Conversations: Simon Gwynn

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Screenshot of Simon Gwynn's Kickstarter page
I met Simon at London Bridge Station on a Sunday afternoon after he had come back from a friend's house party in Brighton on the Saturday night. I was hesitate to venture too far from the station as a friend, and non-London-local was meeting me after the chat with Simon and it seemed foolish to stray from the most significant and practical landmarks provided by the Shard and the station. In the end we opted to pop over the road to the conveniently placed All Bar One, which became even more convenient when the heavens decided to open in a brief freak lightening storm, precisely as my friend arrived early and required removing from the station. Simon had a pint and I had a half, and then another half and a pint for my friend when joined us. We talked travel, being a Northerner in London and briefly about crowd funding.

A Pint with Simon Gwynn, Sunday 1st March, 2015

Zara Worth What prompted your project?

Simon Gwynn Do you remember that guy that crowd funded his potato salad?

ZW I do!

SG Well that was what prompted the project. He [Zack ‘Danger’ Brown, the creator of the Potato Salad Kickstarter page] got thousands of dollars for his potato salad, and it was followed by loads of other people doing similar things; and a lot of them making hundreds or thousands of pounds. Pretty much, my motivation was just to see if I could get some money. I just wanted to see how easy it would be to get some money without really having a good reason. But I wanted to do something original. I started asking, ‘Can I just get some money for doing nothing?!’, and thought, ‘Why don’t I make a joke out of that and turn that idea into a ‘thing’?!’. So I just approached it very literally. The page is clear that I am asking for money for nothing, but it has to be a creative project for Kickstarter to accept it so I thought that I could call it Art. So that’s what I did! So basically it started off just to see if I could get some money without doing any work, but then I quick liked the idea and ended up putting quite of bit of work into thinking about how I could structure it. As I was thinking about it, I had hoped I would get a bit more money, that I would be at least slightly over funded – just based upon these other projects I had seen. So I thought I would try and get a pitch together and get a feature on it in a magazine. I didn’t have anything particular in mind, but it just fell by the wayside. It only made £11, it wasn’t that interesting, I suppose I didn’t feel like it had that much to say. I know it’s really weird, but it was just something I was doing to amuse myself really.

ZW So, really the project was in response to having seen crowd funding that perhaps wasn’t entirely serious. Had you previously been involved in any more ‘serious’ crowd funding projects?

SG I was involved in a play a couple of years ago which we did some crowd funding for, I think we used Indiegogo, but that was the only thing that I had done. This project was really about testing the limits on Kickstarter and their sort of 'rules' which they are quite particular about. For example, you are not allowed to go on there and just ask for money to pay for your student fees or something, you have to have a creative project. So I guess I wanted to just poke around the edges. You have to submit a project and then wait for them to approve it, so it was party just to see whether they would approve it. Having gone through that, then to see if anyone would be interested. What was interesting was that I got lots, and lots of people contacting me and trying to sell me their services! There are obviously lots of people out there who offer a service to help get your project funded.

ZW Yes, I have been hearing about this, people trying to make money of your attempt to make money. Prior to doing the project, what was your opinion of crowd funding?

SG I think it’s good. I think it’s a really good thing that is happening in society, in theory it could have quite a democratising effect over lots of different areas, people it can directly connect consumers or audience members with things that they are interested in, without needing a formal structure set up to make it all happen. Obviously it’s great for all the technological projects, devices and apps being set up and also for Art projects too. Actually what I thought about the Potato Salad project was, ‘Fair play to the guy!’ – anyone who actually gave him money for that is probably a bit stupid, but it probably made them happy. If they are losing $10 but then if they feel like they are involved in something and then that makes them happy then I suppose that’s ok!

ZW I was wondering whether in responding to projects like ‘Potato Salad’ had made you cynical about crowd funding?

SG Not at all. Obviously, the Potato Salad thing was stupid, so yes it was responding to the idioticness of it. But, I was quite for that. As I say, I just wanted to see what people would and wouldn’t be willing to throw some money at. I envisaged the sort of people that might want to fund my project, and I thought about what they might be like, and I probably had a little bit of contempt for them. This prospective funder would be an idiot, why would anybody give me any money for this?! But whoever they were, whoever they were going to be they would obviously have their own reasons.

ZW You had two backers in the end, did you have any idea who they were?

SG One of them was actually a friend of a friend. Not someone I know directly, but someone I know vaguely, she’s actually a performance artist. She paid £10, which the reward for was that she could come round to my house for dinner! Which, she hasn’t done yet, but the offer is still theoretically there! She is a performance artist, so I think she found the idea quite funny. I was hoping that I might attract a few people that I didn’t know, because I felt bad about the idea of taking money off anyone I did know, in case they had misunderstood it and thought that there was something more to it. Then there was someone else, and they gave me £1. I didn’t try very hard to promote it.

