Much has been written about Zack “Danger” Brown’s potato salad Kickstarter, a jokey but earnest request for $10 in donations that brought in more than $50,000.
The most common account is that the guy who just wanted to make potato salad—"Basically I'm just making potato salad. I haven't decided what kind yet."—tickled the Internet, spreading joy and receiving wide support from those who had a buck or two to spare. Some experts even chalked it up to the democratizing powers of crowdfunding.
But the data behind the campaign paints a different picture, one that suggests a tiny and fairly homogenous subset of the Internet drove the campaign’s success. Using a very basic web scraper, I took all available data on the Kickstarter page (and older versions of it stored in the Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine) to look at how the campaign changed over time.
As of this writing, Brown has raised $51,719. If we break down this amount by level of funding, the majority of supporters are contributing very little to the campaign. Some 69 percent of all backers pledged between $1 and $4—yet small donors only make up 15 percent of the total campaign funds. In other words, most of the money is coming from a small group of donors. The group that gave the largest share donated between $35 and $49, contributing roughly 40 percent to the total. Yet this tier of funders, who will receive a T-shirt and a bite of potato salad, make up less than 10 percent of the 6,154 backers. That means a set of 555 hardcore potato salad enthusiasts had the biggest financial impact on the campaign.
There was an even larger skew on the first day of the campaign, when only 18 supporters—1.4 percent of the total—donated 61 percent of the total pledge. This suggests that crowdfunding, like political campaign fundraising, isn’t always democratizing. Sometimes it’s just about getting the support of a few people who think like you. It only took a dozen or so people to make a potato salad Kickstarter look overwhelmingly successful.