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Kickstarting the Jobs of the Future

One of the story threads we like to keep an eye on here at Via Meadia is loosely called “jobs of the future”. It’s a way to look at the shape of the new economy struggling to emerge from the disintegrating remains of the blue social model, and it’s a focus that we think can help readers, especially younger readers, imagine their way to a new and better life.

The same force that is killing so many old jobs and old companies is giving life to new ones: the secret to American prosperity is for us individually and collectively to learn how to surf the wave of change rather than letting it break over us and pull us out to sea. So at Via Meadia, which itself is an example of people building new jobs and new organizations as the world of print journalism breaks up, we keep an eye on these trends and we’ve highlighted several examples of entrepreneurs leveraging technology in innovative and clever ways to nimbly provide products and services which uniquely meet modern needs and were simply not possible before.

One of the most promising intersections of entrepreneurship and technology that’s crossed our path is a venture known as Kickstarter. The concept is simple: an entrepreneur comes up with an idea, sets the goal amount of money they’d like to raise, makes a video pitching the project to prospective investors/supporters, sets up tiers of support (different levels of funding that prospective supporters can sign up for, and the corresponding rewards), and… that’s it. If approved by Kickstarter’s staff, Kickstarter hosts the project’s page, handles the collection of the money (while taking a 5% cut), and serves as a sort of clearing house for neat small ideas in search of funding. The service works on an all-or-nothing model—if the project doesn’t reach its specified funding goal within the allotted timeframe, no one’s credit cards are charged. If the funding goal is reached, the charges are made, Kickstarter creams off its cut, and the entrepreneurs have their funding.

Think of it as venture capitalism for the little guy — and think of it also as one of the ways that more effective use of IT is empowering individuals and small firms and accelerating the pace of change.

Kickstarter has been around has been around since 2009, an eon in internet time, and it has already earned the kind of knee-jerk contrarian backlash with which success is often greeted on the Internet. But until very recently is was floundering, and it hadn’t quite managed to raise the kind of seed money that venture capital usually provides. Since early February of this year, Kickstarter has funded nine projects which have raised more than $1 million each, with the latest success story, the Pebble watch, whose video we’ve embedded above, raising an eye-popping $10 million last Friday.

Faster, leaner, more flexible and opportunistic: this is what much of the future looks like. Will the Pebble watch catch on? Via Meadia has no idea. Will Kickstarter grow into a huge juggernaut and develop new ways to supplement traditional venture capital funding at higher levels? Again, we do not know.

But ideas like this are out there, people are building them, and somewhere in there are the Facebooks and the Apples and the Intels of the future. If America is going to have a successful and prosperous 21st century built on mass prosperity, a strong middle class and a productive economy, it will be people like those behind Kickstarter and its clients who will make it happen.

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  • Jason Saltiel

    Proud to be the first Via Meadia enthusiast (as far as I know– hopefully there are more) to have completed a project using Kickstarter funds!!

    Thanks for spotlighting Kickstarter Prof Mead.

  • Luke Lea

    There will always be enough jobs. The issue is wages.

  • thibaud

    “raising an eye-popping $10 million last Friday”

    Is this a joke? There’s several billion in venture money invested each year, and almost as much invested by friends & family / angel investors. $10 million is equivalent to a drop in Lake Michigan.

    Put it another way, Kickstarter is to innovation and economic growth as a neighborhood talent competition is to arts and culture.

    Sorry to blow up the unicorns of the government-haters here, but if you want to have a serious impact on innovation, productivity and growth – especially in the really crucial, capital-intensive, research-driven areas of the economy such as energy and transportation – it won’t come from cheap gimmicks like KS.

    And it won’t occur without significant government intervention across the full spectrum, from massive funding for basic research in nanoscience etc, to ensuring liquidity for capital markets, to providing large markets for early-stage products when research comes out of the lab….

    in his desperation to find evidence that Big Gum’mint is on its death-bed, the author merely shows yet again that he doesn’t really understand how big economies grow bigger. One way or another, big government is essential for the really big innovations that will determine whether we grow at 1% or 2-3% annually over the next 30 years.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    New job opportunity; The Rock Star Professor selling on-line classes.
    Gold (500,000 Classes sold)
    Platinum (1,000,000 Classes sold)
    Diamond (10,000,000 Classes sold)

  • Mike Britti

    Thibaud goes from mildly interesting point to wild non sequitur. The author is not a government hater (have you actually bothered to read his stuff?). The point is that innovation and growth require a vigorous private sector. Government, good government, helps create the conditions for high growth by providing as little oversight as is possible (the Jeffersonian ideal of the government that governs best governs least). Government does not create anything, it uses resources. Private industry will pull us out of the current doldrums if we have the smarts to let it happen.

