Follow the Crowd

MIT professor Eric von Hippel calls it "the biggest paradigm shift in innovation since the industrial revolution." And do you know who is responsible? Not a government research lab or Nobel Prize winner or the head of a global corporation. It's you. By "you," I mean you, the person reading this - and many others like you. You are part of the "Crowd," a collection of individuals who are inexorably undermining decades-old business models while spawning a remarkable amount of creativity.

Fittingly, CAPITAL C, the first documentary about the crowd revolution, raised over $84,000 from... Guess where? The Crowd. Using Kickstarter, an online platform for funding creative projects, independent filmmaker Timon Birkhofer convinced 586 people to support his film. Nearly half of them contributed less than $30 each.

CAPITAL C tells remarkable stories of ventures small and large made possible by the Crowd and, although the film comes out early next year, you can already watch the trailer. It features a collection of academics, entrepreneurs and creators, such as Scott Thomas, former Design Director of Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Thomas observes, "We live in a new era where, all of sudden, the technology that is around us enables us to do the things that we believe in." Another prominent figure in the trailer is a Che Guevara-like bearded artist who would definitely not have received funding from me when I worked in Intel Corporation's venture capital organization. Yet 2,416 people in the Crowd liked his idea for a drink insulator that "prevents moist handshakes and sweaty beverages" so much that they gave him over $62,000 to get his business off the ground.

Birkhofer, the maker of CAPITAL C, says that artists and creators are "more powerful than ever" and offers the following tips to people who hope to raise capital from the Crowd:

- Don't wait for others to find you. Make yourself ubiquitous through social media, public events, guest blogs, etc.

- Build your audience over years with a consistent identity and value to your followers/fans/customers.

- Seek out like-minded people to help you get the word out about your crowd-funded project.

- Give your audience something of value in exchange for their support. Crowd funding is about building a community around your project, not asking for charity.

- And work on your entrepreneurial skills. There is no gatekeeper anymore to blame if your project doesn't get funded. It's just you and your audience.

I am fully embracing Birkhofer's advice. I left Intel Corporation two years ago and went from being a gatekeeper to a creator. Instead of evaluating corporate investment deals, I created a new identity as The Family Adventure Guy and self-published Rising Son, a book about cycling the length of Japan with my 8-year-old son. I considered seeking out a well-known publisher for my book, but we are living in a time when artists no longer need approval from a gatekeeper in order to share their vision with the world.

I also just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund my second book, Daunted Courage: The Perils of Cycling the Lewis & Clark Trail with Kids, about re-tracing the famous 3,200-mile route this summer with my 12-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. Can kids that young ride bikes over the Rocky Mountains? Check out the Family Adventure Guy blog over the summer to find out! National Geographic will publish my trip essays on their Intelligent Travel blog, and The New York Times will run a piece about the trip. To Birkhofer's point, I'm trying to be entrepreneurial, and I'm turning to the Crowd for help.

One of the featured artists in CAPITAL C quipped, "It's almost like we started this revolution by accident." Accident or not, the Crowd is emerging as a force that will likely change the way we all create and support one another, funding projects that otherwise would not have happened, and moving us all into a new age that we are defining ourselves: the Era of the Crowd.