Kickstarter entrepreneur Jake Bronstein launched his Flint and Tinder clothing brand through the crowdfunding website. Credit: Bess Adler/Metro
Jake Bronstein's original idea for his new business venture was a flop before it could start.
He spent six months looking for a way to produce high-quality, American-made bedsheets — for men. The problem was no one in the country could make them.
That's when he thought: "underwear." But Bronstein was plagued by the same problem that troubles every entrepreneur.
"I didn't have the capital to do it," he said. "And I didn't know if anyone would be interested in the same things I would be interested in, or if there would even be a market."
Kickstarter, the popular crowdfunding website, was already about three years old by the time New York City transplant Bronstein started using it. Having backed a handful of projects, he decided to launch his own.
"The response was instantaneous and powerful," he said. "Some $291,000 worth of preorders came in, more than enough for us to start work on it."
Since the launch, Flint and Tinder has become the apparel company Bronstein wanted. Based in the Lower East Side, it now has seven employees and works with 11 factories around the country to produce underwear, shirts, pants and the "10-year hoodie."
Bronstein also launched two more Kickstarter projects, including one for the hoodie that received more than $1 million in pledges, and is gearing up for a fourth. And while few have used Kickstarter to the level of success Bronstein has, he's far from the only New Yorker to turn new ideas into successful ventures.
In 2013, more Kickstarter projects came out of New York City than any other city in the country. In total, 3,417 different projects came from the five boroughs, besting Los Angeles' 3,273 projects.
"New York City has always been a center of creativity and innovation, so it's no surprise that New Yorkers are making use of a platform that's innovative and creative," said Kickstarter spokeswoman Julie Wood.
"But what's great about Kickstarter and the power of the Internet is that anyone, from anywhere, can use it to make a connection with supporters they wouldn't have been able to find otherwise," she added.
Based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Kickstarter also announced on Monday that the website's all-time pledges have jumped past $1 billion, with more than half pledged in the last year.
In total, the website — which was founded in 2009 — has enabled 135,000 projects to launch worldwide, with about four in 10 actually meeting their goals.
One notable recent failure came from New York City, too. Last year, the New York City Opera tried to keep its doors open with a Kickstarter project. With a $1 million goal, it only secured about $300,000 in pledges and filed for bankruptcy soon after.
Unlike some other crowdfunding sites, Kickstarter only pays out pledged money if a project meets its goal.
Ghostwriter and Brooklyn native Michael Malice's Kickstarter book project secured more in pledges than he would have gotten with a traditional advance. Credit: Gwen McClure/Metro
Failure was certainly one of the fears celebrity ghostwriter and Brooklyn native Michael Malice had when he launched a Kickstarter to pen a posthumous, unauthorized autobiography of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il titled "Dear Reader."
"The toughest part is the powerlessness," Malice said. "You can only do so much, and it's frustrating waiting for the numbers to go up."
Still, Malice edged out his $30,000 goal. In the end, he got more than he would have with a traditional advance and earns a bigger margin on sales.
"To publicly demonstrate that I can create a product from concept to market is huge. It's like the ultimate resume," he added. "I did it all — literally and literarily — and it is on display for all the world to see. All the world except North Korea, that is."
People besides his backers have noticed. Malice said he has secured a new agent since the book's release in February.
But Kickstarter isn't just a vehicle for enterprising individuals. It's still very much a home for the quirky yet inspired pet projects.
Brooklynite Rachel Fershleiser puts together the hundreds of zines about soup called "Stock Tips" that hundreds of supporters backed last month. Credit: Rachel Fershleiser
No stranger to the Internet, Fershleiser — whose day job involves outreach for microblogging platform Tumblr — turned an obsession with soup into the punny #Stock Tips tag on Tumblr.
The hashtag went viral, prompting her and friend Ami Greko to go lo-fi with an old-school, photocopied, taped, hand-folded and stapled zine about soup, even offering cross-stitched covers for bigger spenders with $8 to pledge.
Very punk, Fershleiser joked.
"Originally, we were just thinking of just saying, 'Tell us if you want a zine and we'll send you one,' without thinking of fundraising," she said. "We would have gone broke if we hadn't fundraised first."
They found their audience, and quick: 730 people pledged almost $7,000 for a project that only asked for $500, meeting their goal within 40 minutes of launching.