Celebritizing with FundAnything

“We’re looking to celebritize crowdfunding,” says FundAnything’s founder. I’ll give you three guesses as to whose money is behind the month old venture, and the first two don’t count. It’s a man whose hair needs no introduction and is no stranger to a calculated publicity stunt. So it was with all the shock that accompanies another J.J. Abrams lens flare that I learned it was Donald Trump who gave out $180,000 in cash at the new company’s launch event.

But Middle-Americans need consistency, right? Pardon me if that sounds disparaging, but this Ohioan (honorary Texan) is just relaying the sentiments of Bill Zanker, the company’s founder. “Crowdfunding got traction with creatives and tech, but you go anywhere but the coasts and they don’t get it yet. What I’m trying to do is bring crowdfunding away from the Brooklyn hipsters and bring it to the masses,” he said in an interview with AllThingsD. In fairness, Trump’s launch lottery went towards a few honorable causes: a double lung transplant and an event serving those impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Trump’s enterprises tend to be, first and foremost, hip-hop mogul style monuments to his personal brand: Trump Signature Collection, TRUMP fragrance, Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks. Online properties have been conspicuously absent from his portfolio since the now-defunct GoTrump travel website. This writer supposes it’s because they’re notorious for  competing on mostly utilitarian grounds.

Now, FundAnything comes to us in the wake of the controversial Zach Braff Kickstarter project. Some defend the successful actor/director’s choice to go to the public saying, “crowdfunding is for everyone,” or, “Braff wants to make this project on his own terms.” Some say, “someone that rich should put up their own money,” or, “crowdfunding is for projects that couldn’t get funding any other way.” Rather than unearth the hidden telos of emergent technology (hint: there is no such thing) or moralize about what a rich person should or shouldn’t do, I try to approach the phenomenon through its structure and effects. Funding The Old Way implied a stakeholder accountability that was frequently anti-artist. But the funders were stakeholders, and they approached the whole affair like the investment opportunity it is. Funding The New Way has the potential to allow art that wouldn’t otherwise flourish to do just that. But its funders aren’t stakeholders in the traditional sense, and it’s hands-down a better deal for an entrepreneur to approach investors who don’t demand a capital return on investment. What is the quid pro quo of crowdfunding? What makes it something “better” than a new capital network that exploits a group of unorganized investors, unaware of the value of their own collective capital? It’s got to be that, in exchange, we get new art, new stories, niche ideas and sustainable, not profitable, production. Stuff that speaks to us in a way we don’t see on network television or at the multiplex. Or am I missing something here?

So Zanker and Trump are unapologetically “celebritizing” Kickstarter and calling it FundAnything. “Anybody that has a fan base is a celebrity – Youtube celebrities, business celebrities,” says Zanker in an interview with Deadline. “Bringing a concept to the masses takes star power.”

It’s maybe fitting that FundAnything’s biggest innovation, beyond celebrities, is in its fee structure for fundraisers and its insurance scheme for backers. The company takes 9% until the fundraising goal is met. At this point, they return 4%. So projects that meet their goal will hand over a total of 5% to FundAnything and another 3% to the payment processing companies. As for backers, donations up to $100 are refundable should the campaign prove to be false or misleading (up to $10,000 in aggregate refunds per campaign).

So, lovers of Garden State and Veronica Mars (Kickstarter), rejoice! Ours is a time when all that’s mainstream and all that’s in democratic demand have grown gooey and inseparable. And, until we learn how to steady the bridle of technological progress, whether it should be remains a question for the ascetic philosophers and the Brooklyn hipsters.