When Karen Fagan, Scripps College’s Director
of Public Events and Community Programs thought about how best to use the
endowment fund set up to bring speakers in the fields of finance and economics
to campus, she knew that she wanted Perry Chen.
As the creator, chairman and former CEO of the
global crowd-funding pioneer Kickstarter, Chen has facilitated over 41.3
billion dollars for more than 71,000 independent projects since the website’s
inception in 2009. In addition to the public
lecture at Balch Hall Nov. 13, a few students had the unique opportunity to
attend a workshop and dinner with Chen beforehand.
Chen, who was named to Time‘s 2013 list of the 100
most influential people of the world, was far from the stereotypical,
high-powered executive, establishing a casual and intimate mood during his time
“It’s such a great opportunity for the
students to get to interact with someone like Chen in a very personal setting,” Fagan said.
Ambika Bist SC ’15, head of the Scripps
Economics Society, was one of many students who attended his dinner lecture.
“He was a unique fit to Scripps because he
appeals to people who are interested in art as well as social justice, not just
Econ and Business fields,” Bist said.
The idea for Kickstarter came to Chen in the
early 2000’s when he wanted to put on a show of his music but didn’t have the necessary
capital. Enter Kickstarter.
“If I could have found a way for all 500
people who would have gone to the event to help out, I could have had my
concert,” Chen said.
Chen’ s website enables a person with an
idea for a creative project to appeal directly to individuals for funding. Interested backers can pledge monetary
contributions until a specific goal is met; funds are only disbursed if the
goal is met, after which the artist can proceed with their project.
“What makes the platform work is that it is
entirely project-based,” Chen said.
In order for someone to get approved they
need to have a project with a concrete beginning and a tangible end goal. This
method ensures that people can form clear objectives and have an end product to
work toward that project backers can ultimately enjoy.
Both Chen and the Kickstarter website
downplay the crowd-funding mechanism and insist that the central mission is
“to bring creative projects to life.”
“Kickstarter is not a form of investment in
the sense of a financial return, but a way for projects that resound with a
person personally to get funded,” said Chen. Thus, their projects would not typically receive corporate funding or
likely ever get made.
Chen gave some historical perspective on how
art has been funded. Although the
current system sees large corporations funding creative projects like films and
music, Chen cited the Medici family of mid-16th-century Italy as an
example of how artists used to get funding from wealthy patrons.
“The way most things are funded now, it’s a
few gatekeepers making the decisions,” he said.
Given his hectic schedule, Chen doesn’t typically give
“This is only the second lecture I’m giving
this year,” he said. “I only really enjoy doing talks for students, so you
guys drew me out of the cave.”
Tia Ho SC ’17 was inspired by Chen’s message
“I am a huge proponent of the arts and would
love to start a business one day that promotes specifically that,” she said. “It’s comforting to hear that, at one point,
he was just another college kid who was super into music and had no idea what
to do with his life.”
As Chen attempted to leave after the formal
question and answer session, audience members continued to ask him with
questions about his work and his next projects. He graciously answered all of
them, leaving behind an impression that will not soon be forgotten.