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Commitment and Community
Xin Xin 12 FAV asks a question about the best path to entrepreneurship
Launching a new enterprise – whether it’s an art and design
project, an online startup or an entrepreneurial business venture – requires
strong commitment and an even stronger community. That was the message from three
entrepreneurs who came to campus during Wintersession to launch new online
networks featuring work from RISD students and alumni, and to speak to RISD
students on how to market their work online.
Over 100 students from a wide range of disciplines (design,
film, fine arts and more) packed the room despite the swirling snow outside.
They were there to hear from the leaders of Kickstarter, Etsy and Quirky
on what it takes to launch a successful business. The answer? A combination of
a focused vision and an expansive network.
“I see Kickstarter as a way around the bureaucracy of the
‘real world’ and a nod back to the days when patrons engaged with artists
directly,” said Charles Adler, Kickstarter’s
co-founder. The site allows anyone to post a creative project in any medium,
and solicit micro-funding from hundreds or thousands of backers to make it a
While Kickstarter helps fund the creative vision of one
individual or team, Quirky uses the wisdom of the crowd to develop consumer
products with broad appeal, often with hundreds of people contributing to the
name, color and other aspects of a final product. RISD student Jake Zien 11 GD has recently had a bona
fide hit with Quirky’s launch of Pivot
Power, a flexible power strip that can bend and morph to adapt itself to chunky
power adapters. While the idea originated with Zien, through Quirky, over 700
people have contributed to influence its final form, and will receive credit
and even royalties for their contributions.
The most established of the three, Etsy, is a high-tech
website focused on a low-tech product – handmade crafts. Half a million artisans
from all over the world use the Etsy marketplace to sell unique, often
Though the platforms differ in their approaches, all three speakers
agreed on the key ingredients of their success: an engaging narrative and a
“All we have [to sell] is the story of a product and how it
got made,” said Ben Kaufman, CEO of Quirky, noting that the packaging for
each product Quirky brings to market features a picture of the inventor and
credits for those who contributed ideas via the crowd-sourcing model “We’re here to tell the stories of
inventors and make invention accessible,” he said.
also emphasized the importance of presentation and craftsmanship as part of
shaping a narrative. “Curating your own work and deciding what to leave out is
as important as what to put in,” said Vanessa
Bertozzi, Etsy’s director of Community and Education.
underestimate the importance of good karma. “RISD students are part of a
network of amazing artists and designers,” said Bertozzi. “The more that people
participate, give back, critique and advise others, it creates more community,
both literally [by increasing web links] and figuratively.”
RISD student Leonore
McCarthy 12 PH received funding via Kickstarter to explore issues of
nationality through a photography expedition to her homeland of Estonia, and
thanked each of her backers with photos and postcards from her journey.
“Without RISD, my professors, my network, friends
and the Providence community, I wouldn’t have gotten the project off the
ground,” she said.
is about taking a look at the world and finding better, more meaningful ways to
do things,” concluded Adler. “Our purpose
is to help you establish a real, human connection with people who will support