  • thibaud

    “Government does not create anything”

    You’re seriously misinformed. ‘Twas government created that magical network that you and I are chatting on right now. It was government that provided the initial markets for nearly all of the core technological breakthroughs of the last century.

    DoD is government. DARPA is government.

    MIT, Stanford, Cal Tech and 100 other powerhouse research labs and institutes across this nation are funded in large measure by our government.

    I could go on, but this whole discussion is gone from the absurd to fairyland. As if a BS penny-provider to makers of timewasters and other digital hula-hoops is going to produce the next Intel and “produce a strong middle class” employing ~100 million people in high paid occupations Yup.

  • Lorenz Gude

    Kickstarter is a proof of concept that government has already tried to emulate in the JOBS Bill. Essentially it is crowdsourcing innovation. BTW Kickstarter is NOT an investment scheme. You will get a Pebble watch if and when the company successfully produces them for your money. It is even less than a drop in the bucket at this point. As I understand it, the JOBS bill was inspired by Kickstarter, and intentionally clears away the legal underbrush that forces Kickstarter to NOT operate as a small investor venture capital organization. Under the law as it stood you have to be a legally qualified investor – read big time – to invest in such high risk schemes. The JOBS bill sets up some rules – I don’t know exactly what they are – to empower small investors to collectively invest in high risk start ups and also give them some protection. It’s a first try – nothing more. Significantly, in my opinion It also relieves the new companies of the requirements of Sarbanes Oxley – I’ve read that, without that provision, SOX would cost these startups a million a year to comply from the git go.

    Because Europeans can’t invest legally in Kickstarter projects, they have started their own versions. As I said it is a crowdsourcing model and I think it is important because it disintermediates ‘big money’ whether it be banks, government, angel investors or venture capitalists. In some ways the idea is not so new. Here in Australia there is a tradition of offering stock on the ASX at much lower prices per share than in the US – a dollar more or less for perfectly good companies – precisely so ordinary people can invest.

    I don’t know how this will work out, but I am sure that the Kickstarter model looks promising. The old system is breaking down and we need to build new systems. One of the things common to the old Iron Triangle (Big busniness, government and labor) is that they are all trying to hold onto their variously obsolete business models. eg Cell phone companies resist anything that would allow Wi FI technologies to disrupt their mobile cash cow (In America too many of you are paying most of $100 a month to them while in Australia I pay $10 for all I need and $20 if I need significantly more.) VOIP has already slaughtered the old phone company cash cow here and in the US. . I remember when I thought $50 a month for international calls back to my rellies in the US was a great deal. Now, I pay about a penny a minute to landline phones from here. Otherwise I Skype for free.

    We get a glimpse of big government hanging onto its business model by charging an exit tax to some of the Facebook early investors (including Zuck who I believe is a citizen of Singapore) who have opted to give up their US citizenship like athletic stars used to flee high tax countries when European tax rates were very high. I recall Bjorn Borg did this and was fleeced by friends and had to go back to Sweden broke. Somehow I don’t think Zuck will will come crawling back to Uncle Sam. I also notice that Apple has a hundred million overseas that it can’t bring back to the US because it would cost them 30% corporate tax. I include that last as an example of how bad tax policy is gumming up our most successful company.

    I think there is a role for government but I see no way that the US government is going to allow itself to be shrunk. It is very hard to separate the legitimate and necessary functions of government from the barnacles that have attached themselves to the ship of state. Big government will grab for all the money it can get its hands on to keep the barnacles in the style to which they have become accustomed. What they can’t get from taxes they will print. .

    Finally the pension crisis in the various states often discussed here on Via Media is caused by the breakdown in the big labor business model which has been skillful at using its political clout to obtain excellent pension and other benefits. I think an unintended consequence of Prop 13 in California was to enhance the teacher’s union business model by allowing them to bargain with a ‘single provider’ in Sacramento.

    I think there is a critical difference between the Keynesian idea of deficit spending to smooth out the ups and downs of the economy and government trying maintain itself by printing money. At some point stimulus turns into extend and pretend. If Sarbains Oxley was the ‘accountants and lawyers welfare act’ then the stimulus may well have been the barnacle welfare act.

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