This holiday season, the crowd-funding website for creative projects, Kickstarter, made me take the trek from San Juan to the southern city Ponce in Puerto Rico, just to look at a tree. This is a trek I’ve made hundreds of times, on a mountain highway that connects the capital of Puerto Rico, with the southern side of the island. Back when I was a kid, we used to make the same trek as a family with mom and dad in the front seats of our Fiat 124 station wagon no riders in the back seats. No sir, no fun-loving kid would be caught on one of those for a road trip! Kids back then rode, more like laid down, all the way in the back of the station wagon with pillows, blankets and snacks; like a picnic on wheels. No seatbelt, no rear-facing car seat, no restraints whatsoever. Kids were free to jump and roam the station wagon’s cargo area, with the rear glass door open.
To pass the time there was nothing better to do than look out the window (try convincing your kids, holding an iPad today, that looking out the window is fun!)
Crossing the island from north to south is still mesmerizing today. Puerto Rico gets a lot more rain in the north than the south. All of our lush, tropical rainforest scenery is located in the north, with a very clear boundary halfway through the Island, where the climate changes and the topography goes from lush green to grassy browns. This highway slices right through that boundary. The first beacon of the drier south is a grassy hill with only one tree on its top a lonely mango tree.
I’ve always felt a connection with that tree, due to the many hours spent on the back of the family’s station wagon. This tree is so present on that mountain that no one can escape its calling; as you drive by it, your eyes can’t help but look up to it. The years went on, I became the dad and moved to the front seats with my kids now riding, fully restrained by their seat belts, right behind me. Over the years, I have made a big deal about the tree with my kids as we drive by it and now the tree has connected with them as well.
On a late Sunday this past December, we decided to go on a trip just to see the tree. It was the first time ever we all went just to look at the tree. Furthermore, we did it at night. It was a special occasion, for you see, just for a few shorts weeks this December the lonely mango tree got a lot of attention. Sometime during autumn, I saw a tweet about a group of volunteers who wanted to decorate the lonely tree with lights to turn it into a Christmas tree. Only in Puerto Rico: a mango Christmas tree! To fund their project, they turned to the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, an online funding platform for creative projects.
Independent film makers, writers, software and product developers, entrepreneurs and many others have turned to Kickstarter to find the money needed to turn their ideas, into real products. The funding comes from site visitors like you and me. If you like a project, you can become a sponsor with a pledge, but your pledge will not be executed until the project raises it’s target funding amount.
This all-or-nothing approach has made Kickstarter a very successful platform, as project designers either make their goals quickly or find little support from the start. The statistics on the projects that get funded and come to fruition are impressive. And all of this gets done on an honor system; your pledge won’t be charged until the projects raise enough pledges. The proponents are in no way mandated to actually deliver the product, nor does Kickstarter force them to produce anything. It’s up to each pledger to determine the validity of the project, and the contribution is given with no strings attached and no expectation of a return on investment.
According to the site, since its launch in 2009 “over $350 million has been pledged by more than 2.5 million people, funding more than 30,000 creative projects.” This is how the volunteers in Puerto Rico were able to raise the funds needed to buy solar lights and the mounting equipment needed to turn that Mango tree into a Christmas tree. For more information about their adventure visit their Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/LightItUpArbolSolitario.
This idea of crowd-funding a project is so powerful it begs the question, “How can we use this tool to drive innovation in our own industry”? A quick search of the Kickstarter website shows not one single project for the auto parts industry. Clearly, the creative slant Kickstarter looks for does not lend itself as an incubator of ideas for auto parts innovators; but, the crowd-sourced funding model does. We all have challenges in our businesses that are screaming for a tech solution. You have to wonder, what if there was a website where we could tap into our industry’s collective brain trust and look for new ideas to advance our business tech know-how? Ironically, the Kickstarter name would have fit us to a “T.”
Mandy Aguilar is a regional vice president for Jacksonville, Fla.-based The Parts House.
Visit Mandy’s blog: www.mandyaguilar.com