostly stories about Kickstarter projects and crowd funding platforms pitching themselves as the "Kickstarter of fill-in-the-blank." Having rampant copycats is a sign you've made it in the startup world, even if you've resisted the magazine covers that typically go with it.

I met with Kickstarter co-founder Perry Chen the last time I was in New York, and we had an amazing conversation about the site's formation and early days and future -- one that I agreed to keep off the record. Yeah, I know. Sucks for me more than you.

But I ended the meeting by begging Chen to do a PandoMonthly. He was not only a great storyteller, but Kickstarter has been one of the most exciting tech stories of the year. It has offered new promise for a hardware renaissance -- doing more than investors with billions of dollars have to jumpstart a long lackluster area of innovation. Chen politely demurred.

I get it. As an entrepreneur, I'd rather be building my company than dealing with the press, too. Doing rather than talking. There is no question that press is a shifty lot -- and I say that as a member of the club.

But I hope Kickstarter rethinks its reticence to speak. I fear it is entering at a pivotal point in the hype cycle. And it's time for Kickstarter to start telling more of its own story -- or others will. After a very long wind-up to get the company launched, the recent narrative of Kickstarter has been heady and exciting, with the press mostly fawning.

But this is new territory, when it comes to funding innovation, and there are going to be a lot of problems, confused expectations and hiccups. As people start to expect results from some of the more high profile projects, things will inevitably start to go wrong, as they do with all ventures. And as the press seeks to balance the giddiness with skepticism, the broader Kickstarter narrative may start to turn.

Witness the recent NPR story on whether backers could get refunds on uncompleted projects. Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler's quote for the show didn't inspire a lot of confidence. He essentially said he didn't know and that would be new ground for the post-- which a spokesperson later said was misheard. Kickstarter wisely followed up with a clearer post on the topic today.

The company has a good explanation for why it won't reimburse project donors: They never touch the funds. The transaction is between the project creators and the people funding it. Platforms like eBay and Craigslist don't offer refunds either. But the answer came a little too late. I can't help but think if Kickstarter were more in control of its narrative, the answer would have already been out there. It pains me as a journalist to say this, but sometimes media training is done for a reason.

And it pains me even more as a journalist to say this: Kickstarter has been smart to keep its head down and not to give into the press on the way up the hype curve. Posing for magazine covers and showboating around as the future of financing would have made the coming backlash even more inevitable. But now is the time to start opening up and owning the story. Before the press shapes it for them-- and with the story of the broader narrative about crowdfunding.