ZW That was my next question actually; did you do much promotion of the project yourself?

SG I approached various people on Twitter and asked if anybody would share it for me and nobody did.

ZW Celebrities?

SG Yeah, celebrities and media people. I can’t remember who now to tell you the truth. The most interesting bit of the whole thing was actually one of those people trying to offer me services. There was this very stupid American man who plainly hadn’t read my project through, I had this back and forth with him where I was basically trolling him! Have you ever come across the guy who replies to Nigerian fraudsters and pretends to be on board with shipping money to them and strings them along. So I had quite a nice email trail that I was going to publish.

ZW Other than this project and the project fund raising to put on a play, have any of your friends used crowd funding? Was it something that people around you were doing a lot at the time?

SG I think so, I have lots of friends who work in theatre and I’m sure a lot of them have crowd funded.

ZW So was the aim to critique crowd funding, was it an experiment, was there a goal other than to see if you could make some money from it?

SG I didn’t really have an intention in mind, just that I was hoping that something interesting would come out of it. So I discovered that it wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped to get people to give you money for a silly project, and that you had to have some inspiration. You have to capture people’s imaginations, which I obviously didn’t manage to do. I just wanted to see what would happen, like I said, one of the unexpected outcomes was this bizarre conversation I had with this crowd funding services American chap, which was quite eye-opening. There were maybe four or five people that contacted me offering marketing services for the campaign, so I learnt about crowd funding and about what a vast industry it must be. I guess it was more a means to an end, and that I hoped some sort of insight would come out of it.

ZW Has your opinion of crowd funding changed as a result of doing the project?

SG It made me realise how difficult serious crowd funding is. Beforehand I had heard that people put massive amounts of work into their projects, but I guess after seeing people offering all these professional services and seeing how hard it is to get your project noticed, there must be so many projects that just disappear. Also, I suppose it proves that you need to believe in what you are doing, have some serious basis for what you are doing and be doing it for a good reason. I think Kickstarter is just a platform and shouldn’t be viewed differently to any other fund raising activity. I think also though that because the project was so small and insignificant I wouldn’t say I’ve learnt that much. If I was actually going to try and crowd fund seriously, then I would put a lot more time and thought in.

ZW Again, that was my next question! Do you think you ever would crowd fund ‘seriously’ for more money?

SG Yeah, I can see myself doing it, if I thought of something – I don’t know what it would be at the moment. It definitely hasn’t deterred me.

ZW Why do you think that crowd funding is so popular at the moment?

SG I think it’s because it takes out a layer between the producer and the consumer. Although, as I found out there is always the possibility of these middle men, it is usually either an artist or an entrepreneur who is contacting and communicating directly with people. The other good thing about it, is if you have people there who are giving you money for your idea in advance, it is also market research. You are establishing that if you having 2000 funders, then you know you have 2000 people interested in your ‘thing’. So you know that what you are doing is worth while. If you take funding from a single source then you don’t have that assurance that you have an audience.

ZW Do you think that because you didn’t have a ‘product’ as such it was less appealing to people?

SG Maybe, although it is so difficult to compare. On face value the ‘product’ is the campaign. I probably could’ve done something similar but structured it in a different way so that there was something new coming out of it at the end.

ZW Do you regard it as a successful project?

SG Well, technically it is. I just set £10 as the goal because I had to set something, I think if I’d have set £50 then I wouldn’t have done it. I think that even if no one had given me any money I would have still regarded it as ‘successful’ because it would’ve answered my question of whether I could get any money.

ZW So looking back, has the project revealed anything to you?

SG I suppose it has revealed that my smart-arse ideas aren’t particularly clever, and that the people who gave to the potato salad thing were in one sense total mugs, but it is obviously quite complicated the way in which people can be encouraged to support things, and even be mildly exploited, and I don’t understand what the secret of that project was. It has revealed to me that Kickstarter is a much more fascinating and complex thing than I had realised.

Summary of Simon's Project

Simon's Project Icon on Kickstarter
  • Project Title: Money for Nothing
  • Crowd funding platform: Kickstarter
  • Initiator: Simon Gwynn
  • About the Initiator: An independent, (so far one-time artist) and full-time freelance Journalist
  • Associated with other institutions: No
  • Arts Council Support: No
  • Goal: £10
  • Actual: £11
  • Date successfully funded: 20th August 2014
  • Total number of backers: 2
  • Number of Reward Bands: 5

Research conducted by Zara Worth

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